She exudes a sense of confidence and there’s a definitive aura around her as Dr. Natalie Cooke sits with us to share her story. When asked if she’s excited about her impending photoshoot for this feature, the young doctor excitedly discusses her wardrobe choices as well as whom she plans to use as her makeup artist.
“I definitely won’t have a sari in the mix!” she laughs, which is funny because she’s dressed in one. You might ask ‘why?’ She says, as if in response: “Patients tend to feel comfortable when they see me dressed in a sari... I guess they look at me and think, ‘Ah she must know what she’s doing!’”
Natalie is the brand ambassador for an alkaline bottled water brand; a certified nutritionist; and also the first South Asian doctor to be trained at the Mayo Clinic in the US.
What’s even more commendable is that she manages her demanding career while parenting four adorable children.
She’s funny, bubbly, a devoted mother and eager to transform our world – Natalie is the ultimate supermom!
Ashwini Vethakan chats to the good doctor to learn about her past and personal journey – as well as her present preferences, and hopes and aspirations for the future.
Leena Hariram (Brides by Leena)
“I began to see a significant difference in the patients I treated using nutrition – the results were astonishing"
Q: Which five words would you use to describe yourself to our readers?
A: Talkative, brave, innovative, anxious and a bookworm.
Q: What kind of a childhood did you have?
A: I was brought up by my grandparents so it was very chilled out – I was taught to climb trees and walls, and grew up appreciating nature as well as the little things about it such as a beautiful sunset. My grandfather and
I would spend time camping out in our backyard. It was a fun, chilled out childhood.
Q: Tell us about your interest in wellness and nutrition – when did this begin and why?
A: I wanted to be a paediatrician all my life. On my first day in the ward for training however, I realised that I couldn’t jab children!
From there I moved on to surgical oncology. But once I finished my training, I’d realised I didn’t want to sit behind a desk and write prescriptions. It was around this time that I met a homeopath who taught me about nutrition.
Dr. Josh Axe
Sri Lankan-Chinese cuisine
Fast & Furious franchise
Ford v Ferrari
I began to see a significant difference in the patients I treated using nutrition – the results were astonishing. I was able to help diabetic patients restructure their diets and get them off medication; kidney failure could be reversed; and even cancer could be cured by detoxifying the body to the extent where the disease would disappear!
When you see such amazing results, there really is no going back!
Q: Your most memorable moment in life so far…
A: I can’t pick one, really; there are three. If I had to, it would be the birth of my kids... I have two boys and a set of twins.
Q: Do you have any other passions?
A: I like research. Actually, I’m moving towards agriculture. Having spent time working in nutrition, and noting the state of our diets and how deficient they are in nutrients, I am slowly making my way into agriculture – especially since Sri Lanka has a scarcity of nutritious food.
Q: If not healthcare, which profession would you have liked to work in?
A: In the legal field as an attorney.
Q: At what point did you realise that this is what you wanted to do for a living?
A: There wasn’t a particular moment as such but you could say that I realise daily how right my decision was. I understand more about life while treating patients and learn something new every day.
Q: What has been the most challenging hurdle in your career so far?
A: What’s most challenging is trying to get my patients to take responsibility for themselves and their health.
In Sri Lanka, people think they can simply consult a doctor and have the physician treat them. Often, patients don’t know the purpose of the medication prescribed for them or how it works.
So when I explain that they need to take responsibility for their diets and general wellbeing, and become more self-aware – especially about their medical condition – they often become agitated. My ‘treatment’ is a grocery list of food and drink that people need to consume, as well as cutting down on unhealthy habits.
By the time I’ve explained this, they simply look at me and say: ‘Do I have to do this myself?’ As you can see, it is a challenge to get them to understand their medical condition, become more self-aware and do what is needed to help themselves.
Q: Could you describe your experience working in Sri Lanka’s medical sector?
A: Being a woman is hard. That was the biggest challenge I faced. You realise that the levels of respect – and even the work assigned to you – are different. Male doctors are given first preference in all cases.
If you’re a new mother or pregnant, you won’t get your patients’ follow-up appointments. And if you’ve recently given birth, you may not even get certain cases at all.
Q: You are the first doctor in South Asia to be certified in nutritive medicine by the Mayo Clinic in the US. What do you hope to achieve in terms of nutritive medicine in Sri Lanka?
A: It’s not really about achieving anything. What I want is for people to understand the connection between nutrition and health.
Although I like to reach out to people, it sounds delusional to say it out aloud – but I do want to change lives.
I don’t believe that treating individual patients one by one is the best way to make that happen. So I want to start teaching people about how they can achieve their optimal levels of health through lifestyle changes.
Having begun to write my first book, I hope that I can eventually use its contents to explain what disease is and how not to get ill. I believe a larger audience can be reached in that way, which is my ultimate goal.
Q: Which social issue is your main priority right now?
A: Precision agriculture is something I’m eager to introduce to Sri Lanka. Right now, Sri Lanka is simply poisoning its people through its food supply systems.
This is an island that’s rich in arable land and I don’t see why we can’t grow healthy produce – especially when bigger countries with larger populations are doing so. I hope to try and transform our agriculture system so that we see less nutrition related diseases in the future.
Q: And the least favourite part of your job is…
A: Letting go of patients who don’t take me and the treatment I prescribe seriously enough to follow through. It’s heartbreaking – but I refuse to treat stubborn patients who simply won’t listen.
Q: Could you name a few social initiatives you’ve spearheaded and why these are important to you?
A: I’m currently trying to raise awareness about childhood obesity and diseases common in children. This is a new initiative that I’ve undertaken and it’s still in the pipeline.
Q: And can you share your experiences as a brand ambassador?
A: It’s the water that I drink! But jokes apart, I have visited the factory, seen its processes and truly appreciate the work being done. It’s probably one of the few water purification plants in Sri Lanka that maintains international standards.
So when the enterprise approached me, I was happy to oblige.
Q: You and your husband Sujith founded Health-Alato... What’s the philosophy behind this business venture?
A: It didn’t start as a business venture. I used to make sugar free ice cream at home as both my in-laws are diabetic. And then my patients would ask me for a suitable sweet treat they could take alternatively, and I began making it for them.
When the ice cream became popular, we soon realised that it could help many people and simply decided to make it on a larger scale.
DATE OF BIRTH
19 December 1990
Holy Family Convent (Bambalapitiya)
Royal Institute of Colombo
Tianjin Medical– China (MBBS)
Mayo Clinic – US (Nutritive Medicine)
Clinical Psychotherapy – Australia
University of London (PhD)
Nathan and Jeremiah (Sons)
Seraiah and Serena (Twins)
Race car driving
ALWAYS WANTED TO BE
To achieve whatever she wants
MOTTO IN LIFE
Just do it!
Dawn or dusk
Netflix or reading
TikTok or Instagram
Spotify or radio
Streaming or cinema
Text or call
Calm or rushed mornings
Tea or coffee
Coffee – always
Wholesome meals or junk food
High heels or flats
Dress up or dress down
Dress up – always
Pearls or diamonds
Work or play
“My work is play.”
Q: What is your definition of success?
A: Achieving the goals you’ve set for yourself.
Q: How would your closest circle describe you?
A: I asked them about this… And they called me the ‘iron lady.’
Q: Five items you always use…
A: My phone, a book, perfume, a notebook and a pen.
Q: How would you describe the impact of your career on your personal life? Are there any aspects of it that you hope will change in 2022 – and beyond?
A: No matter what happens in my personal life, I’ll never stop working – because I have an inner fear that if I stop, I won’t be able to return to it. That being said, the only thing I’m looking at changing is taking on fewer one-on-one patients.
Q: When it comes to taking care of your personal development and mental health, what do you do?
A: Reading is therapy for everything.
Q: How does a typical day off pan out for you?
A: Obviously, it’s spent mostly with the kids. I accompany them as they ride their bicycles and then we take long drives as a family. Once the kids are asleep, my husband and I usually sneak out for a quick coffee.
Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
A: I think I’ve grown into the person I am today… and everything I’ve done in life has been my choice. So I don’t want to change anything about myself.
Q: And what’s next for Dr. Natalie Cooke?
A: Agriculture is the next thing; a few more books, for sure; and if I really get irritated with the way the country is being run, I may go into politics too!
In all seriousness, I can’t give you a proper answer to this because I tend to make spontaneous decisions and then stick to them.