Anna Magee speaks to Dr. Rupy Aujla, 35, a practicing NHS doctor and author. He lives in West London with his partner and puppy
I grew up in an Indian household and while my mother’s core knowledge was Indian food, she was also an experimental foodie. Around noon I would watch her in the kitchen with the cooking channel turned on. She has a condition called anaphylaxis and figured out how to reverse it through food and lifestyle. She always believed in food as medicine.
At the age of 24, shortly after I qualified as a junior doctor, I was taking notes on a Sunday evening at the end of a long shift. Suddenly my heart started beating very quickly. I thought I was going to pass out. I knew this was wrong and asked my boss to take my pulse. Within half an hour I was on a ward. I had my first attack of atrial fibrillation (AF), which is episodes of irregular heartbeat – in my case, 200 beats per minute. I dismissed it as a one-off, but for the next year I had 2-3 episodes a week.
I had every test I could and saw several specialists but no reason was found. I was never asked about my diet, my stress, or any of the other elements that we are more likely to ask now. I wasn’t a smoker or heavy drinker, but whether it was the stress of being a junior doctor, my diet, or poor sleeping habits at the time, I’m still not sure. In hindsight, it was probably a combination of all of that.
I was given beta-blockers (drugs that slow the heart) and other drugs as short-term treatment. However, I was recommended to do an ablation, which involves inserting a guide wire into the heart through a large vessel in the groin and burning an area outside the heart. I was ready to move on when mom said, “You really need to watch your diet and your lifestyle.” To calm her down, I said, “I’m going to take these drugs and in the meantime I’ll try some of these woo-woo diet stuff.” My cardiologist agreed and said, “Fine, spend six months changing your lifestyle.” But the warning was clear – I was going to need this ablation. I changed my diet and focused on sleep and tried to rest as much as possible.
My parents taught me to meditate as a teenager, so I did more of it to calm myself down. I went to the gym but started doing more varied exercises like yoga flow and mobility work, as well as cardio training like running and tennis. After making the changes, I noticed that I haven’t had a single episode in four months, then five. This AF-free period lasted 12 years without the need for surgery.
How i eat
After the diagnosis, I stopped eating sugary cereals for breakfast and focused on eating more fiber and plants. Lunch became a homemade mix of healthy foods like nuts, seeds, and vegetables instead of a canteen sandwich.
My eating principles revolve around fiber, high quality fats, colors, eating whole and plant-oriented. Every time I prepare a meal I think, “How do I get three servings of nuts or seeds in, make two servings, and use a pan to make it easy?”
My training week
I do a mixture of Yoga Flow, HIIT workouts, running and – before Covid – strength training, which I have now replaced with Callisthenics training with dip bars and other home equipment.
If I haven’t slept well, I don’t exercise. I’ll give myself at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, but it depends on how I feel, whether I’m pushing myself or doing something gentler, like a quick, gentle jog outside.
I do at least 10 minutes of meditation every morning, which can be mindfulness, breath-focused, or transcendent, repeating a mantra in my head. I also kept diaries in the morning reflecting on the positive actions I will take that day and listing things that I could have improved yesterday. Over the past seven years, I’ve also written down three things that I’m grateful for, from great to worldly.
Sweet indulgence: 75 percent dark chocolate with sliced apple and peanut butter.
Alcohol: 0-1 glass of wine per week, preferably red. During the lockdown, I drank about a glass and a half a night, but quickly realized that it was affecting my stress levels.
Sleep: I wear an Oura ring that monitors activity and sleep. So I know it’s currently between six and a half and seven hours a night – I’m working to increase that.
Coffee: Two cups before 10:30 a.m.
Carbohydrates: I exercise a lot so I don’t really limit them. Mainly root vegetables, whole grain products and noodles made from beans such as mongoose, lentils or edamame.
Doctor’s Kitchen 3-2-1 by Dr. Rupy Aujla (HarperCollins). Buy now for £ 16.99 from books.telegraph.co.uk or by calling 0844 871 1514