Dr Amelia Stephens is a General Practitioner living and working in Brisbane. To mark world food day today, we chatted with her about the importance of a healthy diet – and how it affects wellbeing in the medical profession.
Tell us a bit about you, and why you wanted to become a doctor?
I always loved biology in high school but loved horses so thought I would become a vet then! I was unsure when leaving school then did my Science degree and all my friends were sitting the medical entrance exam towards the end. I wanted to as I studied a lot of human physiology and psychology in my science degree but did not think I was smart enough. It was a natural progression, so with the help of some wise words from my Mum I went for it with medicine and haven't looked back since.
Tell me about your blog? Why did you decide to start it? What do you hope for its future?
My blog was born from the feeling and knowing that I had more to share with the world than just my day to work and clinical expertise. I love to write and it comes naturally to me to express in this way. I feel like all people should feel they are able to write and/or express themselves in some way freely, and truly from who they are and what they feel. I write freely in my blogs, from my perspective and things I feel strongly about. They are my learnings, experiences and observations of the world that others can learn and deepen their understanding of too.
In light of 'world food day' how important do you think an awareness of food and healthy eating is for doctors?
It's a no brainer that whatever we put into our mouth affects how we feel and our resilience with work. Who doesn't want to feel great and not be weighed down physically?
Being stuck in the cycle of eating poorly due to exhaustion or convenience, rinse and repeat as many of our patients are does little to support them or us in the therapeutic relationship and outcomes long term. Leading by example, to the best of our ability goes a long way in changing the paradigms that are needed in our societies, that are being led by 'lifestyle' related diseases.
It's not just the foods we choose to eat, but how and why we do, the cycles of life we are in and whether or not we remain stuck on the treadmill that the medical training and working system, as well as family life can often hold us on.
Do we choose foods that are for the purpose of nourishing us, leaving our body to function and regenerate as best it can? If we're not then looking at why not, and putting our body first in all ways, not just with food. Food is just one part of our day and is contributed to by many other things: how much time we feel we have to prepare, our energy and stress levels as well as emotional fatigue. Being able to eat healthily consistently means having an open dialogue about all of these things, ongoing.
What inspired your passion for cooking healthy meals?
I've always loved to cook, since I was little and being taught by my Gran. I did Home Economics til grade 12 also in high school as I enjoyed it so much. Nowadays my cooking inspiration comes born from changes I have made in the past 10 years or so.
I started working as an intern, and had a few health problems that required addressing and dietary changes were an important part of this. Part of these problems were a result of 7 years of intense University study, not eating well, drinking alcohol and drinking way too much coffee/caffeine. I could not sustain myself well physically and psychologically, eating junk and whatever I wanted anymore, especially with such responsibility at work.
I loved making my own food and remember having little baked healthy snacks in my clipboard as an intern for being on the go so much. I reduced refined sugar, as well as foods I was intolerant too, stopped caffeine in my final med school year and was dedicated to being as healthy as could be to sustain my working life. This carries over to now where I know the foods that support and sustain me, and those that will create a drag (I'm sure we all know these ;) I love to cook very naturally as part of my life, especially when it is truly nourishing for my body, my family/friends and what is needed day to day.
Do you have any tips for quick easy meals doctors can take to have between shifts?
Roasting up a big tray of veggies to have in the fridge lasts well over a few days, and can be easily put together with some grilled or baked protein of choice on the day and served hot or cold. Falafels, boiled eggs and tinned fish are also other great protein rich 'go tos' to have in the fridge for protein rich snacks and some healthy fats, or to go with the veggies for dinner if there's not much energy to cook something else. I love the bags of butter lettuce you can get from the supermarket too as they make salad super easy too.
Top 3 tips you live by?
Be prepared. Keep frozen veggies or meals for ease when getting home (or keep some at work if you can), take a protein rich snack and stay well hydrated.
Avoid processed sugars and refined carbohydrates. The energy dip after is not a fun time for anyone. The above will help you do that.
Don't become caffeine dependent! This took me effort to sustain myself with movement, gaining nourishment from repose and the right fuel so that I felt more vital and didn't feel like I needed it anymore.
Top 3 easy post-shift meals?
Pan fried fish and sautéed herbs and baby spinach with salad. Pan frying doesn't take long and can do a few things in the one big pan.
Oven baked salmon with broccoli, beetroot and sweet potato - easy to pop in the oven, have your shower or whatever you need to do for 1/2 hour then come back to enjoy.
Pressure cooked lamb (only takes 45 mins!) with salad/veggies. My partner introduced me to the wonders of pressure cooking and you get marvellous tender pull-apart cooked meat in a fraction of the time.
How do you think the health and wellbeing of doctors could be improved?
I could write a thesis on this. The health and wellbeing of the medical profession I don't think is in a great place. Despite the knowledge we have about illnesses and diseases, how they manifest from our choices in life and stressors, we mostly are still at the whim of the day to day, rather than experiencing wellbeing and vitality that we otherwise could.
Some factors that erode our experience of wellbeing:
Our jobs involve a high degree of involvement in peoples lives, very intimate personal circumstances and often horrifying events or experiences. We are not taught how to deal with this I don't think, and how to not take on this distress as our own.
Taking on this distress is detrimental to our wellbeing as it is a weight that we do not know how to shift and can be cumulative. No wonder we have burn out being a 'normal' part of our profession too often.
Systems not built on/for people.
This could be University study, junior doctor rostering, ongoing medical training and industry job placement. Each of these areas can definitely still do better in being about supporting the people that work and are training, rather than being about the numbers of output, or matching workers to workload. Patients need doctors who are treated as people, not superhuman or information knowing bots that can survive on the smell of an oily rag.
And I mean this in the way that women need to be allowed to be women. And we need to allow other women to be women. In the same way men need to be valued for being loving and caring beings rather than workhorses too. Gender equity here for me means treating both men and women in the medical profession as delicate and precious commodities. Medical training champions the opposite of this, and often muscles these qualities out of us. All people need these qualities in their healthcare professionals and sadly often don't get it because of what our education and training system engenders.
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