18 Jan Health Hero interview: Dr Rangan Chatterjee
Dr Rangan Chatterjee is a medical doctor with a pioneering, 360-degree approach to health.
He showcased the power of lifestyle medicine in BBC’s Doctor In the House, and is also the resident doctor on BBC One’s Breakfast. He is a regular commentator on radio, and hosts his own number one-rated podcast, Feel Better, Live More.
Dr Chatterjee remains a practising doctor and has also become a bestselling author. His first book, The 4 Pillar Plan, sold more than 150,000 copies worldwide, and his most recent title, The Stress Solution, is set to do the same.
Here Dr Chatterjee shares the secret to a successful morning routine, reveals his definition of health, and explains why there’s more to life that what we eat…
How would you describe your job?
My job is to empower every single one of my patients, readers and podcast listeners to be the architect of their own health.
More and more, I find that my role is to help my patients identify things that they can change. Things that can not only improve their health, but their overall lives. I feel I have the best job in the world.
What inspired you to work in this area?
My father was a doctor and, if you’re surrounded by medicine growing up, it’s not uncommon for you to end up becoming a doctor too. My father became ill, and I also saw how amazing my mother was at caring for him.
My patients inspire me too. It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. I’ve always learnt more from my patients than they’ve learnt from me. The more stories I hear—the more lives I can possibly affect—the more it inspires me to continue this work.
What does your typical day look like?
I’m an early riser. I always try and get up before my children and my wife, and I like to have some time to myself in the morning. For over a month now I’ve managed to lock in a morning routine. This incorporates what I call the ‘Three Ms’: Meditation; Movement and Mindset.
This can take five minutes or an hour; it really depends how long you have. Currently I get up at 5.30am. I’ll go downstairs to the living room and I’ll meditate—either without anything guiding me, or I’ll put my phone in airplane mode and use the Calm meditation app for ten to 15 minutes. After that I’ll do five to ten minutes of movement—hip stretches, wrist circles, yoga poses, deep breathing, or whatever I’m feel like that day.
Normally my daughter, who’s five years old, has rocked up by this point, so she’ll join me for the last five minutes of my movement practice. She’ll ask, ‘Daddy, are we on the third M now?’
If she’s not there, I’ll read something positive for five or ten minutes to really put me in a positive frame of mind. If she’s there, we’ll sit together and hold hands and we’ll do affirmations, such as, ‘I’m happy. I’m calm. I’m stress-free. I’m happy. I’m calm. I’m stress-free.’
“I enjoy each and every single day now in a way that I never used to, because my work doesn’t feel like work”
I know it sounds a little bit cheesy—but I can tell you, since I’ve started doing this, it’s changed my life. I feel like I start the day off in a really grounded, stress-free state and that no matter what happens next, I can handle it. I’m finding myself being less and less reactive.
Unless I’m travelling, I’ll sit down with my family and we’ll have breakfast together with no devices at the table. That’s a really big thing for us—to try and be present when we’re eating. And then normally I’ll drop one of my kids at school, and get on with the working day.
Sometimes that involves me going to my surgery, where I’ll see patients all day, or sometimes it’ll mean nipping down to London to go on Radio 4 or Radio 5, or whichever programme has asked me to come in and comment on something. If I don’t have clinical work, I’ll be sitting at home reading and trying to write new ideas down. I’ve just completed my second book, so that takes a lot of time and energy.
Whatever it is, I enjoy each and every single day now in a way that I never used to, because my work doesn’t feel like work.
What does health mean to you?
To me, health means being able to do the things you want to do without limitation.
In fact, I passionately believe that health is about much more than just health. Much of what I see around me—whether it’s unhappiness, relationship difficulties or dissatisfaction with life—comes from people not feeling as good in themselves as they could do, which then compromises the way that they are.
I genuinely believe that when people feel better, they live more. It’s a feed-forward cycle.
What do you think are the biggest misperceptions about health today?
I think the biggest misconception is that health is all about food. If I’m honest, six or seven years ago I thought the same. I’m always trying to learn from my patients, evolve my thinking and get better at doing what I do. I think we’ve spent too long fighting over the perfect diet. The reality is I’ve got patients in different dietary camps, and they all do well.
Sleep and stress are two of the most undervalued components of health. You get your sleep even 5% better from what it is now, and the knock-on benefits to the rest of your health are profound.
It’s same with stress. In an era of information overload and competing demands—whether it’s emails, social media, to-do lists, elderly parents we’re looking after, the shopping we haven’t done, whatever it is—we’re all feeling the pressure of having too much to do.
I think nutritional therapists get it. I actually feel the title ‘nutritional therapist’ is a misnomer in many ways, because most nutritional therapists that I speak to really understand this holistic approach to health. They know it’s not all about food.
The modern world is inherently stressful. I can’t change that for my patients, but what I can do is give them tools to deal with it. Simple stress-management techniques are relevant for every single one of us these days. That’s really what my new book, The Stress Solution, is about: empowering everyone with some accessible things that don’t take more than a few minutes, but which can have a profound impact on the rest of their day.
What’s your favourite thing to eat?
It changes from week to week. At the moment it’s my wife’s homemade buckwheat bread, which is just fantastic.
I went through several years of not eating any bread, and I forgot what it’s like to have a nice, crisp of piece of toast in the morning with some avocado on top. This buckwheat bread is delicious—we put the recipe up on my website and so many people have said that they love it. I’m delighted to be able to share it.
If you could give just one piece of advice concerning food, what would it be and why?
Focus on having minimally processed food as much as possible. Whether that’s meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, nuts or seeds, it doesn’t matter.
“Focus on having minimally processed food as much as possible”
If you want to be vegan, fine. If you want to be paleo, fine! The commonality between pretty much all healthy-eating cultures around the world is that they eat minimally processed food. I think that’s what we should be focusing on—rather than fighting about fat and carbs.
Whom do you look up to, and why?
At the moment, I have to say I really look up to my mother. Throughout my life she has shown me how to care for other people, particularly with the way she looked after my dad. I got to see all that first-hand, and I think it’s really shaped the way I care for my patients.
Tell us something about you that people wouldn’t expect.
I’m a very keen musician. I took two years off from medicine to tour my own music around the UK. I’m a singer and I play guitar, piano and drums. It’s a huge part of my life.
Aside from good health, what do you cherish in your life?
My wife and my kids. They mean the world to me.
Over the last few years, as my work has ramped up, I’ve not spent as much time with my wife and kids as I’d like to. That’s something I’m really prioritising going forward, to the point where I now frequently turn down weekend speaking events. Three or four years ago, I wouldn’t have done.
It’s still important to me to make the most of my career. If Daddy were at home all the time and not doing the stuff that made him happy and nourished him, I’m not sure that would be beneficial either. But I want to be there at mealtimes, and I want to spend as much time as possible with my family at weekends. Understanding that makes it much easier to turn down competing engagements in my life.
I love my work, I cherish my health—but above all I prioritise my family.