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‘First do no harm’

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Using affirmations to change behavior

By Jackie Rainford Corcoran Explore Big Sky Health Columnist

Graduating from health coaching school in June of 2013 did not award me a perfectly disciplined diet and lifestyle. I still wrestle with unhealthy habits like drinking too much red wine and coffee, allowing my body to become dehydrated and not managing my time well.

With a constant drive to live life to its full potential, I recently wrote down my shortcomings and what needs to happen to overcome these hurdles. During this writing exercise, the phrase “First do no harm” kept coming up. Not being entirely sure of its origin, I Googled it.

The phrase “First do no harm” is often mistaken as part of the Hippocratic Oath – an oath often taken by physicians upon graduation of medical school – but appeared in medical literature much later than Hippocrates’ time.

The gist of the meaning is that a patient’s wellbeing is a physician’s primary concern. What if physicians prescribed “First do no harm” instead of doling out pharmaceuticals that often have side effects worse than the ailment they’re treating? This would be a game changer.

According to a 2009 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study called “The Power of Prevention,” the U.S. spends more than 75 percent of its health care budget on people with chronic conditions including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, alzheimers, arthritis and osteoporisis.

“These persistent conditions – the nation’s leading causes of death and disability – leave in their wake deaths that could have been prevented, lifelong disability, compromised quality of life, and burgeoning health care costs,” the study reports.

Instead of first prescribing a pill for a chronic condition, imagine physicians educating their patients to remove from their diet and lifestyle that which is slowly killing them and to get back to a more natural way of eating and living. It’s worth noting that the Latin root of the word doctor is “teacher,” and physician is “naturalist.”

Interestingly, lines from the original Hippocratic Oath say:

“With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage.

“Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so.”

Clearly, Western medicine has strayed from this advice.

As a 45-year-old health coach who wants to stay off medications and prevent chronic disease, I’m forced to look at the decades of accumulated toxins in my body due to poor diet and lifestyle choices. Today, I enjoy a healthy diet of mostly homemade organic meals and I love to exercise. But how long can this lifestyle counterbalance the harm caused by my addictions and habits?

So now, posted next to my bathroom sink, is a note reminding me to “First do no harm.”

Regularly reading this puts a negative spin on actions that I used to consider “rewards” like coffee first thing every morning and red wine after work. It’s rewiring my brain and psyche to view them as potentially toxic because I have allowed them to become habit forming and addictive. This new perception is gradually helping me make real changes.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, an NASM Certified Personal Trainer, a public speaker and health activist. Contact her at, or find more at

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