Book Club: Dr. Will Cole on How to Create the Best Meal Plan for You
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Dr. Will Cole, leading functional-medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing health programs for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal dysfunctions, digestive disorders and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional-medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is a health expert for mindbodygreen and goop.
He’s also the author of the upcoming book The Inflammation Spectrum in which he explores how inflammation exists on a spectrum within the body, the various systems it can affect and how you can discover your individual food triggers to overcome chronic inflammation. We sat down to chat with him about who this book is for, how to find your personal food triggers and why there is no one-size-fits-all meal plan.
Why Too Much Inflammation Hinders Our Health
In a balanced system, inflammation is our defense mechanism, says Dr. Cole. “The human race wouldn’t be here without balanced inflammation,” he continues. “But it’s the Goldilocks principle: Our bodies function best with the right amount of balanced inflammation.”
Today, he says, there’s at least an inflammatory component to prominent and widespread conditions like autoimmune disease, anxiety, fatigue, depression, heart disease and diabetes. “To the general public,” he says, “‘inflammation’ only means arthritis. We accept as ‘normal’ the anxiety, fatigue and GI symptoms we’re experiencing.”
And when we do go to the doctor, lots of us are left disillusioned with the healthcare system. “I see patients all the time who do all the things they were told to do—take their meds, go to the doctor with their symptoms—and they still don’t feel well.”
That’s where functional medicine comes in. “People don’t need to settle for feeling badly,” Dr. Cole says. “We help give them the tools they need to be more balanced. That’s one reason I wrote The Inflammation Spectrum—I realized that I can’t see every person who reads the book, and not everyone needs a functional medicine practitioner. But [the book] offers something they can do today, a low-cost solution to their ongoing symptoms.”
The book can be more than enough, he says. “I see this every day—people who’ve never seen me [in my practice] but who tell us that the book and the resources on my website have changed their lives.”
Why There’s Not a One-Size-Fits-All Meal Plan
Dr. Cole says that in his day job, he’s seen so many variables that impact a person’s health. “If I were to hang my hat on one way of eating, I’d be proven wrong all day long,” he says. That’s also what’s at the core of functional medicine: a personalized approach, not a “cookie cutter” prescription.
That’s part of what The Inflammation Spectrum is about as well. What foods work well for you may not be the foods that work well for someone else. It’s very personalized, and unique to your body’s structure, chemistry, pathways and genes.
Says Dr. Cole, “That’s the heart of what I do when consulting with patients is to find out what’s driving their inflammation—and what to do about it.” He says the duality of functional medicine is balancing the science and the art of it. From a clinical standpoint, he seeks out the root cause of the inflammation and symptoms. But it’s an art to find out how that impacts each individual, and how to prescribe a treatment plan that makes them feel their best.
How to Find the Best Meal Plan For You
In the book, Dr. Cole guides the reader through a quiz that helps you identify where you are on the “inflammation spectrum.” Based on your quiz score, you get a personalized elimination food plan that’s either four or eight weeks long that directs you for where to start. After the elimination plan, you slowly reintroduce foods, paying attention to how they make you feel, to figure out what your body loves and what it could do without.
All of this is based on intuitive eating, says Dr. Cole. It helps you get in touch with your physical body and be able to break down what foods cause what reactions. “It’s really hard to eat intuitively before you’ve done the elimination,” says Dr. Cole. “If you have a reaction to a food, you can’t always tell if it’s inflammation or hormones, or if you’re just hangry. After the elimination plan, you can find food peace—you can find what your body loves.”
Once you create that balance, he continues, you can implement intuitive eating all the time. “And then you’re not on a ‘food plan’ forever,” he says. “You can intuitively figure out what your body needs.”
The goal, Dr. Cole says, is to decipher what is physiologically “good” for your body, and where that intersects with what you also enjoy. “We don’t just eat for health,” he says, “but for our mind, body and spirit. What you need to eat to live is different than what you need to eat to thrive—and that’s bio-individual.”
Interested in learning more about Dr. Will Cole’s insights? His book, The Inflammation Spectrum, drops on October 15, 2019.