He Tells the Clintons How to Lose a Little
Nine years ago, on their 30th wedding anniversary, Hillary Rodham Clinton gave her husband a gift she hoped would ensure many more years together: Dr. Mark Hyman.
Dr. Hyman was charged with helping the former president after a 2004 quadruple bypass surgery. In the time since, the doctor has become part of the Clintons’ circle of friends and advisers, but one with an important difference.
The Clintons, after all, have a small army of aides who offer political and policy advice, but not many who can tell a former and potential president to lay off the ranch dressing.
One of the first things Dr. Hyman did was to wean Mr. Clinton off his previously prescribed vegan diet. Despite persistent news media reports that he is vegan, Mr. Clinton does occasionally eat fish and lean protein. “It’s hard being a vegan to eat enough good, quality protein and not have too much starch,” Dr. Hyman said over lunch at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York. “I know a lot of fat vegans.”
Bill Clinton and Dr. Mark Hyman in Haiti in 2010.
Dr. Hyman, who made a name for himself advising the moneyed urbanites who retreat to Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., met Mrs. Clinton at a fund-raiser in New York when she was in the Senate. The two quickly dived into a wonky conversation about childhood obesity and his philosophy of healthful eating. “She then called me and we’ve just become friends,” he said.
Last August, the two were spotted having a three-hour dinner at the West Street Grill in Litchfield, Conn., prompting speculation about 2016 and a New York Post article with the headline “Hillary Gets Healthy.” (Her meal, the newspaper reported: grilled salmon and fresh fruit.)
Dr. Hyman, 54, described it as a learning experience. He had asked her to dinner, he said, and the discussion was about a range of topics from health policy to the Citizens United ruling on campaign contributions, not the former first lady’s health.
“We came out after dinner and there was all this press there,” Dr. Hyman said (he assumes a restaurant employee alerted the news media).
Mr. Clinton in 2000, in his heavier White House years.
Joyce Naltchayan / Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Trained as a family doctor, Dr. Hyman, who was born in New York, moved to rural Idaho after medical school to work in a small clinic. He then worked as an emergency room doctor in Massachusetts before becoming co-medical director at Canyon Ranch.
His latest book, “The Blood Sugar Solution: 10-Day Detox Diet,” a sequel to his best seller “The Blood Sugar Solution,” provides a 10-day cleanse for quick weight loss, but the splashy promise of pounds shed is mostly a way to get readers to quickly experience the benefits of healthy eating, he said. “Writing books, you kind of have to come up with the way to get people’s attention. I would probably call it something different if I had a choice.”
More broadly, he embraces a wellness philosophy called “functional medicine,” or the practice of addressing the root causes of chronic diseases (from diabetes and arthritis to insomnia and fatigue) through dietary and lifestyle changes, rather than diagnosing them and prescribing traditional medicine to treat the symptoms. Weight loss is a nice side effect, he said.
In February, the doctor made a blitz of media appearances. He stopped by “The Dr. Oz Show” and schmoozed with fans at a book party at Bouley Botanical, an event space in New York run by the chef David Bouley where fresh herbs spill out of containers in the open kitchen and loft windows.
A svelte Mr. Clinton on “Jimmy Kimmel Live’’ this month.
Randy Holmes / ABC, via Getty Images
But it’s his relationship with the Clintons that brought him the kind of tabloid attention that a doctor with a practice in the scenic Berkshires rarely receives.
As she contemplates another run for the presidency, few topics receive more scrutiny than Mrs. Clinton’s health. And as with most female candidates, Mrs. Clinton’s personal appearance often emerges as a topic of conversation. (During a speech last month, Mrs. Clinton joked that she would name her memoir due out June 10 “The Scrunchie Chronicles: 112 Countries and It’s Still All About My Hair.”)
Mrs. Clinton said at an event last week that she doesn’t think that putting public figures under that type of microscope is “particularly good for the country.”
“It isolates them by putting them in a public category, where people stare at them as if they’re new breeds of human being,” she said. “Everyone’s so interested in what you had for breakfast and what your hair looks like and all the rest of it.”
Meanwhile, there remain genuine concerns about Mr. Clinton’s health, even though he is svelte compared with his doughier White House years. Last month, Chelsea Clinton said her 67-year-old dad, who used to famously jog to a McDonald’s and strategize over greasy steaks and tamales at Doe’s Eat Place in Little Rock, Ark., has a heart that is “much younger than it was even 10 years ago.” He is also around 30 pounds thinner than when he was president.
Some people who have known Mr. Clinton for years, especially his Arkansas friends, have said he looks too thin, almost frail. “He’s good,” Dr. Hyman said. “If you get people healthy then they learn what they need to do to take care of themselves.”
The Clintons have, in turn, referred several friends to Dr. Hyman. “In his other life, this guy is a real doctor,” Mr. Clinton said during a 2012 panel discussion with Dr. Hyman, Jillian Michaels (of “Biggest Loser” fame) and Billie Jean King, among others, at a health conference hosted by the Clinton Foundation.
“He did amazing blood work on me and a lot of other people I know,” Mr. Clinton said, adding that it all started with “a very sophisticated biomedical analysis and he basically gave them their whole lives back.”
Dr. Hyman said his patients range from world leaders to the urban poor. (He has worked to teach people in poverty how to cook healthful foods, most recently in North Carolina.) He said he has made house calls for only “the Clintons and the queen and king of Jordan.”
His is a diet that treats Oreos and Coke like addictive drugs, and that emphasizes the benefits of mostly gluten-free whole foods, proteins and natural fats. Call it the Clinton Cleanse.
“It’s eat real food, walk a little bit, sleep eight hours, do a few things to relax, write a little bit in your journal, take a multivitamin,” Dr. Hyman said. “It’s not rocket science, but it takes out foods that are very inflammatory and toxic.”
Cheap processed foods aren’t the only problem. Across the indoor pool at the Four Seasons restaurant, where entrees like filet mignon and lamb chops cost $65, Dr. Hyman spotted a couple of overweight children enjoying towering pink puffballs of cotton candy with an ice cream center, a special off-menu dessert that the restaurant (which a reporter selected) is known for. “Look at how fat they are and they’re eating cotton candy,” he said, pulling out his iPhone. “I know it’s really tacky, but I’m going to take a picture.”
On the other side of the spectrum is Mrs. Clinton, a 66-year-old potential presidential candidate who logged nearly one million miles over a four-year period as secretary of state.
Dr. Hyman carries packets of macadamia nut, walnut or coconut butter in his jacket pocket, and he advises busy patients like Mrs. Clinton to do the same. Grass-fed beef and turkey jerky and cans of wild salmon are also recommended travel snacks.
These days conversations with the former first couple usually focus on the functional-medicine movement and health policy, Dr. Hyman said. And he has spent time working with the pastor Rick Warren on “The Daniel Plan,” a diet based on community and biblical principles that helped 15,000 of Mr. Warren’s congregants at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., lose a combined 250,000 pounds. “We have the knowledge to relieve needless suffering for millions of people,” Dr. Hyman said. “People like Hillary get it, Bill gets it.”
Before she left the State Department, Mrs. Clinton invited Dr. Hyman to her Washington home to discuss working on health-related issues at the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
In February, Chelsea Clinton, whose 2010 wedding Dr. Hyman attended, spoke on a panel about fighting childhood obesity hosted by the Y.M.C.A. Mrs. Clinton’s “Too Small to Fail” initiative at the Clinton Foundation emphasizes improving the health of children ages 5 and younger.
Dr. Hyman and Mr. Clinton are featured in a coming documentary called “Fed Up” about the food industry and the growing obesity epidemic, which leads to diabetes and other widespread health problems.
As close as he is to Mrs. Clinton, Dr. Hyman has not collaborated with the current first lady. He said Michelle Obama has been overly influenced by the food industry on her “Let’s Move!” initiative to combat childhood obesity.
“She was vilifying the food industry and talking about food, but then she called it ‘Let’s Move!,’ which sounds like ‘Let’s exercise more,’ ” Dr. Hyman said. “The subliminal message is that it’s your fault you’re fat.”
When asked if Mrs. Clinton agreed with this critique, he was quick to say she did not.