A mom’s journey as a holistic nutrionist

My love for all things food started young. I grew up with a British grandmother who thought salt was too spicy, and thus, my mom didn’t learn to experiment with exotic flavors beyond mint jelly or american chop suey. The food we ate growing up was exactly that of most late-80’s, early-90’s kids: Mac ’N Cheese in that familiar blue box, Toaster Pastries (with cheese on top- anyone else?) and a smattering of frozen vegetables mixed with poorly seasoned ground turkey (because beef was bad for you). Thankfully my father has always been a master gardener and our back yard was always overflowing with veggies come summer in New England. There was nothing like the taste and smell of a freshly picked cherry tomato, bursting on your tongue, still slightly warm from the sun.

Despite my lackluster food upbringing, I started experimenting with cooking in high school. I declared myself a vegetarian, trying my hand at recipes my mother hadn’t dreamed of bringing into our little ranch kitchen. Chickpea curry and veggie risottos, even an entirely vegan oreo ice cream cake. Despite giving up vegetarianism fairly quickly, I entered into my University nutrition program bursting with ideas about how I was going to change the world, one veggie at a time. I was met with rules and regulations set by the US Department of Agriculture about how we, as Americans, should eat. Recommendations I didn’t realize at the time, aren’t always made with our best interests at heart.

I followed the recommendations, being the Type-A person I am, to a tee and beyond, meticulously calculating my macros and tracking my calories to fit the perfect ideal of health. Eventually, I spiraled into an eating disorder that stole multiple years of my life and the pleasure entirely out of eating. Food became numbers, measurements and restriction, how-many-miles-do-I-need-to-do-to-burn-this-cookie-off. As it is for so many women today, eating disorder or not- I just took it beyond. My tipping point came when my doctor looked at me straight in the eye and told me if I kept going along this route, I would never be able to have children.

The summer following, studying abroad in Italy, taking cooking classes and enjoying food prepared only from products of the local land, reawakened my love for real food. I determined that one day I would marry food to health and teach people how to eat healthy, through REAL food, not numbers.

As divine destiny would have it, I met my now-husband a few weeks after returning from Italy. He had no idea of my past struggles with food and only saw me as a woman with a zest for cooking and a slight obsession with all things nutrition. He was a good sport and followed in my culinary adventures, accepted my weird recommendations to maybe not eat so much frozen pizza. When he had to return to his home country of Canada when he graduated, I left the desire to become a dietitian behind (I’ve never liked hospitals, anyway) and took my passion for real food and enrolled in culinary school in Toronto.

After graduating, I worked as a natural foods personal chef, specializing in clients with health conditions that required special diets. I showed them that real food COULD taste delicious, and that getting proper nutrition would enable them to not just survive, but thrive, no matter what their diagnosis. Meanwhile, I started an internship at a local holistic nutrition school. I became quickly fascinated by the emphasis on the nutrients in whole foods and complete lack of attention to numbers. I decided to enroll in a holistic nutrition program myself; all the while I started struggling in my own health—hard. I developed a debilitating case of acid reflux (likely due to my lack of nutrition for so many years) and IBS-D (look it up, if you must)- that almost kept me from pursuing my dreams.

I wasn’t going to let a few tummy troubles hold me back. So I hired the best clinical holistic nutritionist around, spent two years getting my digestive system back in order. My gastroenterologist told me I would never truly get better, and only medication would control my symptoms. To their bewilderment, I got better through a traditional foods based diet, a few simple supplements and absolutely no medical intervention necessary.

The body never heals in isolation, so soon after healing my digestive issues I became pregnant with my now four year old daughter, Sage. An unexpectedly complicated pregnancy led me to the realization that so many of the foods I had been eating for years were actually causing me more harm than good. In many ways the food pyramid should be turned on it’s head and we all have unique needs—there is NO one size fits all. Despite years of education and multiple degrees in food, I had no idea what to eat.

But things were different now. I was not only a girl with a desire to eat healthy and share it with others—I was a mother. I am a mother. And what I eat, what I share with my child, will have lasting effects on her biology. The meaning behind holistic; mind, body and soul, suddenly had a whole new importance. My greatest desire for my daughter was that she never had to struggle like I did: with confusion around food, with restriction and disordered thoughts, with body dysmorphia, digestive distress or overwhelm about what to order at a restaurant, and that she just knew, intuitively, what felt good. Real, whole foods, the ones that feel good, to her.

The years following Sage’s birth led me down paths I never would have imagined back when I first started nutrition school so many years prior; finding a love for fitness and competing in a fitness competition (never again) that led me to a certification in exercise nutrition; which taught me there is more than one type of body to consider when giving nutrition recommendations. Late nights spent diving deeper into the research on nutrition beyond what was conventionally taught in nutrition school or even holistic nutrition school; into the importance of gut health, hormone balance and nutrient dense foods. Later developing a system and philosophy I refer to as your beautiful balance. A place where nourishment is paramount and restriction is nonexistent; where dieting is a figment of past mistakes and real, whole foods—in a balance that works for only you (always with room for treats) is the only rule. I learned mindfulness around food and how to eat intuitively. I learned how to plan my meals and prep ahead so my family always had healthy food on hand—a skill I learned as a chef and had never implemented for our family. A long-sought after diagnosis taught me that I wasn’t crazy and the complications of my previous pregnancy were not in vain; I had a hormonal imbalance that has no cure, except, you guessed it, changing the way I eat.

Against all odds, I was able to conceive again, naturally, with absolutely no complications, my now 6- month old; my second daughter. Holistic nutrition isn’t a certification that hangs on my wall, in fact, my degrees and certifications lay neatly in a stack in the back of my file cabinet, and I rarely reach for them. What I do goes so far beyond what anyone could label me; holistic nutritionist, chef, health coach, real food educator.

I am a mother, and my greatest desire is to share with other mothers that nutrition doesn’t need to be complicated. That real health IS possible, for you and your family, through real food, without needing to get caught up in numbers or unrealistic ideals. Putting nourishing food on the table, healing your own health and being the example of balance for your kids can come as second nature; with a little practice and a whole of love.

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