Part I: Sid Lerner
Sid Lerner is founder and chairman of The Monday Campaigns, with national health behavior initiatives such as Meatless Monday, Healthy Monday, and Kids Cook Monday, in association with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Mailman School, has been a guest lecturer at the Bloomberg School and founded the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion at Maxwell.
Lerner, a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, is the marketing guru who worked with the creative team behind the “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” advertising campaign. He now uses his marketing prowess to advance public health, encouraging people to exercise more and to eat healthier through The Monday Campaigns, which has become a global force in the fight against preventable disease.
Part II: Dr. Deb Kimless
“Dr. Deb” conducted her undergraduate course work and graduated with a BS in Biology and Natural Science, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She earned her medical degree at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey and completed her residency at the Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia and is Board Certified in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine. Dr. Deb obtained her Plant Based Nutrition certification from Cornell University and is a certified Nutritional Consultant through the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine and does private nutritional consultation.
Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. This is a lovely March 5th 2013 and you know what, it’s a Tuesday, a Tuesday, but you know what? We’re not going to talk about Tuesdays today, we’re going to talk about Monday, Monday, so good to me (sings)…we’re talking about Mondays and the Monday Campaigns and Meatless Monday and I’m going to bring on my first guest Sid Lerner, the Founder and Chairman of the Monday Campaigns, with national health behavior initiatives such as Meatless Monday, Healthy Monday, and Caregivers Monday in association with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Mailman School, has been a guest lecturer at the Bloomberg School and founded the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion at Maxwell and it goes on and on. He’s an author and a very creative guy. Please welcome Sid Lerner to It’s All About Food. Hi Sid.
SID LERNER: Hi, glad to be here.
CARYN HARTGLASS: You know I’m just looking over your bio and you are one renaissance guy. It’s like there’s nothing you haven’t done.
SID LERNER: You hang around for 82 years you get to do a lot of things.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Bless you. I know a lot of 82-year-olds that can’t hold a candle unfortunately and I think it has something to do with what they eat.
SID LERNER: Ten years ago I sort of got into a better mode of eating. We started a Meatless Monday idea at Johns Hopkins and one of the triggers of doing it was we were told we were eating too much meat and too much fat in the diet. I was put on Lipitor.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Who told you you were eating too much meat?
SID LERNER: My wife and everybody else. The USDA, the FDA and the others really did various national surveys on American health it was we were eating over 15% of what we ought to be eating of this fat heavy diet which led to heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes so how do you cut down 15%? You can’t watch every plate, it occurred that 15% of 21 meals is three meals and that’s like one day’s worth. So make it simple, just one day a week knock off the fat and the meat in the diet. You sort of make a dent in it as you should, the easy way just one day a week try to catch up on other good things that aren’t meat in the middle of the plate. So that was the beginning of Meatless Monday.
CARYN HARTGLASS: It’s a really great idea because—now I’m a vegan and I promote an all plant-based diet but I encourage people to reduce the animal products in their diet and with so many people when you say that to them then you get that deer in the headlights look. They don’t even know what they’re eating and they can imagine not eating meat. Can’t imagine it. The idea of starting on Monday with being meatless is a great way to open the door and make people realize that there’s a lot of wonderful food out there that’s good for us that doesn’t have to come from an animal.
SID LERNER: I must say minds weren’t quite that open as you just spoke it ten years ago frankly. A little more resistance then but now it’s unbelievable the degree to which organizations are. I guess the larger bodies are what people call flexitarians more open to adding non-meat dishes to the diet. So it’s either a vegetarian who has meat sometimes or a meatatarian that has opened its mind to nonmeat dishes here and there so the country’s really changing. See incremental changes happening, even the chains people are cutting down on burgers and meat buying. Our research is showing that it’s starting to take hold because of the economy, because of more and more medical information coming in tying heavy meat diet to very serious chronic diseases. It’s been a long time in coming but boy it’s starting to rain now. It’s not just a drizzle of converts.
CARYN HARTGLASS: It really is exciting. Now you got this idea—Meatless Mondays—from post-war or World War II propaganda material and things that the country was going through at that time?
SID LERNER: Yes, I was a boy scout in World War II and one of the things President Roosevelt did to help us conserve meat for the troops…he dug up an old thing from World War I called Meatless Monday that Herbert Hoover suggested to the President in 1918 and they came up with Meatless Monday, Wheatless Wednesday, it was sort of an interesting idea of how to conserve those hard-to-get items then. Roosevelt dug it up in World War II and then Harry Truman in the post-war years helped feed Europe, initiated Meatless Monday again so I remembered it from way back and I said “that’s a great name for what we’re doing” and we dusted it off and re-purposed it. So Meatless Monday is the day you cut back on meat for your health, the environment and the planet.
CARYN HARTGLASS: We have more and more information from scientific studies that are showing the importance of reducing meat in the diet. But I think even back then when these different campaigns to save meat for the soldiers showed that those that were reducing their meat content were actually getting healthier–even back then we saw the results.
SID LERNER: That’s true. People backed into some good habits for unusual reasons and we re-purposed them.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I met you recently at the James Beard Foundation. We were both at the Wenonah Hauter book signing for her book Foodopoly which was a really interesting event. She talks about so many things that are wrong with our food system today. And I wanted to talk about one section of that. I see there’s like three things going on. One is things with our individual lifestyle/culture, etc. then there’s the government regulating different things, making some foods more affordable some things less affordable, making some businesses easier than others and then there’s marketing, that’s really telling us what we’re supposed to be doing and I know that you have a lot of experience in that area—marketing and advertising. How much of that has an impact on what we’re eating today.
SID LERNER: It has a huge, huge impact. As a matter of fact, I think we really could learn from it. It’s like being…you know you can’t be crabby being a do-gooder, having the right information and good things to do and just sit there smugly. It’s like having two stores and one’s having all the people run in and the other’s not. Look what the other guy’s doing to get them to come in, some smart merchandising, communication, motivating and the people with the good stuff aren’t quite utilizing the same tools to bring them in the store. That’s what the Monday campaign is trying to do, Johns Hopkins and Syracuse and Columbia is to start bringing more contemporary marketing media social networking procedures to sell the good stuff and help counteract the very sophisticated marketing tools that get us to line up for all those extra soft drinks and all those extra calories we consume during the day that we didn’t fifty or sixty years ago. When I was a kid you had to walk blocks and blocks in a town like Inglewood where I grew up to find a diner or luncheonette. Now there’s like three sushi bars and two McDonalds every acre. There’s so much food you have to run the gauntlet. It’s a major challenge to people’s strength of character to just get through the day not stopping along the way too many times.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Yeah, it really is too easy. I institute a number of things in my life that I think people would think are really nutty–but people have always thought I was nutty so I’m kind of used to it—we don’t have a car, and we walk to the stores to get our food and carry the heavy bags back and the few times that we do eat out we tend to walk and there’s one restaurant that I like in particular that’s not very close by and it takes an hour to walk there but I like the idea of walking, exercising and then getting my treat and then walking it off.
SID LERNER: It’s a funny thing that today we call that walk where you live as a food desert I think. You keep reading the paper somebody in Timbuktu gets up at 6 o’clock in the morning to walk five miles to get a jug of water for the house and here we can’t walk more than a quarter of a mile to buy some groceries. I don’t know, but anyway, food is much too available. Too many times in parts of the day you get two hamburgers and two Egg McMuffins for $3 in the morning, then you get to the office and somebody brought in a box of donuts, then Josie’s birthday cake leftovers, then at lunch you get two burgers for $6 and then you get a break in the afternoon. Stuff is there constantly, it’s in your face so it’s really a strain on our normally weak wills to not take part in it. That’s the tough part, to get motivated to know the downsides of it and the upsides of the alternatives.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Well, I really think if we could invest enough to take over the media and the marketing and put out the right message instead of the wrong message I think most people would go along.
SID LERNER: We think Meatless Monday is an example of something that is packaged in a way that’s so simple, so reputable of something to do, one day a week knock off the meat, you could package other behaviors. We have the Monday Meals just to get something started. That’s not a be-all, end-all but the idea of getting the week started with something good is better than zero. I think we just have to start doing a better job of reducing the positive things into more contemporary acceptable ways.
CARYN HARTGLASS: So there’s Meatless Monday and I see you have a website and you have all kinds of articles, tools and information and you’re working with schools or there are some schools that specifically promote and support the Meatless Monday? How does that work?
SID LERNER: We have hundreds of schools, universities, colleges and campuses around the country, one just came on today in Washington, they just instituted the Meatless Monday counters one day a week. If you go to our website you’ll see the list of them. We also, through companies like Sodexo which feeds 6300 cafeterias in the country every day, 900 hospitals, 2000 corporations and they do Meatless Mondays in their cafeterias.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Does that mean they offer meatless options or are they completely meatless?
SID LERNER: No we are not trying to get meat off the menu. We make it very clear to every institution or school or restaurant that we go to we do not want to get meat off the menu, we just want to get alternatives on the menu. Sometimes you can’t see anything that doesn’t have meat or beef crumbles or something, even the ice cream, so the concept with Meatless Monday is to just offer consumers visibly something on the menu that is not a meat product as an alternative you can try Monday. Hopefully if you dig it, try it Tuesday and Wednesday as well. So we do not try that because that just builds up needless resistance. We’re about choice.
CARYN HARTGLASS: It’s just an incredible thing how people want to keep their head in the sand and really want to resist things that are so good for them and once they move over to that and realize it’s not only good for them but tastes good. There’s no down side, in my opinion of eating more plant foods and less animal foods. Fortunately like you said, people are becoming more receptive than they used to but there’s still plenty of people who are resisting.
SID LERNER: It’s a funny thing the culture is really where and when you live. As I’ve told you I’ve got this great age number, I go back a couple of decades and we didn’t always eat like this. Most people we work with and see in the streets are in their twenties and thirties, in their lifetime it’s always been like this virtually. The hamburger places started in 1953 which is when McDonalds…by 1967 they were 20,000 now there’s 35,000 of them. So young people think it’s always been like that, that every place you go there is lots of food, always people eating like that. Meat used to be a condiment, spaghetti and meatballs. Chinese, Japanese foods had a touch of meat. It was the center of the plate but it was an addition to other foods and vegetables and our society just jumped to the filet. The hamburger is there, the steak is there, the chops are there. We think this is the way people have always eaten. I think it’s a matter of reigning back a little bit and showing that there are alternatives, options of foods we used to eat that we have to re-examine with better cooking technologies. By the way, speaking of Wenonah Hauter and her wonderful book Foodopoly, we just got a note that says it’s like number one or number two on Amazon’s booklists.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Oh that’s good news. I was just going to mention her book again too because as you were saying we didn’t always eat this much meat. She goes over the history, the contemporary history, of how we got to where we are today and it’s really good to review that. You know I lived through most of it and it really was powerful to see how we let this happen, where we are today. I really enjoyed reading that book. I’m glad other people are reading it. OK, now you also have a Kids Monday? How is that different from Meatless Mondays?
SID LERNER: Kids Cook Monday is a group called CASA, Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, that has research that shows that kids who eat with their families a couple times a week are 40-50% less likely to be addictive personalities or abusive personalities or obese. In fact, it’s also a good socialization thing so we fostered the idea of having kids at least once a week help the parents make the dinner as a way of communing with the parents also seeing that meat food doesn’t just come in a box with a toy. I think there’s more of that happening. Michelle Obama has certainly made it visible with the gardens on the White House lawn. More and more schools, the Baltimore School System, Tony Geraci, did a wonderful job there, 70,000 school kids have Meatless Monday every Monday in Baltimore and they have a two acre farm outside the town where kids go to see where they plant the vegetables, then harvest them and winds up in their cafeterias. So they idea of seeing where food comes from, getting involved with the making of it, gets you more involved in liking things you never would have touched otherwise and it’s a good healthy sign all around. We promote Kids Cook Monday and have recipes, things that kids can do and it’s a big help to mother. We’re trying to get into summer camps this year as a way of introducing it as an activity.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Oh good. It’s such a good idea all around. I’m always saying that people need to find their kitchen because so many of us have lost our knack for cooking or maybe never had it and the kitchen doesn’t seem to be a place that’s really used for what it’s supposed to be used for which is preparing nourishing food. I know a lot of parents are somewhat hesitant to prepare food with their children because they have very little time and it seems like so much trouble but I think the benefits really outweigh the downsides of it.
SID LERNER: It’s good economics too these days, cooking. By the way, the kids website of its own is kidscookmonday.org as well as meatlessmonday.org, … you can go and get recipes other wonderful hints and helpers and tips.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Kids Cook Monday, that’s good. Now you mentioned there are different schools and organizations that have signed up for Meatless Monday. Are there any places that haven’t caught on? Is this campaign appealing to all demographics around the country? You know we talk sometimes about how privileged some of us are to be able to choose what we eat and then there are some areas where people are just getting by and getting whatever they can. So I’m just wondering, is this something that appeals to a certain demographic?
SID LERNER: Let me just say that the terrible irony is that for the first time in the history of man on the planet that more people are dying from eating too much than starvation. The chronic diseases of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes is a direct result of behavior at the table. Eating too much of the wrong stuff and not doing enough of the vigorous exercise it takes to balance things out. So you’ve got half the world starving, the other half over eating, so let’s level the field. Every town we go to there’s great enthusiasm now for bringing on but of course the same people, it’s like the NRA, with their rifles, you have people who are resistant, they have the right to a chop in one hand and a steak in the other hand every minute of the day who do look at it as an imposition on their civil rights or something. There is some push back in areas from people who think they are being told what to do, like the people who were against the soda limitations and every other…. We forget that cars have speed limits and have safety rules and regulations and liquor laws and all that. Food has been such a scarce commodity over most of our lifetimes that people aren’t used to the idea of curtailing some parts of it and I think we’re going to see a little more of that in the future.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Well, you know that’s where advertising comes in again because a lot of these people that you’re talking about who don’t want us to regulate our food, they want to know they have free choice, they don’t realize they are being so manipulated by advertising that they don’t have the free choice that they think they do.
SID LERNER: There is some of that but one of the good things about being old you get to see a wider range of history first hand. People forget that advertising and promotion were responsible for some of the things we do every day that are healthy as hell and we take for granted. Baths, we hardly ever used to take baths, or maybe cowboys would come into town on Saturday night and go to the bathhouse before church the next day or something but it was Lifebuoy Soap that created the villain—body odor. Don’t have BO and made the public so conscious of body odor, BO, the villainous thing, that everybody was soon in the shower daily or tubs and all that. Similar brushing your teeth wasn’t exactly the thing that people did. It was not having bad breath, halitosis, that was branding and advertising that identified the villainous thing among us that people finally did something about it in a big way. So brushing the teeth and taking a bath are two very positive social hygienic things and that came from advertising. The trick is how do we put those same clever marketing forces against some of the other things we should do about—exercising and driving, and drinking and texting—that’s a challenge a lot of young people looking to go into some fields should consider health marketing.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Yes, advertising is so powerful and can be used to really good ends.
SID LERNER: Today’s media—talk about the nag-ability—you can come at people more ways now than ever before in the world without buying a network buy at billions of dollars to hit a small percentage of the country. You could do something that comes up on everybody’s cell phone or mobile device, it’s just remarkable how frequently and locally you can reach the public today if the message is right, simple and persuasive.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I think that’s why the Meatless Monday concept and a lot of other organizations that are promoting healthier diets are having more success because of the power of social networking and it’s a lot easier and a lot more cost effective to get the message out and for those people that are looking the information is easier to find. I remember 20, 30 years ago looking for information and it was really an effort.
SID LERNER: I think we’re really at a major revolutionary point with the media change going from the old media print to online is such a new challenge and an opportunity. It’s like a gold rush everybody could go out and stake a claim now. Everything isn’t all tied down now by ABC, CBS or NBC like that. Anybody could be a star now if the idea is right and you’ve got a good message and you’re doing it well.
CARYN HARTGLASS: So the Monday Campaign the Meatless Monday is growing and more people are signing on, celebrities and regular people. What I mentioned before, this three-tiered concept of how we’re going to improve our health—marketing, individuals and the third piece of that is government. I know that the USDA kind of flubbed up last year…a bit….saying something that they didn’t mean to say…
SID LERNER: I was a little embarrassed for them I’m afraid. A couple senators…one guy got on the senate floor for four and a half minutes haranguing the USDA for doing Meatless Monday.
CARYN HARTGLASS: So let’s back up a little bit because I’m sure not everybody knows about it but at some point the USDA was going to endorse perhaps….?
SID LERNER: Well, as I said through Sodexo and other wonderful food providers the companies in cafeterias are taking on Meatless Mondays as an idea and some wonderful in-house news writer or writer at the USDA was writing in their weekly issue of something–it was so nice the cafeteria was taking on Meatless Monday the following week. I guess it leaked out to some political individual who said “my God, we’re part of the USDA, what are they doing telling people not to eat our meat” and they just went off with about eight Senators in meat-growing states and they really had a rant going for a week or so about …
CARYN HARTGLASS: It was really unfortunate. A lot of people had a good time at blogging about it and writing articles about it. I like to say a lot don’t read your press, weigh it, and it probably brought a lot more attention to Meatless Mondays.
SID LERNER: That’ll happen so you have to be careful what you say. It’s a knife that cuts both ways.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Right. You have a quote here on the website, you have a recent post about chili. Did you really say “if you think chili really needs meat, you don’t know beans”?
SID LERNER: That’s one of our lines we’ve been using for beating the heck out of … If you think chili needs meat you don’t know beans.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Did you come up with that?
SID LERNER: I’ll have to admit to it, yeah. But basically it’s a great idea. There’s so many ways to make chili and meat is not necessarily a part of it. It’s a wonderful source of protein. It’s inexpensive, it can be tasty, it can be sexy, it can be smoky. So we have a cookbook that’s available free online called “The Chili Cookbook”. I think it’s ten great chili recipes you can download and the next ten Mondays taken care of. We also have another cookbook called “Monday Burgers” which we re-named “Hamburgers without Meat”, there’s a cookbook—“Monday Burgers, One Day a Week Get the Beef Off Your Buns”
CARYN HARTGLASS: Well Meatless Monday has certainly benefited having you at the reins.
SID LERNER: We’ve got a whole bunch of funny people here. We have Marc Driscoll next door, we got Vanessa Protass getting the stuff all over the world, on e-mails and Facebook and Twitters and Tweets, and things I can’t even pronounce but a bunch of great young kids here who are into new media and just getting it out all over the place. It’s really been terrific.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Now Meatless Monday, is it global?
SID LERNER: Oh yeah, I’m looking at a chart that says “Meatless Monday Goes Global”, “Now in 22 Countries and Counting”. I just sent an e-mail last night commending somebody in Australia for their meat-free Mondays there so they’ll keep it up. Next thing they came back this morning on our Facebook saying “thank you very much, g’day”. Israel just took on a new group out of Tel Aviv doing Meatless Monday there. We’re in the Phillipines. As I said 22 countries are coming on, keep doing their own way a lot of them. Paul McCartney helps start through Europe. He did Meat-Free Monday in the UK.
CARYN HARTGLASS: It’s always good to have him on your team.
SID LERNER: Oh boy, is there a good guy to have. He has a wonderful cookbook out to have from his group called “Meat Free Monday Cookbook”. It got an award recently. So we commend that to you. And we get people from other countries doing it. We haven’t contacted these people, they just got it offline from having seen ours and things that look like ours. It’s really growing like crazy.
CARYN HARTGLASS: That’s nice especially because many developing nations learn a lot of our bad habits. I would like to think if there’s a country that’s leading the way and has learned from mistakes that the other countries that are coming up to speed will skip over all the bad moves. Unfortunately we don’t see that per se, we see people in India and China that are becoming more affluent they are including more animal products in their diet and diabetes is up and heart disease and places that we never saw before.
SID LERNER: We’ve got this great president, Peggy Neu, she came aboard about five years ago and things really livened up and she’s speaking pretty soon at a joint American-Chinese group on nutrition and things where women can get behind, better habits and we’re using us on the panel as an example so Peggy‘s … doing that as well as speaking up a storm around the country to other organizations. So really getting the message out. More people are inviting us to talk to them and they’ve got more people here on staff and at our sister schools—Columbia, Syracuse and Johns Hopkins. They are all pushing together so it’s really a big rolling stone.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Well that’s really good to hear. Some of the basic things that countries can do is stick to their cultural foods and more and more have taken on this God-awful standard American diet. I’m glad to hear that some people are connecting with you and your great message. I want to thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food. I’ve enjoyed hearing a little bit more about Meatless Mondays and here’s to every Monday being meatless. Add more to that and I’ll be even happier.
SID LERNER: Thanks so much for the air time, it’s really been terrific
Transcribed 3/15/2013 by Suzanne Kelly
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Hello I am Caryn Hartglass and it is time of the second part of It’s All About Food. Today, it’s March 5, 2013, oh goodness so here we are and we are going to bring on the next guest because I really can’t wait to start this segment. Dr. Deb Kimless, Dr. Deb conducted her undergraduate course work and graduated with a B.S. in biology and natural science Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude at Muhlenberg College in Allentown Pennsylvania. She earned her medical degree at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and completed her residency at The Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia and is board certified in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine. Dr. Deb obtained her Plant Based Nutrition Certification from Cornell University and is a Certified Nutrition Consultant through the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and does private nutritional consultation. So much more, what you’re going to find out about in the next half hour.
Caryn Hartglass: Welcome to It’s All About Food, Dr. Deb.
Dr. Deb Kimless: Hi Caryn, how you doing?
Caryn Hartglass: I’m good. You know I wanted to say before we got started. Sometimes you meet someone that you really connect with and that happened when I met you just a few months ago. We haven’t had really an opportunity to catch up and so I’m going to use this half hour to get to know more about you, catch up and everybody can just listen in.
Dr. Deb Kimless: It sounds great.
Caryn Hartglass: You are definitely someone who is, let’s say, hard worker, really smart and has learned how to just except what life brings along.
Dr. Deb Kimless: Thank you, your very kind.
Caryn Hartglass: So let’s get started. You worked as a medical doctor, anesthesiologist, what were you doing as a doctor?
Dr. Deb Kimless: Yeah, I was a full time practitioner in anesthesiology. I guess in all of the realms of medicine, I truly believed in better living through chemistry.
Caryn Hartglass: Laughs. That’s funny. My first job out of college was with DuPont and that was their slogan, better living through chemistry. A lot of us really signed up for that a few decades ago, really believing that is where all the magic lies and gosh we are now living the results of those ideas.
Dr. Deb Kimless: Exactly, exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: Some good, some not so good.
Dr. Deb Kimless: Very true. The chemistry part of it, you buy into it especially when you study and you work and this is what’s taught to you and you think that’s the [patisaya]. These medicines will treat and cure and prevent and do all those things.
Caryn Hartglass: I mentioned to you when we met, there’s a book that a friend of mine wrote When Doctors Become Patients. It’s something that I think is so important for doctors to understand the patient point of view. I think our medical care would be so much better.
Dr. Deb Kimless: Our sick care will be so much better.
Caryn Hartglass: Our sick care. Now that is definitely right. So you developed breast cancer.
Dr. Deb Kimless: I did, in 2005, in October, breast cancer awareness month; I had a c spine study of a breast MRI after a normal mammogram. I fit into the category of people that should get this, which is someone with extremely dense breast tissue. Sadly, what started out as a base line study, resulted in a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Dr. Deb Kimless: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Not what you expected at all.
Dr. Deb Kimless: No, I was pretty much a pretty big mind blow. I thought that I would just fast track my treatment because I had a big S on my chest and I was super women and I guess the universe had other plans for me because I ended up with something called post mastectomy pain syndrome. Which truly is a misnomer, it should just be called post breast surgery pain syndrome. Where even though cancer free and a clean bill of health in that regard, I’m left with a neuropathic pain that sadly has prevented me from practicing as an anesthesiologist.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. Now I haven’t heard of that. Is that because people don’t talk about it or how prevalent is it?
Dr. Deb Kimless: That’s the crazy thing about this pain syndrome. It’s sort of a deep dark dirty secret. As you were kind enough to annotate all of my certifications, I am boarded in Pain Medicine and knew nothing about it. So when I developed this pain syndrome, I thought I was going out of my mind. I never heard of any kind of thing. It wasn’t even on the charts till 1974 when a group of Israeli surgeons started listening to their patients and hearing that they were complaining of this pain after having breast surgery. Now, from ’74 to the 90’s they thought only about 4% of women get it. Now they think, after studies out of the Scandinavian countries, upwards of 50% of women have some degree of pain after breast surgery. When I say breast surgery, it could mean lumpectomy, it could mean mastectomy without reconstruction, it could be elective breast reduction or it can be elective breast augmentation.
Caryn Hartglass: Does anybody have an idea of what causes it?
Dr. Deb Kimless: They really don’t know for sure, but if you think about the breast and you think about the nerve connections that go into the breast. It’s a question of why we wouldn’t have thought about it. Think about it: it’s an erogenous zone, if it’s cold and you’re not wearing proper under garments people kind of know you’re chilly, if you just delivered a baby and someone else’s baby cries you let down milk. You’ve got tactile, sensory, auditory connections, nerve connections, all kinds of nerve pathways and when you cut on a breast those nerves get disrupted. So a lot of studies think of neuropathic pain which is sort of liking to phantom limb pain.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I am grateful for the medical community. I am absolutely certain that they were part of saving my life, but we still don’t know so much. Anytime a body is cut open and stuff is moved around and taken out, we never put it back the way it’s supposed to.
Dr. Deb Kimless: True.
Caryn Hartglass: We feel the results. I had three major abdominal surgeries and my intestines just are not the same. I feel them sometimes trying to get into a comfortable place because they got all shifted and moved around and the muscle has to reform and it’s harder as an adult to accommodate a ready-made body rather than a baby that is growing all of those things as it gets bigger. It’s kind of crazy. Anyway, so you endured this unfortunately and another thing I wanted to say because our medical care, our sick care, whatever you want to call it, is so economically based, I found that when I stopped going to a particular doctor who was treating me for chemotherapy, just as one example, nobody was overseeing me other than me. There wasn’t anyone to talk to about the side effects or the things I was feeling after everything was done. They don’t talk about it. You hear very little about what is going to happen after a particular treatment and the surprises can be painful.
Dr. Deb Kimless: It’s really sort of surprising isn’t it? I was lucky that my breast cancer was caught very early and so surgery was my treatment. I did not have an oncologist or a radiation oncologist or any other follow up except for a surgeon. I was sort of a woman without an island so to speak.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Dr. Deb Kimless: It was very interesting. Not until I met with other women and noted some physical behaviors like: they would put a finger and press really hard underneath their breast fold would be if they had a breast. I would call them on it; why are you doing that because I know I do it and I know why I do it, because it hurts. Did you ever talk to anyone about it? Did you ever seek any help? Oh no. It’s sort of like the forever grateful thing. They are grateful that they are alive and they are grateful that they are cancer free and they are grateful that the medical community took care of them they did and they sort of suck up the rest of it.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to talk about some of your solutions, but just one more thing and that is: people that choose elective surgery, for example if they have had breast cancer and then they decide in order to prevent subsequent cancer ovarian let’s say, they will have a total hysterectomy and vice versa. Someone who has had ovarian cancer will elect to have a double mastectomy even though there is no sign of disease and I have a really hard time with this. A lot of this genetic testing that’s going on that will show that we have an increased risk for one thing or another because there are other things that we can do to reduce our risk and probably really make a better difference. The thing that they don’t talk about is what you’re going to feel after this elective surgery. When women have a total hysterectomy it screws up their whole hormonal balance, especially if they have it before menopause. There is a lot of subsequent discomfort they’re going to feel and was it even necessary without disease present?
Dr. Deb Kimless: I think a lot of it is fear based decision making.
Caryn Hartglass: Fear based, exactly. When you were in school did they teach you to scare patients?
Caryn Hartglass and Dr. Deb Kimless: Laugh
Dr. Deb Kimless: I think that doctors go in with a full heart and really feel and truly believe in what they say. I really do. I don’t think that any doctor is out there to do a disservice or an injustice and I think especially when it comes to oncologists, I liken them to the terminator, where they want to continue regardless of what the consequence is or the collateral damage. Kill every potential cancer cell that’s out there and I think that’s sort of the mind set the very sort of aggressive kind of macho way of dealing with it. If you are on the receiving end of this information and you hear someone saying they want to destroy the thing that is making you sick and any potential therein even if it’s got a low percentage of helping you survive even further, like increase your life expectancy by 2 percent 3 percent, whatever the small percentages are, I think the patient is really scared and feels that they’re health and wellbeing is in the hands of this well-meaning physician. It’s done with best intention.
Caryn Hartglass: I have to give oncologists credit for dong what they are doing because they are exposed to a lot of bad things. To seeing all these people that are devastated to being diagnosed with a disease and some of them are curable or not curable or somewhere in the middle and they lose a significant amount of patients and it can’t be fun. So I give them a lot of credit. Now, let’s move on to the happy side of this and let’s introduce our virtual guest plant foods. (Makes a trumpet sound).Where do plant foods fit into this picture? How do they come into your life?
Dr. Deb Kimless: In sort of an odd, but not odd way. Since I was 13 years old I was always fascinated with diet and nutrition. The challenge was we didn’t have internet back in the days where dinosaurs roamed the earth and I grew up. So at that point in my life I gave up red meat and refined carbohydrates thinking those things were evil, but still thinking that white meat, poultry and fish and drinking skim or low fat milk and eating low fat dairy products was still okay because sadly I was more pitted to like the rest of the world and didn’t have any checks and balances where I could see the veracity of any of that. So as I got older here I ended up with this breast cancer thing and no family history of it and I don’t smoke and I don’t drink and I exercise and I think I’m eating a really well for the standard American and my husband ended up with a immunologic issue and my father ended up with a quadruple bypass and all these things sort of happened and I am looking going this is not right. It didn’t make sense and the tipping point for me was my mom who is a fair skinned, small framed woman was put on a bisphosphonate drug, a drug used to increase bone density not because she had osteoporosis, but as a prophylactic to prevent it. She was given that like to drink, to take routinely for the rest of her life and she was standing in an elevator several years ago and called me on her cell phone saying: I’m in trouble I think I just broke my leg standing.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh
Dr. Deb Kimless: And sure enough x-rays revealed that not only did she break one femur, which is the thigh bone, the strongest bone in our body, but she broke both of them. That just was a game changer for me. So I started doing research. I started finding out that perhaps bisphosphonate as a knee jerk response for every female in the country was not the way to go. I started questioning everything because here my mom sports two titanium rods. One down each leg because she took a medication as directed and her drug pushing chemically huge proponent, physician daughter encouraged it.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Dr. Deb Kimless: So literally I started doing research. I started questioning every single thing that I knew. I came about Dr. Collin Campbell’s book The China Study and I started to read it. It was just mind blowing to me. I then found Dr. Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. The common denominator was this plant based diet. I then took the course from Cornell through Dr. Collin Campbell and it was a total game changing, life altering experience for me, my family and now I sort of cherry pick patients and I get people off their diabetes drugs. I get them off their blood pressure pills. I get them to lose tremendous amounts of weight and regain vitality that they haven’t seen in decades.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I am sorry what happened to you happened, but I am glad you are doing what you’re doing today.
Dr. Deb Kimless: You know what, I am not sorry, because life throws curve balls at all of us and I am healthy and I am here today speaking with you. I have a whole new, sort of career path, and lust for helping people, help empower themselves and recognize that these things that happen to us, these chronic medical problems really don’t have to happen. As Dr Esselstyn says: the majority of this stuff are foodborne illnesses. We get it from how we eat.
Caryn Hartglass: Yup, foodborne illnesses that’s what we have, unfortunately. Well, how depressing is it for so many doctors today who go in with an open heart and want to learn all that they can to help people get well and they go in every day and see all of these sick people, most of them are not even getting well, and they might give them a fix or a patch or a drug or something to let them hold on, but they’re not getting well and what you are doing is empowering people and they are getting well. How great does that feel?
Dr. Deb Kimless: It’s amazing. It truly is amazing because the truth of the matter is when you get nothing out of throwing pills at people. When you throw pills at people and here, this is a pill for your blood pressure and this is a pill for this. There was always a part in me that said none of it made sense.
Caryn Hartglass: How long were you practicing medicine; before the epiphany?
Dr. Deb Kimless: I was diagnosed in 2005 so I was practicing 19 years before I stopped.
Caryn Hartglass: I am sure you have a lot of colleagues that you have met during all that time. What do they think about what you are doing today?
Dr. Deb Kimless: Sadly the majority think I’m out of my mind.
Caryn Hartglass: Don’t they see what you have gone through?
Dr. Deb Kimless: It really is sort of sad and several of them, who are really smart people, have these chronic illnesses and chalk it up to genetics.
Caryn Hartglass: Yup
Dr. Deb Kimless: and feel like there is nothing else they can do because their genetics dictates the disease they are going to have and I keep telling them genetics is a loaded gun, but our diet pulls the trigger. You don’t have to sort of give in to what you think you’re going to suffer with. There is a great example. There is a physician in Boston, a young woman in her 30’s who was on 3 different blood pressure pills, she knew she was always going to be hypertensive because everyone in her family was hypertensive. She got a hold of the China Study, read about it, followed it and is off all of her medicine.
Caryn Hartglass: Just like that.
Dr. Deb Kimless: Right. It was amazing.
Caryn Hartglass: It must be anecdotal.
Dr. Deb Kimless: It’s not anecdotal because its evidence based science that shows this stuff. That’s the goofy thing about this, is that there is more evidence based research on the chronic diseases going away with plant based diet vs. Lipitor or any of the other cholesterol busting medications helping to prevent heart disease.
Caryn Hartglass: There is so much information that shows how the power of plants is so much more effective than any of the drugs on the market and of course I was sarcastic when I said it was anecdotal, but that is the response you hear all the time from doctors.
Dr. Deb Kimless: Absolutely. It’s crazy.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, so anyway, unfortunately you have experienced a great deal of pain from your surgery and you came up with some products to help women that have been through breast surgery. Can we talk about Red Thread?
Dr. Deb Kimless: Oh, I would love to.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s go.
Dr. Deb Kimless: Yeah, Red Thread is another passion of mine; after being frustrated with my pain and frustrated that I didn’t want to take a boat load of pills to mask the pain. I needed to search out a way that I could: A. help reduce the pain that I was feeling and also I didn’t like the way I looked after my breast cancer surgery because even though you get implants or reconstruction or whatever it is you don’t look normal. So you don’t look pre-surgical. So I designed clothing and then breast enhancers to : A, help with pain and b, help me look better. So it helps with pain because I sought out super soft stretchy/ compressible material that goes around the chest that compresses. So if you think about different pain relieving mechanisms. If you stub your toe the first thing you do is curse, the second thing you do is you grab your toe and you squeeze it and that is a real live pain relieving mechanism. Compression helps with pain and not the kind of compression that smooths out bumps and lumps because that’s a little bit too much. This is just some compression that goes around the chest that really helps reduce the amount of pain and it doesn’t feel like your clothes are banging on your chest. Then I developed a easy access, a patent pending, easy access pocket that goes on the inside that’s built into the shirt that if you have a prosthetic you can use it or if you don’t like the way look even after reconstruction, I created something I call Breast Shapers, which is literally like the shape wear for the breast that just gives you your missing apex and shape and form that you lose after surgery.
Caryn Hartglass: Very nice and I am sure you’ve helped a lot of women feel better as a result.
Dr. Deb Kimless: I think part of healing is emotional as well as physical.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolute certain about that. No doubt about that at all.
Dr. Deb Kimless: If you are not feeling good about how you look and your clothes don’t fit right and you don’t like your silhouette and clothes don’t feel right the healing process is going to be adversely effected.
Caryn Hartglass: Deb, thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food. We are at the end and I haven’t had enough time with you so we are going to have to pick up this conversation another time. Thanks for joining me Dr. Deb Kimless, founder of Red Thread. What’s your website?
Dr. Deb Kimless: www.redthreadbydrdeb.com
Caryn Hartglass: www.redthreadbydrdeb.com very good. I am Caryn Hartglass and please visit www.responsibleeatingandliving.com that’s my website and we will be back next week with more about food because it is all about food. Have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Mary Schings 3/19/2013