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Leigh Vinocur, M.D. Headshot

Health From the Outside In

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Celebrity chef Paula Dean's confession about her diabetes has created quite a stir. However, according to the American Diabetes Association, Type 2 diabetes, the kind that Paula Dean developed, is on the rise. Over 8 percent of the U.S. population, almost 26 million Americans, have diabetes; 7 million of them are undiagnosed. Another 79 million people today are at risk for developing it. The American Heart Association states that 65 percent of people with diabetes will die from some form of heart disease or stroke.

That's why diabetes has been called the silent killer. I disagree; this silent killer is really not so silent. It's actually screaming to us, but we are not getting the message. All we have to do is look in the mirror. Its chubby face is right there in front of us staring back.

According to the CDC, almost one-third of the U.S. population is obese. Obesity has now passed cigarette smoking in contributing to preventable deaths. I worry as physicians we must be failing in our messages to patients. Either they don't listen or what we are telling them doesn't resonate. I think it is the latter. For me, this is a call to action; if fear of disease or death doesn't seem to motivate people, then we have to find something that does.

As a celebrity-crazed nation that is fixated on looks, unfortunately it's not the look of our arteries that we are worried about. If I can't get people to worry about how their insides look, maybe I can get them to focus on their health from the outside in! By concentrating on their outsides I can show them how in fact health and beauty are intrinsically intertwined.

This is my philosophy for healthy living: health from the outside in. You can learn more about my five-pronged approach at drleigh.com. It's centered on the theme that things you do to keep yourself looking young and beautiful on the outside can actually keep you healthy on the inside. Because the truth is, even when I examined my own preventive health regime I had to be honest with myself, I don't really exercise and diet to reduce my risk for diabetes or lower my blood pressure and cholesterol. I do it so my behind looks better in my jeans. I don't love passing up that crusty baguette or dragging myself out of bed in the early morning to hit the gym! And I certainly wouldn't do it just to make my lipid panel beautiful.

At middle age it is my insane fear of spread and sag that keeps me disciplined and on track. And now we have the medical science to justify my neuroses. For example my exercise routine, which includes 100 sit-ups and leg lifts to flatten my stomach, also coincidentally helps my heart. In fact waist measurement is actually a parameter that cardiologists now use to assess risk for heart disease. Studies show excess belly fat, aside from the unsightly overhanging muffin top on your jeans, puts you at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, which in turn leads to increased risk of a heart attack.

As physicians, I think we are preaching to the wrong choir! Why not use what motivates people? We are overlooking the key benefit of looking good, and that is staying healthy! Health is one of the "side effects" from staying fit and beautiful. Low cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure are the collateral "damage" from the lean protein, low-carb diet that I stick with just to keep my hips in check.

I tell some of my patients if you won't do it for your heart, at least do it for your butt! I admit that this is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach that extols the virtues of vanity, but after all, it's for the advantage of your health. I say why not. In reality women are smart, and of course we intellectually know the importance of being healthy, but what we really secretly want is to look good and hot! Who among us has not at one time or another has looked in the mirror and grabbed a chunk of inner thigh or stomach flab and thought "if only that was gone"?

So, if the fear of not seeing your children grow old isn't enough to make you put down your fork, if the CDC stats that find 70 percent of deaths in the U.S. are due to chronic disease such as diabetes don't scare you enough to drop the butter and sugar, and the constant drone of your doctor lecturing on how your platelets are sticking to your cholesterol-clogged arteries doesn't inspire you to get up and move, why not do if for the benefit of disappearing arm flab or turkey neck? Sure it would be nice to live forever, but why not look good doing it? And I promise you will find that one of the main benefits to beauty and fitness on the outside is that it can lead to health on the inside! Hot can translate to health. And if I can motivate you to work on what makes you a bit more beautiful while improving your glucose, triglyceride and cholesterol levels along the way, well for me that is just icing on the proverbial cake -- but make that sugar free and low fat!

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