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Life is a Journey
Dr. Purnima Hernandez is Board-Certified Pediatric Dentist and Behavior Analyst. She’s owned and operated her own practice since 2006 and is currently pursing education in Functional Medicine.
We are raised in a culture that after college or high school, one must pursue a career and continue education limited to that area. Those are the barriers Dr. Purnima Hernandez’s journey taught her to break. Pediatric dentistry was not her first choice. She came upon pediatric dentistry because she could not get into medicine since she was ill during her test but persevered and took it anyways. She knew she always wanted to work with children. She moved to the United States for her master’s in Behavioral Medicine and ended up finding her life partner and had kids. Her own health suffered when she climbed up Mt. Everest but she was able to restore that by engaging in lifestyle management because it was so powerful and improved her body’s functions. This is what led her to Functional Medicine, Lifestyle Medicine and now she’s coaching.
Functional and Lifestyle Medicine
Functional Medicine is sensible medicine. JAMA, Journal of American Medical Association, defines Lifestyle Medicine as, “an evidence-based practice of assisting individuals and families to adopt and sustain behaviors that improve health and quality of life”.
There are many different approaches to lifestyle medicine, but the Functional Medicine approach attracted Dr. Hernandez. It looks for root causes of diseases and see the body as biologic systems that are all interconnected like a web. Dr. Hernandez notes that if we don’t pay attention to our physiology and challenge it with our schedules, it isn’t going to work. Functional Medicine looks at that foundationally and then fixes imbalances in the body. Stress affects every node of the Functional Medicine matrix. The five areas that are modifiable with Functional Medicine are sleep and relaxation, exercise and movement, nutrition, stress, and relationships. These all can be modified within your pediatric dental office.
We often forget to take care of ourselves because we’re so busy taking care of others. Have a good routine for yourself. Get good sun exposure in the morning. Bring attention to yourself. Engage in breath. Feed yourself good thoughts. Read a good book, stretch, exercise. Eat your biggest meal between 12-2 p.m. Plan meals with healthy fats and low carbs. A key to reducing stress is by planning meals for the week. Dr. Hernandez will even bring in meals to staff twice a week, potluck style. She also keeps snacks in the office for the team.
What does a coaching session in Functional Medicine look like?
When the person reaches out with a particular sign, symptom, or issue the coach listens. Listening is a huge part of being a good clinician. Use both open ended and close ended questions and let the person speak. Ask them if there’s anything they want to talk about or share. They might bring up sleep and ask for tips on that. Ask them if they want to change anything. The coach approach is getting the person to their goal and actionable steps and having them realize their strengths and weaknesses, especially strengths.
The microbiome is so important. Look at life through stressors. Look at the entire life and before birth. How do you sleep? How much do you sleep? Look at the simplest factors. Remember, the patient is the expert in themselves.
Dr. Jarod Johnson and Dr. Hernandez
Dr. Hernandez reached out to Dr. Johnson with a simple message that said, “Hi Jarod, how are you doing?” and Dr. Johnson found it to be incredible since it was such a stressful time in his life. Dr. Hernandez notes that so much of our self we gain from daily connections with parents and patients. In making children laugh, we’re laughing too. It’s cathartic, healing, and powerful. She was missing her patients during the beginning phases of COVID-19. She reached out to friends and wrote letters to doctors who have made a big impact in her family’s life. It was obvious that there were people who needed to be checked on during this tough time.
A Stress Balance
Stress is inevitable and it is part of our biological needs. But how do we keep stress from becoming too much?
Dr. Hernandez suggests becoming aware of your body. We’re individuals. Note that genetically, some of us may not be able to handle stress well and stress depends where we are on our journey and previous experiences and how we’ve learned to cope with stress. If we’re in sync with our bodies, we can handle stress better. Mindfulness, a gratitude journal, meditation, and spirituality are important to reduce stress. Schedules can be a huge stressor on the body. We can arrange stressors to handle stress better. Cutting down the schedule and seeing more difficult patients earlier in the day can help. Do a quick breath practice. It’s important to position proactive stress management techniques all through the day.
Dr. Hernandez writes down her worries and puts it in her “Worry Box”. She tells people to put their worries into the “Worry Box” and she will get to them at a better time. She also takes time to “Gather in between” when she gathers herself to get ready for the next patient. Nature walks also helps. She gathers her thoughts by writing them down as they come and putting them into her “Worry Box”. This is also how she decides what will go into her lectures.
Change your relationship with stress. Don’t think of your practice as a source of stress anymore. Remember, you shouldn’t be doing anything harmful to your body. You must learn to let go of the things you cannot control.
Ways to Keep Stress at a Minimum
What are some ways to let go of stress?
We’re so hard on ourselves. In managing her stress, Dr. Hernandez is learning to say to herself, “Would I be this critical of somebody else if they were wrong?” Self-critiquing is harsh and she’s learning to do it less. She practices self-love not by going to the spa but by modifying the non-negotiables of the five lifestyle factors, which are: sleep, diet, managing stress, exercise, and connection.
Another way to reduce stress is by eating fresh, plants, and healthy fats or as Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much, and mostly plants”. Eat real food. Plants provide nutrients that we need like vitamins. The colors of plants also provide phytonutrients that we need. Nutrients are there for a reason. We are nutrient insufficient or deficient when we don’t get food in the proper bioavailable form. Some children/patients are picky eaters and are nutrient insufficient.
It’s important to find the right diet and have it tailored for you. Remember that fiber is important, animal protein is important for B12 vitamin, and diets should not last forever. There should be a maintenance plan like the Mediterranean lifestyle. Check out Dr. Hernandez’s YouTube channel, Chef H’s Kitchen. She’s working hard creating nutritious meals that are less than 10 dollars to make.
If you are nutrient insufficient, work with someone who understand what vitamins you should take. Consider asking for labs from your PCP on vitamin D levels, magnesium, folate, zinc levels, etc. Increase vitamins slowly to the functional range. Remember to add in probiotics.
Top 10 Things Dr. Hernandez Does for Self-Care
- Starts off feeding herself good energy and positivity
- Intermittent fasting
- 10 minutes in the sun
- Meal prep for the week
- Get targeted micronutrients based on her labs that are tailored to her
- Exercises and takes time to exhale
- Drinks enough water to stay hydrated
- Eats fresh foods. Whole foods. Probiotic for a healthy flora. Fiber to feed the flora.
- Loves herself. Lets things go. Would you be this hard on someone else?
- Regular routine sleep
How to Implement Changes
Typically, a Functional Medicine practitioner would look at an extensive history. They would look at not just hypertension, for example, but at what the root cause is. They would then plot it on the matrix and see how it’s related to the gut, for example. Then a plan would be created, and they might just look at lifestyle factors and send you to a coach. The coach would then ask, “How are you sleeping? When do you eat?” and other lifestyle questions.
They would then find something that they’re motivated to change, can change, and make it easy. They would have it fall in the day and not interrupt their lives and might say, “Are you willing to make a few changes with me?” Together, you would find two or three areas to make mini goals and create 1-2 actionable goals to address the areas. An accountability sheet would be used to mark off if you’ve done it or not. Remember that rest and digest are needed for a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Hernandez also suggests not eating after 7 p.m.
Dr. Purnima Hernandez
Dr Hernandez is a board-certified pediatric dentist and behavior analyst who has been serving the communities of New York and New Jersey for over 25 years. Dr. Hernandez received her education in Pediatric Dentistry at Columbia University College of Dental medicine. She then pursued a Masters in Applied Behavior Analysis from Caldwell University, New Jersey. She is currently pursuing a certification in Functional Medicine at the Institute of Functional Medicine. It is her vision to integrate knowledge from these three disciplines and develop protocols to help children.