Touted as a doctor of the future, Dr. Alona Pulde combines conventional Western medicine, Chinese medicine, lifestyle medicine, nonviolent communication, polyvagal theory and trauma-informed, somatic principles and pain reprocessing to create her groundbreaking paradigm.
She starred in the documentary Forks Over Knives and co-authored six books, including the New York Times bestseller Forks Over Knives Plan. Most recently, she co-authored Wellness to Wonderful, interweaving medical science, psychology, spirituality and life wisdom to help people achieve lasting health, vibrancy, peace and joy.
Dr. Pulde is a board-certified acupuncture practitioner and Oriental medicine and family medicine physician. She is particularly passionate about supporting clients with nutrition and women’s health.
Q: What inspired you to write Wellness to Wonderful?
A: Our passion over the last two decades has been Nutrition and Lifestyle medicine—focusing on diet to prevent and reverse chronic disease and optimize overall health and well-being. Addressing the detrimental effects of an unhealthy diet still ranks at the forefront of our work and program. However, it does not reflect the entire picture. Although many diseases appear in direct correlation with our unhealthy food choices, they are also impacted by factors beyond diet. Wellness to Wonderful, our new book, addresses the other factors (nine pillars) that we have identified as crucial for maintaining and sustaining optimal health and well-being. The pillars are interconnected and synergistic so that tending to one, positively impacts the others and vice versa. For example, if you don’t sleep enough you make poor food choices, have less patience to communicate with family, and are much less likely to exercise and play.
Q: Please explain the Disconnection Epidemic.
A: We are currently experiencing a loneliness epidemic despite being more “connected” than ever through technology. Social media and virtual communities have replaced in-person interactions and with them the appeal to replace our real lives with virtual facades has increased. The cost here is two-fold: 1) pretenses and fabrications have replaced vulnerability and authenticity, two key factors contributing to feeling true connection and 2) studies continue to show that it is in-person contact that matters most and that the more in-person connections you have, the lower your loneliness score. Loneliness and disconnection have been linked to physical disease including increased risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, depression, anxiety and obesity. Additionally, our inability to experience and cope with chronic pain is linked to disconnection.
Q: What is the Essence of WeHeal (EoW) model?
A: The model is built around nine fundamental pillars that when fully optimized and in balance, enable you to thrive beyond your expectations. The pillars are centered around the self (you) and are comprised of your:
1. Internal World: Areas that you can address on your own such as sleep, nutrition, activity and play.
Self encourages us to explore, uncover and compassionately connect to our authenticity, truth and values.
Nutrition identifies the food we should eat for optimal health along with exploring our relationship to food and eating.
Activity highlights our need for movement and the importance of balancing cardio, strength training, flexibility and balance.
Play is content free time that invites creativity, discovery, community, spontaneity and fun.
Sleep is the quality and quantity of our rest.
2. External World: The important relationships in your life, such as family and friends, work, spirituality and the natural world.
Connection to our external world centers around authentic experiences we have with ourselves, others and the world around us. It creates meaning and purpose in our lives, helping us define goals and giving us direction.
Q: Why is exercise and movement so important? What advice do you have for those who don’t enjoy exercising?
A: Physical activity is an important part of achieving and sustaining optimal health. Studies show that regular physical activity decreases blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis. But more important than formal exercise is the incorporation of movement into our day. Even those of us that exercise regularly for an hour a day are otherwise living a sedentary life—either sitting at our desks at work or in front of a TV at home. Getting in movement can often be more fun than planning exercise. For example, you can take a walk in nature, dance with friends, catch a soccer or basketball game at the park, jump on a trampoline, etc. The key is to find an activity you enjoy and do that as often as you can and ideally daily. You can also choose to incorporate movement into your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park your car a bit farther and walk the extra distance, do your housework at double speed to some fun music, etc.
Q: What issues can sleep deficiency cause?
A: The bottom line is we need sleep to function properly and thus sleep deficiency is associated with disease in nearly every organ system in our body and is linked to seven of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., including cardiovascular disease (heart attacks, vascular stiffness, blockage, stroke and heart failure), diabetes and insulin resistance, septicemia (infection), cancer and accidents. Additionally, sleep deprivation increases mortality and leads to five times more depression, two times more medical visits and hospitalizations, and four times more accidents. Inadequate sleep also increases our risk of obesity by increasing ghrelin, a hormone that makes us feel hungry, while at the same time suppressing leptin, a complementary hormone that signals satiety. This hormone upheaval results in our feeling hungry and continuing to eat even when our body is full and doesn’t need more food. Studies show that sleep deprived individuals (with sleep deficits of several hours per night) crave about 30 to 40 percent more sweets, processed carbs and salty snacks.
Q: In the book, you list a number of activities to reduce stress. Why are they important?
A: Stress is a mental state in which messages of danger overwhelm messages of safety. Living in survival mode, we are constantly scanning for danger, which results in experiencing stress. With repeated occurrences and extended duration, this accumulation of stress becomes chronic. We are not designed to live in chronic survival mode. In fact, our ancestors experienced danger and threat in short bursts. They would see a threat, they would escape from the danger, and then they would rest and recover. Chronic stress is linked to all sorts of proinflammatory states and conditions, challenges with fertility and increased risk of asthma, heart disease, obesity, pain (headaches, back and neck pain), gastrointestinal issues (reflux, heartburn, colitis), depression, insomnia, impaired immune function, and decreased resilience and overall ability to cope. Acknowledging our stress raises our awareness and allows us to gain clarity, a key first step to reduce the stress. Some activities to consider to help decrease stress include:
1. Take full deep nose breaths (breathe in through the nose for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, and blow out through the mouth for a count of eight)
2. Dance in your living room like a child at a birthday party
3. Hug yourself and rub your upper arms up and down (you can include breathing in and out while you do it)
4. Hum, sing, gargle (stimulates your safety brake via the throat)
5. Smile for 20 seconds (you can even sit with a pencil or sensory stick in your mouth to stimulate the “smile” muscles)
6. Journal—engage in expressive writing.
Note: A full list can be found in Appendix A of Wellness to Wonderful
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: At WeHeal our goal is to go beyond wellness to wonderful. Rather than start with discovering what is wrong with you, we ask what does right look like? What would it take for life to be wonderful? Not perfect and not without ups and downs, but joyful, connected, meaningful and ultimately wonderful. Many of us have not spent time thinking about who we are authentically, what is alive in us, and how we could feel fulfilled.
We ask you to connect to your:
1. “Why” – The most effective way to make life long change is to connect to why we are making it. Think about how these changes contribute to making your life wonderful. Are you wanting to reverse your heart disease because you desire to live a long healthy life? Do you want to show up differently in your relationships because you have a need for intimacy, love and companionship? Would you like to be kinder to yourself because you have a need for care and self acceptance? Without this clarity, you may be confusing forward motion with progress—making changes, but not the ones you truly desire for fulfillment, meaning, love, joy and health.
2. “Why Not” – The most compassionate way to make life long changes is to connect to why we haven’t yet made them. So many of us know exactly what we need to do yet we can’t make it stick. There is a reason this happens. Many of the “problems” we have actually served as solutions for many years. All of the things you say, think, and do were chosen by you because, at some point, they helped you. The catch is that we continue to use these same strategies well beyond their expiration date. What served you as a child, as a teenager, or even two years ago, may not be serving you now. As adults, we have greater autonomy and agency and can make different choices.
At WeHeal, we work with you to identify the underlying needs you are wishing to meet, as well as offer new and effective solutions. More importantly, we empower you with the skills to repeat this process on your own.