Dietitian Connection offered the opportunity for an Evening With David Katz and here’s what I found out.

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I was inside on the computer catching up on paperwork, and because I still don’t (or won’t) know how to turn off Facebook notifications, I saw Maree’s post exclusive for DC Premium Member’s offering the chance to win a ticket to the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine “An Evening with David Katz- Lifestyle, environment and chronic disease: a confluence of causes”. After reading the hook line “If lifestyle is the medicine…what is the spoon”, I rushed to put my name down because I just had to know what the spoon is.

What I found out: Do your paperwork and the universe will reward you. The early nerdy bird gets the worm.

Feeling excited about my win, I went back to my tax.

Later in the week Maree kindly asked would someone like to write an article for DC on the event. Because I am trying to get out of my comfort zone and do new things, I put my hand up, not quite knowing what it entailed.

What I found out: Get out of your comfort zone and grow…set aside approximately 24 hours if you have never written an article before in your life.

Having no idea how to write an engaging, yet informative, come personal article I emailed a friend of a friend who is a freelance writer for Motorcycle Magazines. It couldn’t be that different? Did he have any tips for such a first-timer, his advice: write a few notes on the night about the key points, put your flourishes on them and go for it!

What I found out: We know amazing and varied people, who may not always be Dietitians, so use your networks and ask for their advice because it can be gold. 

From my house to David Katz at the Charles Perkins Centre, it’s about a 4-hour drive, so a half day at “work” was in order. That day’s work involved a coffee meeting turned lunch date with an exercise physiologist friend to discuss “business” and her wedding plans.  The joys of being your own boss. Later, after roughly arriving at where I needed to be, nailing a reverse parallel park is the narrow side streets of Newtown, I realised I needed to spruce up…the dress code probably doesn’t include gym clothes. With only 10 minutes to spare, I used the rest room of a fast food “restaurant”. The joys of being your own boss (and being too cheap to book a motel room nearby) 

What I found out: I must be part ninja to be able to change without touching the floor, wall or hard fixtures of that bathroom. Ain’t no shame in starting from the bottom and working your way up.    

I wasn’t 100% sure where in the location was or where I was going, feeling like a typical country girl in the big city someone nearby says “You look like a dietitian, are you looking for the auditorium for the David Katz night?”. Now feeling grateful to a kind stranger, wondering what a dietitian “looks like” I follow like a sheep to to where the action is. Underground. Of course I wasn’t going to find it. Feeling shy in a packed room of people I decide to avoid the before-show small talk and go in and take a seat in the theatre, I can’t get lost here… I hope. Feeling like a small fish in a big pond, who just got changed in a fast food joint, I’m relieved when the first of the presenters begins.

What I found out: Something I already know…I need to break my typical introverted ways and learn how to do “small-talk” or “networking”.

In the first 2 minutes of the presentation, as luck would have it my pen runs out. Freaking out about how I’m going to remember the key inspirational moments of the evening, I use my phone to make notes instead. To others this may be “like-duh” to me in the moment I thought I was genius.

What I found out: Always have more than one pen in your handbag… and give your phone a kiss of appreciation.

The presenters Prof Stephen Simpson, Dr Joanna McMillan, Anja Taylor, Prof Garry Egger, being from different disciplines and backgrounds each gave an insightful perspective on how we as a collective of health professionals are best going to tackle lifestyle diseases. We need to look deeper, not at the problem, but the pre-disposing factors or determinants. We need to mix up traditional one-on-one practice with multidisciplinary group education, intervention and counselling. We need to be better communicators if we are going to affect people with our messages and impact their lives, storey telling with a sprinkle of science. We need to ask ourselves, our organisations, our governments are we going to make health or make money?

Working in private practice, sometimes feeling like a tiny island, it was a great reminder that there are people everywhere working for the same outcome, the better health of the population. Sometimes we need to take off our blinkers to see what’s around us and not just what we are doing.
What I found out: I need to build a bridge from my island and link in with more individuals working for the same cause. It needs to look like Venice. 

David Katz brought the whole night together.I had not heard of David Katz before tonight, I failed to do my research but what an amazing speaker, probably the best I have ever heard. He said that we had already heard from great speakers who provided the pearls and that now he just had to string them together. The perfect metaphors and analogies kept on coming. One of my favourite one liners was “Disease takes years from our life and chronic disease takes life from our years” … we are living longer…but not necessarily living better quality lives. He said that chronic disease has stemmed from the bad use of feet, forks and fingers (inactivity, poor quality high energy diets and smoking).

From the saying knowledge is not power in the case of chronic disease, he said we are creatures and we adapt to an environment. We are like polar bears in the Sahara, we do not fit our modern world as a species we have no defences against excess calories except our brains and the futile “willpower”.

The most memorable part of the night which highlighted the effect of how we communicate our messages was when he posed the statistic “lifestyle medicine can cure 80% of disease”. We read it black and white on the screen and yes it is a significant number…but it didn’t bring a tear to my eye. He says statistics are boring…the statistic representing the public is nameless, faceless and impossible to love. He then, I know now, conducted a little social experiment. He asked the audience to put up their hand if they have had a friend, a family member a loved one with diabetes, CVD, cancer etc and to just take a moment to think about them. Everyone in the audience raised their hands. That painted the picture of the prevalence of disease and that made the tear in swell in my eye. The 80% reduction in disease what does that look like, what does that feel like? It would feel like those bad days would not have happened the loved ones that we knew, it’s for them. Since the Evening with David Katz, about a month ago, those faces just keep multiplying. A good friend of mine has been diagnosed with metatstatic bowel cancer, at just 30 years of age. In hindsight an 80% reduction in disease is looking pretty good right now. But how do we administer this lifestyle medicine, what is the spoon because we desperately need it. Culture. The great achievements of humankind when we rally. If everyone is out and about using their feet, others are likely to do so. If the stores or markets are accessible and full of healthful foods, other are likely to do so. If the community is actively promoting lifestyle medicine and leading by example, other are likely to join in. Katz stated he is a humanist because he cares about the human cost of disease, others may be economists because they care about the economic cost of changing the status quo (big business, big people, big money). Does economy outweigh the benefit to humankind? Does it outweigh the opportunity to have another day with one of your loved ones?

One last metaphor…Katz said that there is a flood of factors for disease, health professionals are a sandbag making up a levy against the flood. We will win in the end we are just not there yet.

What I found out: We need a true health collective. Health culture needs to be the status quo.  

With the closing remarks, a phone full of notes, metaphors still bouncing in my head people started fining out with going to the front to talk to the presenters. I felt an urge to be that type of person and thus at a crossroads. I could either go the easy option for an introvert and walk out, or put myself out of my comfort zone and be one of those people. To be honest I felt like a groupie, and negative self-talk flooded in “I don’t want to bother them…they probably just want to go home…”. But then I thought if I was a famous dietitian, an amazing speaker and had great legs like Dr Joanna McMillan I wouldn’t mind if someone asked for a picture to go with an article.

What I found out: It feels awkward putting yourself out there, but I expect it will feel less and less awkward the more I try. Fake it til you make it. 
I had to put myself out there, I got the photo, it wasn’t a good photo. But that’s not the point.

From the Evening with David Katz and Friends, I realised that my engaging in different events, putting yourself out of your comfort zone, reflecting on what you have been presented and trying new things you can gain so much more than the content being delivered. You can gain insights, tips and tricks to take into your own practice, some extra confidence in the knowledge that you aren’t alone in the battle, learn a new skill and something about yourself and plan how are you going to contribute to someone’s, and the populations lifelong dose of lifestyle medicine. Just a spoon full of culture makes the medicine go down.