Profile: Ann Arbor’s Dr. Melissa Sundermann practices what she preaches

By Donna Iadipaolo / For WLD

Dr. Melissa Sundermann, DO, DipABLM, is all about practicing what she preaches. She not only wants herself and her family to stay healthy, but also her friends, patients and anyone else interested in living a healthy and happy life. She does not just talk the talk, and walk the walk — she takes action as well, both personally and professionally.

“I am a firm believer that you must ‘practice what you preach,’” Dr. Sundermann says. “One of the pillars of Lifestyle Medicine is a wholefood/plant-based (WFPB) diet and I do my best to follow this guideline.”

Lifestyle Medicine is a group of Lifestyle Medicine Physicians whom are passionate about shifting the paradigm of healthcare from sick-care to well-care. Dr. Sundermann, along with her husband Jon Sundermann, is a board member with Lifestyle Medicine Washtenaw /Livingston Counties and overall interest in the organization is growing exponentially.

“Lifestyle Medicine is the use of a wholefood, plant-predominant dietary lifestyle, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances and positive social connection as a primary therapeutic modality for treatment and reversal of chronic disease,” she said. “Lifestyle Medicine is a relatively new field of medicine and this was only the third year the Board Certification exam has been offered.”

Dr. Sundermman says she is “thrilled to be on the cusp of changing the paradigm of how we practice and approach medicine.” After becoming Board Certified in Lifestyle Medicine, Dr. Sundermann and her colleagues wanted to share their passion and enthusiasm on a broader spectrum. She started up the Facebook group ‘Lifestyle Medicine Washtenaw/Livingston Counties’ and in just over one month, they have close to 1,000 members from all over the world.

“The response has been incredible and it seems individuals are looking for information on how they can improve their overall health and well-being,” she says. “I manage the Facebook page and try to post educational information on a daily basis. Our group members are also very active and will post recipes, articles, and personal stories, which is great because this helps build and strengthen our community. I welcome anyone and everyone to join, learn and share!”

Dr. Sundermann, 49, completed her medical residency in Internal Medicine in 2001 and has been practicing clinical medicine for almost 20 years. She said she always had a special interest in utilizing self-care as a tool for not only disease prevention, but also disease reversal. 

“Throughout my career I have done additional training to further expand my knowledge and passion, and this included completing a one year Faculty Scholars Program in Integrative Health at The University of Michigan,” she said. “I also did a Professional Training Program in Mind Body Medicine through the Center for Mind Body Medicine in Washington, DC. Most recently, I became Board Certified in Lifestyle Medicine through the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.”

She is also affiliated with Washtenaw Optimal Wellness, a community organization of individuals committed to the health and longevity of the citizens of Washtenaw County. Dr. Sundermann says she feels “very fortunate” to be a member of the Executive Committee of WOW along with several of her Lifestyle Medicine colleagues.

“We are business people, medical professionals, city and county government leaders, as well as school and university educators that are passionate about making our community healthy,” she says. “We are currently gaining momentum and support from leadership in our communities in order to launch a ‘Blue Zones®’ Project.” 

Check out Blue Zones and Blue Zones Project 

Dan Buettner, a Blue Zone founder, is a National Geographic researcher who has traveled all over the world researching areas where people live longest and are the healthiest. The fivev original Blue Zones are: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, Calif.

“We want to make ‘the healthy choice the easy choice’ in Washtenaw County,” says Dr. Sundermann, who also stays very active outside of work as well. Remember, she practices what she preaches.

“When I am not working, I love to spend as much time outdoors as I can,” says Dr. Sundermann, an avid runner who also enjoys biking, skiing, hiking and camping. “I have done multiple endurance events including nine Boston Marathons, several 50K ultraruns and three full Ironman triathlons. I turn 50 in March and plan to celebrate by running the Zion 50K with friends and hike the Rim2Rim Grand Canyon trail with my husband.”

In addition to being an active member of WOW, she also is a board Member of Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative (Karen’s Trail), which is working to establish and expand non-motorized pathways that connect into Michigan’s growing trail network. More on HWPI

Of course, family life is at the center of everything she does – and she is certainly proud of her family. 

“I have been married to my husband Jon Sundermann for 23 years and we have two children, Blake and Paige,” she proudly says. “Our entire family enjoys being active.”

The family is not only active but successful as well. Blake was an outstanding soccer player for Skyline HS and is now a sophomore at MSU. Paige was one of the top divers in the state during her career at Skyline and is now a freshman at UM and a member of the UM women’s swim/dive team. Jon, who played soccer for UM and has been coaching soccer in Ann Arbor for the past 30 years, is the varsity men’s coach at Pioneer HS. The Pioneers reached the Regional Finals this  year. He also coaches for the Michigan Tigers soccer club.

Dr. Sundermann admits that there have been challenges along the way. She even says she has felt like an “outlier” at times and felt like she didn’t quite fit the conventional medicine mold. “I sometimes felt unsure of my true calling and pathway, but always felt deep in my heart I would find my way someday,” she says. “Lifestyle Medicine has opened so many doors for not only myself, but more importantly for my patients. I am thrilled to be a part of IHA’s new office where we will be focusing on providing a Lifestyle Medicine approach to Primary Care.” 

Cover photo: Dr. Sundermann with their rescue dog Dempsey, a Labrador/Great Pyrenees mix. 

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