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Making Friends with Food

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A nutritionist can help you cook for better health

Many advances in modern medicine have occurred over the past hundred years or so, but some of the greatest advances in the recent past have been in the relationship between nutrition and the human body. Nature’s ability to heal us has always been available. However, because life is extremely busy, sometimes we select convenience over strategic healthy lifestyle choices. As a result, Americans now face an epidemic of lifestyle diseases, and the current generation of children is the first generation in history predicted to live shorter lives than their parents.

It’s not that we are lazy or lack the willpower to change. It’s because somewhere while riding the wave of technology, we lost our balance when it came to taking care of ourselves and our bodies. We may actually want to connect our diet and our health, but even when doctors make recommendations to us, actually implementing the changes into our lives seems too daunting, too overwhelming and too difficult a task — even in matters of life and death. This is when a nutritionist can help.

Kate Henniger (katehenningerwellness.com), a Houston nutritionist studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (www.integrativenutrition.com), asks, “When was the last time you talked with someone about your health and received the personal attention you deserve? It’s rare for anyone to get an hour to work on their nutrition and goals with a trained professional. A nutritionist can be there to create a supportive environment while together you explore what really works for you.”

Today’s nutritionists understand that no one diet works for everyone. A nutritionist or health coach can guide you to find the food and lifestyle choices that best support you. They will also help you to make gradual, lifelong changes that empower you to reach your current and future health goals.

Hannah Fenster, holistic health coach (www.HannahFenster.com), agrees with Henniger. Fenster identifies her role as one of support and assistance, a collaboration, where coach and client work together to identify and address health and lifestyle goals. She says, “As a health coach, I work with people not only on their diet and exercise (although that is the cornerstone to healthy living and to the work I do), but with their lifestyle at large. How are they sleeping? How are their relationships? How do they feel about their job? What are they most passionate about? What are their goals and dreams? What steps are they taking toward those dreams?”

A trained nutritionist considers many elements when they meet with clients:

Bio-individuality

The concept of bio-individuality is that each person has their own food and lifestyle needs. So, when the experts say, “dairy is good for you” or “fat is unhealthy,” it doesn’t apply to everyone. One person’s food is another person’s poison, which is why fad diets tend to fail in the long run. A nutritionist will support you in making positive changes that are based on your unique needs, lifestyle, personal preferences and background.

Everything is food

Your nutritionist will consider that you are not only fed by food but by other factors in your life. A holistic health coach will teach you that healthy relationships, a fulfilling career, regular physical activity and a spiritual practice are essential forms of nourishment and when these “primary foods” are balanced, what you eat becomes secondary.

Diet pyramids

A diet pyramid focuses on nourishing food and lifestyle choices. Your nutritionist’s wellness pyramid should emphasize the importance of high quality vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats and water. To complete the picture, the pyramid is surrounded with lifestyle factors that create optimal heath: relationship, career, physical activity and spirituality.

Rather than eliminating certain foods or making lists of bad and good foods, a nutritionist helps clients break down their cravings and find ways to incorporate healthier foods into their diets. The work often starts with educating you about what to look for in terms of food product ingredients, and will likely include taking a grocery store tour — to help you begin to approach food shopping more strategically. A nutritionist will assist with meal and menu planning. Even if you prefer eating out, your coach may teach you how to order healthy options and make small changes that will make the best of any menu.

Don’t be surprised if your nutritionist encourages you to try foods you may have never tried before as well as teach you how to prepare those foods. Your coach can help you make the connection between various foods and their affects on the body. They will share recipes and cooking techniques to empower you to find what you like best and what works for you.

While services range from giving nutrition talks to groups, to grocery store tours, to cooking classes, to kitchen and pantry cleanout and set-up, the most powerful way nutritionists help is through one-on-one coaching. Your nutritionist will want to set up a schedule to meet with you. Typically, meetings occur twice a month for six months. You may meet on the phone or in person. Frequency and routine are important because lasting changes don’t occur overnight. Remember, too many changes too quickly can sabotage even the most willing and willful of people, and willpower alone will not get a person to a place of true health and balance, but accountability over time can.

In your coaching sessions you will learn the importance of whole grains, greens and healthy fats; how to prepare some easy basic recipes, including really great salads; and how to deconstruct food cravings. A typical session can range from $50 up to $200, depending on the experience of the nutritionist and the length of the session.

If you are experiencing fatigue, seek weight loss, weight or muscle gain or need sports nutrition training; if you have an eating disorder or joint pain; if you are concerned with cancer prevention or are battling, digestive problems, stress, food allergies, general allergies or skin disorders; if your cardiovascular health or mental health is at risk; if you have hormonal problems, are pre- or post-natal; if you desire optimal general health for yourself or your children, then a nutritionist can help you to reach your goals.

The science of nutrition asserts that food changes everything. As your daily diet changes, your body changes and your happiness improves. Imagine what your life would be like if you had clear thinking, energy and excitement every day. If these traits seem appealing, then working with a nutritionist would likely be a good investment.

At the very, very least, people working with a nutritionist can benefit in terms of learning how to make better choices. Something as simple as how to navigate in a grocery store — like staying on the perimeter of the store, choosing only the whole foods, not the foods that are processed and refined; or choosing foods that have five ingredients or less, and all of the ingredients should be recognizable words that are easily pronounced… very sensible sorts of things.

Working with a nutritional health coach will deepen your understanding of the foods and lifestyle choices that work best for you, and you’ll learn to implement lasting changes that will improve your energy, balance and health. In the words of Hippocrates, “Food is thy Best Medicine, and Medicine is thy Best Food.”

By Cheryl Alexander