Dr. Katie Takayasu, PLANTS FIRST

Dr. Katie Takayasu, PLANTS FIRST

Zibby is joined by Dr. Katie Takayasu to discuss her book, Plants First: A Physician’s Guide to Wellness Through a Plant-Forward Diet, which was inspired by her own food journey. The two talk about how Dr. Katie’s experiences in college, medical school, and her residency led her to a plant-forward diet, and how her family approaches food in their home. Dr. Katie also shares why she advises avoiding foods that cause inflammation, her takeaways from dealing with insomnia, and where listeners can find her and more of her recipes.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Dr. Katie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your book, Plants First: A Physician’s Guide to Wellness Through a Plant-Forward Diet.

Dr. Katie Takayasu: I’m so glad to be here. Thank you for having me. This is fantastic.

Zibby: As Dr. Katie knows, I am currently in the car doing this podcast, which is literally the first time I’ve ever done this. I’m trying to fit in going to a kid’s sporting event and also my work, so here we are.

Dr. Katie: I just love it. I find often that moms are not as real with themselves as we really need to be. This feels very real, so thank you.

Zibby: It’s perfect for your book, which is also very real, as you share a lot of really personal stuff in the beginning before you give us, basically, the secrets to better health and living and wellness and eating and balance and all the rest. Why don’t you tell listeners a little bit about your book and your journey to getting to this place in your life? I found that absolutely fascinating.

Dr. Katie: Thank you so much. It was so important for me to share my own journey as part of this process because I think all of us, when we see people who seem to “have it right” or have it all going on, we forget that everybody struggles. Everybody has moments in their life that are unbelievably — just change things and set them on different pathways. My journey started out in Northwest Ohio, literally among some cornfields. As the daughter of a family doctor, I saw what it meant to be a real doctor as a kid and this beautiful way that you could take care of someone. Through that, I think through mostly boredom, actually, I struggled with my weight when I was a kiddo. It really caused me a lot of shame and embarrassment. It wasn’t until medical school when I really felt the pressure of just all the things coming down on me all at once that I recognized what it meant to actually feel so anxious that I wasn’t hungry anymore.

I so remember coming home that first break from school and my grandmother saying, “Gosh, you look great.” I’m like, oh, my god, this is coming at the highest cost. Everything smelled like formaldehyde to me. Then I got through different stages of that, mostly surrounded by community and figuring out what was going to actually support me and started eating a little bit healthier. Then I got to residency. I wanted to be pregnant with my little people. I wanted to become a mom. That wasn’t an easy journey either. I found myself in a yoga class kind of broken in a place and at the same time, started acupuncture and stopped eating hospital food and doing all the things that I think really, now, lead to a very holistic lifestyle. That’s how I came to this practice of integrative medicine, of seeing the whole person and treating not just things with drugs, but actually getting to the root cause and understanding, this is how real life is. This is how we need to make it work. I have walked for the walk, for sure, as well.

Zibby: Wow. I was moved by your story, and especially the part where you were trying to navigate this very, very stressful job and how you showed up sometimes to be a resident and you didn’t even know you were going to be overnight working for thirty hours straight. You couldn’t even go to the bathroom without pretending you weren’t. The nurse who was calling you, which was very impressive, by the way, that you could even stop in the middle.

Dr. Katie: I know. That’s a conversation for moms. You can stop midstream. Kids make everything different.

Zibby: Impressive. Also, just knowing how intense that is and how honest you were about the fact that you and your husband, all you could do on the one day off is just eat pizza and red wine on the couch. How else do you recoup from such an intense thing? Not to mention the emotional — about doctors, especially the rotation you were in, the young kids and everything. How do you separate that? How do you possibly build a wall and then be like, “Okay, now I’m going to go out to dinner?” when you’ve had this really intense, on-the-job feeling? Tell me a little about that because I always wonder that about doctors.

Dr. Katie: I think it comes back to this whole mentality of work hard and play hard and pushing the body to its limits. There’s supposed to be some amazing thing that you learn about yourself when you push yourself beyond the capacity of yourself to even take care. That’s what residency showed me. As much as we want to learn and we want to help and we want to become this noble thing in life, for some, it comes at a high cost. I often wonder — the purpose of that high cost is for me to be here doing this. For that, maybe it is worth it, but could we make that journey a little bit more gentler for those who coming up behind us? It is true. There were so many moments when I was just so tired that it didn’t matter what you would put in front of me, any kind of comfort. There was no comfort other than lying flat and trying to sleep. Of course, at that time, I was also anxious. Try to mix extreme fatigue with anxiousness. All at once, you have a recipe for insomnia. That was the first time that I also struggled with my own sleep. It’s not an easy thing to unravel. It’s slow and steady things that I figured out along the way that made the difference, ultimately. I was thinking today about you and about this beautiful podcast that you have, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I thought about, why do we read? I read for comfort. I read because it’s information. I genuinely love to learn. Ultimately, it’s because it’s a source of comfort for me. I feel like in this day and age, we don’t, as people, have time for comfort, and moms especially because of our demands. I want more comfort in my life. I want my patients to have that too.

Zibby: They can just listen to the podcast, then. There you go.

Dr. Katie: There you go. That’s right.

Zibby: I should just market through doctors. It’s a missed opportunity.

Dr. Katie: I know. It’s totally true that finding the people that you connect with and that know the message is good. That’s really where Plants First started, is in my mind with this idea of, I’m going to stop eating hospital food because hospital food does not make me feel well. I remember we would get free food at Columbia. At the time, it would taste so good. You’d be like, oh, my god, I just want these burritos, because it would be comfort again. Then you’d feel terrible two hours later, and so tired. I started packing my lunch. That was a really crystalizing moment for me. One, because it caused me to have to be prepared to do that; probably, two, strengthened my immune system because I was at risk of foodborne illness at any time because I was carrying it around without access to refrigerator, which is now kind of gross. At the time, I think it really showed me the power of what we put in our bodies three times a day, plus or minus a snack, and how powerful that can be as far as controlling — not even controlling, but just helping mood and stress and anxiety, our digestive issues, our fatigue, all the things that we nebulously look at. We’re like, why do I not feel well?

Zibby: You make such a good case for avoiding inflammation. I’m like, okay, okay. I get it. I get it. I know. It’s so bad, but it’s so easy. It’s so easy to cause inflammation in your body. Even just something as simple as stress, of course, but then it’s so easy to eat wrong. It’s so easy to slip into these habits. You have your whole little pyramid on how we can avoid doing this and what we can do better and the things that we should think about adding versus the things that we have to restrict.

Dr. Katie: Absolutely. I love that whole idea of crowding out. I say this as a mom who has two little boys who love to eat things like Pringles and soda. We don’t categorically have any forbidden foods in my house. Everything is welcome, but it’s everything in the right place, the right time after you’ve eaten something that actually nourishes the body. When I have that rule at home, it tends to work out just fine. My kids don’t feel deprived. They understand that certain foods are more treat foods or snack foods as opposed to real foods. It’s that crowding-out mentality that prevents this idea of restriction. You’ve been so open. I love how open you’ve been with the realness of your life and how things have played out for you in life. I know that you’ve talked, too, about this restriction mindset and the difference between that and something that incorporates more foods, more generosity with oneself. It’s that grace that we need.

Zibby: It’s so true. Restriction doesn’t really get me anywhere.

Dr. Katie: No. It just makes you upset.

Zibby: Yes, even when I’m like, I think I’m just going to not eat carbs today. Then next thing you know — I didn’t even want them. It’s just as soon as I said no, I was like, now I better have them. It’s so messed up.

Dr. Katie: It’s totally forbidden fruit. The whole idea in Plants First is, let’s talk about inflammation. Let’s talk about good inflammation. There actually is good inflammation in the body that you need. Then there’s the really not-so-helpful chronic inflammation, which is what most of us feel on a regular basis. Then use an anti-inflammatory diet with some caveats to make it applicable to real life, to real living. Then let’s move from there with that eighty/twenty mindset that you don’t need to be perfect. You only need to do a really good job about eighty percent of the time. That creates so much grace and space in my life for — next week is my kids’ birthday. We’re going to eat cake. It’s going to be awesome.

Zibby: Aw. How old are they turning?

Dr. Katie: I have twin boys who are turning ten. You know. That’s a really big deal.

Zibby: It is a very big deal, yes. I have twins who are almost fifteen.

Dr. Katie: Fifteen.

Zibby: I know. I can’t even believe it. It’s crazy. Twins, which probably do not help with your insomnia, by the way, having twin boys.

Dr. Katie: Honestly, most of the insomnia started after there were just a couple of very, at the time, seemingly innocent life changes that all compiled at the same time. Then I felt this, oh, gosh, my sleep is disrupted. What’s going to happen at work tomorrow? Am I going to be really tired? What if I’m short with the kids? Then all at once, this anxiety fills itself. Then everything is scarier at night. All these life circumstances get us into a place where if there’s anything unbalanced or a little bit not completely in check, it becomes scarier and out of control. That’s how insomnia starts for so many people. It’s very innocent. It’s just worry, worry about not being able to regulate things.

Zibby: When I wake up at four, I want to get out of bed and go. I’ve had to do these breathing exercises to myself every night. I’m going to take a breath that takes ten seconds. I’m just going to do this until I fall asleep because I’m not going to let myself get out of bed.

Dr. Katie: If we can police the mind, especially when it comes to sleep, about relaxation and get out of the headspace of thinking, often, the body just knows what to do. That’s also a big premise of what I talk about in the book. We need to create the circumstances in our life that actually allow us to succeed. Overthinking and overdoing and overjudging is a chronic problem for many of us who are high-achieving women and high-achieving people. I always say at nighttime, it’s not what wakes you up. It’s what keeps you awake. You might wake up because you roll over in bed or your bed partner snores or you have to go to the bathroom or whatever. Going to the bathroom at night doesn’t keep you awake for three hours. It’s the thinking. It’s the thinking that ensues thereafter. There, you find the problem. I love breathing exercises. Something as simple as imagining numbers and where you’re sending your breath in your body and really being present with it is often enough to short-circuit that unhelpful part of the brain that just wants to fire because we want to being human doings, not human beings.

Zibby: Yes, very true. You also give a lot of really amazing-looking recipes, particularly, the chocolate mousse. Why do I go right to the most decadent of all these recipes?

Dr. Katie: Because it’s really delicious. That’s why.

Zibby: Extra-dark mousse. What I also liked is there aren’t so many recipes. Some cookbooks, you’re overwhelmed. What would I ever make first? Not only do you have just the right amount of recipes, but then you give us, day one, day two, day three. The way you do it, I was like, you know what, I can actually do this. These recipes, these sound really good. These meals sound good. How great to wake up to a morning glory muffin or this granola that you make versus the banana that I grab.

Dr. Katie: Food is information. Food is love. Food is comfort. Food is a process. Cooking can be, actually, very helpful for people as a therapeutic exercise. I really never understood that until I discovered my love of being in the kitchen, which is kind of new for me. That wasn’t a thing that I had prior to five years ago. The way that we fuel our bodies with food really matters. It’s that magical balance of fiber, fat, and protein, along with flavor, as those in my circle like to say, that really makes food so worthwhile and so nourishing. That’s the difference between grabbing a banana and eating a morning glory muffin, for instance. First of all, the morning glory muffins are kind of magic. I just have to say, if you’re going to make one recipe for your family, that’s the one to start with because it’s really tasty. People love it. It’s not super hard. You can freeze it, which also makes it really great for grab and go if you need to make a double batch and store them.

That’s the difference between eating something like that, which is actually not that big, and a big banana. A banana is only fiber. There is no protein. There is no fat. There’s nothing to anchor the energy of that carbohydrate. Therefore, you have a different response in the body. In the end, it all comes down to biochemistry. What is this food actually doing to my body? Then when you have the right balance for you, and everybody’s a little bit different, then your body rewards you. You feel great. Your hunger is satiated for several hours. If you ever eat a meal or snack and you’re not hungry for six hours or more, you know you overdid it. If you eat something and you’re hungry forty-five minutes or an hour later, then you also know that you didn’t do it quite right for yourself. That causes pause for me. When I eat something and I feel that way, I’m like, darn it. What was it about that meal or snack that wasn’t quite right? Then I go back and try to even find what works for me. It’s a personal journey.

Zibby: This is off topic, but do you still play the piano?

Dr. Katie: Oh, yeah.

Zibby: Yeah?

Dr. Katie: Yeah. I went home last weekend to my family’s house for a wedding while my parents were at church so that I had time for myself just for me. I sat down in front of the piano and just played whatever was there. I had just gone to a wedding, so I was really inspired by the music. I started to sing. That was a big part of me growing up with my family. We had a little string quintet. We used to play for weddings. We have a lot of wedding-appropriate music. That brings so much joy. I just sat there and played the piano. I was reminded again of that theme of comfort. It was so comforting for me to be there for myself. I was only there for me. It was wonderful. In my mind, I want to be back in that space so much more often than I give myself the space for these days.

Zibby: I love that. Whether it’s books or piano or exercise or yoga or whatever — I know you’ve had such a great relationship with yoga and everything. Just finding what works for you and that you can somehow fit in with your life, it makes all the difference.

Dr. Katie: Oh, yeah. I call that your wellness intuition. It’s what you know to be true about what makes you feel good. It’s that particular amount of protein every day. It’s that type of exercise. For me, it’s a gentle exercise. I think a lot of women overexercise in our circuits. I don’t know if you see that amongst your friends or people that you hang out with also. If you overexercise, you can cause yourself more stress. Finding that appropriate amount of exercise. Knowing, hey, I feel really awesome when I sleep eight and a half hours every night, or if it’s six hours, whatever your rhythm may be. Then of course, finding those things that help us pay attention to our deeper inner selves, the real us. That’s it. That’s what we’re going after. That’s what the wellness intuition really invites you to try to figure out.

Zibby: In addition to your amazing book, do you regularly see patients? Where is your office? What if somebody wants a private consult? Do you do that remotely?

Dr. Katie: I love seeing patients. I don’t think there is ever going to be a time in my career that I just don’t interact with people one on one. It is so fun. I was literally born to do it. I always walk away from a new patient visit feeling really pumped. I think generally, the patients I see also feel that. The energy is great that way. I have a private practice. It’s in Connecticut. I can see patients either virtually or in person from New York or Connecticut. It’s a lot of fun. We go through what I would consider to be the important things that you need to know about your health. It has your medication lists in it, but it’s so much more about lifestyle and what your rhythms are in your life, talking about sleep and exercise and nourishment and all the things that might be going on in your life that you want an integrative medicine focus to. I like to sit in that space of understanding all of regular Western medicine — that’s how I was trained in residency — but really going into the complementary modalities.

I do a lot of acupuncture with patients. I talk about the importance of herbs and supplements. We go through meditation techniques if that’s what the person is looking for. We go through all of the stuff that really makes us up as humans, taking both a scientific look at it, but also a spiritual and an emotional look at it. It’s really a very holistic way of practicing. I would love to see anybody because that’s really truly where I derive so much joy. Otherwise, people can connect with me as well. I have a website that I’m really proud of that has a ton of free recipes. They all have little health tips that are attached to them so that you understand why turmeric is good for you and how you should be consuming it in the diet. I also have a newsletter that people can get in touch with me with. That also gives free recipes. I find that giving people the tools — it’s not just enough to say, here’s the science. It’s better to say, here’s the science, but here’s the practical, real stuff that you need to actually build that science into your life. I find food to be a really nice opportunity for that.

Zibby: What is your website?

Dr. Katie: My website is drkatie.com. I’m on Instagram, @DoctorKatie, D-O-C-T-O-R-K-A-T-I-E. Then the last way that people can get in touch with me is that — I realized a few years ago that it’s tough to take all of this, even just our conversation, and put it into practice. I have a program. I call it the Dr. Katie Detox. It just helps people reset, recalibrate their bodies on their own because we all have that innate, natural wisdom. I do that online with people in programs along with meal delivery in Connecticut. I wish you lived closer. I would send it to you.

Zibby: I think I’m driving through Connecticut now.

Dr. Katie: You should just stop by.

Zibby: I haven’t looked up in a while. I’m probably pretty close to you.

Dr. Katie: It’s a wonderful resource to so many who are wanting to take that deeper dive, who want to go a little deeper. They want to connect with me on a multitude of levels and ways. I love that technology brings us together this way.

Zibby: Amazing. Congratulations. Thank you for all this helpful stuff — I shouldn’t say stuff — information and by sharing your own story and making it all so relatable and inspiring. I’m definitely going to be diving into these recipes. They look amazing. Thank you.

Dr. Katie: Thanks, Zibby. Have a wonderful rest of your ride. Enjoy the game.

Zibby: Thank you. Have a great day. Buh-bye.

Dr. Katie: Bye.

Dr. Katie Takayasu, PLANTS FIRST

PLANTS FIRST by Dr. Katie Takayasu

Purchase your copy on Amazon and Bookshop!

Check out the merch on our new Bonfire shop here.

Subscribe to Zibby’s weekly newsletter here.

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts