Thomas M. Mitchell, DC, Owner of Chicago Institute for Health and Wellness: Results-Driven Health Care for Baby Boomers

Dr. Mitchell is the owner and clinic director of Chicago Institute for Health and Wellness, with locations in Elgin and West Dundee, Illinois. When Baby Boomers have health issues, are suffering from pain, or run into obstacles trying to get fit, they want results. Dr. Mitchell talks about how he helps his patients apply a personalized health program which helps them take control of their health and fitness. Discover how finding the “why” behind a health challenge is the key to sustained results and better health.

Phil: I think that people would be interested in learning about how your damaged back influenced your personal fitness program, as well as your approach to healthcare and chiropractic medicine. Could you share how an MRI examination when you were in chiropractic school impacted your approach to both health and fitness?

Dr. Mitchell: I was 22 years old at the time, and it was a research study. They were offering free MRIs, and I just went in and did it. They stopped me on the way out and said, “you may want to come and look at your back.” What was discovered were multiple herniated discs and something called Schmorl’s nodes, which is where the disc herniation fractures the endplate of the vertebrae. At the time, I had no back pain, but it certainly scares you a little bit. Luckily, I was in chiropractic school, so I had the resources around me to do the research that I needed to do, and I changed my approach to how I exercised and how I trained. It became more about the preservation of health than the avoidance of a back issue or the avoidance of some disease process. Instead of being reactive, it made me proactive regarding what I do for myself, which then translates to the patients that I see.

Phil Faris: You were a powerlifter, and you were working out at that time. Can you give a specific example of how you changed your working out and fitness regimen at that time?

Dr. Mitchell: To give you a little bit of background, I started powerlifting when I was young. I think my first meet might have been as a freshman in high school. So, by the time I was in chiropractic school, I think I had a couple of New York state records. I was good at it, and I worked hard at it, but as I aged, I had to change and realize that most of the people I was competing against weren’t very old. They were in their mid-twenties. In this sport, once you hit your thirties and forties, people tend to get injured very quickly, and that’s the end of their career. Then they would talk about what they used to be able to do, instead of what they’re currently able to do.

To change, I just applied biomechanics and neurology, the way our brain controls our body. I created a concept called Neuro-Stabilization training. The more stable your joints are, the more stable your body is, the stronger it can become without injuries occurring. It decreases the frequency of injuries and allows your body to do amazing things.

Since I started that, which was almost 20 years ago now, I have never been injured. I still powerlift. In fact, on March 4th, 2017, I broke the world record for bench press in my weight class in the World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation. It’s just consistency over time.

Phil Faris: Wow. That’s very impressive. You have created this approach to training, and you’re working out very heavy, and there’s no back pain.

Dr. Mitchell: No back pain, no shoulder pain. It’s not so much just the heavy weight, it is the heavy weight, and I work out very intensively. If my body’s stable, it can handle those things. What I find is that in the Baby Boomer generation, you’re finding old injuries that have stopped people from doing what they want to do. You must get that stability and have those injuries heal properly. Then, honestly, there’s no restriction on what people can do, of any age.

Phil Faris: I thought it was interesting that although it was your back that influenced your healthcare journey, many of your Baby Boomer patients don’t come to you about back pain. Can you describe some of the most common health issues that cause Baby Boomers to seek you out?

Dr. Mitchell: You’re right. I am a chiropractor, so we do back pain, and we do neuromusculoskeletal care, like bones, muscles, and joints, but we also do a lot of functional medicine. I think what people come to me for is to find the answers to the why behind their health issues. Like, “why is this happening?” Then, they want results, like, “how do I get this better?” Not just, “how do I have less pain?” That comes with it sometimes too, but they want to reduce their dependency on medication. They want to live their lives without the encumbrances of what they think aging is.

A perfect example is, I had an 87-year-old man yesterday tell me he now feels like he’s 21. Now this gentleman has had colon cancer and prostate cancer; he’s had multiple back surgeries, he’s had a knee replacement. I mean, he’s had a lot of hardship, medically, in his life. He sat in front of me, and the only thing that he feels is a little tingling in his right hand. That’s it. Pretty awesome.

Phil Faris: That is impressive for a man of 87 who feels like he’s 21. What are some of the other medical issues people might come to you for that people may not associate with a chiropractor?”

Dr. Mitchell: All kinds of things. From high blood pressure and high cholesterol to weight issues, diabetes. Autoimmune disorders seem to be a big thing in my office right now. We just seem to be getting a lot of patients that we’re working with to stabilize their autoimmune disorders by reducing inflammation. The fun thing about what I do is, every person that walks through the door is unique, and you just figure out what’s going on with them and you start to apply an approach that allows them to be healthy. We really work on a full gambit of things here.

Phil Faris: One of the things that stuck out from your practice is your use of progressive objective tests. Could share why testing is so important to you and your patients?

Dr. Mitchell: Honestly, Phil, it allows me to hold patients accountable for the things that we need them to do, but it also allows them to hold me accountable for the things that I’m asking them to do. We have something called a bio-impedance analysis in our office. It’s a very easy, clinically accurate, clinically relevant test that looks at body composition, so it measures body fat, lean tissue, intracellular water, extracellular water. It gives us all kinds of great information that we can use with a patient, and it’s quick and easy to get. If we have somebody working a program that’s structured for them, then that objective data allows us to, again, hold each other accountable and change gears when something’s not working. Additionally, we run a lot of bloodwork and hormone panels, whatever’s necessary to look at to get that person better.

The unique part of what I do, because the tests aren’t necessarily unique, is our approach. We try to stem off diseases, as opposed to going, “okay, you’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay, and now you have this disease.” You can see that transition in the objective data far before you can see it in an exam. We can see things heading in the wrong direction and stop them before they get too far, which is not how the allopathic model works, or the typical general practitioner works. Typically, theirs must be this black-and-white number where you’re diseased, or you’re not diseased when there’s all that wiggle room in there, and that’s where we shine.

Phil Faris: I can see the difference. Perhaps you could give an example of how you use specific areas of a test, or results of a test, that may have identified something that allows you to be proactive in heading off a disease or potential disease.

Dr. Mitchell: I have a great example. A gentleman in his mid-fifties came to me as a diabetic. He’s 58 with a hemoglobin A1c of an 8.8, which is high. Typically, 6.5 is diabetes. He was 310 pounds, and we ran all his bloodwork, and we did a typical workup. What we found was that his kidneys were starting to slow down and weren’t working great. Along with that came high blood pressure, and he had high cholesterol. I saw him in my office on Wednesday, and this is now five months later…he’d started in October. His goal was to be below 270 pounds by Christmas. The day before Christmas, he was at 268 pounds. He is now at 249, off all his medication, and his last A1c was a 5.5, which is better than mine!

His kidney function was hampering a lot of the process. Once we fixed that or helped him fix that, then he could work on the other things so aggressively that he’s no longer a diabetic. I mean, I guess technically he’s a diabetic, but he doesn’t have any medication, and his numbers are better than mine, so I can’t really call him a diabetic anymore.

Phil Faris: That’s great. You referred how you’re different than a typical doctor. Most Baby Boomers, myself included, are used to going to the doctor’s office and leaving with a prescription and a card saying, “please check back with me in 6 months.” That’s not necessarily the case with your office. Your patients, who are looking to have a program to improve their health and fitness, leave with what you call an Individualized Structural Health Care Program. Can you talk about the specifics that go into that and how you use it to help patients accomplish their goals?

Dr. Mitchell: I guess what I would say is everyone that I see gets a program structured for them. That’s based off all the objective data that we have, which is the exam, the bloodwork, the hormone panels, the bio-impedance analysis, whatever’s necessary for them. It could be x-rays, could be an MRI, could be anything. We do a consultation, we collect all the objective data, and then we just lay out a plan that we think fits them best. Then we coach them through it.

I call what I do health coaching. We sit down, and we re-run the objective data. Since you can’t run bloodwork once a week or once every couple of weeks, we use the bio-impedance analysis a lot. We start working through that objective data so that, again, we can hold each other accountable, but if you can get the objective data to go in the right direction, the person doesn’t get a choice but to get healthier. Their bodies are just getting healthier. They’re losing weight; they’re feeling better; things are just going better. Everything is individualized because there’s no one-size-fits-all program out there that works. There are tons of those types programs out there, but if any one of them worked for everybody, that would be the last one we needed, right? That’s just not the case.

Phil Faris: No matter how good the program is, everyone runs into obstacles. Otherwise, every program would be successful. What are some of the most common obstacles that your patients encounter, and how do you help them overcome those obstacles?

Dr. Mitchell: A lot of times their lifestyle is an obstacle. Their spheres of influence, their cycles of behavior are obstacles. We coach them through it. We give them options. We give them techniques and tips and tricks to get through certain parts of life that are obstacles for them. If we have them on a nutritional program and it’s Christmas Day, what do they do? We discuss all that.

We don’t expect everybody to be experts in healthcare, that’s what we do. We do expect them to learn to be experts in themselves and to understand what works for them, and their bodies, and their lifestyle. Once they have that, once we can teach them that, then they can overcome almost anything. It’s important for them to take control and be accountable for their health, and then they overcome everything that’s thrown their way.

Phil Faris: I like concrete examples. Can you give me an example of an issue where someone came to you and said, ” I’m not losing weight,” or, “I still have pain,” or, “I still have stiffness,” whatever it is? How did you help them break through the wall so that they finally accomplished what they want to accomplish?

Dr. Mitchell: A concrete example on that is purely coaching and education. The first thing I do is figure out the “why” behind the issue. Let’s say, somebody, came in and said, “hey, I’m still having knee pain.” Why are they having knee pain? You must determine what that is; then you apply an approach. But, you must educate them on the things that they should do to help themselves avoid pain.

The Baby Boomer generation, at least from my perspective, is quite good at following directions and taking what a doctor says, and taking it to heart and doing it. Sometimes that’s to their detriment. For example, if their doctor just says, “hey, you’re going to go on this medication,” then suddenly, they’re on that medication for the rest of their life without researching it. That’s not so great. Typically, they follow directions so well, and so once you give them the why behind what they need to do, then those obstacles aren’t there anymore.

The goal of this office, the goal of what we do, is to remove those obstacles, so they don’t have anything to overcome, and when they do, we just coach them through that and get them to the other side of it. Then they keep losing weight, or their pain is no longer there, whatever the case may be. It’s our job to educate that person so that they can overcome those obstacles.

Phil Faris: For Baby Boomers who want to get back into fitness but haven’t worked out in a long time, what are the first couple of things that they should be doing to start?

Dr. Mitchell: First, you must always have the blanket statement; talk to your general practitioner and all those things. The ideal thing for people to start doing is drinking more water; I’d say anywhere between 64 and 96 ounces a day, then, just start walking. Start getting the body moving, so they can condition their body and their muscles to start to work, and pump fluids through their bodies. When their blood’s pumping, they’re eliminating lactic acid, and everything starts to move freely again. That’s the best place to start that I’ve found for my patients. If they’re just getting back into an exercise program, it’s literally: start with a 5-minute walk. Depending on their health conditions or the condition of their body, you just start slow, and before you know it, with enough water and enough walking, the possibilities are endless. You’re running an Ironman a year and a half later. Who knows?

Phil Faris: When you talk about, based on your physical condition, that means what is right for that person at that time. For some people, that’s going for a walk. For some people, it’s 5 minutes. Other people, it’s 2 hours. It’s relative to you. Then, the idea is to go to the next level. Once you get a certain level of fitness, what would be the next level? If they’re able to walk for 30 minutes or an hour without pain, what would be the next level of fitness that you would try and add to that?

Dr. Mitchell: It’s dependent on the individual. What I tell people is, find an activity that keeps you active, but it must be something that you enjoy doing. It could be playing pickleball, walking, running, or climbing trees. That part I don’t care too much about. It’s more about, do something you enjoy, because then you look forward to it and it’s not a chore anymore. It’s not a thing that you must do. It’s not a necessary evil. It’s like the thing that helps you get through the day. It clears your head, you feel better afterward, and that is individual for everyone. For some people, it’s yoga and classes, and for others, it’s weight training or resistance training, and others, it’s just continuing to walk and listen to music or their books on tape.

The next level is always to find something you really enjoy doing. If you can walk a half an hour to an hour consistently, then you’re ready to move to the next step of, okay, let’s play pickleball, see if I like it. Whatever it may be, you definitely want to push yourself. The only way to make it sustainable is if you enjoy it.

Phil Faris: How important is nutrition in the programs that you outline for people, and how do you address that?

Dr. Mitchell: Nutrition is 75 to 80 percent of what we do or the program which we put people on. It’s critically important. We address it in any number of ways. I’m not a dietitian, so I don’t tell people to eat 12 almonds and a half a slice of bread. I just don’t do that. It’s not how my brain works. My job is to get them in a nutritional program so that their bodies start to break down, absorb, and utilize nutrients better, and then eliminate properly. That’s to get them healthier. It’s as simple as that.

There are some basic things that most people should avoid, that I tell most people to avoid. Dairy, wheat, and sugar being number one. I should always say that first because the sugar in our diets not only adds weight to our bodies, but it’s absolutely, slowly killing us. Those are the big three: sugar, dairy, wheat. There’s a whole bunch of other things that are more specific to the individual. Some people have sensitivities to different foods like eggs or soy, or who knows what. Nutrition is 80 percent of what we do regarding helping people get healthy. It is critically important to make sure their nutrition is correct.

Phil Faris: Getting them to eat right, avoiding foods that have long-term negative consequences for the body, drinking water, and moving. That’s a good starting formula. My next question is about misconceptions. There is a lot of misinformation about healthcare, healthcare choices and chiropractic medicine, specifically. What do you find are the biggest misconceptions that people have about you, your office, and your program?

Dr. Mitchell: Because, by definition, I’m a chiropractor, the misconception is that we just treat backs. That’s what people think of going to the chiropractor for. Personally, I take what I do very seriously. Because as a chiropractor I don’t have access to prescription medication, I don’t have anything to give to a patient that, for example, just lowers their blood pressure. We must do it right and address the why behind the high blood pressure. We must find the cause of the issue so that it can then be fixed rather than just medicated. The misconception is that we can only do certain things. I will say this, there are chiropractors where that’s all they do is treat the back, and they treat back pain, and that’s okay too.

95 percent of this office is referral-based. Most people that are walking through the door have researched me online, talked to friends and family that have gotten better, and they’re here to get better. They kind of know what they’re stepping into, which is a lifestyle change, the ability to take their life back. That’s what we provide.

Phil Faris: What’s the most frequent comment that you heard from clients after they’ve completed a program and achieved their goals?

Dr. Mitchell: You know, the most common phrase is “thank you.” That’s it. What I tell them is that I didn’t do it; they did it, I just helped them. I just gave them a roadmap and coached them through it but, they’ve done it. It’s empowering for them to have the control and the education to do it themselves. Honestly, the most common thing I hear is “thank you.” Then I give them a hug, and I see them, hopefully, before the next time something happens, just to maintain them. It’s a pretty cool environment when people come to the office because they want to be here. They’re not in pain or terrible shape. They come here, and they’re doing great, and they just want to maintain that health. 

Phil Faris: What I’ve gotten from our discussion, Dr. Mitchell, is that it’s not just, come in and here’s the band-aid, here’s the prescription. It’s, let’s dig in and figure out the why behind what’s going on. Let’s do this together. Which is, let’s you and I look at the data. Look at what’s going on, so we’re making some choices that empower you to be able to understand what’s going on with your body outside the office. Because that’s where 90 percent of the magic really happens. It’s is when you are back home or on the job when you must apply what you’re doing in your lifestyle. This is not dependent on me as your doctor; it’s based on what you learn and apply that allows you to change your life and gives you the results you want. Have I got that right?

Dr. Mitchell: You said it perfectly. That’s exactly what it is: allowing them to be empowered because it’s not dependent on me, it’s dependent on them, and giving them the tools to do it.

Phil: They must have the mindset that they should own up to the fact that it’s their lifestyle that’s got them where they are. Therefore, they can control their lifestyle.

Dr. Mitchell: Right. It’s true, but if they don’t do that, they will struggle to get better and can’t be helped anyways. They can get a pill that can help them. It can lower their cholesterol, or lower their blood pressure, or control their blood sugar. They can get those things, but if they don’t own the fact that it’s on them, then I can’t help them. It’s really for them to understand and take that power back. When you see somebody really get it, and light up because they understand that now they are in control of their health, control of their healthcare, and can pick the doctors that they want, they’re seeing them for a specific purpose, boy, there’s nothing like that. It’s a game-changer!

Phil Faris: That’s great. I want to thank you so much for spending a little time explaining what you do at your institute and your approach to health and fitness. If people want to connect with you or get more information on the Chicago Institute for Health and Wellness, where should they go?

Dr. Mitchell: They can just look us up online at

chicagohealthandwellness.com . I know it’s a long URL domain name, but it’s chicagohealthandwellness.com It’ll bring you right to our website and all the information that you’re looking for is there. You can subscribe to a blog, and you can download the book I wrote a few years ago for free. There are resources on there, and then our addresses and phone numbers are on there as well. We’d be happy to help them.

Phil Faris: The book you mentioned is The Mitchell Principles: A Guide to Elite Performance and Healthy Lifestyle. I’d get a copy. It’s a very, very good read, not just for Baby Boomers, but anyone who wants the insight into how to take control of your health and fitness. I highly recommend it.

 

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Phil Faris

Phil Faris is a Best-Selling Author, business consultant, radio host for Never Too Late for Fitness Radio, and contributing writer for Business Innovators Magazine covering Influencers, Innovators, and Trendsetters in Business, Health, Fitness, and Leadership.