Food for thought

What’s cooking? ‘TheChefDoc’ Colin Zhu, DO, serves up lifestyle and culinary medicine

Combining his passions for health and wellness with nutrition, Colin Zhu, DO, uses a unique blend of lifestyle and culinary medicines to optimize his patients’ overall wellbeing.


Let’s take a seat at the table as Colin Zhu, DO, aka TheChefDoc, prepares a five-course chronicle that spans his journey into osteopathic, lifestyle and culinary medicine. Dr. Zhu is a graduate of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) and he completed his residency at Manchester Memorial Hospital in family medicine.

He dove into his passion for health and wellness by continuing his studies at the Natural Gourmet Institute, majoring in health-supportive culinary arts to become a chef, as well as at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a certified health coach. Dr. Zhu has taken pieces of Eastern and Western medicine and developed a synergy to benefit his patients in everyday life. I hope you brought your appetite, because the TheChefDoc does not disappoint. Following is an edited Q&A.

Colin Zhu, DO, aka TheChefDoc

What brought you to osteopathic medicine?

Health and wellness have always shaped my world. Initially, I aspired to be a chiropractor. I was influenced by a charismatic family chiropractor from my youth. His compassionate care, including singing to patients, fueled my desire to serve in health care.

My mother, a Chinese medical doctor with almost four and a half decades of experience, specializes in traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture and herbs. Growing up under her guidance, I imbibed values of authenticity, integrity and compassion. These early lessons fostered a holistic perspective on patient care.

During college, around my junior year, my path led me to discover osteopathic medicine. The tenets, philosophies and principles of this profession deeply resonated with me. My application process focused exclusively on DO schools, leading me to train at the esteemed WVSOM. Established in the early 1970s, it holds strong roots in osteopathic medicine and is renowned as one of the premier osteopathic schools.

What is lifestyle medicine?

Personally, I’ve been involved with the American College of Lifestyle Medicine since 2013, seeing it as my professional calling and tribe. Lifestyle medicine equips me with the tools to better serve my patients.

Lifestyle medicine employs evidence-based approaches to prevent, treat and sometimes even reverse chronic lifestyle-related conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and metabolic syndrome. Approximately 60% of Americans are diagnosed with at least one chronic disease, with 40% having multiple diagnoses. Many of the leading causes of death in the U.S. are linked to diet and lifestyle factors such as lack of physical activity.

To enhance patient care, physicians can integrate lifestyle medicine into health care using interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches. This approach should also be incorporated into medical education and residency programs, many of which currently lack sufficient training in nutrition, lifestyle and behavior changes. Lifestyle medicine is relevant across various medical specialties.

You are a physician and a chef. How do you use culinary medicine to improve your patients’ health?

Culinary medicine merges culinary arts with nutritional science to optimize patients’ health and wellness. Growing up with both parents cooking, I developed a fascination with food as medicine. In medical school, I noticed the curriculum focused on pathophysiology and pharmacology, but lacked an emphasis on preventive aspects like nutrition, diet and lifestyle.

Post-medical school, I delved more into health and wellness by attending a pioneering health-supportive, plant-forward culinary school, the Natural Gourmet Institute, which was founded in the 1970s by a progressive woman, Annemarie Colbin, PhD. In addition, I also pursued a health coaching certification to enhance my relationship and communication skills. I was able to do this all during a gap year after medical school because I stayed back to be an Osteopathic Principles & Practice graduate teaching assistant. 

Give us the backstory on how TheChefDoc came to be and how you developed this large online presence.

TheChefDoc began in 2017 during my tenure as an outpatient family physician. Despite enjoying patient interactions, the conventional health care system limited my time for teaching my patients more thoroughly about their health.

To reach more people, I established my brand as a wellness resource platform. Leveraging social media and its virtual potential, I offer concise audio, video and on-demand content. My perpetual aim is to dispense informative, jargon-free language that builds foundational knowledge, empowering individuals to make informed life decisions. Be it nutrition, exercise or sleep, addressing core behaviors, routines and habits is vital.

I use diverse creative methods to cater to different learning styles since information consumption varies per individual. Since TheChefDoc’s inception, I’ve authored a book, launched two podcasts, created a masterclass program and, most recently, launched a smartphone app.

Your latest additions to your brand are the previously mentioned app and masterclass. Give us some insight into these new platforms.

Amid the pandemic, a hunger for information arose. My masterclass, “The THR5 Formula,” began as a virtual summit featuring 50-plus interviews, yielding over 50 hours of accredited content. Encompassing doctors, dietitians, coaches and entrepreneurs, the masterclass program focuses on the pillars of thriving: food as medicine, functional fitness, community, resilience and relationships. These are vital ingredients for thriving, curated through my global experiences.

Earlier this year, we released the much anticipated TheChefDoc app that consolidates these very resources while featuring on-demand video and audio content, quizzes, PDFs and more. Available on desktop, tablet and smartphone, it caters to diverse learning needs. We’re continually expanding programs and offering coaching services, catering to those seeking more guidance. This multifaceted approach ensures knowledge reaches everyone.

What advice would you like to leave for the osteopathic community as a dessert to wrap up this informative session?

I urge physicians and the general audience to invest in their health. Just as we save for retirement, we must prioritize and invest in our well-being. Waiting for a health crisis like a hospital visit can lead to financial ruin due to our health care system’s challenges. Our primary aim is to prioritize our health upfront—it’s our most valuable asset. Whoever you are—medical student, resident, CEO or anyone else—health affects us all and stops us all in our tracks if not prioritized. Without health, our progress and dreams are hindered. The pandemic was a stark reminder of this truth.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

The craze behind weight-loss injectables

Future osteopathic physicians embrace growing lifestyle medicine field

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy