My Story: The Teachers & the Lessons

I’m often asked how I came to nutrition as a second career. I’ve spent some time reflecting on that question and am grateful for all the nudges – small and large – that the Universe has presented. Contemplating my journey, I am reminded of my mentors. I’ve had many teachers along this path toward nutrition and wellness. There were the traditional university professors. There was my own, abundantly gifted and patient naturopathic doctor. And there was the most unlikely of teachers, my first dog, Charlie.

Charlie, a German shepherd-husky mix, was an incredible teacher on so many levels. But none more so than her gift of launching my journey into nutrition and wellness – for myself and for helping others. Charlie

Charlie arrived as a not-quite-weaned
puppy. And when I think back to that Sunday afternoon, Providence was clearly at work. My then-husband and I had bought a house the previous winter when the snow in Fairbanks was deep. And now in May, with the snow melted, we took stock of the mess that was our backyard. First to go was a sagging mesh wire fence. This was my job that afternoon, but just before I began to dismantle the fence, two little girls showed up with a puppy. They told a sad story about why they couldn’t keep her and asked if I wanted to buy the puppy for $20. It was the best $20 investment I ever made. But if I had begun my fence dismantling task, I know I would have turned down the offer.

Charlie taught me how awesome
communication between species can be, that brushing is love and that trust is a
wondrous thing. We traveled many miles together around town and throughout
Alaska.

When she was nine, she developed a
condition called EPI – enzymatic pancreatic insufficiency. Pancreas? I knew we had one but I couldn’t tell you quite where it was or what its function was. And enzymes? What are those and what do they do? Although it was absolutely unclear to me at the time, this was the beginning of my nutrition and wellness journey.

Fast forward a couple of years. I had a rather annoying rash on my face. Had it been anywhere else on my body, I probably wouldn’t have sought medical attention. But it was on my face, right? The dermatologist put me on a month-long course of antibiotics. She didn’t mention the need for probiotics and I didn’t yet know of the importance of repopulating the gut with beneficial microbes after the antibiotics swept through destroying all the microbes present. I quickly developed a bacterial infection called Clostridium difficile, that wouldn’t be diagnosed for nearly a year. With treatment, I recovered. Life went on, but I could no longer tolerate glutinous grains (wheat, barley, rye and spelt) and dairy had become problematic, too. These sensitivities remain with me today.

It would still be nearly a decade before I would make a 180° career shift and return to graduate school to earn my Masters in Human Nutrition. There I would learn the mechanisms by which antibiotics predispose the gut to colonization by the C. diff. bacteria (among a host of other digestive ailments) and the subsequent setup for food sensitivities. I will admit that I spent some time (years actually) harboring anger toward that dermatologist.

But in time, I found myself being gently reminded from various people, books and conversations that every experience is
a gift. I began to reframe my story of being “wronged” in my mind. It was not immediately apparent what the “gifts” were though. But I persisted in considering that there were gifts and slowly they came into focus for me.

Being intolerant of wheat presented me with some challenges that I rather reluctantly embraced. It allowed me to learn about alternative flours and experiment with them. My culinary repertoire expanded. I became aware of the nutritional benefits of nut and bean flours vs. traditional wheat flours and I became good at gluten-free baking. I now teach gluten-free baking and cooking classes at the local community college. This is a role I cherish.

The experience of being gluten and dairy intolerant also presented me with the opportunity to ask for what I wanted. This was in contrast to a belief I took away from my childhood – one in which it was not acceptable for me to really ask for what I wanted. I’m not sure whether I intuited this belief as a teaching or I incorporated it on my own. But it became clear that it was an unconscious belief that needed restructuring as it became a necessity for me to ask for what my body needed. This was especially the case when dining out at friends’ homes or in a restaurant. And this aspect of asking for what I wanted began to extend to other aspects of my life as well.

So, my journey into the role of nutritionist and wellness coach was a slow but persistent one. A journey filled
with indelible teachers in the forms of professors, doctors, a canine and some unproductive beliefs. Do I ever wish I could just eat wheat and dairy again? Sure! It can be challenging and rather inconvenient having to adhere to and insist upon these dietary restrictions. But growth is an ongoing process. And I am grateful for the continued opportunities daily life and my clients present.

What special gifts have your life events contributed to your experience?

In wellness,

Dianne

Primal Plate Wellness: A Nutrition Blog

What’s in a name? Well, more than I thought when I began my efforts to create one for my company and this blog. Coming up with a name proved quite challenging. First, it had to convey my nutritional approach and philosophy. And just as importantly, its domain name had to be available! No easy feat. I had lots of great ideas for a name and confirmed their greatness when I discovered they were already in use by someone else!

I chose Primal Plate Wellness because it speaks to my belief in an evolutionary primal/paleo-type diet for our ancestors. But with a few significant caveats:

  1. Meat, although elemental in the proliferation of the human race, was a luxury and not a staple that was consumed at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. So in my view, it takes a back seat to the abundance of vegetables available to us today.
  2. Meat was wild, not farmed in mass feeding operations like conventional beef, pork and chicken are today.
  3. While the Paleo perspective does indeed include meat, I believe the traditional diet was still heavily grounded in plant-based foods – nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables.
  4. While a strict primal/paleo approach excludes legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts), I believe that if you tolerate them, they definitely have a place on your plate.

The “plate” in the name and logo is a shared symbol of eating and the social connections we have with each other around mealtimes. And wellness is at the heart of my nutritional undertaking. Nutritional therapy has so much to offer in helping each individual achieve balanced heath, which is not simply the absence of disease symptoms. Nutrition is so much more than what goes into our shopping carts and ultimately ends up on our plates.

Our food gives us the materials we need to make new red blood cells and a healthy vascular system. What we eat contributes to the health and strength of our muscles and bones. Foods help us – or prevent us – from getting a good night’s sleep and allow our bodies to repair the insults of daily living. Our diet contributes greatly to healthy skin, hair and nails. Our diet affects our thinking and memory. In short, what we eat affects nearly every aspect of our bodies and daily life.

A common question people ask me is, “What should I eat?” Ah, here’s where the very individual approach is critical. Take fruit, for example. Which is “better” – raw or cooked? When should fruit be eaten – by itself or at the end of the meal as dessert? Well, that depends. For someone experiencing digestive stress such as gas and bloating, limiting fruit can be helpful while working on rebalancing the gut microbiome. For conditions such as indigestion, loose stools and fatigue, many people benefit from cooked fruits vs raw. And those with blood sugar imbalances would benefit from eating low glycemic fruits, like berries and apples, combined with some protein and fat to slow the conversion of fruit to glucose in the body.

There is no one-size-fits-all dietary approach that benefits everyone. I’m not a fan of fad diets. Yes, they can help people lose weight – the #1 complaint I see in my practice – but they typically do not help people establish balanced, healthy and long-term eating habits that will serve them well in the long run. And you’ll never find me recommending people count calories. It’s been drilled into most of us that a calorie is a calorie no matter the source. But science has proven that this isn’t true on a biochemical level.

It’s true that if you take in more calories than you burn, they will stick around. But there are many other factors that influence weight gain, especially hormone imbalances. And what’s going on specifically with your hormones is different than what going on with your co-worker, neighbor or sister’s hormones. So, there it is again – the individual approach to nutrition.

So, what will I be sharing about here? Lots of fun and cool stuff – Interesting food facts, the pros and cons of detoxes, tips to make meals easier, recipes, reviews of new food-related products and services and whatever else comes up!

Thanks for following Primal Plate Wellness.

Food is medicine. Eat well. Be well.

Dianne