I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Dr. Padma Garvey

This OB/GYN and mother of two tells her patients: Health starts at home

“Like most other Americans, I was putting on a few pounds a year just by working full-time and raising two kids.”

Who has time for the gym? Very few of us, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and busy parents everywhere. The CDC’s latest statistics claim more than 78.6 million American adults — more than one in three — are obese. It’s enough to scare anyone away from that second Twinkie.

And while New York State is one of the skinniest in the union with 23.6 percent of adults qualifying as obese, we still have room for improvement.

One Hudson Valley parent, Dr. Padma Garvey, noticed the chronic battle her patients face as they attempt to manage their weight while working and raising children. In response, she decided to battle the bulge with a slightly unconventional weapon: the Hudson Valley itself. But before she felt like she could weigh in on her patients’ weights, she had to tackle her own ballooning waistline first.

“Ten years ago, I had an epiphany about my own personal struggle with weight,” Dr. Garvey says. “Like most other Americans, I was putting on a few pounds a year just by working full-time and raising two kids.”

Busy lifestyle

Like most of us, Dr. Garvey hardly fit the stereotype of the overweight mommy sitting around and cramming Twinkies into her mouth while watching TV. She was an active working mother who cooked vegetarian meals from scratch for her family almost every day. The catch? No time at the gym and an over-reliance on oil and dairy, two fail-safe methods of conveying flavor — and saturated fat.

“I scheduled literally everything in my life, except time to work out,” Dr. Garvey explains. “I delayed thinking about it, and while I thought I was cooking healthy stir fries, in reality when I measured it out, I was using far too much oil and dairy. I may have only gained 1-2 pounds a year, but after 15 years of that, I was about 30 pounds overweight. I think a lot of other typical, hard-working, well-meaning Americans fall into the same category.”

Find more "I am a Hudson Valley parent" profiles

Small changes

Instead of throwing herself into one of the extreme cleanses, diet plans or rigorous plyometric drill programs, Dr. Garvey started reading labels more closely and learning more about nutrition. She says the more she learned, the more she realized that small changes incorporated into her lifestyle were the only way she could make a significant impact on her health without revamping her eating and recreation habits.

“I love cooking,” Dr. Garvey says. “So it was natural for me to just start experimenting with different spices and cooking methods so that I could have the same level of flavor, but less fat and fewer calories. I also started making much more careful decisions about where we went out to eat as a family and on my lunch break, and I made sure that we spent our down-time as a family utilizing all of the amazing activities, many of which are free, in the Hudson Valley. I also scheduled time to run and do yoga, both activities that I genuinely love but will never do unless I make a place on my calendar for them.”

While her children and husband were apprehensive about Dr. Garvey’s tinkering with their favorite family recipes, she said that with practice and experimentation she found she could feed two growing, hungry athletic students on a much healthier diet that didn’t taste, well … like a diet.

Caring for her patients

Dr. Garvey’s holistic approach to patient care is similar to her approach to weight management.

“It is so much easier to give a patient pills or recommend a procedure or a battery of tests when they come to you with a problem,” Dr. Garvey admits. “But I find that spending 15-20 minutes with a patient, sitting down and talking to them about their issues and concerns, often helps resolve not just their immediate concern, but also the larger issues of health and weight management.”

She provides patients with specific information about what they should add into their diet and what they should avoid; but she quickly realized that just telling patients to eat more vegetables and cook with less oil or be wary of butter when ordering takeout wasn’t enough.

“I love cooking and even I didn’t realize how much oil I was using,” Dr. Garvey explains. “How could I expect my patients, some of whom have never seen tofu, much less tried it, start making healthy tofu stir-fries? Many of them felt like meat had to be the central part of every meal, and many were eating right out of a box half the time.”

Online help

To help introduce a wider variety of plant-based meals into her patients’ repertoire, she launched her own little online veggie cooking school, with video recipes. She also started going to Arlington High School a few times a year to speak to the students about creating healthier eating habits when they’re young.

The most important nutritional tip Dr. Garvey says she tries to impart to patients and the students at Arlington is to cut out as much processed food as they can without going “insane.”

But perhaps even more essentially, she wants parents and children to get outside and enjoy the Hudson Valley. The Garvey family can often be found strolling or running the Rail Trail together, hiking Mohonk or taking advantage of one of the many completely free tennis courts at Arlington High School. Or, you may find her and her family at one of their favorite healthy Hudson Valley dining haunts: Mother Earth's Storehouse (a great vegan deli), and Adam’s Fairacre Farms (amazing salad bar and freshly made sushi).

Other articles by or about "I am a Hudson Valley Parent"