Interview with Dr. Heather Hammerstedt

This week the inimitable Dr. Heather Hammerstedt teaches us about Lifestyle Medicine and how she made her pivot from full-time emergency medicine physician to coach and online business owner.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt is board certified in emergency medicine and lifestyle medicine. She received her medical degree from Temple University and a master’s in public health at Harvard University.  Subsequently, she completed her training in emergency medicine at the Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency.
She is an integrative nutrition coach, and CEO of Wholist, where she and her team provide lifestyle medicine coaching and consults.

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Lifestyle Medicine Creates Change

To accomplish her goal to curate each client's health future, in her life, with her needs in mind, she brings together a system and a team that works together seamlessly. This creates the change that clients want to see and the life they want to live.

At the time of this interview, Heather has already brought together a team of 12 coaches, two salespeople, and two staffers providing administrative support. So, there are a lot of clients being served.

Podcasts and Personal Coaching

And she can't get enough of her interviews with colleagues on her Curate Your Health Podcast. There she engages in conversations with colleagues in the fields of food, leadership, exercise, weight management, mindset, mindfulness, and women's health.

You can choose four things that you can control. And the first is how you fuel your body. The second is how you move your body. The third is what your thoughts are and the fourth are what your inner state is. And I think right now, specifically in this world where we are not in control of our circumstance, understanding that you can control those four things is really important. – Dr. Heather Hammerstedt.

It is quite impressive. You should visit the Wholist website at to learn more. While you're there, check out her 8 Week Lifestyle Medicine Course for Physicians and Practitioners.


We didn’t get into a discussion of her nonprofit, but if you want to learn more about what she is doing with Global Emergency Care then go to And visit her website to see if her services can help you feel better and get healthier, or teach your patients about the concepts of lifestyle medicine.

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PNC Episode 185

Can Lifestyle Medicine Help Me and My Patients?

Interview with Dr. Heather Hammerstedt

John: As I've mentioned in the past, my podcast is a member of the Doctor Podcast Network. And today we have another DPN member who has a podcast. She's a host and the producer of ?Curate Your Health podcast. So, I recommend strongly that you check that out as soon as we're done here today. Dr. Heather Hammerstedt, welcome to the PNC podcast.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Oh, I?m so glad to be here. Thanks for having me, John.

John: There are so many reasons why I wanted to get you here, because you are an example of someone who is balancing, I think still some clinical and you started your own business. You expanded your background or your training, which I want to hear all about. So, there's just a lot of good reasons to have you here today and have our listeners learn from you.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah. I have a lot of hats, that's for sure. So, I live here in Boise, Idaho, high Alpine desert. We're in winter right now, which is super fun. I'm a mama and balance that with part-time emergency medicine and running a nonprofit in East Africa. And then I'm also a lifestyle medicine double boarded. So, I run a coaching company around food and sleep and exercise and mindfulness and helping people really figure out how their brains work around sustainable health changes. So, I'm happy to be here.

John: Excellent. So, I'm going to definitely pick your brain on a lot of those topics. And also, I'll ask you later about advice for those who are burnt out or at least looking for a new nonclinical career or side gigs since you've already done that yourself. But let's get started with a little bit of the story of how you went from, I believe, being full-time emergency medicine and tell us how you decided to shift or add something to your plate and how's that been going?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Well, it's so interesting. So, I was a fourth-year medical student in 2004 to date myself here and went to health coaching school actually then, realizing that I was missing a portion of what I thought I was going to get out of medical school around how we feel ourselves and how we move ourselves and how we talk to ourselves. And I didn't use it for a long time because I was busy. Like residency and the first 10 years of your career and everything else.

But I started realizing at three in the morning that half the people I was seeing could have not been there had I seen them 10 years earlier. So, I decided to get into lifestyle medicine and incorporating that health coaching portion of my brain back into my life at that point.

John: Nice. So, how did you actually do that? Did you just start doing some coaching? Did you do some more training? I see you've got another set of boards. And so, how did that all fit in together?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah. I mean, I'm a big ?just do it? kind of person. I mean, that's kind of how we are in emergency medicine is just figure it out as you go. So, I just kind of threw it out there that I was going to help people figure out what they needed to do with food and started a company. I didn't know where I was going to go or how I was going to progress it. And found lifestyle medicine sort of as a secondary portion of that. So, it wasn't my stimulus. It was just an extra part of my training that I realized that a lot of people probably wouldn't think that they should listen to an emergency medicine physician when it comes to this. So, I wanted an extra badge, so to speak.

But yeah, just kind of threw it out there. And I think my biggest advice is to learn as you go as an entrepreneur. So, for me, I threw it out there and grabbed 20 people who wanted to figure out how their brains and their bodies worked around food and created the course that I was going to teach everyone for all of these years while I was coaching them. And so, I figured out what they needed, asked the questions and then wrote the course as I went, if that makes sense.

John: No, it makes perfect sense. And it is sort of like, I think maybe it wasn't planned this way, but we see this model happens all the time. It started out as a one-to-one coach or a small group coach, and you get to a group coaching setting and then everything you're learning and teaching, learning about your students and teaching, then just becomes sort of the foundation for an actual course, basically. Because it's not live at that point when it becomes a course, but it seems like most people that have done something similar to what you have done will also do the coaching continual and add that to the course. And it all just keeps getting more and more comprehensive and kind of more life-changing I guess, is how I look at it.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah, I'm a total nerd. And so, for me, I was like a person from the second that podcasts became a thing. And so, I was like, ?How can I not say the same thing over and over again?? And so, I from the beginning created podcasts, so all of our clients get a podcast every day around weight science or mindset around food. And then they have personal coaching actually tagged onto that to help them implement what they're doing into their life.

And so, that was my approach right away. It was like again, emergency medicine. It's like, let me touch it once, be as efficient as I can. So, that was my approach to starting a company.

At this point, there are 12 coaches working for me, a couple of salespeople, a couple admin folks and close to $100,000 a month in revenue. So, what we're doing is working and changing lives, which is really exciting.

John: Okay. Now the company is called Wholist. Is that right?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah.

John: And from the beginning was that the name?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah. It's a play-off of gastroenterologist, hospitalists, radiologist. Just the whole person kind of vibe.

John: Okay. Now it may be self-evident I suppose, but can you give us a little more detail about what does lifestyle medicine actually encompasses or involves?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah. It's using the evidence behind food and sleep and exercise and mindfulness for the prevention reversal of disease. So, it's mining the evidence that we do have, which is out there, but can be difficult to find, and difficult to find good studies to figure out how can we advise people about how to move their body, how to analyze their own thoughts, how to be present in the moment, how to use food as a way to really get to reversing and to preventing a lot of the diseases that we have.

John: So now you mentioned, and I did see this. I was doing a little bit of my research, lurking around the internet. That the business has other coaches, I guess. Are those physicians? Are those non-physicians? How does that all work together? How does that team look?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah. I think we're all better together. I have attributes of myself that can serve people, but more importantly, I think I'm good at organizing people around each other. And so, each person that comes into Wholist is assigned a weight coach, a food coach, and a mindset coach. Some of these folks are physicians and that's kind of just because that's my circle, right? And so, I've found people in medicine who are doing non-clinical work like this, that I feel is powerful. And I feel that they have an opportunity with their medical background to do what I'm doing, which is bringing a different voice, to the healthcare spectra so to speak.

But some of them are not. I had a hypnotherapist and a couple of other people who are not medical per se. It's been interesting to connect those people into a team. Because we're used to in clinical medicine to just operating in our silos. And so, figuring out how to communicate in a different way and work as a team around a person, is one of my goals with this company. It?s figuring out how can we really do that in a way that serves people.

John: No, I think that's really interesting because if you're a weight loss coach, then everything is about weight loss. If you're a mindset coach or talking about burnout or whatever, then that's what you focus on. But if you're really trying to have a holistic approach to your health, I mean, it makes sense that you're going to need the expertise of someone who's an expert in what you're eating, maybe how you prepare foods, as opposed to someone who understands physiology and insulin resistance and things like that. So, yeah, that sounds pretty intriguing.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: I never went into this to get into weight loss. I went into this figuring out, ?How do we create our best health?? And it turns out the food is the entrance into that. And so, for me, it's figuring out, ?Why have you spent four decades making choices that don't serve you in terms of your health?? And that is not a weight loss discussion. That is a conversation about what do I think about myself and how do I talk to myself and how other people talk to me and what is the emotional aspect around? Why am I making the choices that I make every day? And that requires more than just me giving you the information on weight science. So, that's digging in. And so, that's why I chose to have a bigger team around this for us.

John: I'm sure I have some listeners who are starting their own businesses and thinking about doing some form of coaching, whatever it might be. And one of the questions that comes up a lot is how do you distinguish what you do as a physician? You're licensed, you're working in the ER, you have a patient physician relationship and doing lifestyle medicine, which sounds like a branch of medicine, but is it a relationship really with a physician? Is it a business relationship, a coaching relationship? I think I know the answer, but how do you separate that and make it clear that you're not necessarily medically responsible for their outcomes, or are you?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: I think if you ask six lawyers, you?ll get six answers. That's one of the problems around us, specifically around us as physicians is branching out. It?s that it can get pretty complicated and it gets a little scary. And I totally get that. I also think that we may be over-dramatize that a little bit. I think if you hire a lawyer at the beginning and you create good contracts about your relationship with the client, then it becomes clear. I mean, I may be wrong, right? You may talk to me another two years and I'll have a different story. But three years in and several hundred clients later, it's always been easy for me to give them the contract at the beginning that says, ?I'm not acting as your physician. Your coach is not acting in their professional capacity?. Whether they're a dietician or a personal trainer or whatever it is that they are. At baseline, we're acting here to hold a space for you as a coach. That's been pretty clear. And when people have tried to cross the line and ask us medical questions, we've been very clear of saying, ?You need to go talk to your regular doctor about that. These are the questions you should ask your regular doctor?. And that's worked out for us so far.

John: Yeah. Sometimes it's pretty self-evident. It?s just that's the relationship, obviously, if you've got the documents and you have agreements. I interviewed someone who is a functional medicine physician, and basically it was crystal clear. I'm a consultant for this particular part. I'm not your primary care doctor. I don't think she's ever had problems either. But I think if you go into it without at least thinking about that, particularly if you're promoting it to your current patients that could be a problem.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah. I think trying to be as clear as you can on the rules. It may be a little easier for me running this company because I'm in emergency medicine. It's like, you're not having an NMI, right? Like I'm not helping you at three in the morning for this. But this is what I'm giving you education on. It?s a little more clear. But I definitely think that having a good lawyer upfront on your contract is important and I would strongly suggest people seek people out on that.

There is a lawyer who is also a health and life coach whose name is Lisa Fraley and she has some initial documents that people can use that are on her website and does some free consultation for folks, or you can hire her as a lawyer as well. I think she's really, really helpful when it comes to that frame.

John: Yeah. That could be very helpful. Thanks for that referral, that name. I think I've heard that before. She must be fairly well-known. Okay, let me go the other direction. Again, I know nothing about lifestyle medicine, but could a family physician or whoever has regular practice, learn more about lifestyle medicine and incorporate that into their practice? I would assume they could do that and it would be actually part of their clinical practice.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Oh, for sure. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine. You can do kind of CMIs and probably now at this point, virtual conferences to get some of your information from them and incorporate into your own business. I also have an eight-week lifestyle medicine course that I run that helps people figure out how to incorporate the topics of lifestyle medicine, and actually templates and how to interview your patients into things as well. But you don't get certified from it obviously, but it's just some work to figure this out. And it's been really fun watching people, radiologists, bariatric surgeons, like anesthesiologists, like anyone just figuring that they want to know this information for their own life and getting into their patients' lives as well.

John: That's cool. We might as well stop here and then give some of the information so people can track this down. Not everyone listens to the last two minutes of the podcast, as you probably know, from doing a podcast. So, basically if they go to your website at there are tabs there for the lifestyle medicine training. And the other things that you do, everything pretty much starts there.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah. There's an opportunity there to learn about our weight wellness programs, culinary strategies, sessions, fitness programs, and then the lifestyle medicine for physicians or practitioners. And there's a way that you can just chat with us through the website that we can get in touch and figure out what it is that you need. We tailor pretty much everything to everyone we get on the phone with. It?s figuring out exactly what they need. We're not out here to money grab. We're trying to figure out how we can help you, figure out what your next steps are in terms of getting to the healthiest mind and body that you want.

John: Like a lot of entrepreneurs, you're doing a lot of things to get the word out and basically to serve your audience. So, you also have a Facebook group. Did that start right from the beginning like everything else?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: It did. And it's so fun these days. I mean, it requires a lot of work as anyone who manages a group like you know. But yeah, it's really fun. We have about 10,000 people in there right now. And we do weekly trainings. We have challenges, couple of times a month. We have eBooks that we put out. And right now, we're doing a mindset challenge, which is super fun. We have five of our coaches doing nightly trainings around how you can figure out how you can make better changes for yourself in terms of loving yourself, thinking about yourself, having your own back, figuring out your own intuition in terms of moving forward and health. And it's always really fun to see what we're doing in there. So, it's called Curate Your Health, just like our podcast is called.

John: Okay. So, if they go to Facebook and they look up Curate Your Health, they're going to find it pretty quickly. They just click on the groups and there it is. And anybody can join that?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yes.

John: All right. Because I know some of the businesses we talk to, it's like a private group just for clients or something, but basically, I think I was able to just look at it today. I think it's just an open Facebook group.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah. I'm just throwing myself out there for as many people who want to take a look and figure out how they can think about themselves differently and make some choices that create a better health future for themselves. So, that group is fully open to whoever wants to join.

John: And do you have help in running the group? Do you have moderators or something that helped to keep the conversations going?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Oh my gosh. So, a year ago it was me doing all of the things. And I'm so thankful that yes, I have someone who helps me run the group and a couple of my sales folks that are strategy coaches and take calls with people that they are also moderating and touching base with people, pulling them in and figuring out ?How can we help you?? Whether it's free training or whether it's getting on a strategy call or whether it's coming into a coaching program. So, yeah, I'm thankful to have a big team around me for sure.

John: Yeah. It just gets overwhelming if you try to do everything yourself. So, I can just get the sense, you have a pretty big team. You talked about the people that help you in Wholist and then the Facebook group. So that's awesome. If you can build a good team, it's a whole lot easier to run a decent business, isn?t it?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah, for sure.

John: I want to go back to the podcast. So, you said you started that right from the very beginning.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah. Like I said, I'm a touch at once kind of a person. And so, when I was creating the weight wellness blueprint, in terms of teaching people around weight science and mindset around food, I was also thinking in my head on these parallel tracks of like, ?What's next?? And what's next was women's health, and leadership and fitness. And so, I started interviewing people and doing podcasts interviews around those topics at the same time, even though that was not what the initial focus was. And then I was like, oh my God, I can't believe how much work getting this singular part of the business was. And I can't imagine launching two other parallel tracks at the same time. So, it was like, ?What am I going to do with all this work? I'll just put them out there as a podcast?.

So, initially the Curate Your Health podcast was just extra interviews that I had. I was like, people need to hear these people who are giving me all of this information and needs to get out there. And so, initially it was that. It was talking about women's health and talking about medical topics that I figured that people that are physicians have all these things that they wish people knew before they got into their office. And topics around leadership and exercise. And so, that's where it came from initially.

And now it's just fun because it's just another way to get information out there and talk to my colleagues and other practitioners and physicians about what they do. And it's been a little bit of an afterthought to tell you the truth and it's been exciting to see it blow up a little bit because I wasn't expecting it.

John: I think podcasts are growing. They're becoming more popular. But then again, I think we're reaching a point where we have to get more selective. There was a time when I could listen to like five podcasts, and it was the only five I really wanted to listen to. Now there's like a hundred I want to listen to. And I have to narrow it down. I have to focus. It's like, I don't have that much time. So, just to help the listeners, they should definitely check out your podcast. But what would be the range of topics that you might cover? Let's say in the past three months, in the next three months. Just so they have a concept of, ?Well, if I'm interested in that, I definitely want to listen?. What kind of things would it be?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah, the primary focus for me always is that you can choose four things that you can control. And the first is how you fuel your body. The second is how you move your body. The third is what your thoughts are and the fourth are what your inner state is. And I think right now, specifically in this world where we are not in control of our circumstance, understanding that you can control those four things is really important. And that's the kind of thing I tried to focus on with the Curate Your Health podcast. It?s really how should I be eating? How should I be moving my body? How can I control the way that I'm thinking about my experiences to create a different worldview for ourselves?

John: Well, it seems to align too with what you said earlier about how you approach your clients at Wholist and with your team. I think that will help us to know what we might get if we listen. So that's fantastic. So, I'll definitely going to be listening because there's a lot there that I could use help with, to be honest. I got to learn how to move a little better in a pandemic.

All right. Well, one of the reasons listeners listen to this podcast is they're looking for a non-clinical job, or just looking to fight burnout is that, burnout and the stress and the things that have happened, whether it was before or since the pandemic. So, I do want to ask for your advice. I mean, you're interacting with a lot of people that might have issues related to that. So, any advice about how to overcome the strains of practice or the strains of working in a pandemic? Any things that you see that are trends that you would just say for most people that seem to help?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah. My clinical position has always been stressful. The pandemic has made it more emotionally and physically uncomfortable than ever before. So, I get it. I do also struggle with the idea that we can fix burnout by fixing ourselves. Because I think we all understand that the systemic problems in our healthcare system are much bigger than us smiling more, drinking more water.

But I do also think that you can change the way that you think about a solution and the way you think about a problem and create initial change. And so, what I have learned through coaching is that holding a space for someone else to think about their problems is a branch into holding a space for you to think about your problems. And so, if you're constantly thinking like ?This is terrible, this is the way the consultant just talked to me.

This is the systemic problem of how no one else helps healthcare, and I don't have any beds, or we have too many COVID patients and the traumas are still coming and why are they all doing this to me??

Instead, thinking like holding that space out of like, okay, I'm feeling really terrible and uncomfortable in this situation. How can I, again, fuel myself and move myself and change the way that I'm thinking so that I can be healthier for myself moving into that situation and healthier helping other people hold that space and figure out how they can come to themselves in that situation. And I don't know if I'm just rambling or if that makes sense, but for me, I feel really strongly that that is the first step that we can take to help ourselves while we advocate for a better healthcare system.

John: Yeah. Resiliency, it?s one word that's used. It's not my favorite word. I like psychological flexibility maybe, but that has to go along with taking care of yourself as well, and remaining healthy and able to function through the things you mentioned earlier. But yeah, I mean, to an extent, a lot of it, it's just a workplace issue. It's not that we're not resilient enough. There's just a lot of stuff going on.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Yeah. I mean, we're the most resilient people that I know. I mean, getting through everything that we have. And so, yeah, I don't love that word either, but I do think that there's a lot that we can control within ourselves, that will make us better partners and colleagues and caregivers.

John: Yeah. It's a lot to think about. I don't know, I always fall back on, well, maybe we should just set some boundaries, but sometimes you are just in a situation where you just have to tough it out and it's not healthy long-term absolutely. So those are some good ideas of how to get through at short term until we can have a better system, as you said. So, I definitely advise everyone to go ahead and check out the podcast. Any last words of advice before I let you go, Heather?

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: No, I just really want everyone to realize that what you're doing matters in medicine and outside of medicine. And that if you feel that and understand that, you're going to be able to serve people in a way that you haven't imagined before.

John: Yeah. It's inspirational to hear someone that has made a significant change in what they're doing and you're just changing so many lives in other ways. So, I really appreciate you for being here today and sharing what you've been up to in recent years.

Dr. Heather Hammerstedt: Thanks.

John: Thank you. And with that, I'll say goodbye.


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