What is Integrative Medicine?
A Q&A with NYC Integrative Medicine Expert Dr. Robert Graham
We recently sat down with Dr. Robert Graham, a Harvard trained physician who is Board Certified in both Internal and Integrative Medicine and has over 15 years of clinical experience. “Dr. Rob,” as he is known to his patients, is the founder of the Integrative Health practice, FRESH Med NYC. He is also a trained chef, and one of the leaders of the field called Culinary Medicine.
The Parlor: When someone asks you, “What is Integrative Medicine?” How do you answer? Can you give us a basic definition you use to explain it to a newbie?
Dr. Graham: Integrative Medicine is an approach to healthcare that treats the patient as a whole person, evaluating their mental, physical, spiritual, lifestyle and environmental factors to help treat and prevent illness. It takes conventional medicine and combines it with the best complementary and alternative medical practices. One important fact not to be minimized is that what we do is evidence based. There must be scientific research to support it.
The Parlor: How is a visit with an Integrative Medicine doctor different than a visit with a traditional primary care doctor? Are there special or unique advantages to Integrative Medicine?
Dr. Graham: Every practice is different and so is every patient. I prefer not to compare Integrative Medicine to traditional primary care. What I would say is that there is conventional medicine which consists of traditional diagnostic testing, tools, technologies and medications and then there is Integrative Medicine that takes all of the elements of conventional medicine but adds complementary therapies and more extensive testing in areas like clinical nutrition, health coaching, positive psychology, sleep therapy, body work and more. Our goal is to be patient-focused, meaning we look at the person as a whole and address all elements that can impact their health.
The Parlor: Can you tell us a bit about your practice? What is FRESH Med?
Dr. Graham: FRESH Med is an Integrative Health Care practice. Our goal is not to just prescribe a “pill for an ill” but to get to the root cause of an illness and provide a path to wellness through both traditional and complementary methods.
Health needs a FRESH approach. FRESH, an acronym for Food, Relaxation, Exercise, Sleep and Happiness, is an integrative program that represents a paradigm shift from the conventional “a pill for an ill,” the “silver bullet” approach to health. Instead, FRESH addresses the roots of disease primarily through a whole-food, plant-based diet and integrative lifestyle.
FRESH is an acronym for the five ingredients of health on which we focus.
Here’s how we break it down:
FOOD: Food is the fuel we give our bodies to live and thrive. Our FRESH program puts food first and, based on your own individual, metabolic and lifestyle needs, we help you discover the foods that truly nourish you.
RELAXATION: We live in an extraordinary time in history that requires us to be highly competitive in order to keep up with the demands of our careers, families, and societal expectations. The FRESH model uses meditation and other ways to help better manage our physiological and psychological responses to stress.
EXERCISE: Just move—it’s good for the body, mind and spirit! Setting realistic fitness goals by finding things you enjoy doing is the key to long-lasting results. The FRESH team will help keep you moving, remembering that small steps will amount to big change.
SLEEP: Sleep is a medical necessity--nobody can function without it. The FRESH team will take a closer look at the reasons why you may have trouble sleeping and will help you get the “zzzzzs” you need so you have more vitality in your life.
HAPPINESS: The way we feel about ourselves, approach our problems, and our general outlook on life plays an important role in our well-being. Using the tools of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of human flourishing, the FRESH team provides support, encourages people to focus on their strengths, and pursue hobbies and activities that make them happy.
The Parlor: Food and nutrition are a huge focus for many in the wellness arena. Can you tell us a little bit about how you use food in your practice?
Dr. Graham: I believe that when it comes to health, it all starts with food. In order to better serve my patients, I recently graduated from culinary school so that I have a true understanding of the foods and nutritional plans we recommend to our patients. For example, many of the chronic illnesses we treat can be traced back to inflammation and being able to help our patients understand and change their diets can really help reduce inflammation and improve their lives. Diet changes can help people reduce their dependence on medications, and avoid inevitable side effects, providing a natural remedy. It is all about understanding and educating the patient. My goal is to create an integrative, food-first, lifestyle-focused healthcare model, called Culinary Medicine. We put food first at FRESH Med.
The Parlor: Since food is such a focus of your practice, what type of diet do you generally suggest for your patients? Keto? Fasting? Mediterranean?
Dr. Graham: Each patient is different, and we do a thorough evaluation, physical exam and testing to create a personalized care plan for each individual. The role of gut health and microbiome testing is a major component of my practice. No diet is perfect for everyone. Typically, I prefer to recommend plant-forward diets with limited animal protein. Simply put, more plants, less meat and dairy. However, it is also important to understand as much as you can about the source of your foods. Processed foods are addictive, contain chemicals, trans fats, GMOs and create a toxic environment. Eat real food. Choose Organic when you can, organic foods are lower in pesticides. Choose and investigate the environmental working group, “The Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” when deciding what to purchase.
The Parlor: As an Integrative Medicine practitioner, what other advice do you give to your patients?
Dr. Graham: I firmly believe that self care is the best form of health care. A good Integrative Medicine physician should arm you with the tools, the “how” to change your life. The goal is for you to be your own doctor. At FRESH Med we use all 5 ingredients of health to help you achieve your weight loss, fitness and life goals that not only bring about positive changes in your appearance, but more importantly in your health and happiness. The goal of our innovative FRESH approach is to set you up for wellness with information about nutrition, fitness, weight management, stress reduction, pain and anxiety relief, as well as ways to reduce heart disease, cholesterol and osteoporosis and much more.
The Parlor: What other facts or info would you like to share with us about Integrative medicine and/or your practice?
Dr. Graham: Our practice is truly unique. For example, Julie, our co-founder, utilizes the tools of positive psychology in her coaching. We have a motto, “when it comes to our health, we know it all starts with food,” but in the end, what we truly want in life is to be happy. With our hectic schedules however, most of us don’t know where to start. At FRESH Med, we believe so much in the importance of happiness, we prescribe it as one of our five pillars of wellbeing. Happiness means something different to everyone: Some may find it in travel, eating with family, watching a ball game, practicing yoga—and the list goes on and on….
The Parlor: So, What Exactly Is Positive Psychology?
Dr. Graham: Positive Psychology is the scientific research of what makes individuals and communities thrive! Just because you’re not depressed, doesn’t mean you’re happy. Most people are “Blah.” Positive Psychology gives you the research and tools to take you “north of neutral” so you’re not just surviving but thriving!
Happiness, not to be confused with “happy-ology,” can transform people’s lives by empowering and inspiring them to live from a place of gratitude, authenticity, and joy. Owning our happiness can motivate us to pursue our goals and inspire us to make changes in our lives. The pursuit of happiness is both your honor and your right!
At FRESH Med, we're constantly thinking about what it means to be happy and how we can enable our patients to find greater happiness in their everyday lives. So, we want to know: What makes you happy? How do you cultivate joy and contentment in your own life? How do you find and define happiness? The good news is: You can increase your own happiness!
Learn more about Dr. Robert Graham and his FRESH Med Integrative Medicine practice.