By Sylvia Geiger, M.S., R.D.
For John Principe, M.D., entering the kitchen of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) conjured up memories of his first time in the operating room during medical school. “It was like having a nurse standing over your shoulder…Wash your hands! Use the knife this way,” says Principe, an internist. “I was so unnerved and felt completely out of my element.” Principe is one of more than 1,000 medical professionals who, to date, have attended a Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference at the CIA campus in California (healthykitchens.org). During the four-day events held twice a year, participants first listen to nutrition lectures—to learn more about links between diet and diseases—and then hone their culinary skills in hands-on cooking sessions.
The brainchild of David Eisenberg, M.D., director of Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School, and Mark Erickson, vice president of continuing education at the CIA, the conference aims to address the problem that many doctors receive little training in nutrition or in selecting and cooking healthy foods. The course emphasizes that doctors are more likely to advise their patients on healthy lifestyles if they practice what they preach. “Our goal is to inspire physicians to change their own behaviors and to serve as role models and champions in the healthy-eating, healthy-lifestyle campaign,” says Eisenberg.
The conference seems to be working. “It changed the way I practice medicine,” says Principe, who has lost 15 pounds since attending last April. With a renewed sense of well-being, he now writes fewer prescriptions and spends more time discussing lifestyle and dietary changes with patients.