Listen to Dr Rupy as he talks about how to eat your way to better health, and why gratitude is so important.
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"Gratitude is my number one tip for wellness"
Daily to-do list getting you down? We’re all guilty of it - even renowned GP Dr Rupy, who struggles to find time for a coffee in the garden some days. Sound familiar?
Show yourself gratitude, take time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, and create space for yourself during the day as we sit down for a conversation with the creator of The Doctor’s Kitchen.
What we talk about in the episode...
Today, Dr Rupy Aujla is one of the biggest names in ‘lifestyle medicine’: his best-selling cookbooks are all about how eating well and tweaking our day-to-day habits can transform our health.
But the founder of the Doctor’s Kitchen began his career like countless medical professionals: a junior doctor rushed off his feet, neglecting his wellbeing. 'I had a very busy lifestyle, poor sleep, poor eating habits,’ he recalls.
Then out of nowhere, life served a curveball. Three months into his first job – a fit, healthy 24-year-old, with no pre-existing medical conditions – he fell seriously ill. 'I started suffering from the heart condition atrial fibrillation, which is a very fast, irregular heartbeat.’
Doctors offered Rupy medical treatment: an ablation, where they’d burn an area round his pulmonary vein to stop cells misfiring. But his mum said: ‘Look at your lifestyle before you start a more aggressive intervention.’
Dr Rupy grew up in a traditional Indian household, with parents into yoga, ayurvedic principles, and meditation. He agreed to take six months and try a few things.
Dr Rupy explains: ‘I started with basic stuff: changing up my breakfast, looking at what I was eating in the hospital canteen, thinking about sleep. I researched the benefits of exercise like yoga, and did simple things like breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth.’
His mum was right – he went, he says, from ongoing episodes to ‘literally zero'.
Dr Rupy knows he was lucky – his outcome was positive. As well as recovering his health, it set him on the path to a whole new career, passion and purpose.
His experience also gave a perspective he’s carried forward. 'Instead of thinking ”this is so unfair”, day-to-day I’m always asking the question: what are the potential benefits of this happening?'
So perhaps it’s not surprising that his number one wellness tip for listeners doesn’t involve diet – instead, it’s practising gratitude. ‘Every day find three positive things however small or big, you can write down, say into a voice recorder or tell your partner. Learning to find some enjoyment, as hard as it seems, is the hack to life. Luckily, I learned that at a young age.’
The foundation of Dr Rupy’s approach, however, is how the right food makes a genuine difference to wellbeing: something he covered in his book, The Doctor’s Kitchen: Eat To Beat Illness.
The link with diet and our mood is also clearer than ever, says Dr Rupy. ‘”Nutritional psychiatry” has become a lot more conventional to talk about.’
In particular, research shows a gut microbiome teeming with ‘good bacteria’ may have positive effects on our mental health, thanks to direct neural communications between the gut and brain.
Dr Rupy recommends probiotics – plant foods rich in fibre that feeds good gut bacteria. ‘Some of the best ways to get prebiotic fibres into your diet are delicious garlic, chicory, artichoke and asparagus.’
Also potentially positive are fermented probiotic foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir, which contain healthy bacteria. In his own kitchen, he says: ‘I’ve started making Indian pickles again.’
A great way to improve your gut and overall health, says Dr Rupy, is aiming for 30 ‘plant points’ across your week: 30 different types of fruit, vegetables or herbs and spices – rather than just counting five portions a day.
‘Any whole fruit or veg is worth one point, herbs and spices are a quarter. You want a rich variety, and more than 30 a week is associated with a more diverse microbiota.’
‘For me, wellness is about positive self-talk – about being happy in my own skin and practising the principles of self-love.
‘We can be quite self-critical, and compare ourselves with our peers. If you practice talking to yourself internally as you would a close friend, that's going to be beneficial to you and everyone around you.’
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Dr Rupy’s morning routine
As someone with an analytical mind, Dr Rupy ‘loves a framework’ – his morning routine is the foundation of his day:
'I wake up pretty early – around 5.15am. I started doing it after I read The 5am Club by Robin Sharma. I've found myself with a lot more space in the day – that feeling of having done most of my work before most people even get out the door.'
'First, I drink a ton of water – it’s a habit I've had for years since my junior doctor days, when we’d never get a chance to stop on the ward rounds. I’d end up more dehydrated than my patients.’
'I got into meditation during my teenage years. My parents instilled in me this idea of stillness and making sure one was calm, particularly around exam season. If your mind is racing, a guided meditation is a really nice anchor to start your day.'
‘I've a long-standing back problem from when I used to play tennis competitively at school. If I don't stretch every morning I stiffen up.
‘It’s a great thing to do when you've been lying still for eight hours-plus. I also do cat cows, morning sun salutes: all the yoga moves my mum taught me as a kid.'
'On the Notes app on my phone I have a list of things I want to remind myself of. They include making sure I remember I am loved and seen by my loved ones. And regardless, that I love and respect myself. It literally takes 30 seconds. But it's an important part of my day.’
‘I'm usually at my desk by 6.30am, which is amazing because I have uninterrupted work time for a couple of hours. By giving myself that space, I'm a better colleague and partner.’