Dr. Sandra Scheinbaum: “Practice intermittent fasting”

Feel the physical sensation of warmth flowing through your heart and imagine sending warm feelings to someone you care about, to those more distant to you, and even to those who you may find challenging to deal with. When I engage in this process, I imagine that warmth as energy and experience a deep connection […]

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Feel the physical sensation of warmth flowing through your heart and imagine sending warm feelings to someone you care about, to those more distant to you, and even to those who you may find challenging to deal with. When I engage in this process, I imagine that warmth as energy and experience a deep connection to those individuals.

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewingDr. Sandra Scheinbaum.

Dr. Sandra Scheinbaum trains people to become Functional Medicine health coaches because she believes that growing the health coaching profession will be the solution to combatting chronic disease and reducing healthcare costs. As founder and CEO of the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy (FMCA), a collaboration with The Institute for Functional Medicine, Dr. Scheinbaum is a leader in the field of health coaching education. An educator and licensed clinical psychologist for over 35 years, she was a pioneer in blending Functional Medicine principles with positive psychology, cognitive-behavior therapy, and mind-body medicine in order to attain optimal wellness. Dr. Scheinbaum is the author of Functional Medicine Coaching, Stop Panic Attacks in 10 Easy Steps, and How to Give Clients the Skills to Stop Panic Attacks.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in the 1950s in West Rogers Park, a Chicago neighborhood that was about 90% Jewish and characterized by a strong sense of community. My father died when I was 9, leaving my mom a young widow who struggled to make ends meet. Although growing up without a dad was hard, I prefer expressing thanks for what was positive, rather than defining myself as a victim. My mother taught me to “look on the bright side.” She woke up every morning telling herself, “today is going to be a good day,” a mantra that’s now part of my own morning ritual. I was fortunate to be part of a large, extended family who lived close by. Every Sunday was a family get-together with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

I was never into sports or competitive games, but one of my top strengths has always been creativity. According to positive psychology researchers, your signature strengths are present throughout your life. As an introverted only child, I had an active imagination and spent hours designing clothes for my dolls, choreographing dances, and making up stories. I still love creating things and today I’m the visionary for FMCA, the coaching school that I envisioned and designed five years ago.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I always had a calling to serve others. Like so many, my career path had a lot of twists and turns. The popular options for women of my era largely consisted of secretarial work, teaching or nursing. I went back and forth between becoming a teacher or a nurse. Inspired to make an impact on children’s lives, I chose education and got a master’s degree in learning disabilities. Soon my niche became helping parents and kids handle stress. Fascinated with the mind-body connection, a radical notion in the 1970s, I entered a doctoral program in clinical psychology that emphasized both mind-body medicine and client-centered psychotherapy. This client-centered approach later became the basis for health coaching. Fielding Graduate University was also a pioneer in advancing the notion that education could be remote as well as experiential. When we created FMCA as an online school, I drew upon my experiences at Fielding as evidence that remote learning, engagement and accountability were not mutually exclusive.

Practicing as a health psychologist for many years, I taught hundreds of clients breathing and relaxation techniques paired with mental coping strategies to build resiliency. On a personal level, I had a strong interest in nutrition and exercise. The traditional field of mental health tends to overlook these areas and the profound impact that they have on brain health. Always the renegade, I started “sneaking in” discussions about food and movement. Lo and behold, my clients made even more progress eliminating anxiety and depression and reducing physical symptoms. I’m thankful for my clients, as they showed me first-hand the benefits of an integrative approach to mental and physical health.

When I discovered Functional Medicine in 2009, I was thrilled to find a systems-based way of thinking that put all the pieces together: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. Therefore, I’m most thankful for The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM). I was fortunate to train with IFM and graduated as the only psychologist in their first certification class in 2013. Most significantly, IFM took a chance on our big idea to train health coaches in Functional Medicine principles, and we entered into a collaboration agreement to establish the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy in 2015.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Where to even begin to express gratitude towards my husband, Alan? We’ve been married for 48 years and despite our share of rocky times, when the chips were down or I needed support, he was always by my side to offer guidance and provide encouragement. If I became overly emotional due to a work-related crisis, or I called myself a failure because a particular venture turned sour, he helped me develop a new perspective. I believe that opposites do attract and because of our differences, we’re stronger as a couple. As an example, I tended to over-spend in the early days of our marriage and rush into impulsive purchases. Alan is characteristically more prudent regarding finances. While this fundamental difference led to many arguments, in retrospect, I’m thankful for his cautious approach to managing money. I could not have achieved a high level of success in my work if my spouse had not provided support for the various ventures that I embarked upon over the years. Most importantly, he makes me laugh. I read somewhere that laughter is the key to a long, successful marriage.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

In 1977, I had been a classroom teacher for 5 years and was looking to move on. The place offering the greatest growth opportunity at the time was the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. My friend’s husband ran a brokerage company and hired me as a clerk for the summer. That led to purchasing a membership on the exchange, which granted me the right to trade commodities, such as cattle or pork bellies, and do so through open outcry in “the pits.” What was I thinking? I was one of only about 5 female traders. Standing 5 feet tall, I attempted to trade alongside hefty ex-linebackers. It was a dog-eat-dog world where you were routinely kicked, spit on, and knocked down in the crowded trading arena. Taking a bathroom break could mean that you missed an opportunity in a rapidly moving market or lost thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes. I saw traders succumb to drugs, alcohol, and even suicide because they couldn’t handle the financial ups and downs. After a year, I realized that I missed being in a helping profession, and subsequently left the Exchange.

Now that the entire world of open outcry is gone, due to the rise of online trading. I witnessed the suffering of successful traders unable to cope with that transition and learn new skills. Personally, I came away with profound lessons. I realized that true success comes from having a strong mission and purpose rather than the pursuit of financial gains; that nothing good comes from envy or shame; and be ready to pivot and adapt to changing circumstances. The latter could mean quickly exiting a bad trade or learning the skills necessary to survive when your industry or way of working tanks. This final point is particularly relevant today.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl stands out as having made a significant impact. It deals with the importance of finding meaning and purpose through the power of belonging to a community and experiencing love. We can find meaning in life despite suffering. Frankl came to this revelation as a prisoner in Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. Amidst unspeakable cruelty and loss, he saw that those who survived had a strong reason to live. Besides resonating philosophically, I’ve always felt a strong emotional connection to this work because many of my distant relatives perished in the Holocaust. From an early age, I read lots of books and saw many movies and plays about the Holocaust. During the pandemic, I put the experience of being in lockdown in perspective by thinking about Anne Frank and her family in hiding. That exercise led to instantly experiencing gratitude for my personal circumstances as opposed to wallowing in self-pity.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

My late mother-in-law was fond of saying: “This too shall pass.” Now that I’m 70 years old, I truly understand how profound those words are. We disturb ourselves by focusing on what’s bad in the moment and believing that our situation will always remain just as bad. With perspective, I see how illogical that conclusion is. Emotional states are fleeting. Disappointments and setbacks become distant memories. Even saying “I’m having a bad day” makes no sense, as within that day there are typically moments of contentment and even joy that we may be overlooking because we’re thinking in “all or nothing” terms.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I want to shout from the rooftops about the benefits of working with a health coach. The healthcare system is overwhelmed due to the pandemic and unable to address the underlying “pandemic within the pandemic.” I’m referring to the problems associated with chronic conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes. Health coaching offers an affordable model that brings hope to those who suffer from these types of conditions, and I’m on a mission to show the world the incredible value it offers. One of the ways I’m getting the word out is through media interviews.

The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy produces a podcast called What the Func?! I’m super excited about how fast it’s grown in popularity, probably because it’s funny and that rare blend of entertainment and education. Hosted by Laura Schein and Clayton Farris, actors/writers in L.A., the show has a big global following and is increasing awareness about the power of Functional Medicine and the incredible opportunities for health coaches trained in this model.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

I believe there’s no separation amongst mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. They’re all connected, and therefore, each of my suggestions contribute to all areas of wellness.

  1. If I had to pick one good habit for mental wellness, it would be slow, belly breathing. Suppose you’re about to enter a challenging situation, such as giving a major presentation. Prepare by connecting to your breath. Inhale courage and exhale fear.
  2. Banish “should,” “have to” and “must” from your vocabulary as these words place a demand to perform or behave in a particular way. Replace them with words like “prefer” or “want to.” This may seem inconsequential, but a language shift signals the sympathetic nervous system to relax and creates a perspective tied to less mental stress. Instead of “I MUST get this done today,” switch to “I PREFER to get this done today.” As a result, the stress response dissipates and you’re better able to focus on the task at hand.
  3. Instead of making a “to-do” list every day, create a “to learn” list. I credit my friend, the learning and memory expert, Jim Kwik, for this strategy. When we set an intention to learn something new, we open up to new possibilities and the learning process itself leads to a sense of accomplishment. Experiencing accomplishment, no matter how small, enhances well-being.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I’ve practiced yoga every day for about 20 years. My morning routine includes a headstand and handstand. I count 25 breathes in a headstand and aim for a 2-minute handstand while I’m looking out the window and seeing the world upside down. I also love doing balancing poses like Warrior Three and King Dancer, using both to quiet my mind, turn inward, and focus on enhanced body awareness.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Spend time in the sun, preferably early in the morning. Vitamin D isn’t called the “sunshine vitamin” for nothing, as the sun stimulates our bodies toproduce it, which is critical for immune health. I’m blessed to live in Arizona and spend a lot of time outside in the sun. When I lived in the Chicago area, winters were dark and often frigid cold, but I looked for every opportunity to be in the sun, even if it was just standing by an open window.
  2. Practice intermittent fasting. I don’t know where we got the notion that eating every 2–3 hours was a good idea. But that was the prevailing wisdom up until a few years ago when we started to see the negative consequences of round the clock feeding, namely weight gain and chronically elevated insulin levels. I used to be a huge snacker. Now I fast from the time I finish dinner around 5 or 6 PM until about 12 or 1 PM the next day. This pattern, referred to as time-restricted eating, has been associated with better metabolic health.
  3. Take a cold shower. I’m one of those people who’s always cold and dresses in multiple layers. So why have I been taking cold showers or cold plunges into an unheated pool every morning? I do it for the same reason that I practice intermittent fasting. There’s a growing body of research showing that cold exposure increases longevity by improving metabolic health. In other words, “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I’ve grown to like the tingly, cold sensation, as it makes me feel “truly alive.”

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

I used to teach courses on the psychology of eating. Our food choices and eating behaviors are heavily influenced by our personalities, our family, the friends we hang out with, our culture, and the power of marketing. For example, were you described as a “picky eater” as a child? What messages did you learn about food from your family? Do you feel peer pressure to eat or not eat certain foods when out socially? Are holidays associated with special foods and eating rituals? Do you gravitate towards particular items in the grocery aisles because they have a health claim on the label or because you’ve seen a tantalizing advertisement?

There’s a lot of conflicting information about what constitutes a healthy diet, and nutritional advice continually shifts. Eating a very low-fat diet used to be the prevailing wisdom, but now many experts advocate for a high-fat, or keto approach. I’ve transitioned from being a vegan to experimenting with a carnivore diet. Who knew that consuming too much kale would be considered unhealthy? Contradictory dietary theories make those attempting to follow sound guidelines want to throw up their hands. As far as sticking to the principles that the majority of experts agree upon, such as avoiding too much sugar, I believe that too many people follow the hedonistic diet: if it tastes good, it’s good to eat.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Practice forgiveness. The process of forgiving is highly correlated with both emotional wellness and physical well-being. Holding onto anger creates tension and emotional blocks. Often the person we most need to forgive is ourselves. One way to forgive is to separate the individual from the specifics of what they did or said. Focus on any act of goodness that they ever engaged in. While you may not forgive a specific hurtful act, you can forgive the individual. People typically report that when they practice forgiveness, a weight lifts and they experience lightness. See forgiveness as a form of self-care.
  2. Prioritize positivity. According to Barbara Fredrickson, a renowned positive psychology researcher, there’s a way to guarantee that you’ll experience good feelings each day. Schedule an activity that feels good while you’re engaged in it, and when you’re done, you’re typically in a good mood. For me, that’s dance. I incorporate ballet or tap classes into my calendar. Without fail, I’m in a good mood by the end of the class. Similarly, I set aside time for walking outside because I know that activity also brings me joy.
  3. “Do stuff scared.” Although it may seem counterintuitive, by taking risks and challenging yourself, you build and maintain emotional wellness. Get out of your comfort zone by having honest conversations, experimenting with a novel way of doing something, or embarking on a new venture. I used to get very nervous before giving a speech. Now I re-label that feeling as “excitement,” like an athlete charged up before a big game.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

I love this question because people tell me I’m always smiling. As the 1928 song says, “when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.” One of my favorite songs is “Smile,” famously sung by Nat King Cole. “Smile, what’s the use of crying, you’ll find that life is still worthwhile if you just smile.” That beautifully captures the essence of positive psychology. I also want to point out that the physical act of creating a smile, even a forced one, can release endorphins to create a positive mood. That reminds me of the lyrics to another song, this one from “Bye Bye Birdie.” “Spread sunshine all over the place, just put on a happy face.”

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Spiritual wellness is about experiencing a deep sense of awe and gratitude for all that’s good in the world. Wake up every day with the intention of noticing all of the beauty that surrounds you. Notice nature’s wonders and mindfully take in all the details as if you were seeing them for the first time.
  2. Express gratitude for all that’s wonderful within you. Marvel at your ability to take deep breaths, move your arms and legs, and experience the outside world through your senses. On a deeper level, imagine yourself as a source of goodness in the world and appreciate how many people you’ve touched. I wake up every morning with the intention to create impact, and I’m in awe of how many lives have been changed for the better because I created the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy.
  3. Feel the physical sensation of warmth flowing through your heart and imagine sending warm feelings to someone you care about, to those more distant to you, and even to those who you may find challenging to deal with. When I engage in this process, I imagine that warmth as energy and experience a deep connection to those individuals.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

I have the luxury of living in an area with breathtaking views of mountains. I’m in awe of their grandeur and when looking out at them, I instantly feel connected to something greater than myself. There’s so much research showing the incredible benefits of “nature bathing.” Even if you can’t go outside, use your imagination. Bring in plants, photos of natural settings, or simply close your eyes and imagine nature’s beauty.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I already created a movement and am incredibly thankful for how large it’s grown in such a short amount of time. When I founded FMCA, the profession called Functional Medicine Health Coaching did not exist. Now we have close to 3000 graduates around the world who are doing incredible things to create awareness about health and vitality. They’re partnering with people to act as guides for improving mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. They’re inspiring others to train to become health coaches because there’s a tremendous need for more people to join this rewarding profession. My mission is to see the day when every medical practice has a team of health coaches. When that happens, we will have true healthcare rather than today’s overburdened system of “sickcare.”

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-).

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Patti LuPone because I’m a huge music theatre fan. Patti originated some of the greatest roles on Broadway and continues to take on challenging new ones. She’s fierce, determined, and undaunted by obstacles. Among other performances, I saw her play the roles of Madame Rose in Gypsy and Helena Rubinstein in War Paint. Like Patti, both roles portray brave, determined women who were often judged unfairly as being ruthless because they worked relentlessly at getting ahead. I’m sure women in positions of power can relate to these characters. As a 70-year-old woman who runs a company and has no intention of retiring, I would also love to talk with Patti about what it’s like to continue to work and stay relevant when so many of our contemporaries define themselves as old and slowing down.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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