Contributed photography by Crissie Smith / Dr. Suzannah Bozzone teaches a Food as Medicine class at Southern Squeeze restaurant.

Writing prescriptions wasn't making her feel better about the prognosis for her patients with chronic illnesses, so Dr. Suzannah Bozzone shifted gears.

"We're addressing the root problems of chronic disease," says Dr. Bozzone, who founded True Health Journey in 2019 with nurse and wellness coach Crissie Smith. "We have to address what's really driving these problems."

Through their lifestyle medicine business, Bozzone and Smith focus on the pillars of health: nutrition, sleep, stress, movement and community. At the heart of their work is teaching the benefits of a plant-based diet, which made all the difference for Mary Bowman.

"I was pre-diabetic, my cholesterol was rising, my weight desperately needed to come down," says Bowman, who attended a Food as Medicine class at the YMCA taught by Smith. "I thought, I'll go — what do I have to lose? Well, I had weight to lose, high cholesterol to lose, high blood sugar to lose and acid reflux to lose."

Bowman has lost about 50 pounds since 2018, lowered her cholesterol, and stopped taking medicine for acid reflux she had been on for decades.

"I was really ready, and I was getting scared about the health issues," says Bowman, a retired teacher.

Selling folks on the benefits of plant-based eating isn't always easy, but Bozzone and Smith have built community into their business model to help people connect and make meaningful changes in their health together. In addition to one-on-one coaching, they offer group classes.

"We're still addressing medical needs, but in a group setting it means so much more to hear from a fellow diabetic," Bozzone says. "If we don't build communities around positive change, we're never going to succeed in addressing the root causes of illness. More and more, what I love to do is work in a group and create community around that."

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Health conscious: True Health Journey shares the message of lifestyle as medicine

Bozzone and Smith recently hosted a series of classes at local restaurants with plant-based menus, and hope to expand that partnership to more places, with the goal of having a list a restaurants they can recommend to people who want to take steps to get a handle on conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, Bozzone adds.

"We sold out our first three of those partnerships with the restaurants on the Food is Medicine tour," she says. "People are really interested in it, and they get to eat great food, too."

Bozzone and Smith both spent years working in traditional medicine, and they eventually launched health coaching and lifestyle classes at the hospital where they were colleagues, Bozzone says.

"It was a strange idea for them initially, but when they got into it, the feedback was super," Bozzone says.

Their work is a partnership with more traditional health providers, not a replacement for them, she adds.

"I'm not doing primary care — I want to be a support to physicians, not a competitor," Bozzone says. "It's really about being a bridge for that support piece that is lacking."

True Health Journey doesn't take insurance, as most of their services are not reimbursable by health care coverage, Smith says.

"We started True Health Journey with the desire to get that patient who truly wants to make a sustainable, healthy lifestyle change," Smith says. "Unfortunately, insurance doesn't pay for that."

The cost of the programs is an investment in health that pays off in the long run, she says.

"I know that $300 you'll spend on that initial visit will give you golden nuggets that will keep you from spending a whole lot more down the road," she says. "The biggest thing I see is that everybody who sits down with me one-on-one will say, 'I eat a healthy diet,' but they don't know what that is."

True Health Journey

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* Services: A broad range of options for health and lifestyle coaching, from a three-month package that includes six visits and ongoing support for $825 to individual classes that cost $45.



Bozzone is a Chattanooga native, and Smith has lived in the city since 1990. Both women say they understand the pull of Southern food and culture, and the challenges of changing habits that have been ingrained for generations.

"While we love our Southern food and people, and we don't want that to change, we have to reinvent that, we have to redirect it in a positive way," Bozzone says.

For Bowman, it took some direct conversations, and it wasn't easy, she says.

"My mother was an incredible Southern cook, my brother and I both learned to cook from our mother, our grandmother, our aunts, and that's the way we've always done it," Bowman says.

"I talked to my brother and other family members and said, 'You make the best barbecue I've ever had and your food is incredible, and I know it's going to be hard for me to come to family gatherings and not eat this stuff I really like, but I've made this decision and I need your help with it.'"