Dr. Bernie Siegel

on Living Healthier
Physician, author, motivational speaker and advocate

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Exclusive Interview

Dr. Bernie Siegel on Healthier Living

Bernie Siegel, M.D., is one of the world’s foremost physicians, authors, motivational speakers and advocates for individuals facing the challenges of chronic illness. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he attended Colgate University and Cornell University Medical College, where he graduated with honors. He underwent surgical training at Yale New Haven Hospital, West Haven Veterans Hospital and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. In 1989, he retired from the practice of general and pediatric surgery to travel around the world, speaking to patients and their caregivers. He went on to publish nine books, including Love, Medicine & Miracles: Lessons Learned About Self-Healing from a Surgeon’s Experience With Exceptional Patients, How to Live between Office Visits: A Guide to Life, Love and Health and his most recent parenting book, Love, Magic & Mud Pies: Raising Your Kids to Feel Loved, Be Kind, and Make a Difference. In this interview, Siegel talks about the spiritual and emotional aspects of living healthier.

What’s your definition of “living healthier?”

It has nothing to do with body; it’s all about state of mind. Look at Helen Keller—was she healthy? A quadriplegic—is he healthy? It’s about the person and his or her attitude toward life. Animals and children understand this: They’re here to love and be loved and teach us a few things. They’re not living a role. When you live an authentic life, you’re healthy.

What prevents people from being authentic and being healthier?

Parenting is the number one health issue today, then the education system and religion. If you grow up loved, the likelihood is that you’ll be less self-destructive. When you grow up with empowering messages, it’s a different approach versus hearing “There’s something wrong with you” or “I’m embarrassed by you.” When you grow up with love, you care about and for yourself.

Information doesn’t help anybody, unless you have inspiration and desire. If you’re a drug addict or alcoholic, you’re not stupid—you know it’s not good for you. What’s missing is inspiration, love and self-esteem.

What’s the biggest cause of the obesity epidemic?

Obesity is an addiction. People want to feel good so they eat. They think, “I’ll reward myself because my parents never did.” This has gotten worse because of what’s happened to families and connections. What keeps us alive is connection and we’re losing this through television sets and automated phones with no human being on the other end. When you get so disconnected, it’s hard to be healthy. Years ago, kids were in the street playing games. You had family around you. You did things. Now everything is mechanized and depersonalized. If people feel loved, they’ll eat healthy food, exercise, move and do things together.

When someone comes to you with a serious health challenge, what’s the first thing you do?

My first statement is always “How may I help you?” not “How can I treat you? What are your complaints? Do your eyes hurt? What diseases did your father/mother have?” Most doctors, when they’re done seeing their patients, never ask, “How can I help? What’s bothering you? What are you experiencing?” If it’s just clinical, it never helps them. There’s an ad in The New England Journal of Medicine where a guy says, “I’m stressed. I couldn’t cope. I went to the doctor and said ‘You have to help me,’ so he prescribed an antidepressant. Now my life is better.” This is an ad! How about putting in “Why are you stressed?” What if my family was killed in airplane crash? Would you prescribe an antidepressant?

If you say “What are you experiencing,” the answer is always about their life and what got them sick. What’s draining, sucking and blocking them? You must get them back into their feelings and who they are. I want you to reclaim your life.

In order to start living healthier, what three specific things would you tell people to do?

1. Improve self-esteem and self-acceptance. When people have that, they’ll naturally seek out the information that’s good for them.

2. Move. Get some exercise.

3. Let out the child in you. Develop a child-like sense of humor. Don’t be so serious and don’t grow up. I tell people to grow down, not grow up.

What do people worry about as they try to live a healthier life?

Most people feel they’re doing it wrong; they think they’re a failure and they have guilt and blame. Remember, you are a blank canvas. You are a work in progress. If you have a day when you don’t do everything right, then forgive yourself. When I wrote my books, I was amazed to get letters that said, “You said in your book to do imagery four times a day and I only did it three times a day; now I feel worse.” It amazed me that guilt was so intrinsic for so many people. So I tend to not say, “Eat this; do this.” If they can develop self-esteem and self-worth, they’ll go figure out how to eat and exercise. The more work you give people, the tougher it is for them.

You are a blank canvas. You can change it tomorrow. It’s all about rehearsing and practicing. How much practicing and rehearsing you do will determine how quickly you will get there.

What are some specific steps people can take to develop their self-esteem and self-worth?

You can literally put your baby pictures around the house. Also, put mirrors around your house. Don’t hide: love and accept yourself.

Put mottos and messages around the house. For example, I painted a photo of my parents and I walk pass it every day. It keeps me focused. Beneath it is a sign that says, “Enjoy yourself; it’s later than you think.” Every time I walk by, I’m getting a treatment.

Another way is to act as if you’re your grandparents. By the time we’re grandparents, we’re more accepting and loving. Treat yourself like a loving grandparent.

What beliefs support you during times of change?

I see life as a labor pain. Change is about rebirthing yourself. God is redirecting you. A curse can become a blessing. You can say, “I have cancer” or “My wife left me and let’s see what comes of it. I’m not afraid of it.”

If you ask “What got you through difficult, life-threatening times?” to people who overcame addictions, had cancer or fought in a war, their answers will all sound alike. They talk about not judging people, not making excuses and doing the difficult, correct thing instead of the easy, wrong thing. It’s how you’re going to survive: You form a community, you work together and you survive. These lessons are out there; go out and learn them before a life-threatening situation occurs.

What advice would you give someone who wants to make a change?

Build your life out of the bricks of love. The bricks are held together through humor, which will get you through the most difficult times. Remember, change is inevitable. I often say, “Either change your life or your attitude—one or the other.” Either stay in the same situation and decide to love and be happy, or change the situation. How do you know when to change or be more loving? If a relationship is affecting your health in a negative way, eliminate it from your life. Leave and love the people from a distance. But if it’s not affecting your health, then bring love into the situation and see what’s done. Love is an incredible weapon.

For more information about Dr. Bernie Siegel, visit

Advice on Change

The only thing of permanence is love.

Your tears only serve to extinguish your departed beloved one's celestial candle.

Every life is like a candle with a limited time to light the way for yourself and others, so burn up and not out before your time.

Use your pain to help others. We are all wounded and in love's service only the wounded soldier can serve.

If you want to die laughing then fulfill the reason we are here for, to serve love, and give your family stories to share with you that will remind you of the joys of your life.

About Dr. Bernie Siegel

Dr. Siegel, who prefers to be called Bernie, not Dr. Siegel, was born in Brooklyn, NY. He attended Colgate University and Cornell University Medical College. He holds membership in two scholastic honor societies, Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Omega Alpha and graduated with honors. His surgical training took place at Yale New Haven Hospital, West Haven Veteran’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. He retired from practice as an assistant clinical professor of surgery at Yale of general and pediatric surgery in 1989 to speak to patients and their caregivers.

In 1978 he originated Exceptional Cancer Patients, a specific form of individual and group therapy utilizing patients’ drawings, dreams, images and feelings. ECaP is based on “carefrontation,” a safe, loving therapeutic confrontation, which facilitates personal lifestyle changes, personal empowerment and healing of the individual’s life. The physical, spiritual and psychological benefits which followed led to his desire to make everyone aware of his or her healing potential. He realized exceptional behavior is what we are all capable of.

Bernie, and his wife and coworker Bobbie, live in a suburb of New Haven, Connecticut. They have five children and eight grandchildren. Bernie and Bobbie have co-authored their children, books and articles. Their home with its many children, pets and interests resembled a cross between a family art gallery, museum, zoo and automobile repair shop. It still resembles these things, although the children are trying to improve its appearance in order to avoid embarrassment.

In 1986 his first book, Love, Medicine & Miracles was published. This event redirected his life. In 1989 Peace, Love & Healing and in 1993 How To Live Between Office Visits followed. He is currently working on other books with the goal of humanizing medical education and medical care, as well as, empowering patients and teaching survival behavior to enhance immune system competency. Bernie’s realization that we all need help dealing with the difficulties of life, not just the physical ones, led to Bernie writing his fourth book in 1998: Prescriptions for Living. It helps people to become aware of the eternal truths and wisdom of the sages through Bernie’s stories and insights rather than wait a personal disaster. He wants to help people fix their lives before they are broken, and thus not have to become strong at the broken places.

Published in 2003 are Help Me To Heal -- to empower patients and their caregivers and 365 Prescriptions For The Soul, in 2004 a children’s book about how difficulties can become blessings, Smudge Bunny, in 2005 101 Exercises For The Soul and out in the Fall of 2006 a prescriptions for parenting book called Love, Magic & Mud Pies. Soon to be published are Buddy’s Candle related to dealing with loss and Faith, Hope & Joy with survivor stories and my reflections about what they teach us.

Woody Allen once said, “If I had one wish it would be to be somebody else.” Bernie’s wish was to be a few inches taller. His work has been such a growth experience that he is now a few inches taller. His prediction is that in the next decade the role of consciousness, spirituality, non-local healing, body memory and heart energy will all be explored as scientific subjects.

For many, Bernie needs no introduction. He has touched many lives all over our planet. In 1978 he began talking about patient empowerment and the choice to live fully and die in peace. As a physician, who has cared for and counseled innumerable people who’s mortality has been threatened by an illness, Bernie embraces a philosophy of living and dying that stands at the forefront of the medical ethics and spiritual issues our society grapples with today.

He continues to assist in the breaking of new ground in the field of healing and personally struggling to live the message of kindness and love. His web site is

101 Exercises for the Soul: Divine Workout Plan for Body, Mind, and Spirit


Dr. Bernie Siegel uses his trademark humor and insight to guide readers toward self-healing and an inspired life. He presents himself as a workout coach, providing wisdom and stressing the coach's mantra of practice, practice, practice. ...