We are Eaters

I have always liked the idea that natural foods, plants and nature provide the best medicines for our health and wellbeing.  It makes the most sense as we are all connected to the world around us, right?  We can’t live without food.  Food needs the sun, atmosphere and soil etc. to grow.  Our bodies need what natural foods provide.  How long would we last without air?  We need to interact daily with others.  Like it or not we are all human, more connected and at the same time more vulnerable than we’d often like to think of ourselves as.

Well, I invite you to think about it just a little as you read this post, especially in relation to food and you as an eater.

Since starting my nutrition training I have been a fan and follower of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.  Their stated mission is to re-unite the psychology of eating with the science of nutrition.   I understand this to mean that you cannot consider the body’s needs without considering the needs of the soul.  ‘Soul’ meaning the individual person with their own unique body, needs, wants, experiences, emotions, senses, circumstances and responses to life.  My own observation [not judgement] with clients and people in general, is how our attitude to food and eating completely reflects our attitude to ourselves and life.

My experience is that some people view a nutrition qualification as a personal attribute.  As if acquiring this qualification has transformed one into someone who never lets an unhealthy food pass their lips … And, has now morphed into the role of watching and judging every bite others make, like the ‘diet police’!  Well, on both counts, that’s not me!  You may, of course, come across people who do take on and enjoy such a role.  No, I’m just like you but with an acquired knowledge and interest in the benefits of nutrition which I love to share.   I can be your guide, supporter or educator, but not your judge or savior.  I believe that healthier eating is a life-long challenge, a choice and a personal responsibility.  And, because eating is something you and I have to do each and every day, I see it as an ideal opportunity for growth and transformation.  That said, knowledge of food is for the mind but food and eating as an experience goes far beyond this to the very core of our being.

I came across this Instagram post by the_food_psychology_clinic in the UK.  It speaks poetically about how closely connected ‘eating’ can be to our thoughts and feelings.  For some it can often represent a huge internal struggle.   I have consent from the account owner to share it here.

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I eat because… I’m angry, I eat because I’m sad, I eat because I’m fat anyway (so what’s the point – I might as well be bad)… and have a brownie or five or 10 slices of cake, nobody will notice anyway… I eat because I’m lonely – I’m stressed at work – I’ve had a bad day Sometimes, I eat because I’m bored – I’m going to start my diet tomorrow, I’ll say – so I eat tons of chocolate and sweets…maybe I’ll start the diet another time diets suck – what’s the point – I give up I eat because I don’t get the attention I want – at least I can rely on cake to make me feel good today… But I don’t enjoy it anyway – this eating too much – I feel guilt, I feel pain, I feel shame…and yet I just can’t seem to stop -it is easier to put it off until another time – when I have more time, or less stress, or less work or more money to pay…. for a juice cleanse or a detox – maybe a nice retreat in Spain (I need a quick fix – I’m way too fat) it will be much easier this way Why is it so hard for me to be thin – I hate my body and life I’m a failure – I think to myself – every day But I like those two minutes of happiness I get – when I eat something tasty, something good and maybe I don’t want to give that up just yet because without food, I’ll have to deal with what really is not good in my life, in my world, in my heart, in my mind – and that scares me – to tell you the truth. I eat because… I’m hungry – but not for food that’s for sure Maybe I’m hungry for fun, for love, for companionship, for comfort, for a purpose – maybe I’m just hungry not to be fat anymore. #weightloss #weightstruggles #weightstruggle #weightstruggleisreal #slimdown #weightissues #fat #fatloss #weightloss #binge #bingeeatingdisorder #weightlosshelp #bingeeatinghelp

A post shared by The Food Psychology Clinic (@the_food_psychology_clinic) on

I’ve shared this because even though my qualification is the nutrition science bit and not eating psychology, I have found it is quite impossible in reality to separate the two.  I acknowledge everyone as an eater.  If we were purely physical beings, the knowledge of what to eat in the best interest of our health, would be enough.  Like how to put the correct fuel in your car….. petrol and a little oil in this one, but diesel and lots of oil in this other one.  The reality is we are more than physical beings and often our food choices are motivated by unconscious thoughts and feelings about ourselves.  The above Instagram post is about overeating but it could just as easily be about depriving yourself of food.  The point is, its really about negative thoughts and feelings wrapped around eating.  Yet, eating can be a joyous, satisfying, healthy, creative, not to mention completely necessary experience.

Have a think about what your relationship with food is?  Does it mirror how you feel and think?  If you recognize yourself in any of this, the knowledge of healthy eating will not be enough.  It might even become a stick for you to punish yourself with.  More bad feelings?  That won’t help!  The issue is not a lack of knowledge.  Practicing some mindfulness and self-inquiry around eating, or working with someone that has a greater understanding of eating behaviors, might help.

The food psychology clinic is UK based and you can make contact via the Instagram account. I am only aware of one Nutritional Therapist in Ireland who deals in this particular area of work.  Here: www.straightforwardnutrition.com

Finally, I can’t count the number of times people have told me stories like “Oh, so and so died…… and s/he was so into healthy eating”!  There is no promise of immortality in choosing to eat a healthier diet.  The point of dealing with food or eating issues is that you can feel better today, have a better quality life than if you didn’t and possibly live a little longer.  This is not without it’s challenges but it is within your grasp.  As human beings we know we are affected on many levels by factors other than by what we eat, but this is the one area where we can reclaim some personal power over our own well being.

© Limelight Nutrition 2019

The Functional Medicine Movement

The first time I heard the words ‘Functional Medicine’ was when I rolled up for a course introduction for nutritional therapy with the Institute of Health Sciences.  Using an example of a health condition, the then module leader Moira Browne explained an approach to resolving health issues that was very different to anything I had heard before.   Understanding the person as a whole being with a genetic, personal, health and medical history, looking at current diet and lifestyle, medications, relationships and stress levels etc.  Understanding how the body works, what it needs to function well, physically, mentally, emotionally.  Without knowing it at the time I was hearing about functional medicine.  I was hooked, I was excited to learn more!  This approach just made perfect sense to me.

In the last four years I have come to learn so much more about nutrition and functional medicine.  And, even though at the time I was told that my nutritional therapy training was based on the ‘functional medicine model’, I didn’t fully get what this meant!   With every new client for nutritional therapy, the first thing I do is explain that my training is based on this medical model.   I ask “have you heard of it”?  The answer is usually – no!   I proceed to explain a little of how I apply this method in working with them.  Naturally, like me at the outset, they are thinking that nutritional therapy is just a healthier alternative to going to the GP, but instead of getting a prescription for drugs, the prescription will be for foods or supplements that will fix their ailment. And that’s okay too, it is part of it, but it’s actually a whole lot more besides.  Using the tools of the functional medicine model a nutritional therapist looks at your presenting symptoms from each body system, your diet and lifestyle – social, emotional, sleep, exercise, your medical history, medications, environmental factors and genetics. And then applies an understanding of the body’s nutrition and lifestyle requirements to design a personalized set of recommendations for you. [That stewed apple recommended for dessert might be significant beyond your understanding].  The outcome may not be the quick fix you were looking for but it is more likely to deliver a better understanding of you as an individual and provide lasting results, if you are up for the challenge.  This is functional medicine in a one to one context but what I wasn’t aware of back then was that it is a relatively new and growing movement that is gaining momentum world wide.  If you ever looked at the healthcare system and wished for a better alternative, then read on.  Functional medicine is here in Ireland now!

A Growing Movement

Time!  We don’t claim to have a lot of it these days!   And, I’m going to save myself a lot here by just providing a link to an article which perfectly explains what functional medicine is.   Functional Medicine the Future of Healthcare

What I love about the functional medicine movement is that it opens it’s door to everyone.  It is not necessary to be a functional medicine doctor to incorporate the model principles into your own practice.   In three weeks time Functional Medicine Ireland will host a conference in Galway.   The audience attending come from a range of backgrounds: health journalists, policy maker(s), authors, health advocates, patients with autoimmune conditions, medical and nursing professionals, nutritional therapists, physical therapists, pharmacists, personal trainers, acupuncturists, health coaches, and those that wish to remain healthy!  People from 11 different countries will be attending (Ireland, UK, South Africa, USA, Poland, Egypt, France, Spain, Finland, Sweden, Denmark).

The movement in Ireland is spearheaded by Maev Creaven, Nutritional Therapist and Director of Functional Medicine Ireland.   Maev had this to say in a recent email to current ticket holders:-

It is hard to believe how far the FMC event has come since our first meeting in 2016 in Dublin. It’s even harder to fathom the support received especially over the last year!  From you the delegates, the speakers (current and past), friends, family and other organisations (big shout out to The Institute for Functional Medicine, their incredible team and Dr Kristi Hughes!) whom have rallied behind this movement.

You can learn more about this upcoming conference if you click the link on the image below.

Last week some of our Irish nutritional therapy graduates together with a range of other healthcare professionals attended a five day training course in London – Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice.    Watch out world, they’re all fired up and certified now to go !!

FM Conference 2018

There will be an impressive line up of speakers from around the globe at the Galway conference on 3rd/4th November, but what impresses me most about this movement is that it brings a new energy to health care that excludes no one.  Members of the general public, health coach, GP, consultant, nurse, pharmacist, nutritional therapist etc. can gather together side by side and learn more about what matters to us all – our ‘health’.  I think this movement is a healthy sign that a growing number of people are willing to shift their focus from wanting a ‘pill for every ill’ to being open and ready to pursue health in a more integrative and holistic way on a personal and global level.

I’ll keep you posted !!

Are You What You Eat?

You would probably expect someone like me who has studied nutrition, to completely agree with the statement ‘you are what you eat’.  After all, my job is to convince you that you need to eat nutritious foods.  Eat healthy become healthy, it’s simple, right?  Sorry folks, I wish it was that simple.

But you already know this!   Every time you switch on the TV, read a magazine article or link in to social media, conflicting ‘truths’ abound as to what is good and bad food.  First fat is bad!  You should eat low-fat to avoid heart disease!  Now that’s wrong!  Now fat is good and you need full fat!  Eggs are the best source of protein?  What about the cholesterol … bad for you? Meat, is it bad or does it have a high bio-availability of protein and other nutrients that are good for you? And on it goes until most of us don’t know what to believe or who to trust.   I wish I could tell you I’m about to make things crystal clear but that would just be another lie.   I can tell you from my own experience though, that a good understanding of nutrition allows me to see through a lot of this apparent confusion for what it really is.  But even this knowledge doesn’t make the journey of implementing healthier eating any less challenging.

I have come to the conclusion that unless you are someone like Hugh Fernley Whittingstall, running a small holding, growing and making your own food and producing your own meat and dairy, there is no way to know with any certainty that what you are eating is healthy.  The Hugh’s of this world can ignore the media hype but the rest of us have very little control over food quality and its possible effect on our health.  We are in the vulnerable position of having to trust others.  People are unaware of the changing nature of food!  The egg of fifty years ago looks the same today but nutritionally it is very different.  In its purest form, eggs and most other natural foods can only truly claim their rightful status if they have been grown or fed naturally in a natural environment.

The Illness, pharma, healthcare including [gyms /health stores /alternatives] and food industries are big businesses that are busy selling ‘health’ in one form or another.  They battle it out in the public arena like the gladiators of old.  They need to win your trust to keep you invested!  But this constant stream of media sensationalism creates a great deal of fear and solves nothing.  Ongoing stress is a waste of your valuable energy and is NOT good for your health. Think about this for a moment if your health is their concern, what if by some miracle we all became well enough tomorrow not to need them – what would that mean for business?  There is a place in our lives for all of these services but see it also for what it is – business.  The only person that really cares about your health is you!  And, you are not powerless in this!  The good news is, looking after your health is a choice you can make at any time.  It will be challenging!   Our society is not currently set up to make this easy for you.  More good news – if you are reading this blog you are still alive.  What you are eating hasn’t killed you – YET 🙂  Read on if you want to find out how to keep calm and carry on in the face of forces outside of your control.  There is a lot you can do for yourself in the pursuit of better health.

Continue reading “Are You What You Eat?”

Calories – the Good, the Bad and the Make Believe

Counting calories… Yes, I have done it too!  Until I learned that there is a healthier, more sustainable way to lose weight and keep it off.   There is no doubt about it, if you restrict your calories on an ongoing basis, you will lose weight.   That said, as soon as you stop restricting calories and go back to ‘normal’ eating, you will put it all back on again and more.  As soon as you even think about restricting calories you feel hungry, right?   Did you know your body has an inbuilt physiological response to perceived and actual hunger?   The response roughly translates as ‘hold on to that fat’!   It behaves like Old Mother Hubbard, she doesn’t want the cupboard to be bare.  Is your own body working against you?  Many of our innate responses are outside of our conscious control.  You don’t need to remind your heart to beat or your hair to grow.  We are hardwired to survive for a while without eating.  If your body perceives ‘starvation’ it holds on to its fat store (stored energy) to tide you over.  Thankfully, most of us do not face food scarcity or starvation, the opposite is more likely the case.  The challenge we face today is learning to understand how our body works, what affects our appetite and how to negotiate the modern diet for a healthy weight.  It is never a simple case of counting calories.

Continue reading “Calories – the Good, the Bad and the Make Believe”