Photos By Mike Dragon
Not long after the birth of my second daughter my husband and I noticed our focus on fitness and nutrition starting to slip. The demands of working full-time while parenting two children under the age of two came on strong…at the exact time we could no longer trust in that magical 20-something metabolism.
We knew excuses wouldn’t get us anywhere—wellness had to be a top priority. So, we committed to juggling schedules to accommodate daily exercise (often at 5 a.m.), limiting processed foods, encouraging each other through friendly competition and involving our kids in activities like organizing an annual neighborhood 5K.
Helping to ward off “Mom and Dad bod” and extra energy are some of the bonuses of our efforts, but the biggest benefit to a fit family lifestyle is knowing we are setting a good example. I want my daughters to understand that healthy habits trump toxic diet culture any day.
Of course, maintaining the routine isn’t easy, especially as our now older children get involved in endless extra-curriculars, like those time-consuming weekend sports tournaments. That’s why I appreciate hearing advice from other busy families creating a healthy balance, like Drs. Ruth Innes and Apostolos “Paul” Hiotellis.
The husband and wife, both voted Coastal Virginia Magazine Top Docs for 2022, work for Tidewater Physicians Multispecialty Group (TPMG )—Innes as a hospitalist with the TPMG Hospitalist Division at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate and Hiotellis as a family medicine physician.
The couple, married 14 years, manages two successful careers in medicine with family life at home in Yorktown. Their brood includes two sons (11 and 12 years old), two dogs, two horses and a guinea pig.
Both boys are involved in school and sports (tennis and soccer), so Hiotellis says keeping the schedule in check involves crafty coordination.
“During the school year, Ruth leaves early,” says Hiotellis. “I take them to school. And then she picks them up while I finish my day, and then, depending on who’s got practices where, one of us goes one way and one goes one way one goes the other way. It’s a juggling act.”
Hiotellis credits his wife for being the planner that maps out their days, while he “figures out what I am doing in the morning.” One thing they always strive to fit in? Active time outdoors.
The foursome loves to take their dogs with them on bike rides, play tennis and backyard soccer, care for their horses and swim. Innes, who grew up playing tennis and riding horses, says exposing her sons to many different activities—everything from golf lessons to lacrosse—helped them discover the things they excel at and enjoy, making exercise an easy choice versus screen time and video games.
Competitive sports have also led them to embrace healthy meal habits—dining together as a family unit and avoiding eating out—that both parents have modeled since their early childhood.
‘Thankfully my boys are starting to get a little bit more health conscious,” Innes says. “We always try to have a protein, a vegetable and a carb. That’s that was kind of instilled in me growing up. I am not a chef by any means, but I try to get the basics on the plate.”
When it comes to their patients, both Innes and Hiotellis say they try hard to instill the importance of prevention and moderation.
“Can you enjoy life and eat what you want? Yes,” says Hiotellis about common patient concerns. “But you can’t eat the ice cream or steak every night. It’s about finding the balance they need. You have so many of these fad diets that tell you eat this, eat that, but just find a way to moderate it. Don’t go in on the whole bag of chips. We spend too much time treating that we forget that if you just do the right thing from the get-go you’ll prevent.”
Innes agrees: “The bottom line is, there is nothing that works any better in my opinion than just trying to find a moderate balance. Enjoy treating yourself, don’t withhold things from yourself, but be active.”
I will take my cues from this fellow fit family and continue to enjoy my occasional cone of coffee almond crunch…and then schedule an early morning spin class. And I hope my daughters do the same.
Fit Family Tips
Four ways to achieve your family wellness goals from Top Doctors Ruth Innes and Paul Hiotellis.
1. Always be prepared: “If I have the ability and the time, I like to prep meals on the weekend so that we at least have the basics ready for the week. Sometimes it’s getting meal prep that we bought to make in advance that really limits the eating out.”
2. Remember the simple things: “Keep up with yearly physicals and lab work, colonoscopies and mammograms.”
3. Better together: “Find activities to enjoy as a family. It could be anything—even just walking or going on a bike ride. Be active and enjoy your life.”
4. Ditch all diets: “My impression of kind of the culture that we’ve become is that we want the quick fix—‘What diet can I follow so I will lose a bunch of weight and be super healthy?’ There is nothing that works better than just trying to find a moderate balance.”