Terry Shintani, MD, JD, MPH, KSJ is a local physician, attorney, nutritionist, author, lecturer, radio show host and community advocate.
You probably know him best for his whole-person diet programs, such as Eat More, Weigh Less Diet and the Shintani Diet. In 1992, his health program won the highest national award from the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
How I Get Off my Medication: Linda Soraoka
What would it be like to get so healthy that your medication became unnecessary? That is what Dr. Shintani’s 10 Day Program is for Linda Soraoka. She is one of Dr. Shintani’s program graduates. She was taking prescription medications for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol — a total of nine pills per day. After just 10 days, two of her medications became unnecessary. What’s most important is that she learned the skills to continue a healthy lifestyle. Six months later she no longer needed any medication. Her blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol were all normal without them. The side effect? She lost 40 pounds without really trying.
“It was really easy,” Linda says, “There was no calorie counting or portion size control and the weight just fell off. Dr. Shintani saved my life.”
Locally, he has conducted health and nutrition programs for Native Hawaiians his entire career. He was the founding director of the innovative Integrative Medicine program at the Wai‘anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. He also created the “HawaiiDiet” program and received national attention in Newsweek, on CBS This Morning and Dateline NBC. And, of course, there’s Zippy’s, where he created the Zippy’s “Shintani Cuisine” program that has served more than 800,000 low-fat, no-cholesterol meals and donated 100 percent of the royalties to promote health in Hawai‘i.
Currently, Dr. Shintani is presenting his 10 Day Program, a workshop on how to lose weight and reverse chronic disease through diet and lifestyle.
We recently sat down with Dr. Shintani to learn more about his background, why he developed the 10 Day Program and to get the latest tips on reverse aging and fighting disease.
GM: What schools did you attend and how did you decide to become a doctor?
TS: Since neither of my parents went to high school, they were determined to give their kids a good education. I started at Island Paradise School and transferred to Punahou School. Then I attended the University of Hawai‘i (UH) and transferred to University of Illinois, where I got a business degree.
In college, I picked up some “hippie” values and wanted to save the world. I thought law school was the way to do it. At UH for law school, I was quickly disillusioned because law practice was not what I expected. So I decided that in order to “save the world,” I should become a doctor.
In medical school, I was much happier — yet not completely satisfied. Modern medicine is wonderful when it comes to diagnostics, surgical procedures, infectious disease and trauma. But it doesn’t quite do the job when it comes to dealing with chronic diseases, which are the greatest problems today. Heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and other chronic diseases are a crushing burden on our society and our economy. Medical school didn’t teach me how to get at the cause of these diseases. It really only taught me how to medicate and mitigate these diseases, but not cure or prevent them.
Because I realized that many illnesses were nutrition-related diseases — yet medical school only offered three hours of nutrition class — I transferred to Harvard to earn a master’s degree in nutrition. I then went on to get board certified in Preventive Medicine.
GM: How did you get into the weight loss arena?
TS: As the Associate Chair of the Department of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, the majority of my work is geared toward anti-aging and the health of the whole person, including physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness. However, many health problems are tied to weight issues. It can’t be ignored. And, weight loss is an important part of reversing aging and disease. And, more than anything, weight motivates people to change.
GM: Can you explain to us what’s happening in health care today? Seems prevention is a major component of the paradigm shift.
TS: Ironically, health care is not going to solve our health problems. The biggest problem is that we don’t have a health care system. We have a disease care system. There is so much emphasis on pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures that we have forgotten to look after real health. The government continues to spend money and time in creating a better health care system. We don’t need a better system. What we really need is better health. If we had better health, the current system would be able to handle the health care burden.
It’s unfortunate that most of the paradigm shift to preventive care is “secondary prevention”— or early detection — after the disease has developed. The shift hasn’t supported what I do, which is more “primary prevention.” For example, my 10 Day Program teaches people how to cook healthy meals in minutes. We even tour Down to Earth, a natural food store, to teach clients how to shop for healthy foods. The program gets people truly healthy so that their medications become unnecessary.
Another positive shift is toward alternative medicine. Studies show that there are more visits to alternative practitioners now than to conventional doctors. This is why I work with the Department of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at our Medical School. Most people don’t know it, but we arguably have the best faculty in the nation in this field.
GM: What is the 10 Day Program?
TS: The 10 Day Program doesn’t just magically turn people’s health around. It is 10 days of intensive training with me. We teach people how to form healthy new habits that replace old unhealthy ones. We teach people how to shop, how to prepare food, and how to snack in a healthy, sustainable way. We also offer encouragement to exercise regularly, and to keep a positive attitude.
GM: How is it that you can get people off medication so easily when others can’t?
TS: I get a lot of people off their medication with the 10 Day Program because I get at the cause of the disease — bad diets and unhealthy lifestyles. Most medications, and even a lot of supplements, don’t get to the cause of the problem. I correct the underlying problems and the diseases start to disappear.
GM: Can you outline the foundations of your health/diet model?
TS: I have a 7-point plan. The foundation of my approach to anti-aging and disease reversal is to first look at the whole person — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. I perform a complete medical history and physical exam to look at the specific diseases or symptoms. In most cases, I focus first on diet and lifestyle, rather than medicine. As I always say, what we eat and drink constitutes 99 percent of what we consume … why would we first look at drugs and supplements, which are less than 1 percent of our intake?
So the first thing I do is help to build a healthy foundation of diet and lifestyle. This is one of the most neglected, yet most effective approaches to most chronic health conditions. If diet and lifestyle are not adequate, then I look at other factors such as hormone balance, supplements, energy medicine, psychological and even spiritual issues. Pharmaceuticals are a last resort, but in the right situations they are very useful, especially in dealing with acute situations such as infections and injury, and in preventing long-term damage.
GM: What are the good and bad foods that we are eating too much of today?
TS: In general, we eat too much food that is refined, processed and prepackaged. It is better for our bodies to eat whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes and low-fat, plant-based proteins (instead of animal protein).
GM: Packaged foods and sugars are big “no no” items. Can you give us an idea of how bad they are?
TS: First of all, I always allow for occasional “party food” in small amounts on special occasions. But in general, people get the majority of their calories from packaged food, sugars and otherwise adulterated foods (including farm-fattened meat and poultry). Humans never ate this way in history. You can see the effect of this “modern American diet” (M.A.D. diet) in the high rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes in this country.
GM: You are well known for your seminars. Why do you do so many?
TS: It’s my mission to reach as many people as possible with the message of health. I believe that seminars are one of the most effective ways to reach the public. For example, through the Hawai‘i Health Foundation, I’ve conducted nearly 1,000 seminars, lectures and programs over the years. But I understand that not everyone can attend, so I use a mix of media to reach people. I’ve written 10 books, and I have a radio show “Healing and You” on KWAI, AM 1080, Sunday at 8 p.m., which is the longest running health radio talk-show in Hawai‘i.
GM: For those of us in our older years, how does dieting benefit us? Aren’t seniors too old to start?
TS: We are never too old to start. A healthy diet and lifestyle helps even into our 80s and beyond. For instance, during World War II, people in Norway cut their meat and fat intake due to rationing. As a result, heart disease decreased dramatically — even among those over 80.
GM: What can we “older folks” start doing to improve healthy longevity?
TS: My 7-point Plan applies to health, as well as longevity. As they say, 60 is the new 40. And, I plan to continue to be productive into my 80s. In order to do that, I have to do the things that will shave 20 years off my age.
What can we do to age in a healthy way? Well, chronological aging is inevitable but our physical biological agent is more a function of our health and fitness. By healthy I mean being free from disease and optimal mental and physical functioning.
A good diet is an essential part of healthy aging. I don’t like to call it “diet” because most people think of diet as you go on a diet and then you go off the diet. I prefer to think of it as a healthy lifestyle. Now, living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean depravation. You can eat as much as you want and still lose weight as long as you choose the right foods and prepare them in a healthy, delicious way that you can enjoy and maintain.
GM: How is dieting linked to anti-aging?
TS: I recommend a whole person approach that includes physical mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of health. But eating right helps to reverse aging. It helps to reverse markers of disease, and helps to increase people’s energy levels. It may even help to reverse disease and get rid of the aches and pains from which so many seniors suffer. The right foods not only control weight, they can also reverse illness to such an extent that medication becomes less necessary. As part of my 10 Day Program, I have measured markers for biological aging and many of my participants rate 10 or 11 years younger on their biological age scale in just 10 days of following my dietary and lifestyle program.
GM: What do you do to stay healthy and live a long life?
TS: I try to follow my own 7- point plan. I follow a primarily plant-based unprocessed food diet, I try to exercise at least every other day and I take a few supplements when I feel like I’m not eating quite right. I keep a positive attitude and try to share aloha for everyone. I also think prayer is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
GM: If you could enjoy a meal with anyone in history, who would that be with?
TS: I would like to have supper with Jesus or a vegetarian Indian meal with the great Mahatma Gandhi.
GM: What do you do to relax and live a more stress free life?
TS: I have an energy machine at my office that helps. It helps me to recharge my batteries. A lot of my clients really like it. I find exercise to be relaxing — playing basketball and breaking a sweat. I also like to kick back and enjoy simple things such as reading, talking to friends, family, my daughters and wife, even meditation or prayer I find rejuvenating and stress reducing.
Kid Time in Kalihi and Kāhala
GM: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and growing up in Hawai‘i?
TS: My entire family originates from Kalihi, and my dad had a Venetian blind and drapery business in the heart of the business district.
When I was really young, we lived in a little square house on Kapi‘olani Boulevard, next to Ala Wai Park. I used to walk the Ala Wai Canal and watch people fish and crab. There used to be these stations along the canal where people could walk out and sit in little wooden fishing chairs about 20 feet out over the water.
When I was about five or six years old, we moved to Kāhala — before it was Kāhala, as we know it. Back in the 1950s, the area was pig, chicken and pikake farms. We used to wake up to the roosters in those days.
GM: Any stories that still stick in your memory of the good ol’ hanabata days?
TS: A lot of stories stick with me. I have fond memories of my grandmother who lived with us and took care of us kids. She didn’t speak much English but we communicated with a combination of broken English, mixed with Pidgin, Japanese and Hawaiian. I remember feeling like one of the luckiest kids in the world because two of my aunties had little “mom and pop” stores — Sato Store on Kapahulu Avenue and Obatake Store on School Street. They were so nice to us. We always got candy or a treat when we visited.
GM: Were your parents a big influence on who you are today?
TS: Both of my parents were great role models. Neither one got past the 9th grade but they made the most of their lives and were the best parents.
My mom had a rough childhood. Her father died when she was in her teens and her mother, being a picture bride and speaking little English, was left to care for five kids. They lived a very humble existence. The three girls, including my mother, quit school and worked so that the two younger boys could finish high school.
She learned the value of frugality and hard work. My dad met her when she was working at my grandfather’s slipper company in Kalihi. My father used to joke that because she was the best worker, he married her to keep her at the company.
My dad was a self-made man. He started a business from scratch (Venetian blinds, carpets, draperies and building materials) and built it up to where he once employed about 100 people. What was even more remarkable is that when I was still a toddler, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He had surgery and a colostomy. He lived on another 40 years, defying all odds.
When he passed away, I realized what a privilege and blessing it was to have him as a dad. One person told me, You know what was amazing about your Dad? He never complained about anything. Another person remarked that he was “Christ-like” because he always kept his word, looked for the best in people and never said a bad thing about anyone.
Down to Earth is Hawai‘i’s only all vegetarian, organic and natural foods store. The company was started in 1977, dedicated to improving the health of Island communities.
The store carries a variety of groceries, including dairy products, local organic produce, bulk foods, vitamins and natural supplements, body care products and household items. Its delis feature hot food and cold salad bars, fresh smoothies, a sandwich menu, grab-and-go options and a variety of egg-free desserts.
With five stores throughout Hawai‘i, Down to Earth contributes to its community with events such as cooking classes, lectures and new recipes and monthly e-newsletter. It also supports local farmers. Yearly, the company purchases about $2.5 million in products from 400 local vendors, including more than 150 farmers and growers who guarantee fresh fruit and veggies. For more information, visit downtoearth.org.