At age 22, Tana Amen was one sick puppy. "I was really sick", she says. "I had upper and lower GI issues, food allergies, undiagnosed Hashimoto's, and I was chronically on antibiotics. By 23, I had thyroid cancer, which metastasized into the lymph nodes and required multiple treatments of radiation. I was on nine prescriptions and feeling horrible all the time. Most of the doctors I consulted didn't help much. I was told it was all genetics, and I should feel fortunate to be alive."
Most people would've left it at that and seen themselves as victims of bad luck, but Amen (pictured here) isn't "most people." The nurse with a black belt in karate knows a little something about fighting back.
At 15, Amen was attacked on the street and dragged into an alley. She got away, but decided right then that she would never go through anything like that again. "It took me about six months
to see it, but I realized that my health issues in my 20s were the same kind of thing as the physical attack that happened when I was a teenager," she says. And she decided to treat the problem in exactly the same way-head on. "I told myself, ‘I can fight back! I've done this before, and I can do it again.'" Which she did. In spades, thank you very much.
Now the picture of vitality and glowing health, Amen is an attractive combination of toughness and compassion. Like many health gurus who faced significant challenges-and beat the odds-she's a zealot for healthy living. The best-selling author of The Omni Diet, she's a frequent guest on television shows and a much-in-demand speaker. She was also one of the main coaches for "The Daniel Plan," an incredibly successful program of healthier eating and exercise originally developed for Pastor Rick Warren and the Saddleback Church by her husband, renowned psychiatrist and NY Times best-selling author Dr. Daniel Amen. (Look for his "Daniel Plan" companion book soon in a bookstore near you).
Amen's message is simple, but important. "Be a warrior for your own health," she says. "And make no mistake-this is a war. We're at war with the food industry, and we need to learn awareness, avoidance, and deflection, just like in marital arts. We need to learn what's good for our bodies, we need to stay away from what's harmful, and we need to choose our battles carefully." In other words, you don't fight with McDonald's-you just stay away from it. And if you can't stay away from it completely, try to order the least damaging stuff on the menu.
She calls the Omni Diet a "bipartisan" program because it doesn't fit neatly into any of the typical diet categories. It's about 70 percent plant-based foods and about 30 percent high-quality protein. "It's definitely not low-fat," she smiles.
In addition to her other interests, Amen volunteers at one of the largest chemical addiction recovery programs in America, where she has revamped the cafeteria while teaching residents about her principles of eating. "These are hardened criminals and gang members," she says. "Most of them are in the program by court-order. They resist this new approach to food like crazy, but once they get into it they feel so incredibly empowered that it's just inspiring to watch. Every day one of them tells me that he's never felt better or more in command of his life. By the time they graduate, they have a future for the first time in their lives. They literally think more clearly, perform better, and are ready to take on the world." Where I come from, we call that "making a difference."
"We need to learn what's good for our bodies, [and] we need to stay away from what's harmful."
Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, is a nationally known health, nutrition, and weight-loss expert. He is the author of The Great Cholesterol Myth and numerous other books. His website is jonnybowden.com.