Toniq’s “brand specialist” approach consists of our nuclear family of strategists and researchers, along with an “extended family” of experts we engage for specific project needs. From time to time, we will bring some of these experts to you in discussions related specifically to their field along with issues extending into marketing, business, and the culture at large.
Dr. Robert Zembroski is a physician, specialist in functional medicine, board-certified chiropractic neurologist, and clinical nutritionist with 24 years of experience in rebuilding people from chronic health issues and disease back to excellent health. His new book, REBUILD, is coming out on June 12, 2018.
Cheryl Swanson is the managing partner and founder of Toniq, a brand strategy consultancy with 20 years of helping consumer brands uncover deep insights that lead to soaring results in the marketplace.
CHERYL: Several years ago you were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and went through crisis care, including surgery to remove a tumor the size of a softball, chemotherapy, and radiation. Now you are fit and the picture of health. Was this journey of recovery your impetus for writing REBUILD?
DR. Z: Yes, and as I think about it, there are a couple of reasons for writing REBUILD. Many great new products or services are created by someone who has a need and cannot find anything to meet the need. We see it in technology, fashion, food, and almost every other area of life. I wrote REBUILD because, after pushing the limits of crisis care to save my life, I wanted to rebuild my body and life and prevent a recurrence. So, I started down a path to research all that was known and to push my understanding of what was needed and what was possible. I applied it to myself and later to help my patients with significant positive success.
CHERYL: How does your wellness journey correlate to what your patients experience in your Functional Medicine practice?
DR. Z: Most people who develop a chronic condition or disease, or those who have become overfat, have similar habits, rituals, and lifestyles. These include eating high-calorie, nutrient-absent foods, especially at night. That causes the release of unwanted hormones before sleep, setting the stage for those to become fat and sick during what should be a time of healing and fat burning. People are busy, stressed, and not mindful over their actions until they develop a condition or disease, or find it difficult to fit into their clothing.
CHERYL: Are you filling a gap in the traditional healthcare system?
While traditional healthcare focuses on treating symptoms and acute conditions, functional medicine is a method that looks to find the underlying cause(s) of the chronic condition or serious disease.
DR. Z: Filling a serious gap? For sure. People are looking for the reasons behind their chronic health issues or diseases. Many have developed medical apathy — a learned helplessness that comes from seeing doctors who haven’t helped them. Traditional healthcare — what I call “crisis care” — can disarm the immediate threat, such as stents for heart disease; chemo and surgery for cancer; steroids for autoimmune disorders; and other therapies to alleviate symptoms.
While traditional healthcare focuses on treating symptoms and acute conditions, functional medicine is a method that looks to find the underlying cause(s) of the chronic condition or serious disease. Like rewinding a movie, a practitioner of functional medicine digs deep into a person’s history, habits, blood work, scans, and any other objective tests looking for clues to determine why someone has poor health and/or disease.
CHERYL: When patients first come to you, what trends are you seeing with diet and exercise? In other words, how are we eating and staying fit if left to our own devices?
DR. Z: The patterns of behavior I see most often include a lack of physical activity and an overconsumption of nutrient-naked high-energy foods. On the other side, there are those who have very strict and regimented eating patterns and those who exercise too much. Both situations can and will cause chronic health issues and/or disease.
The trends I see are the dangling carrot diet plan with the promise of a slim and sexy body, or the promise to reverse aging. When discussing diet, exercise, and other aspects of one’s lifestyle, I often hear “I’m keto” or “I’m paleo” and “I’m vegan”; I say “Great, I’m Rob.” Perhaps it’s natural to identify with something that people want to believe is the answer to losing weight or improving health. These named diets act as identifiers and the dangling carrot. A new trend; a new diet comes along, groups of people jump on the current trend or bandwagon and follow these diets until they can’t sustain them anymore. People then generally fall back into their unhealthful habits again, gaining back the body fat they tried to lose.
CHERYL: In your opinion, what is the optimal way to eat?
It’s clear we humans should be what I call “varietarians” — eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods and eliminating foods proven to cause disease
DR. Z: Extreme eating and radical eating ideologies set the stage for disease, as most chronic health issues or disease stem from nutrient deficiencies. Eating only plants, or eating only animal protein, or eating nothing but fats all push people into nutrient deficiency. Restricting major food groups and eating only singled-out food groups create nutrient deficiency.
As I’ve written in my book REBUILD, it’s clear we humans should be what I call “varietarians” — eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods and eliminating foods proven to cause disease including bread (gluten), dairy, refined sugar, and chemically treated processed meat. Eating small amounts of nutrient-dense foods 5–6 times a day allows a constant influx of nutrients to run body systems. Frequently eating small amounts of food also prevents large spikes of blood sugar and insulin.
CHERYL: How are brands today reinforcing those good eating habits, or are they?
DR. Z: I do see a trend in certain food companies that market and advertise healthier options or ingredients, including: “gluten free,” “zero trans fats,” and “non-GMO.” Many companies are listening to their customers and becoming more health conscious. That said, those companies may be just riding the wave of the trend of the day. There are also those brands that continue to market harmful products that claim to be good for us. For example, Boost and Ensure, which are nothing more than soda drinks with added protein, are marketed as a “healthy drink” or meal replacement or a healthful source of protein for those with health issues. Let’s not forget companies that claim to be healthful but contain little if any natural ingredients or real food, products like Sunny D. These liquid sugar bombs contain “2% or less” of real juice! And yet, they are allowed to promote those claims.
CHERYL: Do you ever just crave a pizza and beer? If so, what do you do?
DR. Z: For sure! Both. Eat it. Drink it. However, beer and pizza are not part of my diet. Because my diet — the foods I eat daily — is made up of nutrient-dense plant-based foods, grass-fed meats, wild caught seafood, and healthful fats, I’m not concerned that a slice or two of pizza, or a beer will cause any health issues for me. It’s clear in the research that a single “hit” to your system with something not healthful is not going to cause a rapid deterioration of your health. Unhealthful habits and rituals done day in and day out are what cause your genes to turn against you, thus setting the stage for the development of disease.
CHERYL: Many of the bigger food/beverage brands are being challenged by smaller, healthier start-ups. In your opinion, what do the “big guys” have to do in order to “rebuild”?
Consumers shouldn’t need a degree in nutritional biochemistry to determine if what they are eating is good for them or not.
DR. Z: With more people looking for healthier alternatives, the big companies need to listen to their customers’ needs. This entails making healthier options more accessible. Big brands also need to alter their mission. While they deserve to make money on consumable products, must it be at the expense of the consumers’ health? It has been known for decades that refined sugar, salt, and fatty foods are not good for us. It has also been known that processed-food companies create inexpensive and convenient foods that get people hooked. Food scientists are hired to create the right amount of taste (sweet, salty, fatty, etc.) called the “bliss point” — the point where a food product has just the right amount of sensory input to the brain to make someone want more. So, big food brands alter foods to fire up our taste buds enough to be desirable but not to overwhelm the brain, which would decrease the desire to want more.
CHERYL: And what about some of the smaller brands?
On the flip side, smaller “healthier” companies create food products with misleading advertising. A company may advertise a cracker made out of quinoa as a healthier option. However, looking at the ingredients, you see corn as the main ingredient and quinoa low on the list. Both big and small companies need to be more upfront about what’s in their products with truthful advertising. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the knowledge to decipher good from bad regarding ingredients. Consumers shouldn’t need a degree in nutritional biochemistry to determine if what they are eating is good for them or not. There is a responsibility on both ends — the seller and the consumer.
CHERYL: How about personal care brands? Are there any ingredients that we need to stay away from, from your point of view?
DR. Z: As I have stated in REBUILD, there are toxins we inhale, ingest, and slather all over our bodies. Proteins in food like gluten from grain and casein from dairy are known health hazards. Smoking is a serious health hazard with 4,000 known carcinogens. Personal-care products can also pose problems. For example: 1,4‑dioxane, a carcinogen, is found in shampoos, body washes, and lotions. Parabens found in deodorants, antiperspirants, shampoos, conditioners, spray tans, lotions, and make-up act as hormone disruptors that mimic hormones like estrogen. Fortunately, if we take care of ourselves by eating nutrient-dense foods throughout the day, we can improve detoxification and reduce the potential for health issues that may occur from these products.
CHERYL: Are there any inspirational quotes that you live your life by?
DR. Z: Rather than inspirational quotes, I live by a mindset. Regarding my health and the health of others, I don’t buy into the defeating statements that people often hear like: “This is just who you are,” “These are the cards you’ve been dealt,” or “These things just happen.” What really gets me is the conversation about statistics regarding a chronic condition or disease. Discussing health issues with my patients, I hear they are fearful of the dreaded statistic relative to their condition. “You have a 30% chance of recovering” or “There is a 70% chance of ABC condition returning.” In reality, statistics are about groups of people, not individuals. To assign a group statistic to an individual is ridiculous and self-defeating. It sets the stage for negative thoughts and undo stress in anyone dealing with a health crisis. When going through cancer care, I didn’t want to hear about my chances of survival based on big groups of unhealthy people. I wanted to hear that I will beat the disease, come out victorious and back to renewed health. Rather than a quote, my mantra was “Don’t tell me I can’t”; I wanted to control my destiny.
There quotations I do like: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve” by Napoleon Hill, and “You become what you think about” by Earl Nightingale. Also, “Statistics are about groups of people, not an individual” by Dr. Robert Zembroski.
Dr Zembroski’s new book, REBUILD: Five Proven Steps to Move from Diagnosis to Recovery and Be Healthier Than Before, is available now for pre-order.