Ever since I can remember, my family life was centered around food. In an Italian family, it is a sin not to have plenty of food in the house. More than double the amount of food is the norm when you have company over and of course you always need food available if arrives unexpectedly so you can play gracious hostess!
I came from a family of great Italian cooks and bakers. But, in addition to observing how vitally important food was, I also observed the health issues first hand and faced major health challenges of my own.
My Father was always hungry, and if someone was cooking or baking something he was around to sample. Little did I know his hunger was related to diabetes till I was in college. Around this same time I began having thyroid problems and ended up having surgery to remove most of my thyroid. On top of all this I was a sophomore at U.C. Berkeley and was disenchanted with my business classes. Sitting in the hospital got me thinking – how could I avoid the health issues of my family in the future, or even better, turn that experience into something positive? Would I become diabetic like my father, or other members of the family? Weight problems were already an issue on both sides of my family, and with diabetes in my genes, the possibility of having diabetes was imminent, unless I was careful about my diet and exercise.
I found out I could get a degree at Cal in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics, but basically had to start all over. That was okay with me. Two more years and a possibility of being healthier over the long term seemed a fair tradeoff, so I jumped right in. Several years later I found myself working as a clinical dietitian at UCLA giving traditional diet advice.
I loved helping people who were sick, but I knew my bigger mission was to help people stay out of the hospital through healthy life choices. Around that time, more studies documented how our food supply was not the safe nutritional bet it had once been. That piqued my interest in “clean eating,” consuming wholesome, unprocessed food. I wanted to find ways to help others discover what clean eating could do for them.
After six years I was ready to go into private practice with a more holistic philosophy - delving into strategies to helping clients discover solutions to medical issues, emotional eating, and alternative therapies to balance their health. I explored yoga, acupuncture and other methods to see whether they could truly be of help to me or my clients.
One client I helped had weight issues after her successful battle with cancer. She dubbed me “the Doctor’s Dietitian,” since her physician insisted she have a visit with me. Physician’s have played, and continue to play, an important role in my career as teachers and partners, and I enjoy working with them to help our mutual clients find a better lifestyle.
As my practice grew, I had some of my own health related issues to deal with. I realized quickly they were a blessing in disguise, intended so I might help others in a more mindful and compassionate way. My own experience has taught me that balancing food, exercise, sleep, and stress is the challenge for our society. Unfortunately there are no easy answers, and it’s up to each individual to find the solution that works best for them. This challenge becomes your recipe for life.
Therefore, the first question to ask yourself when embarking on a lifestyle journey is, “What are my primary goals? Do I want to lose weight, improve my health, avoid or eliminate medications, improve vitality, or live longer?”
Embarking on the journey of health and balance takes time, consistency and effort. If you are willing to go the course of the journey, it can provide you with a host of rewards.
Too often, we focus on the costs of a lifestyle change. Changing that paradigm and focusing on the benefits helps make change happen.
Two key ingredients for change are motivation and importance, according to William Miller, Ph.D., and Stephen Rollnick, Ph.D., two prominent researchers in the addiction field. In their book, Motivation Interviewing: Preparing People for Change, they suggest that if a person has motivation, but doesn’t feel the change is important, he or she will not be successful. If the change is important, but a person’s motivation is lacking, alterations will not occur. The twin tenets of being motivated and deciding change is important are crucial to permanent lifestyle modifications.
Developing a lifestyle that creates a healthy weight and good health treats the cause, not the symptom. How easy it is to take medications for high blood pressure or high cholesterol to cover up an unhealthy lifestyle!
Occasionally, someone can have a healthy lifestyle, but due to genetics, needs to go on medications. Our genes determine our susceptibility to disease, but our lifestyle furthers that susceptibility. In many cases, these health concerns can be handled by changes in lifestyle. If we change our lifestyle to treat the cause of a medical issue, many times the symptoms can improve and medications can be lowered or even discontinued.
Taking charge of your health and happiness can be challenging, but the efforts will provide you with rewards beyond your imagination. I invite you to join me and begin your journey to better health.