Doctors spend years learning about the best ways to take care of the human body. But as humans themselves, they know that life is not all rules and best practices. Sometimes, you just need a slice of pizza, a cold can of Diet Coke or some milk and cookies, and that’s OK, too.
We talked to physicians in fields including family medicine, cardiology, internal medicine, public health, dermatology and plastic surgery who told us about ways they balance their own nutritional lives. One good example is Dr. Femi Akinnagbe, a resident physician in family medicine at Harbor-UCLA Family Medicine in Los Angeles. Four to six days a week, he exercises and meditates. “I find those practices are not only good for my health but essential in my daily stress reduction,” he said. But, he said, there are moments when he takes a different approach.
He admitted there are times when “gymming and sitting in silence don’t totally get me to the equanimous state of being that allows me to navigate the world from a state of inner repose,” and, for those occasions, “I spend some quality time with my two therapists, Ben & Jerry. In my younger days, I could polish off a whole pint of cold, creamy goodness in one sitting. After treating countless patients with diabetes, I’ve cut back on my habit to just a couple of spoonfuls when I do indulge.”
Many of the doctors we spoke with admitted to having a sweet tooth that occasionally needs attention. Facial plastic surgeon Dr. Babak Azizzadeh savors Italian gelato with a wafer cookie. “I usually have it about once a week when I’m home in Los Angeles, but I enjoy it daily when I’m in vacation mode,” he said. “It reminds me of walking around in Florence and other parts of Italy when I was on a backpacking trip through Europe during medical school.”
Another plastic surgeon, Dr. Mark G. Albert, follows a vegan diet fairly closely, describing himself as a “casual endurance athlete.” Still, every month or two, when he finds himself in a pharmacy, he buys peanut butter cups. “It reminds me of my childhood, and there’s nothing better than finding one with especially crunchy chocolate on the outside and fresh peanut butter on the inside,” he said.
And of course, it’s always good to leave room for chocolate. Dr. Nsisong Asanga, a physician with a background in public health and field epidemiology, enjoys chocolate on special occasions. “Nutrition, celebration and enjoyment are cool, but guilt is useless,” she said.
Dermatologist Dr. Mojgan Hosseinipour is also an unabashed chocolate aficionado. “I like dark chocolate with raspberries, the perfect mix of bitter and sweet,” she said. “I try to eat mostly plant-based, whole food recipes, and I avoid processed foods and foods with a high glycemic index that can spike blood sugar. But sometimes I crave chips, cookies or ice cream, and that’s OK, as long as it’s not a daily habit.”
Sometimes our favorite foods are connected to family moments. For Dr. Rich Joseph, whose clinical practice focuses on obesity and metabolic health, pizza night is an important family ritual. “My whole family loves pizza, especially my two young kids,” he said. “Seeing their eyes light up when pizza boxes come through our front door is priceless. I want them to have a healthy relationship with food and learn to eat things they enjoy mindfully, without guilt and in moderation.”
Family medicine physician Dr. Faisel Syed sets aside time with his sons for an after-dinner ritual of cookies and milk. “It’s become a time for us to connect, laugh and enjoy each other’s company,” he said. “By no means am I encouraging indulging in unhealthy foods, but this is more about finding balance and joy in the little things in life. It feeds my soul.”
Cheers To Beer And Diet Coke
Dr. Deirdre Mattina, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, follows the Mediterranean diet and doesn’t drink alcohol. But there’s one indulgence she allows herself: a daily can of Diet Coke. “I have a lifelong obsession with that drink,” she said. “We all choose our vices, and I struggle with this one, but no one can pry that cold can out of my hand.”
As they work their way through long hours, a refreshing beverage is often welcome. For plastic surgeon and associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School Dr. Samuel Lin, a favorite workday beverage is bubble tea. “It’s a great pick-me-up when I’m seeing patients in the office all day,” he said.
After hours and when they’re not on call, some doctors prefer a potent potable. Dr. Bradley Serwer is an interventional cardiologist who said he maintains a cardiac healthy diet “98% of the time.” Still, he makes room for a double IPA once or twice a month. He realizes that “we meet with friends for drinks or dinner, not to survive, but to connect on a social level, and an occasional ‘guilty pleasure’ is part of that.”
Nostalgic Foods That Taste Like Home
Food that tastes “like home” can be nourishing for more than just our physical selves. Dr. Reid Maclellan is an adjunct faculty member at Harvard Medical School, with expertise in vascular anomalies and lymphedema. His treat of choice, he said, is whiskey. “I’m both Scottish and a Tennessean, so whiskey is part of my culture,” he said. “Hosting friends and family over a dram is always a wonderful bonding experience.”
Another cultural connection is made by internal medicine physician Dr. Simon Pimstone, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia. He savors a taste of his native South Africa with the beef-jerky-like national snack known as biltong, which he described as “my absolute indulgence.”
“It’s delicious, verging on addictive,” he added.
Dr. Joon Lee practices functional, integrative and obesity medicine. For her, a cherished nighttime snack is Korean spicy shin ramen. While acknowledging that it’s a “spice, salt and carbohydrate bomb,” she said that eating a hot bowlful “brings me back to childhood memories of my mom cooking ramen for me when I got hungry studying in the middle of the night,” she said. “It not only fills my belly, but satisfies my inner core of being Korean. We need fresh whole food for our bodies, but sometimes — just sometimes — certain foods reward our hard work or reconnect us to our roots.”
All Things In Moderation
As you’re navigating your own balance for nutrition and health, consider this practical advice from Akinnagbe: “I actually like to partake in treats like ice cream and beer from time to time, because it reminds me to not take myself too seriously. If you were to ask my co-workers, friends and family, they would all tell you I’m a super healthy, fit guy. While that’s true, sometimes having that reputation can become a little confining.”
“Don’t get me wrong, making healthy dietary and exercise choices is essential for good health and a long life,” he said. “Still, sometimes it just feels good to not always be ‘on point’ and just allow myself the opportunity to indulge.”