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Why Dr. Frank Lipman hired a health coach swat team

There are lots of things you need doctors for: To set a broken forearm bone after your ice skating foray (whoops!) or to write you a prescription for a merciless UTI (ugh). But most of the things that people need for better health are food-based, says Frank Lipman, MD.

Which is why the functional medicine expert says the future of medicine lies with those who can help you figure out what to eat. And why he’s now hired a squadron of health coaches at his New York practice, Eleven Eleven, to work one-on-one with his patients.

“Diet is the largest lever for health changes,” says Dr. Lipman, who’s been prescribing cleanses, leafy greens, supplements, and changes like cutting out dairy and gluten or other inflammatory foods to great effect. “But telling my patients to take their turmeric and watch their sugar doesn’t mean they do it. Compliance is a problem, even though my patients tend to be very motivated. With health coaches, it’s so much better because they have time to work with patients, meet for regular sessions, stay in touch via email, and create a relationship.”

Kerry Bajaj (at right) with a patient at Eleven Eleven. The food is med era is hard to implement without this dimension. (Photo: Eleven Eleven)

It’s something he learned when rolling out cleanses in 2010 and he hired his first health coach Kerry Bajaj, a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which trains its grads in various nutritional philosophies and counseling. He’s since hired a healthy swat team, including Katrine van Wyk, Jenny Sansouci, and more.

Where medicine and its five-minutes-per-patient model leaves off, food coaching begins.

Typically, one of the coaches is in the room with Dr. Lipman for the new patient intake process, and after he prescribes dietary changes, they then sit with the patient to figure out the how, developing personalized food plans, keeping in touch via email, and meeting with the patient every two weeks.

Megan McGrane was working in the ER, but even her medical smarts weren’t helping her resolve her autoimmune issues. She credits the Lipman-coaching combo to turning around her symptoms, which ranged from fatigue to chronic aches. “I thought I was being really healthy—I was mostly vegetarian when I came in, I was doing yoga and meditation. But my dietary changes, like cutting out grains, were huge in changing my symptoms. I definitely feel better now and blood work shows things are stable.”

The team finds that compliance is so much better when they work together. “Patients stick with it and come back and want more. It’s more sustainable.” says Bajaj.

Frank Lipman
Dr. Frank Lipman thinks health coaches working alongside physicians are the future of medicine. (Photo: Frank Lipman)

“We’re sympathetic, because know how difficult it can be to cut out sugar,” jokes Sansouci. “A lot of us looked for answers and didn’t have the support that people have here now,” adds Van Wyk. And the coaches have different areas of experience, from vegetarian to Paleo, Celiac, and pregnancy.

It’s also more appropriate for patients to ask coaches for healthy recipes, snacks, and nutrition advice, say, than their MD.

Similarly, Dr. Lipman teaches the coaches about functional medicine via mentorship, involving them in the patient’s care. “I’ll send a chart over to the coaches and they will see things I might not about causation and diet changes. I’ll listen to their ideas for what foods might help,” he says. And he admits that medical schools don’t load up doctors with much nutrition know-how.

The team works like a health detective squad to find dietary culprits and create a plan patients can live by. “It brings a whole other dimension to patient care that’s completely missing in the current system,” he says. That may change as more MDs follow his lead. —Melisse Gelula

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