How to Bring Your Nutritionist to Tears

I recently received this testimonial from a client, and I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it. Honestly, I get so emotional every time I read it, I haven’t been able to process it very well! But I finally decided to just share it here. I am so blessed to be able to do this work and make a difference in clients’ lives, and I am so thankful that people like Lori trust me to be a part of their healing process.

When I initially started working with Ellen in May 2014, my secret goal was to lose weight.  We spoke at great lengths about how weight loss should not be a goal.  Choose better health, higher stamina, fewer energy dips during the day – but do not choose weight loss as a goal. 

I already had gastric bypass in 2004 – which means I completely scrambled my insides – just to lose weight.  I lost 165 pounds back then but about 75 of those pounds had crept back on over the years.  We all tell ourselves we are having surgery to be healthier, but many of us don’t change our diet; we just eat less of whatever horrible foods we were eating before.  I have spent my entire life feeling like the extra weight was my problem.  Every other time I’ve had to speak with a nutritionist, they spent a ton of time telling me what not to do.  And when someone tells me not to do something, I want to do it more.  Ellen has given me the information and tools to make my own decisions. 

Not one single doctor or nutritionist has ever gotten to the root of my actual problem:  I was eating low quality foods and most likely not digesting them properly.  As Ellen has told me, I was on the Standard American Diet.  I wouldn’t have known what a healthy meal looked like if it hit me in the face.  Initially, I did the minimum with Ellen.  Yes, I made diet changes (I cut a lot of sugar from my diet).  I started making most of my food at home.  I chose higher quality supplements.  I lost some weight, which I was not so secretly happy about.  But more importantly, thanks to the proper nutrition, I felt more fantastic than I ever had.  I even started to become at peace with my still-naturally large body. 

Then in September of 2015, a new goal was thrown into my lap.  My liver panels shot up and I realized I had to get a little more serious about my health.  Ellen gave me a comprehensive plan to help heal my liver and aid in digestion (as the weight loss surgery had made me unable to properly digest most of my foods, which means I was losing out on important nutrients).  In addition to continuing to eat good foods and only do exercise I actually enjoy, I decided to stop taking my birth control pill.  I had been on the pill for 25 years, so my body never had the chance to learn how to function properly in the hormone department.  I also decided to stop taking an immunosuppressant shot for my psoriasis, which could have been adding to my liver problems. 

In January 2016, I found out that my liver panels are back down to near normal levels – something I have not seen in many years.  In the process, I even lost ten pounds over the holidays.  Again, it was not a goal, but it was a natural result of changing the foods and taking my supplements.  I do not ever count calories (or beat myself up if I eat something that is not so great for me).  I also feel like eating the proper foods helps me feel in control of my life in general.  I have spent many years being a compulsive overeater, which can lead to disordered thinking in other areas of my life.  I don’t want to say that my disordered thoughts and eating have been cured, but I will say that I have had many more calm days by following Ellen’s advice.  I have faced a few tough challenges in the last year, all of which would have normally touched off a binge.  I have not felt like binging through any of those times.  That’s a huge win for me.  Ellen has quite literally saved my life, and I will always appreciate her for that. 

Healthy, or Obsessed?

I almost turned into a maniac in Safeway last week.

You see, I buy all my food in one of two places: Whole Foods, or the farmers market. My family has made the choice to buy almost exclusively organic, whenever possible, for both our health and the health of the planet. We buy very few things at all that come in any sort of package, and cook just about everything from scratch. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s pricier than buying conventional or pre-packaged. Yes, it’s a luxury some people cannot afford. I understand this. But we’ve decided this is our value system, that the quality of what goes in our body is worth the expense and trouble. It’s what I teach, and what I try to live. As I like to say, when it comes to health, you can pay now, or you can pay later. Your choice.

So, anyway. Every couple of months I go to Safeway for a few large items I just can’t get elsewhere. Cat litter. Heavy duty aluminum foil. Trash bags. Bounty. (Because, I love you, Whole Foods, but those paper towels you sell are ridiculous. YOU try cleaning up cat vomit with one of those tree shavings!) And I’m walking around the aisles last week, and I’m appalled.

There’s almost no FOOD in Safeway.

Sure, there are endless aisles of grocery products. Convenience packages. Big brand names. Lots of food-like substances. But all I see is an array of chemicals, additives, preservatives, factory-farmed cruelty, artificial flavors and colorings, and high fructose corn syrup. And it was all I could do to not start running around the aisles screaming, “RUN! GET OUT! Put down the bright yellow American cheese slices and the Squirt soda!  Save yourselves and your children! THIS IS NOT FOOD!!!!!”

Instead, I bought my cat litter, bit my tongue, and left.

You see, a big part of my job is understanding that everyone is in a different place on their journey. I have to honor and respect that, and not try to push people to be somewhere they aren’t ready to be. I strive to focus on living what I preach, being a good role model, and not making anyone feel bad about not being ready to make the same choices I make. I am here as an educator and guide, and I want to be respectful and know that my clients (and hopefully my friends and family) will find their way when they are at the right time.

For myself, I also have to make sure I keep a balanced perspective on things. It’s easy to start to get insulated in my home-cooked world of organic deliciousness, and to start to fear the unknown when it comes to food. I still eat out, and when I do, I choose the healthiest place with the healthiest options I can, and then I make a conscious choice to just let go. Sure, maybe they cooked my food in canola oil. Yes, that salad isn’t organic romaine. I won’t die. Not today, not in ten years, not from some conventionally grown produce. If the bulk of what I eat is healthy, I know I’m doing the best I can for my body and my planet.

There’s a new disorder you may have heard of, called orthorexia nervosa, or orthorexia. It’s defined as an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food, and while it’s not an official clinical diagnosis yet, it’s a real thing and is on the rise. If eating “healthily” causes significant distress or negative consequences in your life, you’ve gone too far. I’ve been asked by clients if their (and my) concern about eating healthy is something they should worry about. Is it, by definition, pathological? And my answer is generally no. Your family and friends may not understand the choices you’re making–why you’re passing on the piece of birthday cake, why you don’t want any of that cream sauce. You’re doing the best you can for you and your health, and if they love you, they need to understand that.

Just don’t go nutty and start screaming in Safeway, okay?

Go Organic: Why Quality Matters

I always recommend organic food to my clients. And sometimes, I can immediately see their eyes glaze over and swear I can hear their thoughts:

“Ugh, organic is so expensive.”

“Organic doesn’t really matter. Veggies are veggies.”

“GMO…whatever. I’m not a scientist. Who cares.”

Organic foods DO make a difference to health and nutrition, and it’s something we really should all care about.

In July of 2014, the British Journal of Nutrition published a study that looked at 343 previous studies of whether organic food was more nutritious than conventionally grown. The researchers concluded that organic crops contained higher concentrations of antioxidants than conventionally grown foods, up to 40% more. At the same time, the researchers found that conventional foods contained greater concentrations of residual pesticides and the toxic metal cadmium. The theory is that organic plants produce more antioxidants and natural toxins to defend themselves against insects and other environmental threats.

Beyond being more nutritious, the lack of pesticide residues is what makes organics really pretty great. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are endocrine disruptors: fake estrogens, essentially. These bind to our hormone receptors, blocking our natural hormones from being able to act as designed, and thereby mess with everything from our gut health to our liver to our reproduction to our brain function. In the gut, endocrine disruptors are known to allow “bad” bacteria to proliferate, which is now being shown to be linked as one cause of obesity. Not only are pesticides and fertilizers known endocrine disruptors, but so are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

It’s been said that GMO really stands for “God, Move Over.”  GMOs are created by a laboratory process that transfers genetic material into the DNA of an organism. There are nine genetically modified (GM) food crops currently on the market in the US: soy, corn, cotton (oil), canola (oil), sugar from sugar beets, zucchini, yellow squash, Hawaiian papaya, and alfalfa.

Most GM crops are engineered to tolerate a weed killer called Roundup®, whose active ingredient is glyphosate. These crops, known as Roundup-Ready crops, accumulate high levels of glyphosate that remain in the food. Basically, the crops get sprayed with Roundup, the weeds die, and we eat the remaining crops that are covered in Roundup.

Corn and cotton varieties are also engineered to have their cells produce an insecticide called Bt-toxin, to make them resistant to pest damage. The Bt-toxin is produced in every cell of genetically engineered corn and ends up in corn chips, corn tortillas, and other ingredients derived from corn. The Bt-toxin produced by genetically modified corn kills insects by punching holes in their digestive tracts, and a 2012 study confirmed that it punctures holes in human cells as well. Bt-toxin survives in the milk and meat of animals that are fed GMO animal feed, and are passed on to us–80% of human fetal blood samples tested show the presence of Bt-toxin. There is even a theory that the genes from the corn can transfer into the native bacteria in our gut and start producing toxins there, essentially turning our good flora into toxin factories!

A recent analysis of research suggests that Bt-toxin, glyphosate, and other components of GMOs are linked to five conditions:

  • Intestinal permeability
  • Imbalanced gut bacteria
  • Immune activation and allergies
  • Impaired digestion
  • Damage to the intestinal wall

It is believed that the atmospheric rise in the number of cases of gluten intolerance and other food allergies in this country in recent years may well be linked to the increase in GMO crops in our food supply, as we know that food sensitivities result from gut wall damage and increased permeability. Basically, you eat a food, and particles of it escape through the damaged gut wall into the bloodstream, where food particles were never meant to be. Your immune system sees these particles as invaders, and sets up an attack, which is what we define as a sensitivity or allergy–when your body is reacting to/attacking a food and symptoms occur as a result of eating it.

There are many hidden sources of GMOs to be aware of. One major exposure is in the oils used in restaurants for cooking, dressings, and sauces, which are commonly soybean, vegetable, corn, canola, and cottonseed oils. Additionally, non-organic sugar is often from GMO sugar beets. Farmed fish eat GMO soy pellets.  And most critically, about 88% of the US corn crop is GMO.

The surest way to avoid GMOs, pesticides, and other endocrine disruptors is to buy and eat organic food. By definition, organic food must be grown without synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering or chemical fertilizers. My clients have heard me say that I am a stickler for only organic corn and soy (if you choose to make soy part of your diet). Anything that grows in direct contact with the soil, such as potatoes or carrots, or cannot be peeled, such as berries, really should absolutely only be consumed in organic forms.

Yes, organic food can often be more expensive than conventionally grown. Farmers’ markets are a great resource for local, fresh organic food, and frequently are less expensive. But honestly, is anything more important than the quality of what you put inside your body?

Some of the information for this blog post came from Jeffrey Smith and the Institute for Responsible Technology.

The Magical Formula for Eating Like a Wellness Rockstar

A recent survey conducted by the National Cancer Institute asked Americans about their diet from the previous day. Only 9% had consumed three or more servings of vegetables or two or more servings of fruit. One in nine had no fruits or vegetables at all. In the United States, 46% of every food dollar is spent on meals and snacks away from home. The typical American consumes about 140 pounds of sugar a year. Clearly, our focus is not on healthy eating!

The decision to get rid of chronic health problems, prevent disease, and improve the quality of your life begins with changing your food choices. Real food provides your body with the fuel it needs to optimally function, as well as the raw materials to begin to detoxify and heal.

A balanced, properly prepared whole foods diet can be a powerful form of resetting the body. Too often, we don’t make the connection between what we eat and some of the symptoms we suffer. Of course, there’s much more to living a healthy balanced life than simply the food we eat. However, it’s a great start! Here are some very basic principles to help you make your food work for and not against you.

The Magical Guideline for Eating Like a Nutrition Rockstar:

Aim for 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. All day, every day.

About half the food on your plate should be carbohydrates—vegetables, healthy grains. Add a good portion of protein at every meal. Then, add some fat. It’s that simple!

Some more details…

CARBOHYDRATES (aka anything that comes from plants):

  • Vegetables: Eat huge amounts—you cannot overdo it here—especially lots of leafy greens. Go for rich color and variety. Eat something raw at every meal and all the colors of the rainbow.
  • Fruit: Eat moderate amounts of fresh fruit.
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates: The average American gets 50% of their calories from refined carbohydrates. Refined carbs (i.e. white bread, white rice, pasta, instant oatmeal) are grains that have had the fiber, vitamin E, B vitamins, bran and germ removed—all the nutrients, which stresses your digestive and endocrine system. Eating refined carbs also uses up precious vitamins and minerals to process them. Instead, try brown rice, whole grain oats, quinoa, amaranth, and millet.
  • Sweeteners: Minimal, very occasional. Less is best. If you must, opt for real sugar or maple syrup over anything artificial (NutraSweet, Sweet and Low…)
  • Avoid refined sugar. Refined sugar increases insulin and adrenal hormone production, depletes vitamins and minerals, feeds yeast and other “bad” organisms in the gut, leads to mood and energy swings, increases cravings, disrupts sleep, and increases pain and inflammation.

PROTEIN:

  • Pastured, organic, grass-fed meats, poultry, and eggs are excellent, healthy sources of protein.
  • Dairy products should be unsweetened organic whole milk-based only (no low fat, no sugar/fruit added).
  • Consider healthy sources of vegan protein as well: hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds, nuts, beans and legumes, and spirulina.

FATS:

  • For the past 60 years, Americans have been on low-fat and/or poor quality fat diets. We are a society extremely deficient in healthy fatty acids. On top of that, the fats and oils many of us have been using are refined, unstable and dangerous to consume, as the processing methods these fats are exposed to make them toxic to our bodies.
  • The research from decades ago that suggested that fat consumption was responsible for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity has now been debunked as flawed and false. Problems arise when we eat unhealthy fats, such as hydrogenated oils.
  • Fats benefit our health and wellbeing in so many ways: they satisfy our appetite, they are the building blocks of healthy hormones, they enhance mineral absorption, they provide a long-burning source of energy, they are the building blocks of healthy cell membranes, and they aid in the formation of anti-inflammatory substances in the body.
  • Good fats are vital for every aspect of health: nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter, avocado. Avoid “vegetable oil” or “canola oil”—no oils in clear bottles on the grocery shelves.

LIQUIDS: Drink good quality water throughout the day. As a general guideline, drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day.  You can add fresh citrus or mint for flavor. No sodas, juice, vitamin water, or sweetened drinks. You need water to keep your cells hydrated and protected, to eliminate waste and ensure the health of your mucus membranes. Adequate hydration will improve a number of health problems including sinusitis, constipation, inflammation, allergies, fatigue, joint pain, headaches, and many others.

Remember: Always choose the best quality products possible. When possible, choose Certified Organic.

Avoid processed foods, fast foods, chemically treated foods, and industrially prepared foods. Pay attention to the quality of the ingredients that go in your mouth. Eat foods as close to Nature as possible.  Shop, plan, and cook for yourself. Avoid packages. Just eat real food. (There is no pasta tree!)

Pay attention to how the food you eat makes you feel. If you’re getting bloated, headaches, energy crashes in the afternoon, think back to what you’ve eaten all day. Did you have enough protein and fat at breakfast? Look for patterns. Focus on the foods that make you feel good. This is a balanced way to eat that shouldn’t make you feel deprived, but rather should make you feel physically and emotionally healthy and vibrant–like a wellness rockstar! Occasional parties and splurges are a part of life, so enjoy. But you may find that you feel so healthy eating like this, the splurges just aren’t worth the physical after-effects!

Alternative Holiday Cookie Roundup

It’s alternative holiday treat baking time!

That’s a thing, right? It is at my house. Somehow, I just want to bake treats this time of year. In my efforts to keep eating allergy-free, I find recipes that are gluten- and dairy-free (or vegan). In an effort to keep my sugar intake down, I also exercise self control and TRY to keep it to one or two treats in my mouth per day. Often, I will take conventional recipes, and just sub a gluten-free flour blend (my favorite is this one), plus some xanthan gum to help it hold together. If you’re looking to go dairy-free, you can always sub super healthy coconut shortening for butter. And if you can’t do eggs, this egg replacer works really well in baked goods.

Here are some of my favorite recipes, plus some I’m dying to try. If you make any of these, let me know how they turn out. Happy holiday baking!

Gluten Free:

Flourless Almond Butter Cookies

Flourless Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Vegan and Gluten Free Turtle Cookies

Almond Butter Quinoa Blondies

Peppermint Chocolate Macaroons

Seductive Raw Chocolate Fudge

Strawberry Jam Cookies

Conventional recipes (sub equal amount GF flour, plus 1/4 tsp xanthan gum, to make GF):

Grandma’s Gingersnaps

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies