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Amy Brenneman's Healthy Balancing Act

The 'Private Practice' star reveals how she takes care of family, career -- and, most importantly, herself.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 25, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

Actor Amy Brenneman of ABC’s Private Practice is in fine form these days. She’s finally learned "how to be nicer to myself" after a recent health scare forced her to put herself first more often.

Juggling a hit TV show while raising two kids (daughter Charlotte is 10 and son Bodhi is 6) with husband of 16 years, film writer/director Brad Silberling, Brenneman struggles to fit everything into 24 hours a day. And to stay sane -- and physically sound -- while doing it.

"I'm lucky because I have help," Brenneman, 47, admits. "I think that for working parents, a big dirty secret that no one wants to talk about is finding child care that you trust. But unless you can hand off your precious children in a safe way, you can't find time [for work and other pursuits] or have a clear conscience."

In an effort to better care for herself, Brenneman works with a nutritionist, Los Angeles-based Ashley Koff, RD, who made small but important changes to the star's diet. She avoids raw foods, seeds, and nuts, and tries to stay well-hydrated.

Brenneman also makes exercise a priority but not an obsession. "I've always been fit. I'm lucky ... I have an internal clock, and I know when to move my body. And I have a wonderful trainer. I wandered into this hardcore Pilates place [last year], and she worked me out. Also, one of the great releases for me is to go running."

Amy Brennerman's Ulcerative Colitis

Being pulled in so many directions -- production schedules, kid commitments, red carpets -- does take its toll. For years, Brenneman suffered flare-ups of ulcerative colitis, a condition of the colon where inflammation and ulcers develop in the intestinal lining. Her health forced the Judging Amy and NYPD Blue alum to re-evaluate how thin she could be stretched -- metaphorically and literally.

"I lost a scary amount of weight while I was doing everything I could to avoid getting the surgery," Brenneman says, referring to the course of treatment recommended by her doctors. "I'm normally 130 pounds, but I got down to 105. Not good." She underwent two operations in 2010. The result? I'm doing really, really well. I feel great. And I'm so grateful," she says.

The unexpected bonus: "I don't drive myself so hard now," she explains, even if "I do drive people around me crazy at times. I schedule things a week or two out front. Then, as I get closer to the day -- and if it's not putting people out -- if I don't feel like it, I won't go.

"I try to stay in touch with my intuition as to how my day should go…there are lots of things we don't have control over. But I don't shame myself over it ... I try to have compassion for myself."

Brennerman: No Tiger Mom

She applies this newfound philosophy to parenting, too. If her son isn't up for T-ball practice, for instance, Brenneman won't force him to go.

"I was talking with other moms," she says of his practices, "who were saying, 'It's important for him to follow through on a commitment.' And I'm thinking, ‘Gosh, he's 5.' So I told him: ‘I don't really care if you do T-ball. It doesn't matter at all.'"

When it comes to the "tiger mom" approach of pushing and over-scheduling children, Brenneman says, "I'm just not into it. I told Bodhi, ‘There are certain things we have to do. We have to go to school. We have to be kind to one another. What we're not going to do is make you go [to practice]. So, you take a minute to decide.' And he did. Then he went and really enjoyed it. I took the heat off around it -- and decided to do that in my own life."

As a career actress now closer to 50 than 40 who didn't land in Hollywood until her mid-20s, Brenneman takes a remarkably measured approach to aging.

"I have the greatest husband in the world. I'm not out there dating. And my husband takes a really dim view of men and women ... who've had too much work done. He makes me feel beautiful."

Brenneman laughs again, something she does easily and often. With her life in balance, her health better than it's been in years, and yet another hit series on her hands, what doesn't she have to smile about?

3 Things That Make Amy Brennerman Smile

Amy Brennerman has a lot that she's grateful for, but here are three things that really make her light up:

1. "Sergio, my makeup artist!" (Sergio is making up Brenneman's face during her WebMD interview before she hits the Private Practice set to do a scene.) "He makes me so happy!"

2. "My children's belly laughs -- priceless!"

3. "Blooper reels," the actor adds, rather unexpectedly. "I was watching the Private Practice blooper reels the other day, and they cracked me up. I love when people who are supposed to have it all together mess up."