TV actress Sarah Chalke may be best known as the self-conscious Dr. Reid on Scrubs, or perhaps Stella on How I Met Your Mother, or perhaps Kate in Mad Love, but she is also now known as Polly in How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life).
Sarah keeps reinventing herself within each TV series. But there are a few priorities in her own life that don’t change — health and wellness, for example, were important to her long before she began playing a doctor’s character on Scrubs.
I spoke with Sarah Chalke about her lifestyle.
CAROL: You were Dr. Elliot Reid on Scrubs for eight years. Did you learn about medical science from being on the show?
SARAH CHALKE: I’ve always been a hypochondriac; I think I got what some medical students have — they diagnose themselves having everything that they study. I was convinced that I had half a dozen diseases over the years.
The medical jargon was more like speaking another language; I just memorized it. We had a doctor on set to make sure we pronounced terms correctly, and that surgery procedures were done accurately. That said, we still got calls because the opening credits show backward x-rays.
CAROL: Are you vegetarian?
SARAH CHALKE: I was, but not now. I read Diet for a New America when I was 12 years old and it was so painful to read that, though I loved meat at the time, I became vegetarian overnight. I grew up in a household that half of the people were vegetarian anyway – my sister, my grandmother, and my father after he was diagnosed with arthritis.
But I gave up all protein at that age, not knowing what to substitute meat with, and I think it stunted my growth. I was the shortest person in my class until I started eating fish again. When Scrubs started I began eating chicken and now I also eat red meat once in a while.
SARAH CHALKE: My diet has evolved; I think you have to go with what you feel your body needs. For me it was difficult working on a set for 12 to 14 hours a day and still get enough energy from the right foods. I also only had access to what was available. At first I tried to prepare my own and bring it, but trying to make something at 4 a.m. for the next day became ridiculous.
CAROL: You’re still a healthy eater.
SARAH CHALKE: We grew up eating healthy food finished with decadent dessert so that’s still what I crave — it’s all about balance. I eat lots of veggies and fruit… and dark chocolate. I read Fit for Life 10 years ago and began proper food combining, which I found very helpful, and following it gave me a lot of energy.
Eventually at work, we found a healthy caterer that allowed me to specifically order what I wanted to get all of the nutrients that I need. They deliver three meals and two snacks per day which keeps my energy high. Of course it’s difficult to eat five times a day if you’re busy and don’t have someone delivering it!
CAROL: Do you take any supplements or do alternative therapies?
SARAH CHALKE: I get acupuncture on a weekly basis, and take traditional Chinese herbs. It’s been for great for stress relief since I had been working very long hours. My mother and a couple of friends had incredible results with acupuncture, and I have noticed such a difference; you go in for one ailment and it ends up curing three others.
Sometimes I’m so relaxed afterwards I feel like I shouldn’t be driving home. I take supplements including an omega-3, -6 and -9 combination, and a multivitamin every day, and I pour flax oil right onto grainy artisan toast instead of butter; it tastes great!
CAROL: You were very active when you lived in Canada: you skied, snowboarded and kayaked. What do you do now to keep in shape?
SARAH CHALKE: I take my dog hiking at least four times a week. I love yoga and do it when I can squeeze it in, and a class that combines yoga, kickboxing, rope jumping and other cardio. I got very spoiled growing up in Vancouver close to hiking trails and ski hills.
CAROL: What do you do to unwind?
SARAH CHALKE: Going for hike or having friends over and cooking dinner are my favourite ways. After completing each series, I have had some time off to do those things. The time in between has made me appreciate balance; it’s as important to not do work as it is to do work.
In order to really unwind you have to take a substantial amount of time physically getting away with cell phone turned off.
CAROL: You have been on talk shows including David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres and Conan O’Brien. Do you get nervous?
SARAH CHALKE: It’s different than acting, and a very unique experience. I do get nervous. It has to do with loss of control; the interview can go in any direction that the interviewer wants to take it. It’s becoming easier, but I still get that feeling in my stomach before I walk on set and think, “Why am I doing this? Was this a good idea?”
They brief you beforehand, but sometimes they spontaneously steer you in a completely different direction. I think interviews are the most fun for people to watch on TV when not pre-determined or rehearsed.
CAROL: Do you think about aging, living in LA as a TV celebrity?
SARAH CHALKE: Yes, of course. It’s an industry that keeps a lot of pressure on women. I feel lucky that I’ve been on Scrubs for all of these years but I look back on the first episodes and say, “We were babies! What happened?!”
It’s important to keep it in perspective, enjoy the ride while it’s happening, and try not to get too attached, though I would be lying if I said aging never crosses my mind. I don’t know whether I will ever get facial surgery, but I do know that my grandmother was the most beautiful looking woman until the day she died and did nothing but put a little cream on her face.
Aging is part of life so we shouldn’t fight it too much.
CAROL: You played Becky on Roseanne for a long time. Was it difficult breaking free from the teen image in TV roles?
SARAH CHALKE: I was on it when I was 17, and it was an incredible learning experience, but I didn’t have enough of a part to become well identified with that.
CAROL: Before that you played an environmental reporter on Kids Zone at age 12. Does environmental preservation still interest you?
SARAH CHALKE: Absolutely. It’s important to my entire family. My parents wanted us to grow up aware and eco-conscious so we recycled and had a compost system.
CAROL: Why do you focus on giving to children’s charities?
SARAH CHALKE: My parents own an adoption agency in Vancouver and I’ve traveled around the world to orphanages with them, the first time when I was three. I accompanied them to China to coordinate the adoption of several orphans there.
You learn firsthand how the majority of the world lives so it has become a huge priority to help. I work with a charity called Half the Sky that helps orphans in China and with a charity in South Africa.
CAROL: You played a self-conscious, slightly clumsy character on Scrubs, and in real life you have sprained your ankle four times…
SARAH CHALKE: I’ve actually sprained my ankle seven times. I did it four times while working on Scrubs, for example. I’ve sprained it doing everything from walking my dog to getting up from a chair — my foot fell asleep and I fell flat on my face when I tried to get up.
CAROL: Do you believe that your body is trying to tell you something? It’s thought to spiritually mean “not knowing confidently which direction to turn in your life.”
SARAH CHALKE: That is very interesting.