Health-Supportive hors d'oeuvres

Q&A with Erica Leazenby

Medical Doctor and NGI Chef’s Training Program Alum

Erica Leazenby was a current student in the Natural Gourmet Institute's full-time Chef’s Training Program at the time of this interview. Having spent 15 years in the medical field as a family physician, Erica decided to shift her practice towards functional medicine.

Erica LeazenbyRead on to learn about her important work as a physician and why she pursued professional culinary training.

Tell us about your professional background as a medical doctor. 

As a traditionally trained family physician, I have enjoyed getting to know my patients and feel privileged to be part of their health and healing over the past 15 years. Having spent the bulk of my career in private practice, public health and urgent care, I have recently shifted my practice toward functional medicine. Functional medicine is a practice style that evaluates many aspects of lifestyles - including nutrition - to address the underlying causes of disease particular to each patient.

What are your thoughts on using food as part of managing symptoms for certain medical conditions? Is this something you typically discuss with your patients?

Food is good medicine. Hippocrates knew this over a thousand years ago, but we as a medical community are just now rediscovering and re-embracing this simple but powerful fact. I love to tell patients that 70% of heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, memory loss, and even premature wrinkles are preventable with diet. Also, 80% of cancer risk can be reduced with diet and lifestyle alone. It is empowering to know we are the masters of much of our health destiny. I discuss the power of fruits and vegetables and the proven benefits of cooking at home, but knowing how to buy and prepare produce is intimidating for many people. Unfortunately, as I talk with patients (and even colleagues), I learn that cooking is unfamiliar and out of reach for many of them.

What drew you to culinary school at this point in your career?

Cooking for me has always been a hobby and great joy. I’ve day-dreamed about culinary school since my teenage years. Over the last couple of years, I have evolved my practice -style to include more nutritional advice. Increasingly, I've looked for ways to merge my passion for cooking with my calling as a physician. Yes, I wanted to cook better, but I really wanted to learn the language of cooking and improve my ability to communicate culinary skills to others. I see a great demand for translating current medical and nutritional science to the dinner tables of my patients and colleagues.

Have you found it difficult to balance your career while attending the full-time Chef’s Training Program?

I have been in a fortunate position to be on sabbatical for the past year. I knew that transitioning my career to focus exclusively on functional and culinary medicine meant changing my relationship with the hospital organization where I have practiced for nine years. I resigned from my position in early 2015 to focus on functional medicine training and to come to NGI. I am looking forward to launching a new type of practice when I return to Indianapolis.

What has been your favorite part of the Program so far?

Conversion Day! I chose the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts for many reasons. I appreciated the health focus and deliberate incorporation of nutritional theories, but learning to adapt recipes and modify them for specific needs has been a highlight of my experience. On conversion day, we took a straightforward common recipe (like chocolate chip cookies) with many processed and non-health supportive ingredients and changed ingredients one at a time to those that were less processed and more whole and health-supportive. The experience was invaluable as I consider the patients I hope to assist in the future. By seeing multiple recipe conversions, I feel I have a better understanding of the science of baking and recipe conversions. I now have more knowledge to assist patients that may need to adapt to a gluten-free, egg-free or dairy-free lifestyle.

How do you plan to use your new culinary skills in your career?

I look forward to resuming patient care as soon as I finish the Chef’s Training Program and look forward to including group medical visits and culinary classes as part of the healing process.

This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.

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