Fill the Whole began 5 years ago with a very personal journey with food. Having suffered depression throughout my teens and twenties and utilised antidepressants on and off for over 15 years, I began looking at alternatives for my mental health maintenance. Despite studying Medicine, Psychology and Neuroscience I had never been taught or ever considered how what I was eating was impacting on my mood. Nutritional Psychiatry was a totally new concept to me. After looking into the research, I decided to eliminate all processed foods while dramatically increasing the variety of plants I was eating and my protein intake with oily fish, eggs and lean meats. Within a month I had a lot more energy and more focus, within 3 months I was medication free. The realisation that I had a lot more control over my health than I originally had considered encouraged me to look at other ways to improve my health; both mental and physical.
I’d always been interested in whole person care since discovering ‘The molecules of Emotion’,1 a book written by the Neuroscientist and Pharmacologist, Candace Pert during my Neuroscience postgraduate days. Her holistic approach to health and the links between brain and body inspired me as a young graduate student to delve deeper into mind-body medicine. I began putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to create a holistic coaching programme.2 This meant a lot of re-training in; nutrition, personal training, yoga and meditation and coaching psychology. This was lots of fun and being able to present at The Mindful Living Show in 2018 felt like the start of something new but yet something was missing. I missed research and I believed that the future of opening this lifestyle up to as many people as possible would be to look at what is being taught to undergraduate medical students. If young medics are invested in their own health, are supported and equipped with the necessary tools to navigate their way through it, they will be more inclined to raise these issues with their future patients and therefore more likely to make sustainable changes for themselves and with their patients too.
A year later I was offered a PhD studentship at Leicester Medical School (where I had studied medicine 10 years earlier) to evaluate their Health Enhancement programme (HEP) that has been running since 2016. The HEP is a mindfulness-based lifestyle programme3 developed by Craig Hassed and colleagues at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. It is taught as core curriculum to 1st year medical students to 1/ support their personal wellbeing and 2/ to help them advise their future patients on lifestyle factors and living well. A move away from illness management to illness prevention, and perhaps more importantly, health flourishing. I recognised the similarities between this programme and what I had been implementing with individuals in the community and was encouraged that a UK medical school was fully embracing this for students as part of the curriculum.
The significance of the HEP is that it is mindfulness-based, meaning mindfulness is integral to all the other health components, it is not taught as a separate component. Often mindfulness is just seen as another area for exploration when we talk of lifestyle medicine, something that is taught alongside other components such as nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress, the environment, social connections etc but actually, a mindfulness practice can help raise our self-awareness, cultivate curiosity and boost intrinsic motivation to help us to make sustainable behaviour changes in other aspects of our lives.
Whilst there is plentiful quantitative evidence available that demonstrates the usefulness of mindfulness in medical education, predominantly focusing on medical student stress reduction, anxiety and depression, there are few qualitative studies exploring mindfulness in medical education in depth and its role beyond stress. In our recent qualitative scoping review,4 we revealed benefits beyond medical student stress reduction including; peer cohesion and group support, the ability to attend to patients, student insights into health and social care education culture and impact on student health behaviour change, most notably with regards to nutrition, exercise and sleep behaviours.
I would be happy to be contacted to discuss my work and potential ideas on how mindfulness based programmes can be developed and integrated into medical education. I am grateful to Nutritank for putting nutrition at the forefront and developing such great resources for both students and medical educators alike. Keep up with the good work!
LinkedIn : Lara Crowther