The diet industry leads us to believe that a good physique and optimal health are all about calories in versus calories out. And, to be honest, most dietitians are taught that exact principle.
The more I practiced this while working in the hospitals for years, the more I realized that it’s completely bogus. Each day I was growing farther and farther away from why I got into the nutrition field in the first place. Instead of talking to people about the power of real food, I spent my days calculating calories, adjusting tube feeding rates, recommending sugar-free protein supplements, and counseling diabetics that their Diet Cokes, skim milk, and Cheerios are part of a sensible diet plan– you know, the Standard American Diet (SAD)!
I knew deep down that I wanted to help others get to the root of their issues, not just cover up their symptoms or starve them into a Size 2. I had been educated while in school to become an RD that “calories in, calories out” was going to get me the perfect physique, all calories are created equally, and that optimal health is a numbers game. Therefore, my solution to getting in shape for my upcoming wedding at the time was training for the Houston Marathon and following a strict plant-based, no-fat, vegan diet. Because of this, I found myself in my mid-20’s with no energy, constant fatigue, poor memory, severe anxiety, irregular periods, and excess weight. What gives? I was following the exact advice I was taught to give patients, — keep your calories low, eat low-fat, and exercise longer and harder. Why was this happening to me?
I had the trifecta of poor health going on– too much stress, too much exercise, and not enough food. This only lasted so long until I hit a wall. I ended up putting on more weight, got acne, irregular periods, and eventually got diagnosed with an autoimmune disease– even though I was “doing everything right” (according to standard treatment).
This prompted me to want to know more. Why was I suffering from all of these ill effects while I’m following my own “evidence based” advice? So, I dug deep. I got introspective. I sought help from people doing the complete opposite of what I had learned was “the right way”. And, guess what. It made sense, and it was so much more effective. The typical “diet approach” doesn’t work. You see, our bodies aren’t meant to live off 100-calorie snack packs and less than 1,200 calories a day. Our bodies require nourishment, not punishment. Instead of depriving, we need to be nourished.
Therefore, I started the journey of education in Integrative and Functional Medicine, which focuses on building up the body instead of tearing it down. I learned and adopted the notion that the quality of the food, not the just the quantity, have a significant impact on the way you look, feel, and function. After all, 100 calories of sugar and 100 calories of kale act very differently in the body.
Through this simple lifestyle change, I’ve been able to better manage my health both physically and emotionally, and I have made it my mission to help others do the same. Thank you for allowing me to help you navigate the “food jungle” and provide you freedom from diets.
Nicole Fennell is owner of Chews Food Wisely, a private medical practice in Houston, Texas with a focus on Integrative and Functional Medical Nutrition Therapy. Connect via social media on Facebook and Instagram @chewsfoodwisely or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.