Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community

 

Health’s kitchen

Project fosters wholesome cooking

Chloe Chien, MD, helped design a healthy-cooking class that is held at a Menlo Park community center.

   

Chloe Chien, MD, went to medical school because she wanted to “comfort, heal and save lives.” But more than a year ago, the young doctor shocked her family and friends by withdrawing her applications to medical residency programs and turning her attention to creating a healthy-cooking course.

“Friends keep asking, ‘Don’t you want to practice medicine? Don’t you want to go back?’” said Chien, who graduated from the School of Medicine in 2013. “I tell them I’m practicing the best medicine ever. It’s preventive, it’s inspiring, and it’s joyful. It’s so much more impactful than prescribing medicine one patient at a time.”

The cooking program, which focuses on making healthy food to lose weight, launched last summer. It germinated as a project that Chien and Anna Rakoczy, a former lawyer, developed in a class at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. After the class ended, they continued to work on the project.

Now community members can sign up for weekly cooking classes designed to promote sustainable weight loss through learning about nutrition, using unprocessed ingredients and following healthy recipes. The classes take place in a Menlo Park community center kitchen, and students go home after each session with several days’ worth of the food they’ve prepared as a team.

“Telling patients that they need to diet or lose weight is not very helpful,” Chien said. “Everybody knows this already.”

The program, called Homemade, has the support of primary care physicians who sometimes refer patients to the class. During the 10-week class, no one gets weighed. Having fun is encouraged, Chien said.

Preventing problems

The program grew out of Chien’s desire to help prevent lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

“I had proposed to work on an obesity/diabetes project and was recruiting team members,” said Chien, who took the course while pursuing an MBA at the same time she was enrolled in the School of Medicine. Along with Rakoczy, a few other business students joined the project team, as well as two other medical students who were also taking the course.

“We were all united by the same passion to effect some kind of primary care reform,” Chien said. “It never occurred to me that I would jump ship and do this full time.”

She was motivated by the suffering caused by preventable diseases that she witnessed first-hand while treating patients.

“Throughout med school I became increasingly bothered by lifestyle diseases—chronic conditions, obesity, diabetes, heart conditions,” Chien said. “They are expensive, difficult to treat and demoralizing, yet at the same time preventable.”

Making food fun

At a recent class in Menlo Park, the community center kitchen was filled with adult students wrapped in aprons and wielding large knives. There was a lot of chopping—of brightly colored vegetables, greens, red peppers and garlic—stirring and chatting.

“I smelled the class,” said Darcy Collet, a mother of three, explaining how she found out about the program. Her daughter takes dance classes down the hall. “It smelled so good I signed up with my dad. With Homemade I’ve lost seven pounds in six weeks. And my kids love the food I bring home.”

Chien said she believes most students who have been in the class for more than four weeks have lost weight without dieting. “They’re reporting improved blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels. That is thrilling for me. I know how hard it is to control those with medication. They’re eating good food, having fun and losing weight without even trying. That blew my mind.”

“They have created an extremely novel and promising approach to the obesity problem,” said Sang-ick Chang, MD, assistant dean for clinical affairs at the medical school and a clinical professor of medicine. “It’s a fabulous example of the innovation of Stanford students.”

Christopher Gardner, PhD, associate professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, added, “After decades of public health messages telling people to choose a healthier diet and largely failing, Homemade is enabling people to make those choices. What Chloe and Anna have created is inspiring.”

For more information about Homemade, go to hip.stanford.edu or homemade-cooking.org.

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