When nourishment is less about what to eat

Nourishment: The food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition.

When I was in school studying to become a Nutritional Therapist Practitioner, we learned how to perform functional evaluations and nutritional assessments in order to help bring a person’s body back into it’s natural state of optimal wellness, or homeostasis. We learned how to analyze each client’s diet and how to help them make changes towards more health promoting habits. We talked about what changes each client should prioritize in fostering, and how to discover what nutrients the body needs to bring its organs and systems back to optimal functioning. In many ways, we cultivated the tools needed to dramatically and successfully guide someone on their health journey. We have a lot to offer. Yet, when I graduated and began talking to people about all of this in real life circumstances such as casual social encounters, I quickly began to realize a couple different things that will hold me back from successfully helping people if I don’t take them into consideration: you can discover the optimal diet for someone, but none of it will matter if they’re unwilling to make the changes. Also, shifting our perspective from focusing solely on what one should eat towards fostering a healthy relationship with food and eating may be countlessly more beneficial in the long term. Basically: what are these “other substances” that contribute toward nourishment, as its definition eludes to?

I recently picked up a book called ‘Nourishing Wisdom’ by Marc David to help me explore the idea that nourishment is more than what we eat. Nourishing a body and whole person is the goal, after all. The real success would be helping someone make the lasting changes necessary to be able to do this for themselves. Marc David is the founder, director, and primary instructor at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a program I looked into before deciding on the NTA. I really like his approach on working with people to foster a healthy relationship with food. Eating psychology is a whole new territory of which I don’t claim to be an expert in, except for having a truly deep respect for it as well as my own personal history and story with the connections between emotions and eating. I think a truly good teacher is someone who has real personal experience in what they’re trying to teach, and perhaps has even struggled some to get through it successfully. But, I digress. Mark Hyman said about Marc David, “He reminds us that our relationship with food is as important as the food itself. In a world of ‘high fad’ diets he stands alone, guiding us toward nourishment, pleasure, and healing.” This post will explore some of my ponderings from Marc David and ‘Nourishing Wisdom’. I don’t have answers for you today, but I do have questions that may lead you to your own understandings. So what is it about our relationship with food that is so important? How is it often the missing puzzle piece for making changes successfully? What are some ways we can create a healthier relationship with eating?


‘Science can tell us what to eat, but it cannot pronounce upon the meaning of eating,’ he says. This is where looking beyond the ABC’s of nutrition comes in. We need to think hard and carefully about the choices one makes around their eating habits. Asking someone to make certain dietary changes often challenges their choices and what those choices might represent to them. Quite simply put, food is personal. ‘When we say to someone, “Don’t eat that food, it is bad for you”, what they often hear is, “You are a bad person for eating that food.”’ Being tolerant and respectful to someone else’s choices around food is critical. This is especially tough to do when you’re in the profession of often asking people to make changes around their diet and you’re constantly trying to facilitate that healthy change without coming off as critical. This also applies to someone trying to make changes in their own life.The guilt factor can be debilitating for someone struggling with making good choices yet still wanting certain foods they deem as bad. Perhaps if we’re able to reduce feelings of guilt when we give in to a craving, we would be able to really enjoy the food more, and therefor need to eat less of it.  Perhaps we would be able to digest the ‘bad’ food better, therefor making it less ‘bad’. And maybe if we’re not thinking about how bad we are for giving into a ‘bad’ food while eating it, we will be more likely to hear when our body is telling us that we have had enough. As Dr. Jillian Lampert (a doctor working for an eating disorder support home called The Emily Program) says, “Your body knows what it wants. Your body probably doesn’t want a whole plate of cookies. It’s good to ask your body what is wants and when it thinks you might be done.” This can also be known as ‘Conscious eating: taking full responsibility for what you eat. As an old African saying goes, “Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse.”’


How do we get nourishment from eating apart from the meal’s nutrients? Well, cooking, preparing, and eating food with others is a ritual union. Eating joins us together. Perhaps the positive energy involved in cooking a celebratory meal with good friends contributes towards feelings of comfort and happiness even before you take the first bite. Even when you prepare a quick meal for just yourself, you are creating some sort of energy behind the food that will affect how (or if) the food nourishes you. Are you feeling rushed and careless about what to eat, thinking about your stressful day, with the TV on as you haphaphazardly throw together a meal? Or are you looking forward to seeing what beautiful creation you can make from the bits and pieces in your refrigerator and feeling lucky to be able to relax at home? I know this can come off as woo woo, but luckily there is science behind all this talk about the connection between energy and digestion. How you feel when you eat greatly affects how you digest your food. When you’re upset, frustrated, or just plain unhappy, it’s hard (i.e. impossible) to be in a parasympathetic state. This is the optimal state needed for proper digestion, and therefor breakdown and assimilation of nutrients. It is also referred to as “rest and digest”, as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the fight-or-flight response. Everyone who has experienced an uncomfortable experience before or during a meal can understand the feeling of the body telling the mind that it’s not a good time to eat. I will share a dramatic example that comes from my experience. After my past dog was hit by a car and killed, I didn’t know what to do. I went to my parent’s house, where they were sitting down to eat dinner. I had just finished a long run (with my dog), and although my parents realized how terrible I was feeling in the moment, my mom was adamant that I should try to eat something. I sat down at the table with my family and forced myself to take a few bites of bean chili but it felt as if my throat was constricted. It literally felt as though I couldn’t swallow. It was my body’s way of telling me that it was a terrible time to try and digest anything. Looking back, I now know I was in a state of shock. Needless to say, I haven’t enjoyed a bowl of bean chili since then.

I myself have fallen for equating optimal health with only the perfect nutrition at times. When I have an ailment, I turn to food. I’ve always strongly believed in the healing nature of whole foods and still do. Yet sometimes because of this, I’ve failed to pay attention to other aspects in my life that might be affecting my recovery. In my quest for improving my Hashimoto’s, I focused largely on the Autoimmune Protocol and made my diet as clean as possible. I saw a lot of great benefits from doing so, but after a few months, those improvements tapered off and I had to think about what else could be affecting my healing process. For me, working on improving stress management and sleep are huge. I’m still working on it! But with food, sometimes it’s even easy to forget that “nourishment is not just nutrition. Nourishment is the nutrients in the food, the taste, the aroma, the ambiance of the room, the conversation at the table, the love and inspiration in the cooking, and the joy of the entire eating experience.” I encourage you to focus on all possible aspects of nourishment and make mental notes when you can draw connections between feeling nourished and these other substances.


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