Health Bite

Community Connection and the Culture of Food with Julie La Barba, Paging Dr. Mom

August 08, 2022 Dr. Adrienne Youdim
Health Bite
Community Connection and the Culture of Food with Julie La Barba, Paging Dr. Mom
Show Notes Transcript

How do we make it easy and relatable for people to get meals on the table?

People have this tendency to overlook the influence we make when we are the ones providing and preparing our household’s meal plan. From buying groceries to having our plates filled, every single bit of that process contributes to the health of our loved ones.

But as things get almost all online these days, it is with no doubt that it’s become harder to leave our screens even just for a while.

Join us today and get the secrets on how to live a fulfilled and healthy life. Find out how to get your fam on a table, working all together for the health of everyone.

Julie La Barba is a board-certified pediatrician, a short order cook, house manager, family concierge whose interest revolves around children, nutrition, and real food. 

In this episode, Julie shares tips from her own studies and experience on how we can have nutritious and delicious food on our table that is all easy to make. Here, she discusses the impact people - especially women - play on the health of their families. Julie and Dr. Adrienne help us to get more intentional about caring for ourselves, with that involving how we prepare and what we eat.


What you will learn from this episode:

  • Understand the difference it makes when you involve your children on meal planning, grocery shopping, and also cooking meals;
  • Discover the importance of learning how to manage your time, and how it relates to your and your family’s health and wellbeing; and
  • Realize how much of an impact it is that you’re creating when you’re the person who is feeding your family;
  • Find out why it’s a must that you work on goal-setting


“Meals don’t have to be elaborate and expensive to be delicious.”

– Julie La Barba


Key Takeaways:

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” – Julie La Barba

“Every person who is feeding a family is important, and you’re probably the most important factor in your family’s health; it’s such an impact that you can have.” – Julie La Barba

“We need to not feel tied to our paycheck. If we’re so tied to our paycheck, in a job that is not fulfilling to us, and we feel like we’re just going through the motions, we are going to [have] burnout. We need some autonomy in terms of our schedule and in terms of having passive income or earning money in different ways – having other outlets to support our family.” – Julie La Barba


Ways to Connect with Julie La Barba:


Ways to Connect with Dr. Adrienne Youdim:

Resource mentioned:

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Community Connection and the Culture of Food with Julie La Barba, Paging Dr. Mom


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

So welcome, Julie, to Health Bite. I'm so, so excited to have you with me today. 


Julie La Barba

Adrienne, thank you so much. It's such a treat, and I can't wait to get into it. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

This is going to be a wonderful conversation because you have such a wonderful background professionally and also personally. I admire your motherhood of four; we were just discussing before we started recording. 


SHORT BACKSTORY: JULIE INTRODUCES HERSELF AS SHE SHARES HOW SHE GOT INTO THE REALM OF FOOD, NUTRITION, AND HEALTH


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

So tell us a little bit about yourself, and then specifically, how you got into the realm of food, nutrition, and health. 


Julie La Barba

Sure. Well, thank you so much. I am so blessed to have four kids. That has been not a spectator sport; it's definitely a team sport, and I'm lucky to have a really helpful husband. We've done it together and it's been a lot of fun. 

I am from a big family. I'm from a Sicilian produce family, and that – kind of – is part of the breadcrumbs leading to my culinary medicine pursuit. But I've always loved kids and appreciated the fact that their medical issues are rarely sought in public… and not a lot of elective health issues. So I think that's what drew me into pediatrics. 

And then my background, coming from a produce family and always loving food.  Family meals were a really big part of my life. My grandmother, Zula Cornelia La Barba, if that's Italian enough for you, used to have us over with all the cousins, like every Sunday night to have a meal and to break bread. Only now, as a mother of four, running a house, do I realize what a labor of love that was. But that was kind of ingrained in me. We always ate fresh food and whole milk and butter. I've never heard my mom talk about dieting. I never heard my grandmother talk about dieting. We always just ate and ate at mealtimes, and of course, there were snacks and stuff, but usually, we’re really fortunate to have a lot of fresh, healthy food around. So that's kind of how I grew up.

And then I actually went to college and majored in French and Human Development. I lived in Europe and taught school and did some other things, and then just always had this burning desire to go to med school. I had signed up for chemistry at Vanderbilt and my stomach hurt so badly in my freshman class. I think I have it in a journal somewhere; it says, “Well, this medicine thing is not going to work out, sadly.”


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

I hated general chemistry, by the way.


Julie La Barba

It blew my mind. I was nauseous there. I don't know if I can hack this.

So where there's a will, there's a way, so I came back from Europe and I told my mom and dad, “Is there any way I can move back in and start over?” And they were so gracious to allow me to do that, so then I call it divine intervention, because somehow, I only had to take the MCAT once and I studied for two years straight and got right in. So that was very, very lucky.

And then, yeah, I kind of always knew I wanted to do pediatrics just because I've always, you know, I had taught elementary school and I always loved kids and I really went to med school to be a pediatrician. Like, I never really had any other thoughts of what I wanted to do, maybe besides psychiatry. But yeah, kind of like where my path led was to med school. And then I did practice general pediatrics, and then I practiced in the GI Department, working with overweight children and constipated kids. I basically did a lot of the counseling that maybe some of the GI docs that did more intervention weren't really as interested in doing. And I did things, like I had a little metal shopping card from Pottery Barn Kids – that was my kids’ – and I would stick high fiber groceries and I would go to the store and buy the actual boxes and the bread and the different things so families could see. The families I worked with were all underserved, and so when you just say, “Hey, add fiber to your diet,” that really didn't mean anything to them. So I went and bought the tortillas that they would buy or the bread that some families would buy and kind of swap for what they would buy and what they needed to buy in terms of their child's condition. 

I just kind of got really hands on with people and really enjoyed that, and then ended up working with a science museum called the Whitney Museum of Science with our grocery store chain, H-E-B, one of our big groceries here, and we did a health science exhibit called The H-E-B Body Adventure. And so weirdly, I actually had a radio show in college and then I did the voiceover for that exhibit.


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Wow.


Julie La Barba

Here in San Antonio, because they actually were on a pretty tight budget. I said, “Well, if you want, I used to have a radio show. If you want, I'm happy to do the English voiceovers.” I speak Spanish, but not well enough to do the voiceover for an exhibit. And then here I am, podcasting. So I guess life does leave you a little breadcrumbs with hints about what's to come.


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

I love the breadcrumbs analogy. It warms my heart, as does your background. 


THE CONVENIENCE OF FOOD: CREATING SPACE FOR THE TRADITIONS OF ONE’S BACKGROUND WHILE MAKING SURE YOUR INTAKES ARE WHAT THE BODY NEEDS


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

I really want to dig into that, because a lot of times, the conversations I have with my patients are around family traditions and family traditions that surround food. And I talk about this with my patients, I talk about it in my book – Jewish, Persian background – girl, it's all about food, right? 


Julie La Barba

100%. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

And yet, like all relationships in life, we need boundaries around that. 

And so I'd love for you to talk about that a little bit, because when I think of a big Italian family, I am thinking, I can envision that big bowl of spaghetti with the huge meatballs.


Julie La barba

Oh, yeah.


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Of course, it's delicious, and when something is yummy, we want more and more and more. 

So talk to me a little bit about how that informed your decision making and your own practice with food, and how – if you consider it in terms of boundaries – or how you perceive of that? Like, how do we create space for the tradition and yet for what's right for our bodies? 


Julie La Barba

Right. Well ironically, I have just returned from Italy like two weeks ago, and it's so funny how differently my family ate compared to how they do eat in Italy. Like, the pasta al dente, first of all, in Italy, which of course, most people probably know this, but it's a little bit undercooked from what we would say. They call it ben cotto; it's like well-done if you eat it, like we normally eat it. And so my family had always had their pasta ben cotto; it was never al dente. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is different.” 

And then also, of course, in Italian culture, you have a primi, secondi. The primi is like a little bitty, tiny nest of pasta. You don't eat that huge bowl of pasta. And then you have like meat or fish with some vegetables and a salad, and maybe like a little dessert, an espresso or something. So that's the typical way to do it. But in my family, like spaghetti and those great meatballs, which they were amazing, that would have maybe probably been the main course. 

I know my grandmother that I mentioned earlier, Zula, she started cooking dinner at breakfast time – and just the whole home economics of that. You know, sort of being on a budget; she had six children – she's kind of my muse for kind of what I want to be like really in life – and starting shopping for the week, and then, of course, she had a produce at her disposal so my grandmother brought a lot of stuff home. But just kind of like economizing and planning for six kids. Okay, when are we going to have the steak? When are we going to have you put huge potatoes in the stew just to make it go a little further? But she would start cooking that meal, right when breakfast was over, she started cooking dinner. And I think that really speaks to kind of how automated our food has become. 

It's sort of like we've outsourced one of the most important things in our lives – it’s the convenience of food. What my grandmother did wasn't very convenient; she spent her whole day on that. But today, I think we're always looking for a shortcut. We're always looking for convenience. And it's because we're sitting at our desk all day. I mean, this is maybe different because of COVID; now people are working from home. But I've really started to think about when I was working really long hours at the hospital at a culinary medicine program, I would come home and not really have much time to cook dinner for my family. I mean, I have a slow cooker and I also have a helper that we could plan stuff together and she would get it ready and then we'd cook it when I got home, but just that automating of our food and that outsourcing of our food and making it more convenient, and the market for that has really made what we do as a obesity specialist more difficult, because people aren't really used to going to the market and starting their meal in the morning and planning and organizing in that way. At least most people, I think, just haven't maybe even had that in their family. A lot of young people haven't seen their moms do that, or maybe even their grandmother. 

So I think there's sort of this lost art when I talk about the way that my grandmother cooked to now, and there's a certain grief in that; there's a certain sadness of losing that. I think that meals don't have to be elaborate and expensive to be delicious, and I think that's what's so great about Mediterranean cuisine and Persian cuisine also. I mean, I love Middle Eastern cuisine; it's my favorite, actually. But I think that so many of those the grains and the beans and the the spices are really what make those meals what they are. 

And actually, there's a company that I use; it's called SugarRoti. I have no skin in the game, but I just cooked it last night for my husband – it was a curry – and they have these spices pre-prepared in these packages. They're Indian spices, and so they're not something that I really stock in my kitchen and I don't need a whole bunch of them because I don't cook that way all the time, but literally, if you have some chicken, put some potatoes and an onion and you add this packet. They're not processed in any way. They're just packaged and pre-measured.


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

What’s it called?


Julie La Barba

SugarRoti is the name. I'm not trying to advertise. You can even cut that out. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

No, it’s nice to know.


Julie La Barba

Yeah, it was delicious, and they have a koshari with the rice and the lentils. My husband was like, “Oh my gosh, I want you to make this every week.” 

So I think what I'm saying is that there are shortcuts. Because of technology, we do have some shortcuts that can make home cooking convenient and simple and easy, and that was the purpose of this woman's business. I realized she was Indian and she grew up having her grandmother and her mother cook for her. And she started to have some health problems, and she realizes. She said, “The only spices I was using were salt and pepper.” She was like a big time executive in New York kind of in the food and hospitality industry. And it was just funny because she really went away from her basic traditions of her family, and she went back to that. The quandary she was in was, “How am I ever going to get professional women to cook like this when it's so complicated to get all these spices together and measure them out and then sort them out and stock in their pantry?” So she decided, “Well, maybe I'll just make these little kits that women can use if they just have a head of cauliflower or some potatoes and some chicken,” and that's really what she did. So I've been so pleased with it and have used it a lot. 


THERE’S SOMETHING IN BETWEEN: “HOW DO WE MAKE IT RELATABLE AND EASY FOR PEOPLE TO GET MEALS ON THE TABLE AND EAT ALTOGETHER WITHOUT TECHNOLOGY?”


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

And I think you hit the nail on the head right there in terms of how do we get people to do this? I want to back up a minute because as you're describing this beautiful story of your grandmother, and I have the same experience of any time I envision my grandmother myself, she's in the kitchen, doing nothing else but cooking. But even as someone who believes in whole food and does cook for her family, it gives me a little bit of anxiety to think about a grandmother who's starting from scratch in the morning, and how 99.99% of us can't or maybe don't even want to. 

But I think if we can just encapsulate what you said a little bit, which is, yes, most of us can't or won't spend the entire day in the kitchen – it's not about not taking any shortcuts, but there's something in between Uber Eats and spending all day in the kitchen, right?


Julie La Barba

Absolutely.


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Number one, I think, is being more just intentional about what we eat, and not reactive. If we can think about it, if we can understand that it requires some time – not all day, but we can't expect for it to take no time, right? Care for ourselves and for our families and for the food that we put in our bodies requires some time. And if we can just start with that, if we can agree upon the fact that, yes, that self-care requires time and effort, and then whatever that time and effort is for you and your family. Maybe it means going to the farmer's market for one hour, which I got in this past weekend, one hour to have fresh produce in the refrigerator; or maybe if it means prepping the beans and the grains that you mentioned once a week so that we have it for the week. It doesn't mean being Martha Stewart every day. It can mean much smaller than that. But I think we need to first take that step back and agree on the premise that, yes, it requires time, and we have to allow for that. We have to give ourselves permission for that. 


Julie La Barba

That's exactly right. And maybe some of that time becomes me time and self-care time. We think of it as work, but it actually becomes a ritual that pours into us.
One woman that I had in my podcast, Dr. Anne Fishel, is at Harvard and she does The Family Dinner Project. She has gone around the United States listening, really listening to families and listening to moms and trying to figure out how do we get this to happen; exactly what you're saying. How do we make it relatable and easy for people to get meals on the table? Because really, her research has shown that kind of everything we hope for for our families happens at the dinner table. I mean, just gathering for a meal has so many incredible effects on grades, behavior, truancy, the lack of substance abuse, sexual promiscuity; You name it. And that accountability and that community and that connection that we have at the table is really the bigger piece, right? It really isn’t just about the food at that point. 

And so I think as moms, as parents, as family members, the best thing we can do is to get a meal on the table. And maybe, you know, Dr. Fishel is awesome about this. She's like, “Maybe it's a rotisserie chicken and you throw together a salad to go with it and that counts. Maybe you don't cook at all and maybe you order a pizza, but you sit at the table together and that counts. And then you realize the value of doing that and you want to go a step further.” And so sort of these gateway entry points for certain families that maybe cooking isn't their thing. She has some interesting ways to entice people to get to the table. And once they see sort of the fruits of their labor, whether it was Uber Eats or actually making the food, they want to create that space for their family, and they see sort of like the results over the long haul that only really sitting down at the family table can bring. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

That's such a valid point. You're absolutely right. I don't treat children, I treat adults, but oftentimes, my patients will come to me with concerns about their children and their children's weight, especially over the pandemic. And even I, personally, can attest to that in my own household. But talking about things like sitting at the table without technology is not just kind of a kumbaya point; it's actually something that is embedded not only in our traditions, but also in our science, which shows that families that eat dinner together have a reduced risk of obesity and weight gain. So these are points that shouldn't be dismissed in terms of “we want to talk about macros and calories and dietary plans.” But even kind of the more wholehearted guidance, which is the ritual of sitting at the table, is valuable not only in nourishing our relationships, but also nourishing ourselves in a way that keeps our bodies healthy and in weight maintenance. 


Julie La Barba

Truly. And if we want to just talk about strictly adults, if we look at the Blue Zones Project by Dan Buettner, if you look in Sardinia and Okinawa, Japan, and the Seventh-day Adventist in California and Greece – I think it's Ikaria, or Icarus, sorry, in Greece – if you look at the different blue zones, there's no talk about dieting. There's really no talk about gym memberships. There's no talk about that. And these people are living into their hundreds with quality, not just quantity, but quality. And so much of such a center of those cultures is breaking bread together. And it's one of the cap stones, or just absolutely foundations of the societies. And also some of them, a lack of technology and having to do some of the work themselves, or having to walk to the person's home to share a meal with them. A few different things. 

But I think one of the the biggest takeaways for me was just the accountability and the social interaction and then having that community and having the sort of motivation to get up and make something because you've got somebody coming over. I just think it's so fascinating to see across so many cultures that have very different food contents. This consistent longevity piece that is really getting our attention. So I love all of the work he's done. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Yeah. Thank you for bringing that up. And I think because on this podcast, we like to be actionable and provide people health bites, I think if we can just synopsize the first part of our conversation, if people can think about not just what they're consuming, but also how they are preparing and how they are consuming, maybe the actionable bite would be engineer some time into your day or even your week in terms of thinking about what you're going to consume, how you're going to prepare or obtain that food in the best way possible, and then consuming it in a way that is with family and not technology, or even if you're eating alone, in the middle of the workday, putting away the laptop or the phone and really giving the food that respect and attention that it deserves. 


EMPOWERING WOMEN AND CHILDREN: JULIE’S CULINARY PROGRAM AND RESEARCH + THE DIFFERENCE IT MAKES WHEN YOU EMPOWER WOMEN OF THE ROLE THEY PLAY IN THEIR FAMILIES’ HEALTH AND ENGAGE THE KIDS IN THE PROCESS OF NOURISHING THEMSELVES


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

I'd love for you to now talk a little bit about, I mean, you've created programs to teach people how to be actionable in these ways. So tell us a little bit about your culinary programs, and what are your takeaways in terms of what's been most impactful for your students? 


Julie La Barba

Sure. Well, I was one spoke in a really large team. We have a great team of people who created the chef program, which is Culinary Health Education for Families, and this was a program in San Antonio that received a very generous grant to do something about childhood obesity. And so we ended up coming up with the program name, and it was kind of like a very entrepreneurial thing because no one at the time knew that much about culinary medicine; this is about eight years ago now. 

And so we ended up having the funds, which is really fortunate, to create seven teaching kitchens in San Antonio, and this was pre-COVID. So not only did we have a teaching kitchen in that science exhibit I was talking about, at that health science exhibit with our grocery store, but we also had one at the children's hospital, and we had one at the botanical gardens with this beautiful culinary garden; not only those, but also some at the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club. So we had this captive audience of kids who were from underserved families who needed to eat after school. So it was just perfect; the stars aligned perfectly well. Let's not only give them the right kind of foods; let’s teach them how to cook at the same time. 

And so what was really neat was the child was the patient really, especially at the hospital program, but the person we really needed to get to was the person with the car keys and the wallet, right? 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Yeah.


Julie La Barba

The person who was making the food decisions as the parent. So we ended up sort of making it this fun activity. There were there were much more how to and what to do than what not to do. We had a couple of rules, which was no sugary drinks at the table when we ate and then no phones, and so we just had a basket where we put the phones in. But other than that, it was very, very accepting and open and not judgmental and not telling people what not to do, but saying, “Hey, look what you can do.” We have a teenage kid, a guy that's 15 is like, “I hate fish.” And he made a roasted salmon in our teaching kitchen, and it tastes like meat to him. And he's like, “Is this fish?” 

We have countless cute, cute stories of kids connecting and parents connecting, and we were sort of guiding. But really, what was best is when those people in that community got together and said, “Well, how are you doing this? Your child has this food allergy.” At the hospital, we saw more complex cases where kids maybe couldn't eat certain things. And just to see the mom saying, “How are you getting around this? What are you doing? Your child can't eat french fries or chicken tenders anymore. What are you doing?” And I said, “Well, I'm using the chickpea flour to bake these chicken tenders in an hour.” And just watching that unfold was such a treat. 

The program, of course, because it was in person, during COVID– and I actually left the program before COVID. I have a whole another story where I got EBV and Mono and I had to step down because after about two years, I was still not getting better. And I knew that I couldn't quit my family and that I had to quit my job. And so I left on great terms. I was in the middle of a research project at that time, and I did wrap that up. 

So I'll talk about the research a little bit. It was a pilot study, and we evaluated the feasibility of nutrition education, cooking instruction and produce vouchers for pregnant low income moms to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption. And so these were first trimester pregnant moms who were receiving prenatal care like at a federally qualified health clinic, and then they would attend a grocery shopping tour and a cooking class conducted by a registered dietitian. And we really focused on incorporating fruit and vegetables into these meals, but then we also gave them this $40 voucher and we went through the SKUs of the grocery store and the only thing that voucher would work for were fresh fruits and vegetables and some canned and frozen fruits and vegetables without kind of extra sirup and extra fat. So we went through and we kind of really selected the cream of the crop of the healthiest items. 

Basically, the takeaway points were the younger the moms and the lower the food security, the less likely they were to complete the study requirements. And these were the shopping tours, the cooking class, and the nutrition education at their appointments. We were able to correlate the availability of vegetables at home, with menu planning skills and grocery shopping skills. So the more they had around, the higher their menu planning and grocery shopping skills were. And then, it's no surprise that the intake of fruits and vegetables significantly correlated with their availability and their menu planning skills and their grocery shopping skills. So the better they were at figuring out, “Okay, I'm going to buy this, it's going to sit on the counter for three days and I could still use it on day four,” the better they were at figuring that out through the course, the more they ate. 

And so one of the things that was so interesting, Adrienne, about the study was just talking about empowering women to understand how much influence they have on their families’ health through meals. And I don't know about you, but for me, it was always women in my family cooking. I know some people have the joy of their dad cooking, but I mean, my dad does cook, but for the most part, I think it's mostly women who are making these decisions, and especially for the underserved community, I think it's mostly women. And so it was really beautiful to see these women at the end of the study and we'd say, “What did you think? What could we improve? How can we do it better?” And they just kind of stopped in their tracks cause you could tell that not many people had really asked their opinion on something like this. And it was just so emotional for me to be speaking Spanish with these women and hearing from them in a way that they felt so important. I really want to stress that every person who's feeding a family is important, and you're probably the most important factor in your family's health, and it's such an impact that you can have. 

So I was able to wrap up that study and complete that and publish it with Dr. Karen W. Cullen of Baylor College of Medicine. Without her, the study wouldn't have happened, so I can't talk about it without mentioning her. But I was able to wrap that up and kind of wrap up the teaching kitchen activity – I was the medical Director of that program – and then take some time off. 

But in the meantime, the CHEF program just blossomed during COVID because they were able to go on a video basis and also into schools. And so they could go into PE classes and then they have a lot of video programs. So they've grown leaps and bounds since I've left and have just done incredible work since then. I've loved watching their trajectory and I got to be a small part of it at the beginning. It was an incredible project to be part of.


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Sorry to interrupt, but is that something that the public would have access to? 


Julie La Barba

Yeah, CHEFSA.org is our website and there are recipes on there. Anyone can go from anywhere in the world to the website and get the recipes. There are all kinds of great videos, and it's definitely nutritious, delicious food without breaking the bank. All of the recipes are geared towards very economical choices, but also really delicious ones that are easy to make. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Yeah, I love that.


Julie La Barba

And it’s bilingual. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

We're going to tag that in the show notes, because as I hear you speak, one of the main principles that comes out is make fruits and vegetables accessible and utilize fruits and vegetables. And it's like, duh, everyone knows you should eat more fruits and vegetables; it's good for your health. But at the end of the day, even when we know these things – we don't need a medical study to teach us – it's still so hard to implement. But I like the way you talk about it, and maybe these videos would help people with ideas in terms of how to incorporate those in the meals. 

And the second point that I really want to extract from your words is that we started this conversation in terms of time management, right? Like we don't have all day, we can't start dinner, most of us, at the close of breakfast. And a lot of our time, as mothers are all trying to – or many of us are trying to separate our time, if we work between our work and our children; if we're not working outside of the home, many moms have the additional work or burden of caring for parents. Everyone’s got “work” in one way or the other, and yet we want to try and have that time for our families. 

And so what better than to employ your children? It's like not even a twofer; it’s a threefer because you're spending time with kids – your kids, you are engaging them in the process of nourishing themselves, which is so much more powerful than just telling them to eat their fruits and vegetables, and then you're also teaching them skills that they can carry on in perpetuity, hopefully, and for themselves and their families. 

So really thinking about engaging your children in this process is so powerful on so many levels and it'll save you, it'll buy back some time, which we're all grappling with how to do. 


Julie La Barba

Absolutely. I love your analogy of a double or a triple dip, because that's what it is. You're kind of knocking out two or three things at one time. And really just the self-efficacy that it builds in children. As pediatricians, we know that when they have a little bit of say in what they're picking out at the store; this starts at meal planning, really. “What do you think we should make this week? Oh, hey, look at this website. Look at these colorful pictures. Look what these kids are making. You want to try that?” And then they go to the store and they help pick out a few ingredients. Like, “What is squash? I've never even had that.” Well, “We'll see. You'll help me peel it and then cut it and you can taste it.” They're just so much more into tasting something that they don't know – that's a foreign thing – when they've been a part of the process. 

So that's something that we've really learned and that's kind of a no brainer, but a lot of times, we feel like it's kind of an inconvenience to take my child to the store and have them in the kitchen because it’s kind of messy, but I promise that will pay you back. So that's something that we've learned. You just kind of have to overlook that, and just kind of training your child on the fact that we can have this amount of money and we can make this great meal with it, and then we can have leftovers, we can do this with it. And it really is sort of an education of sorts that kids really need to know before they go to college or leave home and go live on their own and do their own job, have their own families. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Yeah, even college bound, right? 


Julie La Barba

Yeah. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

So let's reiterate that we could employ our little toddlers in the kitchen and give them tasks. But then thinking about it, it resonates with me because I have a daughter who's about to embark on college herself, and how to help with kind of planting those seeds a little bit more firmly, so I love all of that. 


TIME TO REEVALUATE: WHY IS IT IMPORTANT THAT PEOPLE – ESPECIALLY WOMEN – GET TO DEAL WITH AND/OR AVOID BURNOUT? WHAT SORT OF THINGS DO YOU NEED TO FEEL FREEDOM? IS YOUR WORK ALIGNED WITH YOUR TRUE VALUES IN LIFE?


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

We weren't really going to get into this very much – your kind of latest passion, which is dealing with burnout, specifically in female physicians. But I'm having a roundabout in my own mind, because I'm thinking, while you work with a very specific demographic, burnout is not something that is novel in our society right now. We're in the midst of kind of the great resignation, which I feel like is just exponentially increasing by the second. And so I think it's very relevant to many people in terms of rethinking their work-life balance, rethinking their professional time and their professional life, and that does impact our how we nourish ourselves – not just from a time management piece which we've already addressed – but also from an emotional piece, a spiritual piece. 

So tell us a little bit about maybe some themes that you have gleaned in terms of your work with burnout and why this became important. Why is it important now and how can we tie it back to the conversation? 


Julie La Barba

Sure. Well, great question. I think it is amazing that it affects every sector. I mean, my husband's in the solar business and he's having trouble hiring people. And it's just, you know, every restaurant, every airport. Right now, we're seeing, everyone has a help wanted sign, and there are a lot of people, like, not available. It's like, where is everybody? 

But I think COVID, I think the silver lining of COVID, of course, it affected so many families in such a grave way, but the silver lining, I think, for many professionals was, “I’m getting up in the morning to work out at five in the morning. I'm blow drying my hair and getting fully dressed and getting on a train and going into the city and working all day and then coming back.” I mean, some of the people that were commuting and things like that, I think it just really helped them to see how they were spending their time. I think we all kind of realized or recognized things that were filling up our cup and things that weren't. It became pretty stark and pretty clear as to what was pouring into us and what wasn't. And I think it was a great time to just reevaluate how we're spending our time and what kind of legacy we're leaving by the work that we're doing every day. 

And so I think, at least for women in medicine, at least for me personally, I have four children at home. I became a flight attendant in my own house because we've got a basement, and I have a tray and I would go down to the basement and to the first floor and to the second floor with food for everybody, and my husband worked at home. This was like, I can't remember how long, 15 to 18 months, when everybody was at home. It was the most wonderful time for our family because my first child hadn't gone to college yet, so it was like our last little hurrah in this cocoon. But at the same time, I had the absolute luxury of being able to stay home with my kids. I know a lot of women who couldn't do that. And so you had sort of this time scarcity and then you had this health scarcity. Like I don't want to bring stuff home to my kids. There was all this worry and anxiety and there were just so many questions and so few answers. So I think when people started looking at the economics of childcare and outsourcing meals, at some point, it just made sense for some people to stay home. For me, personally, I had an illness on top of that, and I think mine was divinely orchestrated. I think I just needed to be at home that time, and it all worked out. I had wrapped up everything in a bow way before COVID started, which was lucky. 

We talked a little bit before we started the pod about autonomy, and just what sort of things do we need to feel freedom? We need to not feel tied to our paycheck. I mean, this is, again, a luxury, but if we're so tied to our paycheck in a job that is not fulfilling to us, and then we feel like we're just going through the motions, we are going to burnout. And so we need some autonomy in terms of our schedule and in terms of maybe having passive income or earning money in different ways or like you, you know, becoming an author, and kind of like having other outlets to support our family is one important thing. And then just belonging, like how do you feel about the organization you're in? Do you feel like you're a valued member? Do you feel like people listen to your ideas? Do you feel like you’re someone who brings something to the table as a leader? And then just our competence, right? Like we need to feel competent in what we do. We need to feel like we're really impacting people's lives and really giving back in a way that is making a difference. 

And so I think, at least for me, I don't know about you, but COVID was really a time when I started thinking about, “Okay, here's my calendar. Here are my hours. Does my calendar reflect my values and my priorities?” and it became about not getting more done, but about getting the right things done. I think productivity and time management really is about – and being hungry for more, the same thing like your book – it’s really not about doing more things; it’s about doing the right things and the things that really fill up our ship and really speak to us and really nurture us. 

I'm a huge believer in gifts and we all have gifts that the world needs. When we're not in a community, we don't really know what to do with those gifts, so we don't know which gifts are valuable. And I think COVID was also a wake up call in that, because we were isolated, and all of a sudden, you didn't know what you were contributing; you didn't feel that contribution. And I think when the world opened up again and we had a chance to contribute again, I think we were a little choosier about what we wanted to contribute, or at least me personally. So that's when I started the podcast. Really the joke in podcasting is that you're talking to yourself like three years ago, like trying to save other people time by sharing your mistakes. 

But yeah, I just think mindset is huge, and really digging deep into things. The spinning plates have to stop spinning for you to really get there. And whether that's a disruption like an illness or an accident or a trauma or a divorce, when those plates up spinning, and we have one of these disruptions which can often be viewed as very negative, if you can find the silver lining, such as COVID, of really letting the plates stop spinning and really digging into your heart, in your mind, and thinking about what it is you can contribute to the world and what you were meant to contribute and what you are destined to help other people with, I think that can be really powerful. So in a way, we can take our setbacks and our disruptions and create something basically a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I think for me, that's kind of what happened with my podcast over COVID. It wasn't that I didn't love my job and love my patients, but there's only so much I could do. And I have four kids and we're remodeling our house and I was hosting my family, my big fat Greek wedding Italian family who loves food for Thanksgiving and I wanted that to be perfect, and I just all of a sudden could not handle anymore physically and got sick. 

And so, I think sometimes it takes something like that to hit us over the head to realize that we've got one too many plates spinning, and just because we're able to keep them up in the air does it mean that we should, and that we can focus the whole essentialism theory, which is have one arrow going really wide and far versus 100 arrows just going a little bit off the circle, if you've ever seen the cover of that book. 

I think that's kind of what I'm working on now because I feel like it's so meaningful in terms of helping people kind of stop and take stock of really what their gifts are in a way that they can contribute even more to the world. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Well, I think this is so important, and I just want to reiterate the relevance here. You know, I share in my book the spiritual hungers that result in weight gain, and so we can look at it on a somewhat superficial level-ish, which is weight gain; we can take it a step further, which is overall health and well-being; there's so many layers that we can look at. But the fact remains that when we aren't kind of in a place in our lives that is aligned with our true values, then we do suffer or risk suffering burnout. And oftentimes, that void, though, before we get there, is filled with soothing, with things, and the most accessible way to soothe ourselves is with food. And so it is very relevant to our conversation. 


LEARN FROM JULIE: ACTIONABLE TIPS AND ADVICES YOU CAN TRY WHEN YOU’RE IN THAT SPACE OF NOT BEING ALIGNED, WITH THAT FEELING THAT SOMETHING’S NOT SITTING WELL IN TERMS OF HOW YOU’RE LIVING YOUR LIFE


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

But going back to being actionable, as I like to be, because I worry that when people hear us speak, they may think, “Well, I am not suffering a divorce or illness, so I don't have this strong impetus to stop and maybe I don't have the financial wherewithal to stop to get myself off that hamster wheel, or maybe I don't even know where to begin. Like, where would I even begin figuring out what my gifts are or what my values are, or how they are in alignment?”

So can you take a step back and just offer some practical steps or resources as to like, if I'm feeling that way, if I'm feeling like I'm burning the candle at both ends and I'm really not aligned, something is not sitting well in terms of how I'm living my life, how do I even go about thinking about doing this differently? 


Julie La Barba

I think one thing that's helpful, it sounds counterintuitive, it's sort of like looking further ahead, so it's a little bit of a future thinking thing, but if you think of kind of like a five year blueprint. I think we underestimate what we can get done in five years but we overestimate what we can get done in a year, right? On January 1st, we're like, “Alright, I'm going to write three books and I'm going to…” But if we look a little further out, I think a lot of times we can take a year in our head and we could think of all these things we can do. When we don't meet our benchmarks, we get frustrated and discouraged and then we're like, “I can't do anything.” 

But if you give yourself a little bit more time, like if you give yourself a five year blueprint – truly like between now and 2027, what three things do you want to accomplish? It could be relationships, it could be health, it could be financial, it could be professional. Think about the areas in which you want to improve and maybe kind of go with this five year blueprint, and then you can kind of back it out. What would have to be true for one of these things to happen? Maybe just take the most important one to you. What would have to be true? Let's just say somebody feels like they're not in their fighting way, they're not in their best form, since we're talking about hungry for more and health. Let’s say, if in five years you want to have a certain cardiovascular fitness level or certain cholesterol level; let's just say there's a medical thing you're trying to work on, and you can back it out. What would have to be true for you to improve your health? Would you need to start scheduling exercise? Would you need to meet with a nutritionist? What are these little bitty steps? And then you can back it out to three years and back it out to one year. And so just this year, what is the one goal I'm going to work on, and what are the three steps to try to get there this year? And what would have to be true for me to be working towards that five year goal? 

And so that sounds kind of overwhelming and long, but I think what it is it's very patient, and it's sort of giving yourself a way to save face. Like, of course, one year isn't long enough to maybe really turn my health around, but five years is. And what little bite size pieces can I work on each year and backing that out. 

And I think, sitting with someone if you don't have the money for counseling or a coach. You could talk to your doctor, your primary care physician about “I want to work on these things. I don't know where to start.” You could talk with someone at your place of worship, like what are some ways that I can work on setting goals? There are tons of things online and I don't have one that I can give, but I think that if you even look up five year blueprint, you'll find a way to fill that in; you'll find things for that online. 

And so I think just some work on goal setting. There are lots of blogs on smart goal setting and that's a whole another topic. But basically, how can we have an achievable and measurable goal that's realistic? 

If you look up smart goal setting, I think that would be a great place to start if you're doing it on your own. If you have someone at your disposal that could help counsel you, I just think accountability is really great. And so even if it's a friend or someone at work or even someone at your place of worship or a relative, get a buddy or a partner who's maybe working on some of the same stuff and keep each other accountable. 

So those are some ways that I think people can start. I know that it can be daunting. I'll give a personal example, something for me that I've been working on since I was in like second grade that I can't fix. I am a total night owl and I have been working on my sleep like forever. And of course, I got Mono because I was coming home from working like whatever, 60 hours a week, and then I was the general contractor on our house, and I would stay up all night writing emails about the house, and then I would get up early and do it all over again. I had to have that disruption of getting sick to really get serious about my sleep. I had to go see a sleep specialist. I had a light that I had to put in my face in the morning to really wake up because I do not like the morning time. And so I understand what it's like to not be able to do something that I know is good for me. I've had to sort of take certain triggers out of my life and certain cues out of my life. Like this thing at night, this cell phone at night is not good for me, and I have to not have it around after like 10 p.m. or I kind of go down a rabbit hole, my husband falls asleep and I'm like, ooh, free time. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Yeah. 


Julie La Barba

So I just want to share that I completely understand what it's like to fail. I have failed at that many times. I'm still working on that today, this week. But you know, I started to take melatonin and that did the trick for me, because for the first time, I really felt tired at night. Like, for me, I'm like a little raccoon. I come alive when the sun goes down and it's just a nightmare. With four kids, that does not work with the family. But I say second grade because I was on Girl Scouts and Brownies. I was on a Brownie field trip and I got the Night Owl Award from the moms in the cabin. And I was like, “Is that a compliment? Hang on.” No, it wasn't because I was up chattering, keeping them up. 

So I've struggled with some behavioral change things myself and I completely understand that we're human and it's innate. Some things with our temperament are innate. It may be food or maybe a lack of exercise or it may be spending. These soothing behaviors that you're talking about – or numbing behaviors – are things that we have to work really hard on. 

So I would say if you can think about, you know, this is really weird and kind of creepy, but I'll tell you, it really helps me. Get out the newspaper and read some obituaries, and read some people's obituaries and think about what do you want yours to say? What do you want to be remembered for? What do you want your kids to think of when they think of describing you or your family? I know that sounds kind of creepy, but that is really motivating to me because it keeps you really focused on the big picture. And so if you can think about your legacy and how you want people to remember you, what is it that you want to contribute? Do you want to be remembered as someone who was just an absolute helper and nurturer? Do you want to be remembered as someone who contributed to academia, or maybe, whatever profession you're in, you invented something. I don't know what it is that your listener wants, but we're all different and that's what makes the world go. So I would say, if you can really think about your legacy and that creepy obituary analogy, think about what you want to yours to say, and how can you get there? And it starts out by looking ahead about five years and backing that out. What would have to be true for somebody to write that about you? What what do you need to change to get there? And again, working on those smart goals. If you look up smart goals or the five year blueprint, these are all things that are available online; there are a variety of them. But they're all really helping you get organized and sort of writing down a plan, and it kind of goes back to cooking dinner for the week, right? I mean, you kind of have to have a plan; it's not just going to happen. And if you leave yourself kind of at risk for just, “Hey, we'll figure it out when we get there,” you're probably not going to eat the meal you envisioned or that was your goal. It's the same with our life goals. You do need to have a loose plan. And of course, things happen serendipitously, too, but I think having a loose plan is a way that we can really schedule our time in a way that matters for us. If we don't put things that matter on our calendars, other people are going to fill our calendars with stuff that doesn't matter. And that is one of the first things that I learned when I was really looking at time management. It's not about doing more stuff; it's about doing the right stuff. I hope that can sort of motivate people.


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

I think those are all great suggestions in terms of how to kind of be really practical about goal setting, whether they are habitual goals or habit change related or even bigger changes like we talked about in terms of professional growth or professional change, or maybe even starting a profession, if you are a mom who put that on the back burner so that you could care for your family. 


DR. ADRIENNE’S WORDS: “GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY”


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

And I just want to add to your great suggestion, something that we even spoke about before we started recording, which is really the power of permission. A lot of times, it just starts with giving yourself that allowance that you could do things differently and putting away those immediate barriers that come up. When we dream big or envision our lives differently, we immediately say no, we immediately say we can't and think of all the ways in which we can create barriers. And so sometimes, it's just a matter of giving yourself permission to do things differently.

And I would take even a step further to say, if you're not even in the ballpark, like you're listening to this and you're thinking to yourself, “I have no idea what I would even want if I were given permission,” I also am very much a fan of writing. It's something that I started when I was six years old, in third grade, and I've done virtually every night of my life since then. Writing has always been a way to not only process, but also to gain clarity. And so for those of you out there who want to explore this a little bit further, I do recommend a pretty journal and a pen in a color that you love. I always write in purple; I have one right here. 


Julie La Barba

I love your purple.


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Yeah, that's my favorite. And just sitting down and giving yourself time to write.


JULIE’S PARTING ADVICE: “IF YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY WANT TO DO, TRY TO STOP AND THINK ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE OFTEN TO YOU FOR.”


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

But Julie, this has been such an all encompassing and wonderful conversation. 


Julie La Barba

Well, you could probably tell I have ADD because I'm all over the place, but you're kind of allowed us to go all over the place. One last thing I was going to say is that if you're one of those people who just is like, “I have no idea what I'm good at or I have no idea what I want to do,” try to stop and think about what do people often come to you for? What skill or talent do you have that you don't even value because it's so easy for you? Maybe you make great cookies or maybe you can whip a stitch and a ham easily or maybe you give great advice or you're a good counselor even though you're not technically a counselor. What is it? 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

It’s like a kept book, right? You’re like reading the finances.


Julie La Barba

Yeah, you keep your finances pristine at your house. What are the sort of things that people ask you for advice on and come to you about over and over and over? And I guarantee, there's something that's going to pop in your head. And don't negate that as a side hustle or maybe a hobby that could become a business. And generally, those are the things that we're so good at that feels so effortless that we can really make an impact with. So think about the natural gifts you have that you may be discount because they are easy for you. Just because something's easy doesn't mean it's not valuable. I think that's really important, too, so I just want to add that.

And I love your journaling. I think that's super valuable, too; I used to journal a lot. Since I had kids, I have several journals with like, “Oh, this is their journal, it’s like the first three months of their life, and now they're 18.” I think I kept up with it as well as you have. But journaling for yourself is different, and carving out a little time for that each day is very powerful. 

So thank you so much for letting me just have fun and talk with you. I really enjoyed it. I can't wait to read your book. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Yeah. Oh, thank you. It's been a wonderful conversation. Thank you for being here. Let our listeners know if they want to tune in to your podcast and learn more about you. Just tell us a little bit about how we can connect. 


Julie La Barba

Sure. My website is https://www.pagingdr.mom. It's actually a “.mom”. So https://www.pagingdr.mom. And my podcast, you can find anywhere you listen to podcasts, including Apple and Spotify, and that's Paging Dr. Mom all spelled out. So it's Paging Doctor Mom. And I would love for you to listen and write in with suggestions or things you want to hear about. We've had chefs and authors and a lot of people who are not doctors. We've also had some doctor dads on who give great perspective from their side. But the main thing is that women are juggling a lot right now and we all feel like we're on call 24/7 no matter if we're getting a paycheck or not. And so come and listen and realize that you're not alone. You'll learn a bunch of fun hacks in the process. We'd love to have any listeners who want to join us. Thank you. 


Dr. Adrienne Youdim

Of course. We'll definitely tag all that information in the show notes. Thank you again for being here and thank you to the listeners for your time. Time is our most precious resource, so I appreciate you spending some of that preciousness with us. You can follow me on Instagram, @dradrienneyoudim, and find out more about the book, the blog, and all things health and nutrition at https://www.dradrienneyoudim.com.

Thank you, Julie. I look forward to reconnecting. 


Julie La Barba

My pleasure. Thank you.