We've been hearing it for years: Eat right, exercise regularly and you'll feel better, have more energy and won't be sick as often.
If anyone wants evidence that eating nutritious foods and exercising works, talk to Gail M. Doerr of Eldersburg. Rather than spend money on doctors and drugs, she concentrates on taking care of herself and her family using what has come to be known as "alternative" methods.
Mrs. Doerr, who has a master's degree in education and counseling, is a health and fitness counselor with a local chiropractor. She also offers a vegetarian cooking class for those seeking variety in their eating habits.
"I've always been involved with alternative health care programs," she said. "I keep up with all the current research on nutrition and fitness, which is really nothing more than preventive care, taking care of the body."
She and her husband and three children are strict vegetarians, ++ meaning they don't eat or use any meat, fish or dairy products. They all exercise through various programs and activities.
"All of the current research coming in on nutrition is saying a plant-based diet contributes to your overall health in very measurable ways," she said.
She helps her clients and family seek a holistic approach to good health, she said.
"You can't have total health by eating a deficient diet and exercising or by eating healthy food but never exercising and ignoring your fitness needs," she said. "Stress reduction also plays a role in your health."
Mrs. Doerr, 41, says the nutrition and fitness regimen has helped make her family healthier, more energetic and better able to deal with day-to-day stress.
"My children don't get as sick. They are 5, 9 and 12 and have never been on an antibiotic for anything," she said.
Another part of her family's health is regular chiropractic checkups, a form of health care based on the idea that the spine is responsible for the state of the body. If the spine, the nerve center for the body, is not properly aligned, then the rest of the body is not going to function properly or at its peak, the theory goes.
For 18 months, Mrs. Doerr has been spreading her health and fitness knowledge beyond her family through her work with Steve Zimmerman, a chiropractor in Eldersburg.
"He's been very supportive of the program," she said. "He feels chiropractic is one part of health, but he also feels nutrition and fitness is important and he encouraged me to start working with our patients."
Her counseling involves a total assessment of the client's lifestyle, his or her fitness level and goals. A program of good nutrition and exercise is then prescribed.
The nutrition counseling eventually led to the cooking classes, where clients can help prepare vegetarian foods, try them out and get fresh ideas for alternatives to the standard meat and junk food diet.
"I'm not militant about making everybody into a strict vegetarian like I am," she said. "But the most healthful diet comes from a wide variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and not just the standard apples and bananas, but mangoes, kiwi, persimmons."
People get stuck in ruts, she said, and, if nothing else, her cooking class can give participants new ideas for recipes using different foods, both traditional and nontraditional, such as tofu.
Her counseling has helped those who have gone through the program or her cooking class. Michele Wilson of Eldersburg took Mrs. Doerr's cooking class last year and has added more natural foods to her family's diet.
"I was concerned about the fats in our diet, and I wanted to lose weight after having a baby, and my husband and I were getting tired of meats," she said. "I went to the cooking class, and I'm using some of her recipes and we changed some of our eating habits."
Since then, Mrs. Wilson said, she has lost about eight pounds, which she is keeping off with the help of exercise three times a week.
Joe McManus, also of Eldersburg, went through Mrs. Doerr's counseling while seeing Dr. Zimmerman for another problem. He termed her help "well worth the money."
"She cleared up the clutter around nutrition and made sense out of a lot of information," he said. "I've come down 18 pounds, and I haven't stopped eating, I'm just eating different foods."
Mrs. Doerr believes people are tired of living with medical problems and taking drugs to try to cure those problems. They're looking for an alternative way of feeling better and being able to deal with everyday stress, she said.
"It's just making a commitment and lifestyle changes. It doesn't have to take a lot of time," Mrs. Doerr said.