Thursday, March 15, 2012

Impressions from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition Conference

lunch break at the IIN conference - I was happy to see so many people sitting on the ground - my restorative exercise eye at work
Roland and I were guests at the IIN conference in Long Beach a couple of weeks ago. The school is definitely one of the fast growing holistic health schools in the country, with a mission to literally change the way the world eats by 2020. I love their mission and most of the graduates I have met seem to really love the field of nutrition and really care about helping their clients - it's not just about food, but also about improving relationships, work environment, rest and recovery, finances - they pay all round attention to someone's life, in their founder's own words: ''there is no need to prescribe a green smoothie if your client's marriage is falling apart''. 

I have been looking into their program and trying to decide whether to enroll so we visited the conference to find out more about it, and to hear a few speakers whose lectures were open to the guests. 

I thought I would briefly share with you some very interesting highlights, as the lecturers all spoke on subjects we often discuss here, on the JP boards or in person when we meet - why we gain weight, why we crave sweets, what can we do to become better at listening to our bodies, and how can we enhance our nutrition. 

The afternoon opened with Joshua Rosenthal - founder of the IIN, who just made a brief introduction, but some of his message really stuck with me. He spoke about traveling all over the world and seeing how the world copies America everywhere he went. 
''We ate McDonald, they ate McDonald's, we smoked Marlboro's and they did, we drank Coke and they drank Coke! What if we changed what Americans do, maybe the rest of the world would follow a good example?'' 
I found that to be an extremely empowering platform for anything you do as an individual or an organization. What if you knew your example could affect the world? What if? Joshua then went on to explain about the influence each health coach had on people, how each person could affect hundreds and they would in turn affect others, creating a true ripple effect. I have seen this happen with clients' families, seen it happen with whole corporations, especially back when I worked with the managers at Coke. You can choose to behave in a way that affects others and making your lifestyle a healthy one can empower your whole environment.

The next speaker was Julia Ross - the most highly acclaimed nutritional psychotherapy specialist in the country, author of  ''The Mood Cure'' - an approach to balancing emotions, cravings and eating behavior. She was a powerful speaker and really really wanted to drill home the sugar addiction message - she referred to the eating problem we are facing today as  ''the greatest nutritional crisis of our time''. It was intriguing to listen to her speak about sugar addiction being on par with cocaine addiction and cover the physiology of addiction. If one was not sure that craving were as much a mental as they were a physiological problem - they definitely left the room with a new sense of conviction. Julia Ross presented in length about the process of sugar addiction withdrawal - the difficult 8-10 weeks one must endure to be cured of addiction, followed by a period of easier adaptation. She joked that ''mindful eating'' would not work with a sugar addict, stating that intuitive approaches seem all well and good, but asking an addicted person to eat their favorite foods mindfully was equivalent to asking a crack addict to just ''be mindful while using crack''.

What I loved most about her lecture is that she referred back to traditional diets and traditional modes of limiting sugar: our moms and grandmothers knew we were not supposed to eat sugar. I remember my own mom drilling home not having anything sweet before dinner - a concept I now get paid to teach to my clients. I probably have to repeat '' no sugar on an empty stomach'' during every consultation (because I love you, guys!). So our parents knew that sugar was highly addictive and unhealthy, but we somehow lost that knowledge along the way.

Julia Ross went through the symptoms of addiction and asked us to think whether we or our loved ones exhibit any of those behaviors around sugar:

Loss of control - do you eat without measure?
Continued use despite awareness of damage (kidney, heart, liver, diabetes) - do you keep eating sugar despite detrimental effects to your health?
Withdrawal symptoms - do you feel worse when you don't eat it?
Relapse- do you go back after you stopped eating it for a while?
Progressive nature- is your condition getting worse?

I can definitely see some of my clients who have battled those very symptoms blaming their own willpower, yet having to understand that those symptoms are physiological. Please know that you can change this. Don't use willpower until you have none left and then follow control by loss of control, guilt, shame and eating more to feel better. The cycle can be interrupted, but you need to ask for help.

While covering addiction she talked about sugar, but also included a much wider range or addictive substances: starches, gluten, casein, high fructose corn syrup. Even if you don't want to believe that those foods are addictive, you can refer to how rewarding they are. You can go to read more about the Food Reward Theory on Stephan Guyenet's website.  I personally believe that some individuals are more sensitive to certain substances and more likely to get addicted to certain foods or behaviors and once those are identified, certain behavior changes need to be put in place, in order for those people's health to be placed under control.

In my experience, eating real food and enough of it when the individual is otherwise healthy, will usually resolve an addiction, should they choose to develop healthy self care patterns and thought processes. Talking about self care and attitudes, Julia Ross was followed by Geneen Roth, the author of ''Women, Food and God''. She is an expert on compulsive and emotional eating and saying that is barely scratching the surface. 

What I liked about Geneen Roth the most is that she used her own story as a vehicle to show us that ‘’your issues are a doorway to the best things about you’’. She addressed the reasons we eat to disconnect ourselves from who we are, instead of embracing who we really are and only seeing food as food. She had so many quotable statements, such as ''don't try to fix yourself, welcome yourself'' and ''you are not broken, beyond the brokenness that you feel there is a part that has never been broken'''.

Again, using your relationship with food as a doorway to discovering your true feelings, hopes, dreams and potential, really rang very strongly with me. We often view our challenges with food as a curse, yet they are a true blessing. I have found that those of my clients who are really able to embrace the vulnerable moments and stand strong in them, looking at pain, fear or discomfort straight in the face, instead of grabbing a piece of cake, are the ones that have transformed beyond belief. I also know not everyone is ready to face who they are, embrace who they are and then nourish themselves with the food that the creator intended for them - it's just easier to feed yourself with something delicious  - it always provides, never disappoints, always comforts. Learning to be self feeding on an emotional level takes time - it took me 13 years of making mistakes and 3 years of embracing who I really am to reinvent my relationship with food - but it's possible, it's liberating and it's satisfying beyond any delicious piece of anything you ever even laid your eyes on.

Geneen Roth confirmed what I have always wanted to tell my wonderful female clients and friends: '' You will not change with judgement, what you have in you will not get uncovered through being mean to yourself. The only door to yourself is loving, accepting, caring and being kind.''

She shared the food guidelines she passes on to her students and underlined that those guidelines are coming from a source of love and compassion, something she calls love speaking to you. So here is what love would say:

''Sweetheart, only eat when hungry. Dear, please eat without distractions. Only eat what your body wants. Honey, please stop when your BODY has had enough. And please eat as if other people are watching. Sweetie, eat with love and pleasure''

On parting she reminded us it takes effort to have a joyful life- and don't we know it! Joy is a choice - one that starts with you!

After these two amazing ladies, we got to hear Gary Taubes, and on a topic that we are very very familiar with, as it's laid out in his book ''Why we get fat''. In short, if you've never heard of Gary Taubes, he is making researchers really question the mechanism of obesity. He asks: what if it's not over consumption of calories that makes us fat? What if there is something wrong in the body of the obese individual that makes him produce extra fat and just makes him eat more because he's really hungry. So, Taubes says, calorie restriction won't work and exercise won't work, there is something in the body and the endocrine system that drives fat accumulation and it literally hijacks the person's body who has no choice but to become obese. I believe this theory really has a sound base and is probably very valid within the metabolically deranged population, but in the general population we see both exercise and behavior modification to give amazing results - in short, exercise works and calorie restriction works if you are healthy. I personally think a theory that explains obesity with behaviors as a major cause , better serves what we know about energy balance and body weight management.  Of course health complications pertaining to a percentage of obese individuals, and then we would have an additional theory to add to the behavior theory, but we can't isolate one theory from the other.  Taubes is always interesting to hear though, and you can youtube some of his talks to get a better idea of his theory if this is all new to you.

The afternoon ended with David Wolfe, the super foods guru, who transcends boundaries, space and time to get us what different populations in the world consider to be super foods. He had a stage full of cacao beans, blueberries, grapes, maca, goji berries, medicinal mushrooms, wheat grass, aloe, name it - if it was not on his table it was on his presentation screen! I personally consider super foods to be an addition to an already nutrient dense diet and I am more likely to recommend something that already grows in your region of the world, rather than something that is brought from 10000000 miles away, but again, if you love your gojis - enjoy! I like them too. He did make us laugh though, claiming that the universe wants choices, because at a recent TV show appearance, it seemed like organic raw bars and bacon were both the craze now!

You know what I am going to tell you - have your bacon and then have your raw bars. In honor of his cool presentation, that night we had extra olive oil and a glass of red wine, both considered to be fountains of youth.

That's all I remember from the IIN conference and I am always overwhelmed after events like this - I am actually glad my thoughts made it to the page ;) Hope you enjoyed!

Special thanks to my friend and holistic coach, Rupina Meer, for her kind invitation to the conference.


  1. "So our parents knew that sugar was highly addictive and unhealthy, but we somehow lost that knowledge along the way." - May be Your parents and grand parents knew it, but MY parents and grand parents definitely did not. But happily, until recently, sweets were not highly available and sugar was not put in just about everything.
    Otherwise that sounds like it has been an amazing and inspiring experience :)

  2. It's interesting that you share this - are you saying that your parents allowed sugar before meals and whenever you wanted. My grandma still has the tiny little plates to serve jam to guests in, alongside a cup of tea, and that was a rare treat. You are right that it's only been in recent years that there is so much sugar in everything, in the US pretty much since the 70s, in Bulgaria since the 90's but that's a whole other blog post - I have actually interviewed tons of family and friends on eating habits prior to the 90s. It's really cool how healthy we ate before. Thanks for reading :)

    1. That knowledge was pretty commonplace here too.
      My mom (born in 1920) would always 'nag' at me when I asked for a treat before dinner "don't spoil your appetite!".

      Not sure how common that POV was but I'd think that everyone should know from personal experience: eat something sweet before as hearty savoury meal and your appetite for that food will be lost!

  3. It must have been a lovely and inspiring event. So, after all phychologists have their place in therapies with obese people, not only with Eating Disorders. I must discussed the article with my sister.
    By the way, lovely thoughts you mention here!!

  4. I don't remember to have wanted sugar between meals. But every Saturday, my mother would make a cake, and we (I) would pretty much eat it within a few hours. But exactly after '90, all sugary "treats" suddenly became more widespread and available, and we had them pretty much every day. My brother and I often ate them for breakfast even. My grand parents loved sweets. No one has ever suggested in my family in any way, shape, or form, that sugar was unhealthy or addictive. However, I seem to be sort of lucky, because I believe I never had a serious addiction to sugar. BTW I really love Julia Ross' books, and apparently all the speakers are one of my favorite authors. Lucky you! ;)


  5. You know I never really thought about my relationship with food that way. This week I have been going through something difficult that makes me feel very vulnerable and insecure and I have been craving all kinds of bad things. I never thought of it as a way to get away from myself. Thanks for the insight. Jen


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