A day in the life of Dr. Sarah Berry

To those in the world of science, Dr. Sarah Berry is a force of nature. She’s an associate professor at King’s College London and has run more than 30 human nutrition studies. Most notably, she’s the lead nutritional scientist for PREDICT — the world’s largest in-depth nutritional research program. 

Here at ZOE, she’s our chief scientist. But we also know her as the warm colleague we have a good laugh with at company parties, the tennis player who always enjoys a match, and the relatable woman who attempts to maintain balance amidst the chaos of being a working parent. 

Given her busy life — and such rich nutritional knowledge — we wanted to get a view into how one of the world’s top nutrition scientists lives from day to day.

Below, we shadow her as she moves through a typical day in London. And you might be surprised to find mirrors of your own life in her routine.

Sarah Berry: A day in my life

7:15 a.m. My alarm goes off. I’ve actually been awake for an hour since my husband’s alarm sounded. I’ve been dozing while switching between ruminating on my latest projects and thinking about how many deadlines I have. I’m also telling myself: I must do things better today … I must make more time for the kids, fit in some exercise, eat healthier ... the list goes on.

7:18 a.m. My husband brings me tea in bed as he leaves for work. And so begins my typical morning routine from bed: I reply to emails, check Slack, check social media, check the BBC News app, and check the weather app. Finally, I look at my schedule for the day and realise I need to get out of bed.

7:30 a.m. Time to wake the kids! First my 13-year-old daughter — who is definitely an evening chronotype; that is, a night owl — then my 10-year-old son. I jump in the shower, throw on my gym clothes (still hoping I’ll squeeze in exercise), then the hard work begins: getting my kids up and out of the door. This starts with gentle coaxing but invariably results in desperate shouting as the minutes pass by.

8:20 a.m. Finally, my daughter leaves for school, and I leave the house on my scooter with my son, who rides his bike. We have a lovely scoot and cycle for 10 minutes across the common, where I try to appreciate the small pocket of nature in my busy city and ground myself. 

8:40 a.m. I embarrass my son with endless kisses and cuddles at the school gate and wave him off to school for the day, telling myself I only have another year of this and that I must cherish it. I have this thought every single day. 

8:45 a.m. Rapidly scoot back home in an attempt to arrive for my 9 a.m. meeting, whilst taking a quick call with Inbar, our nutritional science manager at ZOE.

8:57 a.m. I arrive home, giving me 3 minutes to make breakfast. I used to eat pastries or white toast with nutella for breakfast, but since discovering I’m a “big dipper” (after eating high-carb foods, I have a big glucose dip 2 hours later), I’ve made a change. I hate feeling hungry mid-meeting, so now I have my version of my colleague Prof. Tim Spector’s breakfast: full-fat Greek yoghurt, chopped walnuts and almonds, and some granola. I make another cup of tea and race upstairs with my breakfast and tea to the loft, where my office is.

9:02 a.m. I connect to my first meeting with my final-year Ph.D. student. We review her chapters as I chomp down on my breakfast and discuss additional analysis she could do.

9:58 a.m. Jump off the Ph.D. call and note to myself that I must try to avoid always eating my breakfast in meetings. There’s evidence to show that people overeat if distracted by TV, etc. I immediately connect to join a podcast recording with ZOE’s CEO, Jonathan, and a neuroscientist named Tara. As always, I frantically scramble for my mic and earphones to make sure I’m set up before Jonathan joins. 

10:00 a.m. I’m the picture of composure when Jonathan and Tara join (well … the swan that looks graceful but is paddling away underneath). The topic of the podcast is New Year’s resolutions, which was a last-minute change to the schedule. 

10:30 a.m. We’re discussing the pros and cons of New Year’s resolutions, giving micro-change tips, discussing the evidence around weight loss diets, and so much more. I’m learning so many new things from Tara. I’ll use these learnings in the advice I deliver going forward.

11:25 a.m. We finish the podcast 5 minutes early (yay!). Time for a quick toilet break and a dash downstairs to make a cup of tea. Still feeling wonderfully full from my breakfast.

11:30 a.m. Zoom meeting with Kate, an amazing scientist in my team who works jointly with me at KCL and ZOE. We discuss the latest manuscripts she’s working on, including the snacking paper, which shows that the frequency of snacking is not associated with health outcomes but that the quality and timing of snacks is what’s important. 

Given that snacking accounts for 20% of energy intake for most people, this is a great single dietary strategy to improve health.

She shows me some new results from an analysis she’s been looking at involving eating rate (how quickly you eat your food) and health measures, which gets me very excited! I never would have thought 5 years ago when I was in my academic-only job that I could just plan mini-studies off the cuff like this and know they would get implemented in a matter of weeks. This really is research on steroids!

12:05 p.m. We plan out the talks we’re giving at a conference in Japan in a week’s time about our ZOE PREDICT research. Topics include menopause, social jetlag, snacking, microbiome, and postprandial glucose. I’m feeling very excited about going to Tokyo, as I’ve never been. 

12:25 p.m. I suddenly remember I’m about to do an interview for a new member of our team at 12:30, followed by an Instagram live at 1, so I hurriedly make some lunch whilst wrapping up with Kate. My lunch consists of a ham wrap (with lashings of butter) and a bag of crisps. I know. Not a healthy choice. But it’s quick and can be made during a Zoom call!

12:58 p.m. Jump off the interview, make another cup of Yorkshire tea, and rapidly set up my phone for an IG live with Jenna, an immunologist with an interest in nutrition. The title of the IG live is “nutribollocks,” which is a favourite term of mine. I spend the next hour in my element, talking about all the nutri-nonsense out there and setting people straight. 

I mean, who on Earth can think it’s OK to promote an alkaline diet, or the blood group diet, or the xxx diet — there’s just so much misinformation, it’s laughable.

We also discuss the pros and cons of personalised nutrition, which I wade into with gusto to set the record straight on the huge misconceptions surrounding it. Before I know it, the hour has gone.

2:00 p.m. A 30-minute meeting to discuss the data analysis for the METHOD RCT, our clinical trial testing the efficacy of the ZOE program. Kate, Inbar, and I meet with Joan, our amazing data scientist, to develop a plan for data analysis and how to present our research findings. I feel excited to be at this stage, with the trial nearly finished.

2:30 p.m. I hop off the call to have my 1 special hour of the week that’s just for me — my weekly tennis lesson. Fortunately, my tennis club is just behind my house, so I grab a snack bar (that lunch did not keep me full) and run down to the courts. I feel rushed. But within 15 minutes of smashing the ball, I’m energised and feel the stress seep away.

3:20 p.m. Race from the court back to my house to collect my son from school. I grab the scooter because I’ve cut it too fine to simply walk, and I call Emily, our expert dietician at ZOE who needs 10 minutes with me about something urgent. Scooting as fast as I can, I quickly chat through the issue and arrive at the school 2 minutes late.

3:32 p.m. At the school gates. Embarrass my son (again) by smothering him in kisses, whilst feeling blessed that, despite my busy job, I’m able to drop him off and collect him from school every day. He’s only interested in what snack I’ve brought him. We have a lovely stroll home (I don’t have to rush!), and he tells me random snippets of his day. I bump into an old school friend (I live where I grew up), and we have a “mum chatter,” as my son calls it.

4:10 p.m. We arrive home just before my daughter gets back from school. I do all the usual “mum stuff” — empty lunch boxes, put on a wash, etc.

4:30 p.m. Remember I need to feed the kids before my daughter goes to her tennis lesson at 5. Hunt around the kitchen for something to feed them quickly, so I grab a tin of spaghetti hoops and a few eggs and some toast. I also cook some baked beans for myself to tide me over until my husband cooks for the two of us later. 

4:40 p.m. We’re sitting down together to eat. Fortunately, I only do the kids’ dinner Mondays–Wednesdays, as my husband (who does most of the cooking) works at home Thursdays and Fridays. So, they get better food the rest of the week!

5:00 p.m. My daughter heads off to her tennis lesson, and I join a webinar for the participants of our METHOD RCT. The participants can ask me any questions about the study, and I can try to motivate them to keep logging their food and doing their study tasks. My son is happily playing video games.

5:30 p.m. Midway through the webinar, I’m being asked quite a few in-depth questions, some of which I don’t know the answer to. 

Fortunately, I’m no longer worried about saying, 'I don’t know.' I think the sign of a good scientist is when they’re comfortable saying that they don’t know the answer.

6:00 p.m. Webinar finishes and my daughter arrives back from tennis. We have a quick turnaround before we head out the door at 6:10 for her to head to her netball club around the corner.

6:15 p.m. Now the really hard work begins … getting my son to do his homework. We try to get most of it done on a Wednesday, as that’s his day of no clubs or play dates. We start off well with the maths, which he’s a whizz at. But then it goes downhill with the English. He has dyslexia, so it’s a huge challenge for him (and me!). 

6:55 p.m. We’re done, and he’s rewarded with more time playing video games.

7:30 p.m. My husband arrives home, and I dash to collect my daughter from netball. 

8:00 p.m. I eat a bit of the lovely chicken curry my husband has cooked, and the next hour whizzes by with house tasks, kid tasks, odd emails.

8:45 p.m. The bedtime routine begins. This starts with red wine (for me), which I know contains polyphenols. And my kids have a snack, bathtime, cuddles, and finally my son goes to bed at 9:30.

9:30 p.m. I finally escape my son’s room, head downstairs to have a brief chat with my husband, make a snack of cheese and biscuits, and top up my wine. It was only today I was looking at our data showing that late snacking is not great for our health, but I know myself, and I’m the kind of person who needs to eat little and often rather than a few large meals. I head up to the office and try to answer the hundreds of emails and Slacks that have come through during the day. 

10:45 p.m. Eek. It’s 10:45! Time for bed.

11:00 p.m. I head to bed, where I sit with my phone and finish off those emails and Slacks. I then read my book for about 5 minutes to try and clear my mind. 

11:30 p.m. Turn the lights out and lie in bed. I think about what I’ve learned today and what I’d like to do better tomorrow:

Tomorrow, I’ll get up a little earlier so I’m not rushed in the morning. Tomorrow, I’ll try to make time in my diary for a proper lunch. Tomorrow, I’ll start saying “no” to meetings so I have an hour each day to do non-meeting work. Tomorrow, I’ll make time to cook the kids a proper dinner. Tomorrow, I’ll try not to work late into the night. Tomorrow, I’ll…

And at some point, as my inner monologue details the changes I’d like to focus on, I drift off to sleep.