Many people know Joel Fuhrman, M.D. from his PBS programs and best-selling books that have revolutionized the health of tens of thousands of people. Even my late mother’s health improved significantly at age 87 after she suffered a debilitating stroke. Dr. Fuhrman’s PBS special was on TV the day she was discharged from rehab. She started following his nutritional advice that day, and in less than a year she lost 80 pounds, got off insulin, lowered her blood pressure, regained some of her mobility, and was able to live a few more years and meet her first great grandchild. If I could gather the untold stories of people from around the world whose lives have been radically changed and lengthened by his nutritional recommendations, it would fill volumes of books! However, most people don’t know the story behind his insatiable quest for nutritional excellence, optimal health and longevity—and I’d like to share that story today.
Welcome, Dr. Fuhrman!
Tell us about your earlier years as a world class figure skater and member of the United States World Figure Skating Team. How did you get involved in skating and where did your hours of training and practice take you?
Being a member of the World Figure Skating Team required a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication. We trained seven days a week and most practices at the ice rink began at 3 am. Then I attended school all day and trained more after school: lifting weights, running and acrobatics.
When I was nineteen, my younger sister and I place 2nd in pairs at the 1973 US National Championships. Soon afterwards, while ranked # 1 in the nation, at the peak of my competitive career, I sustained a heel injury that resulted in a prolonged hospitalization. I was on crutches for about a year. [It took about ten years for the injury to completely heal.]
This was a huge setback for me at this high level of competition, which had no room for error. Even though I hadn’t fully recovered or got my strength and stamina back, my sister and I placed 4th in the Nationals in 1976; however, only the top three places went on to compete in the Olympics that year.
I then quit competitive skating, because in those days you had to remain an amateur to compete in the major international and Olympic events, and I was already 23. As I look back, the hardest years of my life, tougher than medical school and residency, were juggling skating practices and competitions with being academically successful in high school and college.
How did you become interested in nutrition, and what sparked your desire to pursue a career in nutritional research and medicine; specifically as a family physician?
Being a competitive skater, I was always seeking ways to improve my athletic performance, which nutrition was obviously a big part of it. My dad had some health issues, and through proper nutrition, his health was restored. We had many books on nutrition and health at home, so there was always plenty of information for me to read and contemplate.
My dad was in the shoe business, so along with naturally enjoying being a professional skater and coach, it was the natural and expected progression of things for me to take over the family business. I graduated from NYU (1975) as an economics and business major; however, I had a deep passion inside of me that people needed to know critical nutritional information that I had studied and incorporated into my own life. I pondered going back to school for medicine.
At my sister’s college graduation party, I was talking to a friend of hers named Lisa about my interest in nutrition and health—and my desire to be a nutritionally-oriented physician to offer a different option from conventional drug based medicine. She said, “If you are so passionate about the power of nutrition over medicine, then why don’t you go to medical school and change things?” That sparked me to take a new direction in life, and I also ended up marrying her!
I thought I might be too old already for med school, and I was also concerned about not having taken any premed requisites in college. Lisa encouraged me not to just talk about it, but to just do whatever it takes if I was so passionate about it.
I took the plunge. My father sold the family business and retired, and I registered in the post graduate, premed program at Columbia University. Then I attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. I chose my residency in family practice, because I wanted the freedom to be able to care for people of all ages with the broadest umbrella of practice.
When did you start writing books and developing an online presence?
I was working about 80 hours a week seeing patients, and worked late into the night to write my first book in 1995, Fasting and Eating for Health. Then I was able to reduce my patient load somewhat to write Eat to Live, published in 2003; followed by launching my web site, DrFuhrman.com, in 2004.
I saw both writing books and the website as an opportunity to extend my medical practice and get my message out so many people could have the opportunity to recover their health. Unlike television, radio and magazines, the internet is unhindered by advertisers’ interests controlling the information stream. Because of this freedom, pharmaceutical funding, food manufacturers, political agendas, and the status quo can’t silence the message.
I can inform the public with up-to-date research and information that’s not predetermined by these biased agendas. Of course, lots of crazy, worthless and harmful information is on the internet as well, but certainly more information is out there today.
Tell us about the member center of DrFuhrman.com.
After Eat to Live came out, I began receiving hundreds of emailed questions a day. People wanted more help and information. There arose a tremendous need for ongoing support, and to get specific questions answered by me. There was just no way I could maintain a busy medical practice plus answer emails and correspondence that I was being deluged with.
The member center and the “Ask the Doctor” forum enabled me to answer people in an open forum for all to learn from and touch more lives in a personal way; again, extending my unique perspective on health and healing to a wider number of people.
What is the biggest frustration you’ve encountered with proponents of the Standard American Diet and the dieting industry in general?
Due to all the contrary and biased messages circulating out there, the public gets suboptimal results and become confused and disillusioned with conventional dieting. The conflicting information makes it difficult for those who truly want to be healthy and achieve dramatic enhancement of healthy life expectancy. So many lose faith and trust, become discouraged, and eventually give up altogether.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your career as a nutritional researcher, physician, and author?
I get to see what mainstream doctors don’t get to see. I get to witness lives turned around and people get well without the debilitating side effects of surgeries and drugs. I get to see people who were suffering terribly under traditional drug-centered medical care get their health and their lives back and the thrill of that victory for them.
From your vantage point of working closely with literally thousands of patients, what is the common denominator that enables someone to successfully overcome food addiction and get health back?
Those who are most successful have a dedication to learn the information thoroughly. In other words, they study and work to really understand the science and the logic behind my recommendations.
In a nutshell, is there anything you’d like to share?
Nutritional science can be such a blessing in our lives. It enables us to have a better quality of life; we can win the war against cancer, heart disease, dementia, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. And, it gives us more pleasure from eating and from life.
The body of science, my discoveries, and my years of experience applying this science to medical conditions gives remarkable results. I work hard to present comprehensive information with no predetermined biases or agendas.
My research and information is based on science; untainted by political, economic, ethical or social acceptability, or prior predetermined opinion. Not that those issues aren’t important, but it is also important for people to be able to trust their source of nutritional information is untainted and accurate.
Thank you, Dr. Fuhrman for diligently working to discover and make applicable the latest research in nutritional science.
If you would like to access some of those findings, click here.