Listen to the Interview
About John Principe, MD
After 25 years of practicing internal medicine, Dr. Principe got frustrated that his patients were still sick (and some were dying). So he closed his business, went to culinary school and re-opened a new clinic focused around teaching people how to better manage stress and cook real food! His story is so unique, we had to film this onsite in his “teaching kitchen” adjacent to his medical clinic in Chicago, IL. His clinic is called WellBeingMD and is located in the Chicago suburbs.
Related Books and Products
1:32 What is WellBeingMD? The concept was to change people’s lives using the foundation of eating well, moving well, and living with resilience in modern day stress. Dr. Principe’s conventional medical training was disease-based. For 20 years, he treated those disease states, but was never able to change those disease states. At best, he was able to delay complications.
2:40 Healthcare Protectors, not Providers: As Dr. Principe sees it, doctors do not provide health to you. The oath is “Do no harm”, so doctors should be protecting you. He envisioned himself as a doctor getting to know “what makes you tick and flick”, but the seven minute office visit model does not allow that. It was unsatisfactory for both Dr. Principe and his patients.
3:55 A Life Change for the Better: Dr. Principe grew up in a home full of the food and cooking from his Mediterranean heritage. He thought that maybe he should become a chef. A great deal of love and energy goes into the preparation and service of food. He took a great many culinary classes. At the point where he was about to leave medicine to become a chef, he met David Eisenberg, MD and his associates from Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives at the Culinary Institute of America. There he discovered what he was seeking: eating well, moving well, connecting the mind/body, having intention to what you do in life. He did not need to leave medicine, because this was his revolutionary change.
6:05 The First Ever Teaching Kitchen in a Doctor’s Office: He started by making things at home, bringing them into the office for patients to sample, providing copies of the recipe. This was well received by patients. His food was largely plant-based and always unprocessed. He developed a 6 week program called The Roadmap to Wellness. The first course had over 60 signups. They had no kitchen, but improvised. Class sizes grew; eventually Dr. Principe purchased new office space and created the first teaching kitchen in a doctor’s office. At the WellBeingMD Center for Life, they teach about the life forces that enhance life, movement and the importance of mindfulness.
10:15 Cooking is a lost life skill. With some basic knife skills and some basic cooking skills, you don’t have to live a processed life. Dr. Principe sees his time in the kitchen as his meditative quiet time and tries to teach that to others. Food does more than just nourish us. It is critical in disease prevention and significant in disease modification.
12:18 Many Stories of Transformation: People’s entire lives can change from what they learn in Dr. Principe’s kitchen. For example, one man only followed the nutritional advice according to the kitchen theme. Eat real. Eat mostly plants. Eat less of it. Eat it together. At the beginning of the 6 week program, the man was so large that he could not sit in a normal chair. Over the 6 weeks, he lost about 30 or 40 pounds. Subsequently, his weight loss as been over 100 lbs. and he has kept it off. Now he is more active. His whole life has improved. Food is medicine.
15:12 Plan ahead and Cook Ahead: To be successful in the kitchen, you need to plan ahead and cook ahead. Choose one day. A lot of people choose Sunday to cook. Sunday used to be a day of rest and reflection, a way to connect to your spiritual self. Choose any day, but cook with your family. Make things ahead or at least make plans for the week. For example, steel cut oats are a great make-ahead breakfast option. It can stay in the refrigerator for days as you pull out serving sizes and add in protein like nuts or other things like berries. Boiling organic eggs ahead provides even more protein for breakfast or lunch.
17:53 Calming before and While You Eat: Assess your calm before, during and after eating. Engaging the parasympathetic nervous system promotes good digestion, good absorption and healing. Be mindful while you are eating. Look at your food. Appreciate the food. Do your best to eat slowly, tasting your food, feeling its texture and smelling the aroma.
21:43 Taste Trumps Everything! Eat food that tastes good and savor it. Food scientists manipulate taste to manipulate you into craving and eating the things that they are selling.
22:14 Gastrointestinal Evaluation: Dr. Principe does additional testing on patients who are having great difficulty losing weight. The urinary organic acids test, as he says, analyzes your metabolism and everything that is in you. When markers appear on this test for yeast or fungus, it reflects dysbiosis (imbalance) in their intestinal tract. Yeast/fungus causes cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. Overweight individuals are blamed, by themselves and others, for lack of self-control, when often they are being driven by something beyond themselves.
23:35 Our Gut Microbiome Drives Hunger and Cravings: We have an instinct to eat what our body needs. Many of us have lost our sensitivity to that instinct.
24:18 Mind/Body: Teaching the mind/body connection is now coming to the forefront in Western medicine. These are tools that we can work with at home, that don’t cost us anything, and have no side effects. One of Dr. Principe’s instructors has what is called the “Red Light Breathing Technique”. Whenever you are stopped at a red light, you do the 4-square breathing technique.
25:40 HeartMath and Similar Techniques: can change the dynamic of the whole world in terms of violence. We can teach us to appreciate our own bodies, learn how to care for it, love it, and be kinder to themselves and others.
26:53 Having a Purpose: Mark Twain said “The two most important days of your life are the day that you’re born and the day you figure out why.” There are many opportunities to discover your purpose. With opportunity, comes a lot of hard work. Dr. Principe will not wait for a published study to affirm what he is doing. His patient’s biomarkers, weight and change in spirit tell him that it works.
28:47 We Don’t Have Time: We need to start applying things as we learn about them. It is a continuous process of growth and learning to help people and help the planet. Dr. Principe partners with his local farmer’s market, highlighting different vegetables and providing recipes. He is also involved with a local sustainable farm.
31:43 Go to Your Farmer’s Market: Start asking questions. When you purchase things, look at their website or call and talk to them. Get to know your farmers. Get firsthand knowledge of how the animals are raised, killed and processed. Get to know the entire process so you can appreciate your food and all the work it took to grow and process. We want our planet healthy for our children and our children’s children.
35:31 The Low Cost Abundant Food Mentality: Since food is abundant and can be purchased in great volume with little effort, it has less value to us, bringing even greater distance between us and our food. It is also much easier to waste it.
36:40 Living in the Present Moment: We are always living in the future. We are always living in the past. No one pays attention to the present. If we are not focused on the present, Dr. Principe believes that all of our work on food, movement and health, is nullified.
39:48 Encouragements for Practitioners: Don’t fear shifting into lifestyle and functional medicine. It works and it works well. It brings purpose to your work and to your day. Working with insurance companies is a challenge. Join the revolution in thought. It is a renaissance. Dr. Principe says that western medicine can live in harmony with functional and lifestyle medicine.
46:22 Dr. Principe’s One Herb, Nutrient, or Botanical He Cannot Live Without: Omega 3s are at the top of his list. It improves overall health, improves our cell membranes, and it brings more power to your brain to do better things. A close second is vitamin D. Dr. Principe used to be profoundly plagued with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Now that he takes vitamin D, it is no longer an issue at all. Optimizing vitamin D levels is life-changing. The comparison numbers on tests are based upon a sick American population. There is a difference between what is normal and what is optimal.
50:11 Where Dr. Principe Thinks Medicine is going: A personalized approach is what he sees. People will have their genetic profile and see their doctor, who will be able to integrate the genetics, nutrition, physical activity, and mind/body interaction that can change gene expression.
52:33 Dr. Principe’s Morning Routine: You start your day well, when you have finished your day well. Though he gets off track, Dr. Principe is making a commitment to both. If you don’t get the right amount of sleep, what you do in the morning, will not be of much help. It takes a long time to repair a deficit in sleep. He tries to avoid the computer in the morning. He enjoys his commute to work through the countryside, where he stops and spends a few moments in silence before he starts his day.
56:45 Educational Outreach: Besides his newsletter and the Roadmap programs, Dr. Principe says that his FaceBook page is one of his greatest teaching sites. His TED talk is on his web site. Check it out.