Women in Wellness: “Read labels; Know what you are eating” With Meg Cadoux Hirshberg of the Anticancer Lifestyle Foundation
Read labels: Most importantly on food packaging, personal and home care products. Know what you are eating, drinking, and using on your body and in your home. Our Diet and Environment modules teaches people about easy-to-use resources that will help them choose the healthiest products. We don’t need a PhD to go shopping!
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meg Cadoux Hirshberg of the Anticancer Lifestyle Foundation. Meg is the founder of an online lifestyle transformation course for cancer survivors and those interested in prevention. The course features modules in Making Change; Diet; Mindset; Fitness; Environment. Meg is herself a 20-year survivor of Stage III breast cancer.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Meg! What is your “backstory”?
Like many cancer survivors, I longed for evidence-based information about lifestyle changes that could reduce my odds of getting cancer recurrence. Medical providers give little to no guidance about this, and wind up creating an information vacuum that many patients fill with random, anecdotal information they find online, or get from concerned friends and family. When I was searching for answers, I read a book by a physician who had taken the time to research lifestyle habits that could reduce the likelihood of getting a diagnosis of cancer and other chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Along with subject matter experts from our local cancer center, I created an in-person course to teach this critical information. Hundreds of cancer patients have been through the in-person program offered at the cancer center, and we have now created an online version to serve all those who need and want this information, including survivors, their friends and family, and those interested in prevention of chronic illness.
Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
- Read labels: Most importantly on food packaging, personal and home care products. Know what you are eating, drinking, and using on your body and in your home. Our Diet and Environment modules teaches people about easy-to-use resources that will help them choose the healthiest products. We don’t need a PhD to go shopping!
- Get up: It’s now often said that sitting is the new smoking. Our Fitness module teaches why people need to move, and easy ways to work activity into daily life.
- Calm down: Stress is a killer, and our lives are filled with it. Our Mindset module teaches simple practices that can bring calm and focus into even the most hectic day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
What comes to mind is one of our first participants, Betty. Betty loved the in-person course, but complained loudly and frequently about the Mindset part, saying she wasn’t interested in mindfulness and stress reduction and resented these topics being foisted upon her. About a year after the class ended, the mindset teacher and I received an email from Betty, in which she described being in a recent fender-bender and freaking out, about being late for work, about the cost of the repair, about her possible whiplash. Out of nowhere, she found she was doing one of the relaxation exercises she had been taught in class the year before. By the time the policeman arrived, she was calm and collected, her heart no longer racing. That email reinforced our instinct that we were on the right track by exposing people to all kinds of helpful information, and that they would make use of it and adopt it on their own schedule and in their own way.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
After we had proof-of-concept with the online course, we decided to invest in disseminating it to other hospitals, wellness and cancer centers. We made changes to the website and invested in an expensive online survey system for evaluations. We were armed and ready for any pushback about our course content — which never came. Instead, the problem lied in a completely different direction: most of these facilities are strapped for cash and the people who work in them are strapped for time. It just proved too high a bar for most facilities to take on this complex 12-week course. Only then did we figure out that we needed to invest in the online version, which took two years to create and was released just last month.
When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Many cancer survivors — as well as others seeking to reduce their risk of chronic illness — are seeking good, validated information presented in a way they can understand and digest. As simple and basic as this need is, it’s almost impossible to find it. Since we taught the in-person course for so many years (and continue to teach it), we have a good handle on how to present lifestyle information in a way that makes people feel empowered and capable of making changes.
There’s a ton of great information online, but you must search the internet in many places to find a comprehensive approach. Likewise, there’s a mountain of bad information in the online universe, and it’s hard for people to distinguish the valid from the anecdotal. Our course is one-stop-shopping for those who want and need a comprehensive and evidence-based lifestyle transformation program.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Like most founders of start-ups, I have had many setbacks and disappointments as I have grown the Anticancer Lifestyle Program since its inception in 2010. The most important — and often underrated — quality for any entrepreneur is persistence. My greatest teacher in the art of getting back up no matter how many times you have been knocked down, has been my husband Gary, who started an organic yogurt company when very few people were eating yogurt, and no one had heard of organics. He lost money for nine years before catching the organic wave and riding it to success. He and I share a deep commitment to mission, and from him I have learned how to stay true to my vision, come what may.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’ve been passionate about organics my entire life, so I would love to see a mass movement supporting organics — to see it move from a niche in the economy to a powerhouse. A mass market for organic products would help drive down prices for these products, making them more affordable and available to more people. Organic agriculture, and organic products in general, have enormous ramifications for the health of the planet and for human health as well.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
Everyone involved with the Anticancer Lifestyle Program, including myself, has always seen it as a no-brainer. It’s evidence-based and makes a real difference in patients’ lives. It seemed obvious to us that once we had proof-of-concept, the program would be widely adopted in other cancer centers and hospitals. While we did get some adoption, it was not nearly at the rate we had anticipated. I hadn’t realized that because there is really no money and no financial reward in prevention per se, medical institutions are often reluctant to do more than is necessary to maintain their accreditation. Had I understood this, I would have developed the online program a lot sooner in our evolution.
Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide! )
Former Breast Cancer Prevention Partners CEO Jeanne Rizzo guided BCPP to adopt its powerful mission to reduce the risk of breast cancer by reducing our exposure to toxic chemicals. She is a pistol.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
It’s hard to pick one. I’d say organics is what I am most passionate about. The environmental and human impact of toxics is devastating to people and to the planet. The two keyways humans relate to our natural world are through energy production and agriculture. We need a sensible, smart, systems-oriented approach to these key interfaces we have with our environment. Having been an organic grower and in an organic foods business, this is my passion.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
On facebook we are at Anticancer Lifestyle; on instagram and twitter @anticancer.