Dr Pixie McKenna is a third generation doctor who graduated from University College Cork Medical School in 1995. She has worked in both the NHS and the private sector, runs her own clinic in Ireland and practices on London’s Harley Street. Dr Pixie has also carved out a successful career in radio and TV, best known for her work on BBC Three’s ‘Freaky Eaters’, Channel 4’s ‘The Food Hospital’ and the BAFTA-winning medical series ‘Embarrassing Bodies’.
As our newly appointed ambassador, we decided to find out how Dr Pixie juggles a busy and successful career, being a mum, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
What inspired you to study medicine and become a doctor?
I grew up surrounded by the world of medicine –my Dad was a single handed GP for 43 years so our house was "head office" for all things medical! I also had lots of doctors in the family tree so it was inevitable some of us would follow suit. As kids we manned the surgery phones, entertained patients in the waiting room and filled in for the receptionist during summer holidays. Since I was at school I took an interest in ‘the family trade’, I was always fascinated by the human body, its inner workings and how best to take care of it.
After completing my training in Ireland, I moved to the UK to up skill as a GP. Over the next two decades I've held various GP roles in the UK and Ireland. I’ve looked after the ailments of everyone from large corporate organisations to celebrities, students and everything else in between. Together with a colleague I currently run by own practice in London.
Has becoming a doctor inspired you to learn more about nutrition and the effect it has on our health?
Absolutely – working as a doctor, you know how wonderful the human body is, but also how important it is to maintain it. Nutrition is such an underrated area of healthcare; yet it is integral in terms of remaining healthy. It’s a cliché but ultimately you are what you eat.
With the country currently facing an obesity epidemic and a number of associated health problems, how important would you say what we eat and drink is to our health and happiness?
No one can control their body completely. But diet is a great place to start. Good nutrition is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle. Combined with physical activity, your diet can help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic diseases (like heart disease and cancer), and promote your overall health.
From your experience on Channel 4’s ‘The Food Hospital’, do you think food can be our medicine? Can we tackle health problems through the food we eat?
Changes in diet can influence markers like blood pressure, weight and blood results in a similar way to taking medicines in some cases. Even when symptoms can't be improved through dietary changes alone a healthy diet can augment the impact of a prescription medicine. As doctors, we should always look at the patient holistically before we reach for the prescription pad.
Busy mums and working women make up the majority of The Food Doctor’s consumers. With ‘women’s health’ being one of your key interests, what would be your best advice to women on how to balance a busy career, parenting and a healthy lifestyle?
Having a plan is pivotal when you are a busy working mum and dare I say it having one of two contingency plans also helps! I try to factor in 3 meals a day, ensuring one is a proper family sit down where we not only share food but also stories from the day. However, as a doctor working long days or when filming, this isn’t always possible. So rather than starve, snacking is essential to keeping me going. I have a stock of fresh fruit, nuts and seeds in my handbag which goes everywhere with me, so there's always something to munch!
What does the Power of Positive Nutrition mean to you?
When we select positively nutritious foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, we tend to feel more energised and more powerful. Stepping away from the unhealthy snack is a key step towards a healthier lifestyle.
It’s a Wednesday morning, what would be on the menu today?
I truly believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and this year I've become a porridge convert! I hated it growing up but now I can't get enough of the stuff. I usually team it with a banana and a pot of de-caf tea. If I have the mid-morning munchies them I delve in my handbag and get a boost from some trail mix.
Afternoon – For my lunch, I’ll have something healthy and substantial, my current favourite is a beetroot and feta salad.
Dinner – For me, dinner is about family, something we can enjoy together. Fish is a regular feature on our menu at home and can be teamed with anything from rice to salad or the humble spud.
When you are feeling tired or lacking energy, what do you do to pick yourself up?
I reach into my massive handbag and root for a healthy snack such as the new Food Doctor Smokehouse Trail Mix. I also try to step outside, get some fresh air or at the very least open the window to let the outside in! Fresh air and natural light work wonders!
How do you look after your body when you’re away from home and on the road?
I hate driving so the school run, the supermarket shop and my commute to the train station is all done on 2 wheels. I walk wherever cycling isn't safe or practical and have squash-able flat shoes as a fixture in my handbag next to my healthy snacks. When my schedule allows I run 3 times a week, I’m no Bolt but I find it really boosts my energy and brushes the cobwebs away.
Do you try to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine?
I should but ironically, I feel I’m too busy for mindfulness, clearly a sign I need some mindfulness in my life! I’m a big believer in switching off, shutting down electric devices and digesting the day with my other half. I love silence so like to reboot by reclining in the sofa and emptying my head... my own kind of mindfulness I guess.
What does mindful eating mean to you?
Mindful eating means listening to your body – eat when you need to eat, but stop once you’ve had enough. It’s also important to eat slowly and enjoy each bite, instead of gobbling down your dinner as fast as you can. Eating and emotions are heavily entwined so we need to be careful not to use food as a crutch. It’s always worth asking yourself the question, "am I hungry?" How we eat is as important as what we eat.
What would be your top three tips on how to live a healthy life?
- Plan a healthy diet – plan out three balanced meals a day, cook your own food, aim to use fresh and seasonal ingredients where possible and enjoy meals with the family.
- Don’t deny yourself food – according to survey by The Food Doctor, 84% of women feel guilty about snacking. We need to change this – snacks can be great for re-energising your body and your mind, just make sure they are full of nutritious goodness.
- Find a fitness regime you enjoy – the treadmill isn’t for everyone. Find a form of exercise that works for you, it could be pilates, kick-boxing or karate, do it regularly and set yourself realistic fitness goals to keep yourself motivated. Buddy up with a friend, a workout shared often feels like a workout halved!
We hope you found Dr Pixies tips helpful and are hopefully inspired by how you can harness positive nutrition in your life.
Speak again soon,
The Food Doctor team