Dr. Daria Long Gillespie is known popularly as Dr. Daria. She trained at Yale and Harvard Medical School before becoming an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. She is a frequent contributor on CNN, Fox News, The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors, among others. She also writes The Busy Woman’s Guide to Health and Sanity for the Huffington Post and writes for other publications like Share.com and The Dr. Oz Blog. Dr. Daria’s new book is called Mom Hacks: 100+ Science-Backed Shortcuts to Reclaim Your Body, Raise Awesome Kids, and Be Unstoppable. She currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, a renowned hand surgeon, and her two children.
Welcome, Dr. Daria. I'm so excited to have you on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.”
Daria Long Gillespie: Thank you, Zibby. I am honored to be here.
Zibby: In your introduction to Mom Hacks, which I loved, you say that when you found some startling facts about mothers’ health, you became really worried for moms. You cited that a mom’s risk of obesity rises seven percent for every child she has. Moms are statistically more likely to have poor nutrition, get less exercise, have what you said was “way less sleep,” and face alarmingly increasing rates of pregnancy-related complications and death in the United States. Tell me, is this actually what led you to write the book? How did the whole thing happen?
Daria: You are exactly right. Those statistics were pretty shocking. It’s right. Seven percent increase of metabolic syndrome -- which isn't just obesity, it’s also cholesterol and high blood pressure -- for every child they have, which is crazy to me. Zibby, I'm going to take it a step back. I was totally unaware of those statistics before I became a mom. It’s pretty eye-opening. We anecdotally might think, “Well, yeah. We get less sleep,” but to see the statistics against it was pretty shocking. What first opened my eyes to it was I was pregnant. I was talking to a girlfriend of mine and joking about how I couldn't run as well now that I was seven months pregnant. My bump was bouncing.
She shortly said, “Enjoy that while you can because once you have a baby, you're never going to get to work out again.” It was probably the first time that I heard that message. It started to sink in. I realized you would hear that. “You're never going to sleep again, or eat well again, or eat anything but leftover chicken McNuggets at the kitchen counter again once you have children.” I brushed them off at first. Whatever. They're naysayers. Whatever. I can do this. When my friend told me that, it struck a chord. That's when I started doing some research. That's when I found these statistics.
Zibby: Interesting. You also had an episode in medical school with your own health struggles which you wrote about in the book. That affected you profoundly as well. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Daria: Absolutely. You're exactly right. That episode in residency actually was what gave me the cojones and the confidence that I could actually do something when I was pregnant. Back up to when I was in residency, I'd been totally healthy. Then suddenly I woke up, seemingly one day, and my hands and feet were swollen. My knees were swollen. All my joints were red and inflamed. I went, over the course of probably two weeks, from being able to run three or four miles a day, because I've always been a runner, to the point where I couldn't even stand up to examine my patients. I would sit on a garbage can or do something to be able to get off my feet because I was in so much pain. I went to a bunch of doctors.
They ended up diagnosing me with this really chronic form of destructive autoimmune arthritis called psoriatic arthritis. There's nobody in my family who has it. Nobody knew why I got it. They ended up putting me on an injectable medication. I was giving myself an injection twice a week. That helped my symptoms, but now I was giving myself shots twice a week and was told that, “This is the way your health is going to be for the rest of your life. You're going to need these shots for the rest of your life.” I did not like that answer. I decided to start digging and doing a little research. That's what initially started me looking at all of this. Things that ended up later someday becoming hacks in my book were just solutions I was desperate to find and started really making drastic changes to my health and my life. I remember one person, when I told him I was going to this, they said, “That’ll never work.”
Zibby: Really supportive friends. Got to love it.
Daria: Thanks for the vote of confidence. It worked, Zibby. Over the next few years I was able to wean myself off of my medications. I came off them. I haven't been on them since. Really quick caveat, I am not saying that medications are bad. I am a western-trained physician. I went to Yale, like you, and did that training. I highly value that. I also truly believe that there is a significant place for lifestyle and other significant holistic changes, and especially in my case. All of that to say I'd been told no once. I found a solution. When I got told that same no as a pregnant woman, it was déjà vu all over again. Time to roll up my sleeves. I've figured this out before. Let me see if I can do it again.
Zibby: Meanwhile, I can't believe you were still running at seven months pregnant. You should've seen me at seven months pregnant with all my various pregnancies. I was not running.
Daria: It was a bounce. By pregnancy two, I was bouncing by [indiscernible]. Everything is a little looser the second end of pregnancy as you know I'm sure.
Zibby: After you did all this research, you decided to put all these hacks into a book so that you could help other moms use these lifestyle techniques to be healthy and have a better quality of life. You said in your book, “Hacks don't add to your to-do list. They make it easier to do,” which is great. Nobody needs more stuff to have to do.
Daria: I don't have time to go pee in private. I don't have that luxury. I had to make things very easy too and very actionable.
Zibby: How old are your kids?
Daria: Five and two.
Zibby: I have five, four, and then eleven-year-old twins, so I get it.
Daria: Oh, my goodness. Yes, you so get it. When I was in the ER, I felt this sense, as a physician, of being really in control. I knew whatever came through those doors, I knew that I got this. I can handle it. Then when I was a patient and when I was a mom especially, I didn't feel that way. I saw my own patients and my friends who were moms, we all were in a “I don't got this” stage. That's really why I said how can I take that mentality that helps me succeed -- it’s total chaos in the ER, which really isn't that different from mothering many days -- and how do I create a system so that we all have that “I’ve got this” in our lives as moms?
Zibby: So you wrote the handbook, which is great.
Daria: It was everything I wished I had about seven years ago.
Zibby: Love it. I started flipping through your nutrition section. Ironically, my kids had come back from a birthday party and I had stolen one of the party favor cookies, this sugar cookie of school bus that I didn't want them to know that I'd even taken. I had that in my mouth as I'm reading your book. I'm like, “This is not good.” [laughs]
Daria: You are exactly right. You bring up the point. Moms don't need another book saying don't eat cookies. Yeah, gee, thanks. I didn't know that.
Zibby: I know that. [laughs]
Daria: Exactly. We don't need another thing saying just use more willpower, Zibby. Maybe you should've just tried harder, or those really helpful articles I find that are like, “Don't eat chocolate. Replace it with carob and a celery.” Again, not helpful to me in my life. One of the most fascinating things about the book, there are a couple of different themes. One is how influenced we are by our environment. We like to think we’re really intentional and deliberate. Your environment makes a huge difference in what we do. That can be a bad thing when you have cookies sitting there. If they're not sitting there, it’s actually a really good thing. We can leverage that. How can I turn that, what is otherwise a disadvantage, into an advantage? Digging through the research, there was one study that showed that when food or chocolate -- all behavioral psychologists use M&M’s apparently as their study thing of choice. Don't ask me why.
Zibby: There's some secret agreement between M&M’s and psychologists.
Daria: It says something about chocolate and M&M’s. There's a bigger lesson there. Maybe that's my next book. They found that when the chocolate was six feet away, i.e. you had to actually stand up to get it, people ate seventy percent less. They didn't say that they used any more willpower. Seventy percent. I had a friend who had texted me. The text was, “OMG. I just ate all my child’s Halloween candy after they left for school.” I told her this study. What we did is what I tell people, put one obstacle between yourself and the cookies or the M&M’s or the chips or whatever is your temptation of choice. I had her put it up on a higher shelf. She could still reach it because kids still probably want that in the house. She had to actually get a step stool to reach it. She texted me about a month later saying, “I haven't eaten Halloween candy in a month. I forgot about it. I didn't even think about it.”
Zibby: I don't think that would be enough for me. I will go down a flight of stairs and up a step stool if I know it’s there. My there's something wrong with me.
Daria: It’s interesting. People say that. Even people who say that end up eating around twenty to thirty percent less, which is still a big deal in terms of calories.
Zibby: That will help. You're absolutely right. Why do you think it is? You have all these amazing science-backed tips for eating well. I don't mean “well” like it’s so binary, you have to do one thing or the other, but just to improve everything. Sometimes the emotions -- I feel like moms are particularly susceptible to this especially being so sleep-deprived and needy for some sort of pick-me-up at the end of the day when the kids go to sleep. What can we do about the emotional component of the eating? We all know that it’s not good to eat this stuff.
Daria: That's an entirely separate point. I still say put it away, but then you're right. You're getting to a much deeper reason. We as humans are driven to do that. They say when you eat that kind of sugar and fat and salt, it activates the same part of your brain as the addictive drugs do. For millennia, that stuff was in short supply. Our caveman grandmother, even if she wanted to, couldn't go binge on cookies if she was mad at our caveman grandfather for being a literal Neanderthal. Our brains are wired, it’s just that now we live in an environment when it’s possible.
The main thing in that case is to try to figure out why. Why are you trying to eat the cookies then? Is it because you actually have to go do laundry and you don't want to do laundry? Stopping and eating cookies is a great way to bide your time and procrastinate. Is it from boredom? Is it disappointment or upset? What is the emotion? Is it just that you need a break? I know as moms especially, we think, “I can't take a break right now. I have to do laundry, kid’s work. I have to go grocery shopping. I need to send out these emails for work.” The food actually is your moment of having a break. Then find something else to give you a break and give yourself permission to do that. Instead of five minutes eating chocolate cookies, is it a walk? Is it watching some silly video on Facebook that makes you laugh or calling a friend? Giving yourself permission to do that other reward, often after it you'll find you don't actually want the cookie at all.
Zibby: The thing that I do, and I don't know about you, but I have actually found that reading, that’s the treat I look forward to all day. When I can get in bed and start reading again?
Daria: I love how you have a podcast on moms don't have time to read books, but yet reading is what you love. Obviously, you enjoy it. It’s a time issue, right?
Zibby: It’s a time issue, yes.
Daria: Giving yourself permission to do that, that's okay. It’s okay to take that time. I think that's the main reason. If you stop and try to address the emotions, and sometime when you're not in the throws of those emotions, figure out, take two minutes -- moms who are listening right now, what are your usual triggers to reach for the ice cream or the cookies? What helps you feel better? Let's be honest, eating the cookie doesn't actually feel better. At the end, you feel more guilty. The problem is still there in the first place.
Zibby: Well, it feels kind of good. [laughs]
Daria: It feels good for half a second. I get that.
Zibby: About a second. I know. This goes into also what you're saying about exercising and how those five minutes that you were saying read or do something for yourself, you have us reframe exercise into small, achievable goals. We don't have to go spinning and dance cardio and killing ourselves. Even five minutes a day is good. It’s good enough. It’s better than zero.
Daria: It’s so much better than zero.
Zibby: One time I was playing doubles tennis. I was like, “Is this even really exercise? I'm barely moving.” Then I was saying, “I could be just sitting here.” [laughs] Moms are so hard on themselves. I know I can be hard on myself. I'm sure you can. If it’s not up to some sort of pre-kid goal of “I'm running six miles,” is one mile even really worth my time? I think the answer is absolutely yes, right? Don't you agree?
Daria: Zibby, your answer is a thousand percent yes. A mom friend, she and I were on the phone. She says, “I didn't work out this morning because I didn't have thirty minutes.” Exercise is not binary. There is no exercise place that if you only worked out for seven or seventeen or twenty-seven minutes that they're like, “Nope. You don't get to cross it off. It doesn't count.” It doesn't exist. In fact, studies show that when women are told “Just exercise in seven-minute increments and if you can do it multiple times a day, great, but just aim for seven minutes,” those women exercised more per week and actually lost more weight than women who were told to go exercise for a thirty to forty-minute aerobics class. You actually end up working out more, which is a crazy thing. Think about it.
Whether have to get up in the morning or you're tired, I can do it for seven minutes. I am not telling people go for seven minutes and then hopefully you'll stay longer. I don't want people to do that. Then if they don't, they feel bad. The point of hacks is it’s tiny things. Why are they tiny? Because you can do them. I want you to do them. I want you to succeed. That's an endorphin bump. Just like you go for your cookies, you're going for endorphins. If you can check off “M y goal was a five-minute or a seven-minute walk, I did it,” you get an endorphin bump. You realize that you are a person who can go for a walk in the morning. Sure, eventually that will probably increase. That doesn't matter to me. I just want you getting that sense of success. It is just as good for your health. Make it small. Make that the goal. You'll realize that you can do that.
Zibby: I downloaded this app recently, a Fitbit app. They have seven minute-workouts. Each one is a minute. I actually did it once or twice with my kids too because they thought it was so fun. I know one of your hacks was giving kids some sort of special toy or something when Mommy exercises. “Here kids, here's your special something.” If you can have them workout with you, that also can help. Both are great.
Daria: That's a great way. That's even better. Ideally when you're exercising, you're getting your kids to exercise. Then you're teaching them. Not only are they getting fitness, they're learning that it’s fun. It’s a thing you can do as a family. Once or twice every weekend we go on a hike together. It’s nothing intense because I have a five and a two-year-old. It’s a two to three-mile hike. We get out. We do it. Doing your videos with them, that's amazing.
In terms of the toy, I actually have this kitchen that I got secondhand from a friend. I have this unfinished section of my basement. I have a treadmill. I have a little pen down there so that my child can't get out of the pen. My brother says I put my child in jail, kind of looks like that. He has the kitchen in there. He loves to play with the kitchen. He has all sorts of random toys in there. The only time he gets to play with that kitchen is when I'm running. He actually does look forward to it. Does it mean I can run for forty-five minutes? No. It means I get usually about seven minutes and I have to stop because he's throwing something out of the pen and he wants it. Again, that's okay. They have these special toys. It keeps them entertained at least ‘til I can get a seven or maybe a fifteen, twenty if I'm lucky, run. It makes a big difference.
Zibby: That's great. The sleep section of your book had so many helpful things, not for kids, for parents. Kids too. I shouldn't say not for kids, for both. I am used to reading advice books about kid’s sleep. I am less used to finding information that helps me with sleep. I feel like it’s a lost cause. Your advice is it’s not a lost cause. Last night my daughter was up for forty minutes dressed up like a wolf. She came in and had put on a wolf costume in the middle of the night. I don't know. I don't know what happened. It took forty minutes to get her back to bed. By the time I got back to bed, I was thinking about all the stuff I had to do all day. I couldn't stop. I actually thought about how you wanted us to set a worry time or have a worry lockbox before bedtime. I'm going to set all my worries aside. I should've done it ahead of time. I really appreciated that tip and all your other tips on sleep.
Daria: That's wonderful. I was going to ask you which one was your favorite. You think that was your favorite on sleep, was the worry lockbox?
Zibby: Yeah because then it’s out of the way. That helps just with life. I'm a worrier. My grandma says I have her worry gene. Therapists might call it something else. Having a set time to put it all down and get it out so it doesn't creep in, otherwise it’ll come out. It’ll come out anyway if you don't deal with it. That was my favorite tip that you gave.
Daria: It absolutely will. The worry lockbox is great for anybody who’s struggling, like all of us. Of course after you became a mom, there's so much more to worry about, plus the things you already worried about before. That’s why I love the worry lockbox. You can spend five minutes. Put it all in there. Write everything. Don't censor yourself. Then at the end of that time, I'm done. It’s locked away. That worry is locked away. I can look at it again tomorrow. I can write more about it tomorrow, but now is not the time. It’s helpful both for the day and when you can't sleep. That said, yes you are right. It’s better if you do it proactively. If there's something keeping you awake at night, you can get out your little worry journal -- journal, not your phone because your phone has too much blue light -- write it down. Dump it in there. Let it take your burden right then and there. Leave it there. Then you can go back to that.
Zibby: Another one of my favorite tips was in your resilience section. It was the test of will it bother you in five years? Whatever’s bothering you right now, is this really going to bother you in five years? If it isn't, then just move on.
Daria: Right. Let it go. How often do we hold onto all those little tiny things that -- you can know, “I think I was mad at that person about that five years ago or ten years ago. I have no idea why.” It’s silly to hold onto it. That's one of my instant de-angering techniques. It can be hard. That's why I usually need to do the breathing exercise first. Often if I'm already angry, will it bother me in five years? I don't know, but it bothers me right now. Do my breathing exercise first, in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, out for four seconds, hold it for four seconds. Do that a couple times. Then I can say, “Will it bother me in five years?” I'm going to let it go.
Zibby: Daria, you are a doctor. You're a mom. You run. You're on TV all the time. You write. What hacks are getting you through life? What are your top three for you?
Daria: Actually, you said the run as if it’s an accomplishment. The run is the hack. It is the hack. People need to know that. I am no superwoman. I don't have any of this figured out. I just have figured out the things that help me to keep my sanity. The run is indeed how I do all those things. There were many times that I was stuck with writer’s block or I just didn't care anymore about the book. I wanted it to be done. I reached a point, maybe that's when I wanted to reach for the cookie or something. I'd go for a run. For other women, that's maybe something different. Maybe that's a walk. Maybe it’s a Zumba class or a video or whatever. Everybody's different. That's another key part of my book. If you hate running, then please don't try. Do something you like, like the doubles tennis. That's fine. For me, the running is a really big deal in terms of keeping my sanity. To help me do that, I have all my playlists.
You probably noticed throughout the book, I'm always quoting song lyrics or things like that. I've created these playlists. I have a running playlist that I only let myself listen to when I run. Now I've shared it. For anybody who orders the book, they get access to five different Mom Hacks playlists. It gets me going. It’s the good memories. It makes me go. It makes me go run, not go the other thing. As a mom, we always have potty breaks on the mind. For me, running is a huge deal. Having that music to help me do that, makes a very big difference. Exercise is truly how I keep my sanity and keep anxiety and all those worries at bay. There's a study from Duke. They gave women who had depression, either were given an antidepressant or were put on an exercise regimen. Both of those groups had the same rate of remission of depression. Exercise, it gives you those endorphins. If there is a magic pill for mental health -- not saying that people still don't need medications of course -- but exercise is massive for that. That's one.
Two is my routine. I need to have a little routine in the morning. Every morning I get up at the same time. I go for a run. Then I come and maybe catch up on email for about a half hour. Then I really get into anything creative I need to do. I have to have that. Otherwise with our days as moms, our day gets out of hand. That all starts before my kids wake up. That's been really important to me as well.
Zibby: What time do you wake up?
Daria: I get up at five fifteen. I'm not a morning person. How did I do that? I hacked my way to getting up at five fifteen. If I had my way, I'd stay up ‘til two in the morning and then love to sleep in. With kids, if I don't work out in the morning, I'm not going to have time to do it later. Again, tiny changes. I didn't just one day say I'm going to wake up at five fifteen and go run three miles. I pushed my sleeping a little bit earlier by fifteen minutes. I'd actually say I would just run a mile or I would do something else I enjoyed. Sometimes I'd get up and meditate for ten minutes. First, I was just getting used to waking up early. Sometimes I would get up and read and have coffee and get that in. Once I started getting up earlier, then I started adding in the exercise in short increments and building it up. It took about six weeks for me to get to be able to do that, if not more. That's okay. Again, don't say tomorrow, “I'm going to wake up at five AM. I'm going to go run three miles.” You'll be miserable. You won't do it. You'll eventually give up after three days and feel badly about yourself. Do it incrementally.
Zibby: Do you have any advice to other aspiring authors out there?
Daria: That brings up so many different thoughts. To aspiring authors, speak with other authors. There's a lot of different author groups. Learn from other people who have gone through it. Then just start writing. I've been doing media for several years. It took me several years to really find my voice. That takes time. The only way to find your voice is to just write a whole lot of things. I wrote a blog the other day. I wrote it really quickly. My friend had emailed me back. She said, “This is great. Do you realize that two years ago this would've taken you two weeks to write and now you pulled it off in about thirty minutes?” It’s practice. Writing, like anything else, takes practice to do it and to find your voice. That's the number one thing I would tell any aspiring writer. Just get started.
Zibby: Awesome. I know you have to run. Thank you so much for being on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.” Thank you for all the tips. I'm going to be thinking of you as I go about my day today and every day with all the helpful things. Thank you.
Daria: Thank you. One more tip for the morning. If you want to wake up, this is a really easy thing everybody can do. Most of us wake up and we keep it dark for a while because that bright light kind of hurts. What I want people to do to start making it easier for them to wake up, first thing you do in the morning, get bright light. Yes, it hurts for about a hot second, but that bright light shuts off your body’s melatonin production, so you have more energy in that moment. Not only that, it resets your body clock. It’s like doing that hard reset on your iPhone. It means you're going to have an easier time falling asleep that night and an easier time waking up the next morning. The first thing I do is I get my phone. In the morning, I look right at my phone or I flip on my bathroom lights bright. That is a key part of my routine, like a biohack that everybody can do that is no effort at all.
Zibby: Excellent. I can do that.
Daria: Little tips. Zibby, thank you so much. It was really a pleasure.
Zibby: Thank you so much. For me too. Thanks so much. Have a great day.
Daria: You too. Take care.