Lifestyle modifications are crucial in our integrative approach to kidney health. They are one of the major differences between the conventional and integrative/Functional Medicine approach to halting disease progress. Let’s discuss some of the challenges of adopting lifestyle changes and provide practical tips to help with successful implementation.

Healthy foods for kidneys

As mentioned in a previous blog, the integrative approach to many kidney diseases should be personalized, yet comprehensive. It starts with understanding an individual’s genetic predisposition, current and previous lifestyle choices and exposures, triggers of the current disease process, and unique nutritional status. In addition, it’s important to identify an individual’s spiritual, mental and emotional state. This type of approach can help the provider develop a personalized plan that includes attainable lifestyle modifications for the patient.

The ability of the patient to make these changes is the cornerstone of this tailored management plan. Although implementing and adhering to lifestyle modifications can be challenging, it’s not a reason to quit. In order to understand how to overcome these challenges, we talked about the brain and implementing changes in this blog. Understanding synaptic pruning and neuroplasticity can help us in this process.

Implementing Lifestyle Modifications

Now let’s utilize what we discussed above to help patients implement the lifestyle modifications we recommend for those with kidney disease. Of course, willpower varies from person to person. So, what we are suggesting here might not be for everyone, but we think the information is helpful. 

Think about it

Now that we know that the brain is hardwired to follow habits, we can approach lifestyle habits without judging or beating ourselves up. The first step in implementing lifestyle modifications is to think about these changes. It will help to write down or talk to someone about the thoughts associated with these changes. Think about lifestyle habits that are currently working and any that are not in order to help identify patterns. Identifying these patterns can be a good starting point to help the brain perceive the need for change. Remember, the brain wants to be efficient and it will always default to the “pre-wired” unhealthy habits if we let it. So, spending extra energy and utilizing that pre-frontal cortex to teach the brain new things is required in the beginning.

Pick one thing

Once patterns have been identified, it’s best to implement one change at a time to avoid overwhelming the brain. It can be helpful to work with a provider or coach to devise a plan of action. Oftentimes, it is beneficial to start with easier changes, as successful implementation of the new habits can help build momentum. For example, an individual may decide an easy change would be to not snack or drink sugary beverages/alcohol after dinner. It is important to note that what is easy for one person may not be as easy for another, so personalization of an action plan is critical. 

Plan it

Having a plan can make or break a person’s ability to stick with the new habits. It’s easy for the brain to default to old habits when there isn’t a plan in place. For example, using the weekend to plan out and/or prepare meals for the upcoming week can help ensure healthy eating habits during the week for someone who orders take-out when they get home tired after work. Taking the guess work out of things can set someone up for success. 

Learn from mistakes

Let’s face it, mistakes can happen. They don’t indicate failure or give reason to quit. There may have been some variables that were not accounted for. It’s important to learn from mistakes and improve the planning process for the future.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

The most important step in making these modifications permanent is repetition. Repetition creates new patterns and neural pathways via synaptic pruning so that the brain will default to them instead of the previous unhealthy habits. The amount of time this takes depends on the individual’s willpower and commitment. This is not going to be easy but, as they say practice makes perfect.

The Bottom Line

Implementing lifestyle modifications is crucial in the fight against the chronic kidney disease epidemic and foundational to the integrative approach to kidney health. It can be a challenging process but understanding the brain’s efficacy and patterns can help individuals make the changes needed to lead a healthier lifestyle.