Living a ‘Fulfilled’ Life: My interview with Dr. Bernadette Anderson

Bernadette Anderson, MD, MPH, is a well-loved and highly regarded medical expert, thought leader, and visionary, as well as the creator of Life in Harmony, an action-oriented approach to intentional well-being. During her 20+ years in healthcare (including extensive experience in acute, clinical, and preventive care), she has devoted herself to developing principles and educating people about health and lifestyle medicine.

A GoodRx freelance writer, Dr. Bernadette, as she is called, pens thought-provoking articles and essays for prestigious publications, including Essence, USA Today, Fatherly, and The Grio. She also shares her insight on wellness and lifestyle transformations through motivational speaking, group coaching, retreats, and various social media outlets including LinkedIn and Instagram.

Dr. Bernadette recently released her book, Fulfilled. 52 Prescriptions for Healing, Health, and Happiness (for which I was honored to write the foreword), which is the core of her influential “Fulfilled. wellness program,” earning her recognition as the Most Innovative Mental Wellness Programming Provider 2023—Midwest USA from Global Health and Pharma.

The book is based not only on lessons she has learned from her many patients, but on the lessons she herself had to live as she struggled with heartaches, challenges, and forgiveness. It was “doctor-tested, by me!” she says. Although the book includes many personal stories and wise counsel, the crux of the book is the self-examination she asks readers to commit to over the 52-week prescriptions.

Dr. Bernadette was kind enough to speak with me via Zoom. She also informed me that she is beginning to offer “Fulfilled. the experience” retreats—for now in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio, and starting in 2024 in California and elsewhere. Check her website periodically for updates!

Dr. Murad: Why did you write Fulfilled?

Dr. B:  I wrote Fulfilled. 52 Prescriptions for Healing, Health, and Happiness because I’ve lived it, not just as an author, but as a person who’s navigated the intricate journey towards self-discovery and optimal well-being. I’ve experienced the darkness of unhealed wounds, the struggle of suboptimal health, and the weight of unhappiness. Each prescription in the book comes from a place of deep understanding and personal resonance, and some echo the experiences of my patients. My intention was to give readers a compass that points them in the direction of a life they truly deserve to live. As I was writing it, it became more than a compass. It’s truly a comprehensive guide to whole-self wellness so readers can nurture their mind, body, and spirit in a way that is fulfilling to them.

Dr. Murad: From your experience as a physician, do you have any thoughts on what stops most people from living a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life?

Dr. B: It’s essential for individuals to personally define these terms, reflecting on their distinct values, passions, aspirations, and even their spiritual inclinations. Doing so harmonizes choices and actions, and enables us to overcome constraints imposed by societal norms and external pressures. In effect, this empowers us to chart a path that genuinely resonates with our own sense of fulfillment.

A fulfilling life isn’t easy to come by. There are multifaceted obstacles, stemming from both internal and external factors. Unhealthy habits like poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles, and insufficient sleep can hinder physical well-being. And we can’t forget that psychological factors such as chronic stress, anxiety, and unresolved emotional struggles can compromise overall happiness. Mental wellness is often overlooked––though it is talked about more these days––but a heathy mindset is equally important to physical wellness. Recognizing and addressing these complexities is essential for creating a life characterized by well-being, joy, and genuine satisfaction

Dr. Murad: One of the major themes in the book centers on “living your life whole.” What does that mean?

Dr. Bernadette: Living whole starts with believing you are not incomplete, and to undoubtedly know you are enough. Wholeness is living in harmony in mind, body, and spirit, while purposefully nurturing all aspects of your being. You are available to live your whole experience––you can see the forest and the trees. You’re open to permit your life to unfold because you are secure about who you are, who you are spiritually, and why you are here. This isn’t simple to achieve, which is why I dedicated an entire chapter to it and threaded it throughout the book.

Dr. Murad: Step #2 in your 12-step plan to “living your life whole” recommends that readers “Embrace imperfections.” That reminds me of my own saying, “Be imperfect; live longer.” Why do you prescribe “embracing imperfections”?

Dr. Bernadette: Embracing imperfections … it’s not about settling for “good enough” or putting a cap on personal growth. That was a lightbulb moment I had—one of those “aha” realizations—when it hit me that striving for perfection can really backfire. Perfectionism piles on stress, leaves you perpetually wanting, and can make you feel like you’re stuck in one place—trust me, I’ve been there. The unwavering pursuit of flawlessness was a trap that affected not only my personal life, but also hindered my professional aspirations—it even held up my book, if you can believe it.

There is such beauty in imperfections. Recognizing and embracing them—it’s like giving yourself a break, a chance to just be human, a permission slip to be you. That mindset is a game-changer—less stress, more adaptability, and a boost in mental well-being. It’s like having the green light to a more authentic, fulfilling life.

Dr. Murad: I take it that a good portion of your own journey to fulfillment involved your relationship with food. So many men and women struggle with the same issue. Can you tell us more about how you came to heal your relationship with food? And what advice you give to your patients?

Dr. Bernadette: Certainly. I had to figure out what I was craving. Potato chips or chocolate? Or, trying to satisfy something other than a sweet or savory tooth? It’s so darn easy to turn to food to console, avoid, and suppress feelings. Getting to the core of what I was attempting to hush up with a thick slice of red velvet cake or a plate of French fries was the first step towards regaining control of not only what I ate, but how I lived. Until I understood what was at the core, I always made room in my belly––even when there was none––for another bite. So, here are two main takeaways for a healthier relationship with food:

  • Face what’s really weighing you down. Look deeper than the numbers on the scale. It may be uncomfortable, but permit yourself to feel the emotion, to understand the source, and to then begin to heal. In other words, take the power away from food by finding the strength, courage, and grit to acknowledge and deal with the pain. It’s okay to shed tears. Journaling helps identify the let-down and opens a space to establish a plan to address the true problem instead of suppressing it with food.
  • Find new ways to clear your head to replace the habit of eating unhealthily. Simple things like being more physically active (which can be as basic as going for a walk), practicing meditation or relaxation techniques, and starting a hobby are great ways to replace emotional eating with new habits that make you feel better.

Dr. Murad: One of the many quotes in your book that I love is Dr. Gabriel Cousens’ “There is never enough food for the hungry soul.” How do you use that advice to help your patients?

Dr. Bernadette: Dr. Gabriel Cousens’ quote really hits home with how I approach guiding my patients towards holistic well-being. It is a reminder that our health isn’t just physical.

In my practice, I often draw from Dr. Cousens’ wisdom to emphasize that true nourishment goes beyond just what we eat. While proper nutrition is important for our bodies, it’s equally vital to feed our mind and soul with the right balance of emotional, mental, and spiritual sustenance.

I also use the quote to underscore the importance of finding purpose in life. I encourage my patients to dig deeper and nurture their hungry souls with experiences that genuinely satisfy and fill them up in meaningful ways.

Dr. Murad: Throughout your book you encourage readers to not be passive when it comes to their health, but to take an active role. What do you mean by that?

Dr. Bernadette: In writing Fulfilled, I had a deeper purpose than mere story-telling—I aimed for story-engagement. My goal was to guide readers on an interactive journey, not just provide a passive reading experience. Each Prescription was meticulously crafted to ignite actionable steps. It’s rather uncommon for a self-help (self-ADVOCACY) book to incorporate a workbook component, but that’s precisely what I’ve integrated into the design to empower readers and discourage procrastination.

Being passive means just going through the motions, maybe following general advice without really thinking how it fits into your life. For instance, going to a doctor’s visit without really engaging with the physician about the best plan of care for your symptoms.

Imagine you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Being passive might mean just taking the prescribed medication without exploring other ways to manage it. But taking an active role means getting curious, asking questions, and tailoring your approach to what works best for you: can dietary changes help? How about getting enough sleep and incorporating meditation? It’s not simply accepting a medication. Being active means customizing your health journey, kind of like a tailored suit. You’re not settling for the one-size-fits-all approach; you’re making choices based on your unique needs, goals, and preferences

Dr. Murad: In your prescription for greater joy, you write, “The nice thing about joy is you don’t have to chase it; you simply choose it.” And then you give examples of how to do that. Will you give us a few pointers now?

Dr. Bernadette:  In a world filled with responsibilities, challenges, and uncertainties, finding and nurturing joy can sometimes feel like chasing a flitting butterfly. This is where the art of choosing joy comes into play—a practice that empowers you to consciously cultivate moments of happiness, regardless of what life hands you. You hold the brush, and only you can decide to paint every day with shades that make your heart smile. So what are some ways to start manifesting joy?

  • Start by gifting yourself something priceless—grace. Mistakes happen; don’t allow self-criticism to eclipse your joy.
  • Practice being present. Soak up where you are in that moment without distractions from the past or worrying about the future. I use deep breathing as a tool to anchor myself in the here and now, specifically the 4-7-8 breathing technique. [This technique involves breathing in for four counts; holding the breath for seven counts; and exhaling for eight counts. The inhale is through the nose and the exhale is through the mouth.]
  • Intentionally sprinkle your day with joyful rituals. Whether it’s starting your morning with a favorite activity, like listening to uplifting music or practicing a brief meditation. These rituals nourish your day.
  • Oh, and laughter! From hearty belly laughs to a chuckle over a silly meme, laughter is medicine and instant joy. In fact, a patient told me she wished he could record my laughter—it was one of the biggest compliments I’ve received.
  • Honor progress, no matter how small. Life isn’t just about reaching the destination; it’s about savoring each stride. This is why celebration moments are woven into my book—because they infuse your journey with positivity.

Dr. Murad: Will you share with us Dr. Bernadette’s “Basic Bs” to living life in harmony?

Dr. Bernadette: Sure! Dr. B’s basic “b’s” to live life in harmony are:

  • Become you. You’re the only one who can.
  • Begin now. Stop waiting to be ready.
  • Balance (For me, balance creates harmony, and it’s easier to remember because it starts with the letter b). Find the sweet spot between work and life.
  • Boundaries. Use your time and energy to do more of what fulfills you and less of what doesn’t.
  • Breathe deeply. This is the most powerful and simple tool to reshape your life.
  • Believe. If you don’t, nobody else will.
  • Build strong spiritual and personal relationships. You are not an island unto yourself.
  • Be proactive. Take care of your health instead of being reactive about illness.
  • Be present. Forgive and let bygones be bygones.
  • Broaden your thinking. Embrace new hope and possibilities.

Dr. Murad: Thank you so much, Dr. B! I’m thrilled that our philosophies of health and wellness are so similar, and I wish you every success with Fulfilled. I know that it will help anyone who reads it.


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