This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Jim Nicolai. In his own words:
“Jim Nicolai, M.D., is the Medical Director of the Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative Wellness Program at Miraval Resort and Spa, one of the first interactive integrative wellness programs of its kind at a destination spa resort. He is a board-certified family practitioner and a graduate of the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona in Tucson, under the direction of Dr. Andrew Weil. A graduate of the Indiana School of Medicine, Dr. Nicolai completed his family practice residency at St. Francis Hospital & Health Centers.
Dr. Nicolai has a special interest in whole-person medicine, addressing patients as mental and emotional beings, energetic and spiritual entities, and community members, as well as physical bodies. His expertise is in combining conventional medicine with the intelligent use of complementary and alternative therapies, including herbs and other botanicals, vitamins and supplements, nutritional counseling, lifestyle management and stress reduction.”
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Very excited about today’s show. We have a man who is doing all kinds of fun stuff and helping people on the grassroots level, but also a man who has got connections to the top of the wellness world. So, he did not come here to mess around. He is the Medical Director of the Andrew Weil Integrative Wellness Program at the Miraval Resort and Spa. He is a medical doctor, an M.D. He is an author of the Integrative Wellness Rules: A Simple Guide to Healthy Living and judging by the pictures on his website, which is drjimnicolai.com, he is pretty freaking ripped up. Jim, welcome to the show.
Jim: It is good to be here Jonathan.
Jonathan: How does one become a medical doctor, the director over Dr. Weil’s Organization, he is a pretty high up there guy, then make time to stay in great shape and write books?
Jim: I think when you understand that it does not have to take oodles of time or incredible amounts of effort, if you know how to do it simply and efficiently and I think you have to make time for it, but by the same token when you know the rules of the game and you make them work for you, you can still stay that level of top performance without cooking your goose.
Jonathan: I got to tell you Jim I can definitely relate to that. I personally and the listeners know this, I have never struggled as being overweight, but I definitely did struggle with an obsession with physical fitness and just it consumed my entire life and what I have been so impressed by is by practicing more of the modern techniques for healthy eating and exercise, much like you do, more focusing on quality, I am able to get the same, if not better results, that I got when I was spending 20 hours a week on the old traditional approach in like literally 1/10th if not less of the time. Has that been your experience as well?
Jim: Yes, it really has and what is really interesting is I kind of fell in the same pattern that you did. I was an athlete growing up and so fitness was something that I liked to do anyway, but as I got into medical school and then ultimately started having a family, I realized that 10 to 15 hours was just impossible, I couldn’t do it and so I was looking and scanning all the available stuff out there to try to figure out what might work, and as I began to kind of look at some techniques and some certain ways to do things, I found that I got into the best shape of my life with about no more than about 3-1/2 hours of exercise total over the course of a week, may be 4 hours tops, but that’s it and that blew me away. It totally blew me away that I could get into that level of fitness without necessarily going overboard and so it really got me looking at how are we doing things and might we be missing the boat with what everybody is telling us as far as what might be the right way and so it really got me looking to see what else is out there that might make me more efficient, but still give me the best results that I could see.
Jonathan: Dr. Jim, you certainly have quite a history. It seems, correct me if I am wrong, that your entire career is predicated on what you just said which is looking for not just doing what everyone else is doing, but rather saying what is accruing the most results, which I know sounds like common sense, but I am sure as you have seen in the medical field, is not always the case, right?
Jim: Yes, absolutely. As a matter of fact, it really was one of the things that almost got me out of medicine in the sense that I really got into wanting to be a doctor that, do what we all do and I think in the service community, and that’s just too really make a difference in people’s lives. I thought that being a healer and learning about healing, could help me do that and I began to get trained in a method that really taught me a lot about disease, a lot about what was wrong with the body, but not necessarily how to make it right or how to get into balance. What Dr. Weil calls feeling, which is just resilience and wholeness and balance, and so after being thought a lot, spending a lots of hours and getting a sense of what was wrong with the body, I got nothing about how to make the body right.
Two years then, I must say I am a first generation doctor, $50,000 in the hole, I said “oh shoot” and really began to say what am I going to be able to do and that’s when I really began to look elsewhere and one of the first books I read was a book by Andrew Weil that was called Spontaneous Healing. It changed my life. It really got me into looking at health and healing in a different sort of perspective that I was getting in my medical education and that got me to where I am now.
Jonathan: Jim, what was that key distinction or like what was the approach you were seeing in the traditional medical curriculum which you then completed, I mean you have your M.D. as does Dr. Weil, it is not as if you guys are out there peddling snake oil, you are board certified physician, but what led you down that road less traveled?
Jim: Yes, I am going to think it was just the concept that disease or learning about disease, being able to stamp out or get rid of what’s wrong with you is absolutely important. You need to be able to do that to deal with how to make people healthy, but the concept of health and healing was really defined for me in medical school as the absence of disease and that just didn’t sit well. The concept that life without anything wrong doesn’t necessarily feel good to me and I could tell you that in my experience going through both my medical education, my residency program and family medicine and even out in practice before I was trained with Dr. Weil, the concept of “I just don’t feel good or I am just not right or I just feel off or out of sync or I am just ‘eh,’” “Eh” is not a diagnosis, but it is a real thing and once people came to me and said that and I was able to say okay well let’s do some work to check and see if there is anything is wrong with you.
I would sometimes find things wrong and correct them in and they would still feel the same way and that to me said I was missing something, something was just not necessarily getting looked at in the right way and as I began to look into the concept of health and healing that Dr. Weil and a number of different health practitioners and coaches and amazing folks in this line of work that I do, it began to come across that health is really working with your body to create balance, to create wholeness, to create this moving forward kind of system of living that allows you to feel great, have all the energy you wanted or needed, look good and react and respond to life around you in a better way. That wasn’t in medical school. I didn’t get that in medical school and I was damned if I was going to do for the rest of my life, the training that I was getting, and having the results that were causing me to feel so frustrated.
Jonathan: It is certainly a profound distinction for, I am not a doctor and lot of people aren’t doctors and they hear that, for example what you said the type of training one receives, it’s not as if it is bad, it just seems like it is may be a training designed to ensure that everyone is at level zero. If you’re at negative, we will get you to zero, but are going to stop then and in fact there seems to be some sort of dogma of people who try to then take you from zero to positive rather than just focusing on making you not negative. That’s just not interesting or that’s not important and it seems like that really didn’t sit well with you.
Jim: Without a doubt, I think you are absolutely right on with how I felt. The concept of zero, where zero doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel good, but we’re in some way stabilizing what’s wrong, we were allowing you to live with what’s wrong with you, but you don’t ever necessarily feel what you might have felt before. Where before is this glimmer of what you were like when you were healthy and yet because of the fact that in your line of work or in your metaphor “the sink is clogged.” The sink is clogged but we are just kind of somehow manage you in a way that allows your disease to stay stable.
In so many people I would see that it just didn’t sit well and with the tools that I had at that time which was drugs and surgery and procedures, and various different lab kinds of ways to evaluate things, I didn’t have all the tools that I thought I needed to give them what I think they wanted, what I wanted to have and I think it’s that concept that I don’t know if I would treat me if I walked into my office with the same kinds of complaints and I think the biggest thing Jonathan that I got that I didn’t get in medical school was I didn’t get trained how to help people live.
Lifestyle was not necessarily taught to me as a treatment strategy and to me it made absolute sense that if I could somehow teach people to live right, some of these diseases might fall by the wayside and get rid of all the person’s needs for anti-depressants or anti-cholesterol or cholesterol medications or blood pressure medications. If I could somehow figure out a way for them to use lifestyle as what I call lifestyle as the pill to make that the treatment remedy and I wanted desperately to get that training.
Jonathan: It’s such a profound distinction that you make Dr. Jim about these two, they are not really competing. They could be complimentary, but often their position is competing, which is the approach of helping people to feel less bad or the model of relief, like relief from suffering or the model of feeling good or enabling vibrant life and of course you need to relieve suffering and make people feel less bad before they can do the former, but its definitely a different mindset its seems, which is your primary focus.
Jim: Absolutely. I always say that there are times for me and with my medical tools to wage war on something in your body. If you have got something in your body that we need to just blast away, we need to be able to do that, but once war is done, how do we then create a sense of peace where not only is there no problem, but there is also like what you said, the sense of feeling good, vibrant, alive, looking forward, passionate.
That to me is health and anything that interferes with that or causes a problem with that happening to me is disease and the challenge is that we have a skewed kind of version what I was getting with my training with Dr. Weil was this idea that you could do both and not only could you do both, but you could save war and waging war for those way intense way down the road kinds of problems, but when you taught people how to live better or effectively that that could be done so much more readily and so much more effectively and it could be done right now and that’s the thing that I wanted to spend more time with people on as opposed to saying “Hey, I have got 10 minutes with you, let’s just have you take an antibiotic or a medicine and I will see you back in six months.”
Jonathan: Dr. Jim, the metaphor of war on the body as painful as it is to hear, really I think it’s the nail on the head because we see that like when you take on that motto you realize it’s fundamentally unsustainable like you cannot live your life in a battle, you can but may be that’s not really living, in a battle against your body. I feel like that is even sometimes the way we approach food, people sometimes say “Oh well healthy eating is such drudgery and blah-blah.” Often times those people have a misunderstanding of what healthy eating is, but if you are looking in the refrigerator for something that is horribly unhealthy, often times you are doing that to feel less bad.
You feel bad and because you feel bad, you are trying to get relief and if you felt good, you wouldn’t need relief like if you can fix that system, if you can stop waging war, a lot of these things that seem so enjoyable really aren’t. They are way you give yourself temporary relief and if you don’t need that relief then you don’t need those things anymore, what do you say?
Jim: Absolutely and I think it’s even more to the fact of when you’re constantly waging war, there is an emptiness. There is this feeling that I don’t have something, I don’t know what it is, but it just isn’t with me and I am going to keep going hard, but then there is this feeling of struggle and challenge and I just can’t do this, but I have to, like you said that is in some way is not having that missing piece or that hole that is still when you have vitality.
The concept of just getting up and being happy or actually looking forward to breakfast when you know what breakfast is going to make you feel like and you are anticipating what it is going to make you feel like, so you are looking forward as opposed to getting a fix. Whether it is that, whether it is a meditation practice, whether it is a regimen of various things that you do regularly to keep you healthy, it makes you look forward to them and when you don’t have them that’s when you feel off and so to me it’s absolutely this idea of letting go of that mentality or using it only when we need to when the sink is clogged, but ultimately what we have to be able to do is understand a way to live that’s in flow and fluid harmony with the world around us that we dovetail into.
Jonathan: Jim, I think the reason the work you are doing, Dr. Weil is doing, so many others are doing is so important is because I think a lot of people do not understand that that state is possible or realistic for them because this is a silly and I am going to go may be a little bit off the ranch here, but here is just an example like if someone is in a completely wonderful relationship with another person, like it is their partner, they just could not imagine being spending a moment without that person, they have been together for years, it’s just literally their other half.
If someone were to come to them and say like “Isn’t it really hard not to cheat on your partner, like do you avoid just sleeping around, it’s so enjoyable to do that.” The person, who is in that wonderful relationship, literally does not, like those two people it is like they cannot see on the same plane because until you understand what it feels like to have that kind of a relationship with another person, you couldn’t possibly understand how, “No it’s actually not a struggle, it’s actually delight not to do those things” and it seems like what you teach people is how to have that kind of relationship with yourself and when you have that this idea of doing damage to yourself is not a relief and it’s not hard to avoid it because why would you want to do that in the first place.
Jim: Right, or sometimes and I think along those lines, sometimes life presents all kinds of things and to not go into that metaphor, but what you begin to discover is when you do it wrong, when you make a bad choice because of the fact that you are within your body and you realize what it feels like to feel so good. You suddenly realize what little tiny imbalances feel like and you discover “Wow I’m not doing that again” or “I’m going right back to square one to start right back on my program” so that it does not mean that I have to be perfect, but when I am living in this right relationship, I can discover, “Wow I made a bad choice” or this wasn’t really available to me, but “Wow it made me feel so bad and I realize now why I don’t do this on a regular basis.”
I see that so many times when either I institute a treatment plan on people who come to Miraval where they begin to feel differently and then as they add life back, they suddenly realize “Oh this doesn’t feel so good.” So you can begin to understand just what out of balance feels like because you’ve suddenly got an alternative that is so much more appealing.
Jonathan: Just having that alternative is so empowering because literally if you don’t know what it feels like then yes it seems very like, “Why wouldn’t you just drink that soda, it tastes good right now,” but if you knew how good you could feel for the other 99.9% of the day once you are well if you avoided those kinds of things, it is literally it’s not hard, just like it is not hard to avoid slamming your hands in the door because you are like, I know what it feels like to not slam my hand in the door, but you have to have something to compare it to, right?
Jim: Absolutely and I think giving people tastes I think one of the things that I have found to be so powerful is, and this is taught by Dr. Weil whether it’s an integrative medicine, it is a principle of what we talk about with integrative medicine on so many different levels, not necessarily just the physical level, but when I can be a model for other individuals and I can talk with them with the same passion and vibrancy that might suggest to them that I have something that they don’t. What I can then do is give them a hope that it’s available, especially if I can let them know that I am not a superstar or some crazy person that is doing it, especially above anybody else when I can make people understand that I am real and I have the same issues.
I have three children. They are 13, 8, and 6. They make my life full and wonderful, but damn busy and so life can sometimes just get really challenging as I get that across to people, but yes I can still be this healthy vibrant individual and then a model for them. What they then sometimes do and say ‘what are you doing?’ Let me just begin to figure out how I can model some people they are getting results and just even if I don’t know if I can do it, let me just have a little hope and give it a try for a couple of weeks, for a couple of months, let’s say let’s try it for a season, that’s one of the things I talked about in the book what I often tell people is do this in in threes, 3 weeks then 3 months, or in 3 week intervals until we give you a season to just see how this feels. Put your head down, give yourself a chance and see if you feel any differently, if you do then may be you are on to something.
Jonathan: Jim that is such a powerful distinction and I am curious if this is along the same lines. I have heard people who represent what you just described, for example an individual, a mother or father, many children, also has a busy professional life and is also able to maintain the state of vibrancy and people will say to that person, let’s say in this example, her name is Mary. “Mary, how are you able to have time to eat healthfully and to stay active with all that you have going on?” and Mary actually says, “Well the reason, I am able to have all of that other stuff going on at the level that I do is because not in spite of, but because I do those other things.” That’s a flip that can really be transformative.
Jim: Absolutely. Without a doubt. What we then do is and so as a result of that what is a simple ritual that we can begin today that we can start a healthy breakfast that’s just different than your cereal or your oatmeal or a way to fill you up both spiritually and emotionally as well as physically that we start today that begins to give you an ability to access the things that you might not necessarily feel that you have, simply because of the fact that you don’t know the rituals or you aren’t necessarily in the routines and as we begin to describe that it’s the routines that get us where we are then that might give people a sliver of hope.
I have come across a quote that just floors me. I don’t know if you have heard this before, but it is by Aristotle and he says, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, it is a series of habits” and it is those habits that I am trying to instill, it’s lifestyle as a pill. What living techniques can we do where I am all about and the book is all about, how can we make it quick and dirty, it does not have to be complex. How can we start the process rolling so you can begin to see some momentum just because we’ve opened the door and you’re going through it?
Jonathan: I think by doing those quick and dirty, but scientifically backed which is always the beautiful thing, it’s just not random stuff which is [crosstalk 23:05]
Jim: Right absolutely.
Jonathan: It is important that it gives also this, like as you have seen and I have seen personally, you can be in great shape not spending 20 hours a week exercising when you have the tools and the techniques necessary and it also starts to get into, you mentioned Aristotle. There is another concept in Greek culture, the difference between two different kinds of times. There is Kronos time which is linear time or just quantity of time and Kairos time which is more the quality of time and I think what a lot of people find is once you are actually well, like yes you might spend an additional hour a day on wellness, but let’s say your job, just because it is an easy example, is you are at an Ad agency and you need to do creative work.
If your job is to come up with a good idea and you come up with that good idea in 1 hour because your brain is functioning, you can go home, like you came up with your good idea or may be just even in relationships. Think about how much time it takes when we have a negative interaction with the person because we are in a bad mood. So if we weren’t in a bad mood, how much time would we save? So, it’s almost like we can make the pie bigger in terms of time with wellness, what do you think?
Jim: Absolutely, it’s exactly it and not only that and you talked about the whole idea of one idea when you are vibrant, alive and you love what you do because of all that you are doing, one idea turns into three or five or you begin to say “Wow this could really branch off.” So it’s just about efficiency and it’s that that makes it fun. I don’t know about you, but everyday is an adventure. I mean it’s really, it’s awesome because you would never know what’s going to come because it’s always going to be something new and as you have that vitality, you begin to start looking for these little synchronicities and these little sort of relationships and meetings and how people come to interact in your life.
That makes its juice-filled and so in that regard it’s because of the fact that you are efficient and it makes you want to keep going even though you might be working a little harder or little bit longer, you are feeling good doing it because you are living your truth, you feel good about it. I often say that wellness is a journey as opposed to health is a destination, where wellness might not necessarily even be that you’ve got health yet, but when you are doing a series of tools and its working and you know that you are on the right track, you suddenly begin to get a sense of that hope and that energy and that vibrancy that even though you haven’t gotten it yet, you feel something and that’s a huge deal.
Jonathan: Well, Dr. Jim, I think hopefully if folks are even slight amount of excited as I am based on our conversation so far, they’re saying, ‘What are some of these things I can do beside eating smarter, exercising smarter?”, they kind of get that. What are some things you have see? Dr. Jim and certainly you folks if you get a chance to check out Dr Jim’s book which is called Integrative Wellness Rules: A Simple Guide to Healthy Living it’s literally a quanta cornucopia of these quick and dirty things you can do which can wonderful, but Jim would you be willing to share maybe three of your favorite that are not as obvious, with the listeners that they could start today?
Jim: Yes, absolutely. So, you know what’s really interesting and I love what you said because it’s really important to understand. A lot of what I do has some really good grounded scientific basis on it. So, it’s one of these things that you want to understand where dirty doesn’t necessarily mean all over the place or willy-nilly. What dirty means it is in some ways simple, effective, doable and you might have to trick yourself to get it done or somehow feel your way around it to make it happen, but once it happens it works for you. So from that perspective, there are some pretty amazing stuffs outside of the realm of just physical stuff whether it is exercise or eating right.
Surprisingly, there is some amazing research on the power of positive thinking or the power of gratitude. There are some great studies that have been done that have found that any gratitude exercises, some of them have been talked about where just keeping a gratitude journal. As simple as this, Jonathan, writing down five things that you are grateful for once weekly for 12 weeks. This study was done and it was done in California, got by the name of Robert Emmons did it and basically he said let’s do this in relationship to other kinds of ways of journaling, writing down to-do lists, what have you and let’s just see if gratitude makes a difference and they found that over 12 weeks of time that writing down a gratitude journal made three things happen.
It made you feel better about yourself, you exercised more and you went to the doctor less. How simple is that to just keep a focus on what you are thankful for on a regular basis, even if it’s just once a week. So, part of what I do daily is periodically I’ll keep a gratitude journal, but daily I do gratitude exercises on a walking meditation. So after my workout at the gym, which is anywhere between 20 to 40 minutes, I will go on a 15-minute at most walk with my dog and we walk around our neighborhood and I teach a particular form of meditation called breath-walking.
Which basically just syncs a four in and four out count with your stride and I do that while I am walking my dog and as I do that periodically, I’ll do a series of gratitude meditations just in that rhythm counting out four in and four out as I am walking just focused on thankfulness what I am grateful for, what I am appreciative of. Those two exercises, I think are the two basic parts that I do as I give data me first, so that I can fill up knowing that my exercise is made and I am on my way to breakfast. I love gratitude and I love finding some way to get what we call mindful, which just simply is shut off your head, get your to-do list, get your back history out of your head and just simply be without judgment and finding any way to make that happen whether it is through meditations that are sitting, things like body scans at nighttime, but I love walking because I am a doer and an active person.
But by walking and doing gratitude work, I think those two have been unbelievably powerful. As a third, I often times talk about this, I am a spiritual person where the spirituality that I have is just having some sense of connection with something bigger than you. Whether it is a religious practice which I certainly have but don’t really talk to or [indescribable 30:13] to. Finding some way to give your life to a bigger purpose, to a service kind of way to go and I simply offer up a quick prayer that’s four things; help me be blessed, allow me to be of service, allow me to be protected, and allow me to be guided.
And so simply just offering a prayer on a regular basis to whatever it is that I somehow feel connected with I have a certain idea about what that is in my mind, but you don’t have to have it. It could be nature or it could be something else, but on a simple basis giving your day to something bigger, allowing you to be thankful and allowing your mind to turn off from your to-do list and getting into now time, I think are three things that could serve you well.
Jonathan: Certainly, we ensure that we get quality exercise with our body and we ensure that we take quality food into our mouth and it seems like what you are saying makes obvious sense as a compliment and that is to make sure we are putting quality stuff into our mind.
Jim: Absolutely and feeling connected to something bigger allows that hole to sometimes is be filled when you are taking everything else into account, but you still feel little bit not right. I think that’s where wholeness, when we are talking about health, is more than just the physical. It’s mental, it’s emotional, it’s spiritual as you attend to those things, that’s really when the vitality and the vibrancy steps up.
Jonathan: Dr. Jim, I love it, well certainly you are keeping yourself busy, you have got your book Integrative Wellness Rules, you are the director of Integrative Medicine at the Miraval Resort and Spa. You have got your work with Dr. Weil and folks can learn more about you at drjimnicolai.com, but what’s next for you, what’s next in this quest to be the change you want to see in the world?
Jim: It is funny. I think part of what I see is I think the message just continues to need to come out and not just from a point of view of a TV show or trying to navigate through all the health material. I think what I would love to do is the more rules are out there, the more there are to share and so I really see myself as an archeologist for quick and dirty health tips. So, part of what I would love to do is keep spreading that message.
There may be a second book in me that speaks to that and really continues to try to make that happen. I would love to tell you that my life as a dad continues to grow and as a father and a husband, that will keep me continuously busy and in all honesty, I have to tell you from your point of view I love the work that you are doing and the more that I think we can spread this message of health as a way to be simple, doesn’t have to be complex. I think that there is plenty for us to do in the future.
Jonathan: Well, certainly it is not a shrinking market in any sense of the word.
Jim: True that, that’s for sure.
Jonathan: It has been an absolute pleasure and I certainly look forward to collectively all hopefully and listeners you included, dedicating our lives to the very noble purpose into the very big cause in addition to all the other noble purposes we have in our lives of addressing this epidemic which is literally something the world has never seen before. So if for no other reason being that example, empowering others, you just might save someone else’s life in addition to your own and that’s pretty freaking motivational in my book.
Jim: Absolutely, I am right on.
Jonathan: Well, Dr. Jim, thank you so much and listeners, I hope you enjoyed today’s show as I much as I did. Again, Dr. Jim Nicolai, is his name, his website is the exact same and remember, this week and every week after; eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Talk with you soon.
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