Until recently, health has seemed a lot like a roller coaster. When I feel well, it is easy to make supportive choices. I can treat myself gently, taking life’s turns without losing balance, fielding the track ahead with broccoli and brown rice, yoga and warm baths. But times of extreme stress or sudden ill-health become a scary carnival ride. I lose my composure, and my wholesome route swiftly plunges into chocolate and white flour, inactivity and anger. Tense and fueled with irritants, the turns come too fast to prepare. I am reactive. From such discombobulated depths, the future and everything it holds seems to be an uphill challenge.
Until recently. As a resident of New York City’s Ground Zero, in the weeks and months after the 2001 attacks, I swooped to new lows. A vivacious summer newlywed of 36, by winter I was fifteen pounds heavier; plagued by back pain; my vision clouded with conjunctivitis; and clinically depressed. To get back on the path to health, I needed professional nurturing. Determined to address why my actions become a health liability in bad times, I contacted holistic nutritionist Janet Walker, a member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.
Enrolling in Janet’s six month personalized healing program I embarked on a subtle and cumulative journey toward balance. Switching from the freewheeling carnival ride I was on to a more thoughtful approach, the six months were punctuated by struggles with my weight and food choices, lessons in primary and secondary nutrition, and revelations about my chances for sustaining health.
A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City which integrates Eastern and Western health systems, Janet’s program adhered to the school’s tenets of no rules and no dogma. We set out to find what worked for me. Although we aimed to strike a balance between carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits, protein and fats, and focused on adding beneficial foods while minimizing less desirable ones, we acknowledged that food was just a small part of how I nourish myself.
Food, the nutritionist told me, is secondary.
Primary nutrition is that which feeds the soul. We determined that my lust for life required a diet of focusing on the writing career I care about; prioritizing the people and things I love; and cherishing the time and effort it takes to relax and recharge my fiery disposition.
Meeting twice a month for an hour-long evaluation, we inventoried my nutritional choices, mood and energy levels, weight and digestive function. I repeatedly complained about my sugar addiction, so we analyzed what sugar has meant to me since childhood to identify the chain reaction its use and abuse causes. Janet promoted a compassionate approach to the ingrained behavior, explaining that my body physically needed it, and it was okay to select it. By brutalizing myself with guilt at eating sugar, I was making the ingestion of it poisonous.
But my healer also provided food suggestions to squelch sugar cravings, like root vegetables and whole grains, and maple syrup in a pinch. To detoxify and tone the liver after a meat-laden diet, she prescribed astringent greens like dandelion and warm lemon water every morning. When my digestion was upset by the changing diet, she offered white rice to settle my stomach and biotic supplements like acidophilus. Her gift of The Self-Healing Cookbook by Kristina Turner augmented my understanding of relationships between food, mood and cravings.
We explored manifestations of my health in my work and my relationships and my presentation, with interconnections becoming apparent. I began to lighten my intensity by stripping the black dye out of my hair, which resulted in a more natural look according with my desire to be naturally healthy. I recognized a link between a congested relationship with my mother and certain writing pieces too leaden to take flight. We pinpointed troubles with time and people management and brainstormed healthful ways to calm me (yogic breathing), perk me up (green tea in the afternoons), and help me focus (eliminating external distractions like TV and telephones).
After meeting Janet, I indulged my renewed enthusiasm for health by visiting a natural food store and stocking up on whole grains like quinoa and millet and buckwheat, which I slowly inserted into a diet completely lacking them during months on the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet. I roasted and cooked the grains in quantities large enough to serve several times in the coming days.
The lessons of the holistic program slowly seeped into my life and the one I share with my Turkish husband. One day he announced that he might eat brown rice if I could find brown basmati, a surprise after his earlier resistance to the hardy grain. We’ve been preparing less red meat and more fish by making special arrangements to get to local seafood markets. I walk as much as possible and have started practicing yoga again, although I still need more exercise. I’ve also instituted a new habit of meeting a friend at a greenmarket every week rather than socializing at a restaurant where I don’t want to eat in order to see her. This friend, an expectant mother, told me she feels very well cared for by me. The compliment resonated. I desire to be happily of comfort to friends and relatives in need. To succeed illustrates that I feel whole enough to share.
These days I’m not a runaway amusement park train headed toward the candy aisle at the grocery store as if I have no choice in the matter. Physical ailments and weight have improved, and optimum fitness no longer seems a steep uphill climb. Mood swings and energy levels have been regulated. When life throws me an unexpected curve, I know what my options are, and in lovingly choosing, I know I can take care of myself.
In the final analysis, my major struggle during the program was also the biggest lesson and the ultimate revelation. I want to be healthy but intentions must be complemented by mindfulness. The more choices I make to treat myself with care and respect, the better chance I have of staying on my chosen track. Living life from a place of less confusion, now I start the day by making one good decision and following it with another.
Turner, Kristina. The Self-Healing Cookbook: A Macrobiotic Primer for Healing Body, Mind and Moods with Whole, Natural Foods. Earthtones Press. 2002. Northrup, Christiane. Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing. Bantam Books. 1998. Payne, Niravi and Richardson, Brenda Lane. The Whole Person Fertility Program: A Revolutionary Mind-Body Process to Help You Conceive. Three Rivers Press. 1997. Workman, Jennifer. Stop Your Cravings: A Balanced Approach to Burning Fat, Increasing Energy, and Reducing Stress. Free Press. 2001. Lad, Vasant. Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. Lotus Press. 1984.
Institute for Integrative Nutrition, www.integrativenutrition.com, 212-730-5433 Janet Walker, Certified Holistic Health Counselor, www.innergrain.com, 718-768-1721 American Association of Drugless Practitioners, www.aadp.net, 903-843-6401.
This appeared in a variety of publications.