Chōsen Expert Molly Maloof, MD, on food as fuel, optimizing your health everyday and following gut instincts
Molly Maloof is a medical doctor, strategist, researcher, health technologist, wellness expert, entrepreneur and Chōsen expert. She works at the intersection of health, technology and scientific wellness, providing health optimization and personalized medicine to entrepreneurs, investors and executives. We ask Maloof about the digital revolution transforming medicine, following your gut instincts and why food is the best form of medicine.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your work in the tech and medical space?
The first thing you should know about me is that I am not a conventional doctor and I have a major interest in the field of scientific wellness. The question I am fascinated with is not how we extend lifespan, but how we prolong “healthspan” – or the number of years we work and live healthy lives. I spend part of my time working one-on-one with high-performing individuals who want to maintain optimal health despite incredibly demanding schedules. I stay current with the cutting edge of innovation by advising and consulting a number of technology companies (apps, wearables, biotech, digital health, food tech, etc.).
During your residency, you realized you had to change paths to make a difference. Why is it important to follow your gut instincts, and what is your advice to those who want to make a change in life but are afraid to jump?
I think a lot of people suffer unnecessarily because they find themselves in jobs that make them miserable. We don't spend a lot of time helping young people find their purpose. I was working with an executive coach in residency and we were looking at my skills and strengths. We found that many were actually unsuited for working in a bureaucracy (entrepreneurs are notoriously unemployable). I would go to work at the hospital and feel like an outsider. But then I would spend my free time hanging out with entrepreneurs and feel like a normal person. Many were grad-school drop-outs and some didn't even go to college, and yet they were running companies with multi million-dollar valuations. It occurred to me that if they could make the jump and do well, so could I. I decided I wanted to get some experience working in tech and I networked like crazy looking for companies with problems that I knew I could solve. That's how my consultancy started. I surrounded myself with amazing mentors who encouraged me to maintain my license and start a medical practice around my passion: optimizing health. Had I not interacted with so many business founders, I wouldn't have been able to develop health programs for them. So my advice would be: trust your gut. This is the only life you have in this body. Look up the Holstee Manifesto. Know your top five core values and use them as a compass off which to base decisions. Mine are freedom, health, family/community, creativity and achievement.
You specialize in preventative medicine. What are the five fundamental things we should do every day to optimize health and wellbeing?
1) Fill your body with foods that fuel nourishment and wellbeing beyond a few seconds of pleasure. Really listen to your body when you put food inside. What is it telling you after an hour, three hours, 24 hours? Course correct when something goes wrong. I do my meal planning on Sundays and buy my food from the farmer's market. Local, organic produce is much higher in vitamins and minerals than store-bought goods. 2) This is going to sound a little weird, but I put meditation before everything else because I consider "subtle body building" to be easily the most transformative thing I do regularly to optimize my health. The first thing I do when I wake up is use the restroom, drink some water and then meditate for 15-20 minutes. If I don't do this my entire day is thrown off. 3) Exercise is incredibly important and I get it out of the way first thing in the morning. I use a lot of fitness apps rather than go to a gym. I don't have a lot of time to waste so I focus on what I can get done in less than an hour. And I try to find any excuse I can to move throughout the day. I take calls while walking. I walk instead of driving to work. 4) I mind my circadian rhythms by being careful about evening screen time. I have an evening routine and I try to get to bed before 11pm. Quality sleep is unbelievably important for optimal health.5) I plan out my supplement regime at the beginning of every month. I have an Excel file explaining what I am taking, why I am taking it, when I take it, what dose and where I bought it. Supplements work really well if they are of pharmaceutical-grade quality and used correctly. Most people don't get their bang for their buck because they end up taking these haphazardly. Taking supplements appropriately as part of a routine took me about a year – not kidding – but they have made a huge difference in my health.
Digital detoxing, silent retreats and sensory deprivation tanks are just a few methods that people use to get away from it all. What other sustainable ways can help us unplug every day, and why is it important to do so?
I started meditating simply by focusing on my breath for three minutes at a time. Then I tried float tanks. Then I read books on meditating. Then I went on weekend courses at a nearby meditation center. Then I took a nine-day course, which felt like two years of therapy condensed – It was really challenging. Now I meditate every morning for 20 minutes. It took me a while – five years – to get to where I am today. Like anything else, start low (duration), go slow and work your way up.
Why is the medical profession still approaching health and wellbeing with a chemical rather than a natural approach? Will this push the younger generation of doctors away from the profession?
A medical doctor has become a subcontractor of insurance companies that dictate what can and cannot be considered medicine. For this reason, there are few billing codes that cover programs for wellbeing. Billing codes mostly cover procedures and drugs. I think we're going to have a very, very big problem on our hands if we don't start encouraging people to prevent disease before it happens. Insurance companies are eventually going to see the light and things will shift. There is a gigantic market for wellness – in Germany, you can even get coverage for this kind of care. We'll catch up eventually.
Why is food important for a healthy body and mind?
The single most important thing you can do to change your body's function is to build it out of high-quality raw materials. If you build a building out of plywood, it's not going to last long or remain resilient. For this reason, I look at food as an incredibly important investment in myself and my future self. Without quality food, my mind is not going to function at its best and I'm not going to feel awesome. I track my nutritional changes with labs and I have plenty of evidence to show that eating poorly for even a month can change your markers. For the same reason, eating super clean for a month can also shift your numbers. This is why I am a big proponent of scientific wellness. It gives you feedback that is personalized and motivating.
Silicon Valley CEOs are increasingly realizing that their teams need to be healthy and happy in order to perform. What advice do you have for corporates who want to live and work well?
Invest in your health as you would in your finances: compounding interest applies to wellness as well as bank accounts.
Prevention is better than cure. What are some fatal diseases that can be avoided by better health and nutrition?
Almost every modern chronic disease is preventable with better self-care. A large percentage of cancers, diabetes, heart disease and depression can be prevented by taking proactive measures.
If a reader of this interview wants to make a positive lifestyle choice, perhaps in nutrition, what do you advise?
Be very careful about health blogs. A ton of people are out there trying to market and sell products to you. Everything you read for free is usually being paid for by advertising or selling something, so be a mindful consumer of health information. Don't try to be your own doctor. Find someone who you can trust to guide you in the right direction. Even I have a health coach who keeps tabs on my labs and keeps me accountable.
Dr Molly Maloof will lead the Food as Medicine week starting May 6, 2017