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Health, beauty, beauty, health, youth, beauty...I'll tell you a trade secret. It's all the same to us.
Fusion has always been our special thing in the dermatology department, where skin health and skin beauty are by nature indistinguishable. As medical doctors, we love fusion. I think it's even fair to say we've taken our feelings for the word to a whole new level.
I'm the lead physician of a group of New York City doctors who are good at making people look and feel better fast. I'm both a dermatologist and a doctor of internal medicine, and our practice is uncommon in that we mix it up, featuring many specialties that nicely cross-reference each other. We have other dermatologists, other internists, a surgeon, a psychiatrist, a nutritionist, an acupuncturist, a fitness expert, and a therapeutic massage therapist. If a new "ist," or an improved technology, comes along that can make a major contribution to glowing good health and the consequent great good looks, we'll line up to hear about it. We have skilled medical aestheticians and talented laser technicians to address cosmetic skin care. Keeping us all on track, there's a slew of smart physicians' assistants, many of whom are on leave from NYU School of Medicine, just down the street at the end of Fifth Avenue. Due to our somewhat unorthodox, multitask-like approach, we've been called a Medical Dream Team in the media, and referred to as Doctor Transformers in O Magazine.
We didn't set out to design a diet. Frankly, it didn't fit into our modern, advanced-medicine "fusion" theme, or seem to at the time. But the inspiration came right behind the realization that patients, even the best and brightest of them, were thinking today's key to "youth-recovery" was Botox.
Botox, as most of us know, temporarily smoothes skin and eases wrinkles. Used properly, it's a pretty wonderful drug. You might even call it a Wonder Drug. It's extremely safe, very effective, and if the doctor injecting it has a good eye and a light hand, it definitely has the power to make any face look younger and fresher fast.
During the last decade or so (Botox was FDA approved for cosmetic use in 2002), I would sometimes hear from my patients why they first wanted to try Botox. Often, it was because a big event was coming up in their lives and, naturally, they wanted to look their best. Maybe the event was a wedding, a job interview, a red carpet appearance, or some other significant, and scary, impending date with destiny. Both men and women were increasingly lining up for the quick cosmetic fix. Yet there was one special occasion that seemed to inspire patients to try Botox so predictably that it made me and my colleagues smile in the hall. This was shaping up as the mother of all special occasions, sending anyone who could afford it in search of a down and dirty medical makeover. Another thirty-, or forty-, or fifty-year-old had signed up for the High School Reunion.
Apparently, the one thing nobody wants is to flunk the High School Reunion. Nobody wants to be the guy who got fat and old, or the girl who was once such a breath of fresh air, it brought tears to your eyes -- or at least does now. Nobody wants to be mistaken for his or her own mother or father from across the gymnasium floor under the disco ball. And of course, what former homecoming queen -- or known nerd for that matter -- doesn't want the satisfaction of defying all cruel expectation and appearing in front of the old crowd looking about as good as, or, unbelievably, even better than before? With a reunion looming, the goto, short-term solution to the long-term problem seemed to be Botox.
Which is asking just a little more of Botox than it can possibly deliver. While Botox does what it does very well, it's not going to make your skin clear and luminous, or your body taut, strong, and shapely, or your eyes bright, or your brain function with youthful speed and clarity. It won't do a thing for your sense of humor -- or your hair. The problem with using Botox as a Wonder Drug is that there's a better one out there, and it's even more widely available. You don't need a doctor, it's cost effective, and it doesn't wear off in four to six months. It's food.
I began to ask the cosmetic patients who were looking for reunion-level results the tentative, if leading question: "So what are you eating?"
The inquiry would often draw a blank expression -- and it wasn't because of the Botox. (It takes four to nine days for the wrinkle-reducing effect of Botox to kick in -- incidentally, about the same amount of time required to detox a patient from a bad diet, reset blood sugar, and initiate a look-good eating plan.)
The answers to this extremely simple but most essential of health and beauty questions -- what are you eating? -- required a book in rebuttal. But you might be a little surprised by why. On the surface, most of the answers didn't really sound all that bad. Unless you were a doctor, with the added responsibility of translating it all into medical -- and of course cosmetic -- consequences.
It wasn't as if our patients were all living on fast food, corn chips, and Cheetos. And it's not that they were so overweight that they truly deserved a sit-down with the doctor. The question of diet had merely come up in relation to the mission: looking good and young fast, including swift repair of the skin. Most of those on this mission were the kind of smart and sophisticated New Yorkers with the money and the motivation to consult a doctor for care for their skin, and many (not all) were making a good-faith effort to eat as well as they knew how.
It's just that by asking The Question, we discovered some gaping holes in our collective nutritional education. Many if not most of those asked were fairly clueless about the physiological effects of sugar, and about where sugar is found, and about what it does to your body and beauty.
Then -- even we can't blame everything on sugar (actually it's sugars, plural, but we'll get to that soon enough) -- we also found a general misunderstanding as to the nature and function of carbs and fiber and fat.
We found a few disconnects in the culture surrounding food, too, and in what qualifies as convenient (and cooking).
We found that many patients, even though they had heard the dish on processed food, weren't always entirely sure when a food (or drink) would be considered processed -- and so weren't knowledgeable enough to avoid it like their lives depended on it, which we believe it does.
This called for some reeducation.
We wrote our diet idea down, and took it upstairs to our CEO to try it out. He had been grumbling that he was overworking and gaining weight. When he put the pages in his briefcase and then returned from a three-week trip looking fifteen pounds lighter and as many years younger, we felt we were onto something. He, and we, and the patients that followed suit, began to attribute the impressive results less to our skill as MDs and more to their skill as "reeducated" daily dieters.
I won't pretend that patients were always thrilled to hear from their dermatologist that food is the new wonder drug. It doesn't sound immediate, and it doesn't sound glamorous. It doesn't even sound verifiable. The only way to prove that diet works cosmetically -- even "better than Botox" -- is to try it. The patients who did were easily won over. A natural youth and radiance factor returned to their skin. They lost weight if they needed, or recontoured their bodies in wondrous ways. They looked younger and happier. Best of all: they felt great. And it happened just the way we Americans like it: fast. We named it High School Reunion Diet, in honor of every one of us. But as we hope you'll see soon enough, you can take the results anywhere.
David Colbert, MD
New York Dermatology Group
Copyright © 2010 by Dr. David Colbert and Terry Reed