Going Back - Moving Forward: TEDx

This talk is for the 60-year-old woman who was too scared to eat porridge because she’d heard oats would make her fat.

It’s for the 15-year-old girl sworn off fruit because it has far too much sugar

It’s for the young woman who was so confused about what to eat, that she often wouldn’t eat anything at all.

And it’s for countless women who have walked into my office and exclaimed that they have ‘dieted all their life’.


In case you haven’t noticed. Nutrition is confusing.

Everywhere you look, there’s another guru telling you what to eat. One week it’s Keto, another it’s vegan They tell us ‘don’t eat carbs’ one week and ‘eat carbs’ the next. Don’t eat fat they say, no wait it’s sugar we need to ban.

How have we taken something so inherently natural and turned it into something so incredibly confusing?

For many of us we’ve lost our innate ability so simply ‘know what to eat!’ and that to me, is a tragedy.

This is is our birthright! it’s a primal instinct and for one reason for another – this ability, for many of us, has been taken away’ and meanwhile we’re paying thousands of dollars to the “experts” to tell us what to eat.

But I’ve learned something over these past few years as a Nutrition Coach. And I believe, the answer to that age old question is already in us and in order to move forward, we actually need to go back.

I know. I’ve been there. My own story started when I was very young. I watched the beautiful woman in my life, my mother, and sister, go on diet after diet in the quest for eternal thinness.

Being a larger child, the natural conclusion was to put me on a diet as well. This came completely from a place of love and care and I hold no resentment to my mother or anyone else for thinking this was the right thing to do.

By the time I was 14 I’d been on 14 different diets. Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem. And my own personal favourite, Richard Simmons’ (you know – sweating to the oldies?!)

This continued well into my adult years, masked as healthy eating but plagued by rules and restriction. My own health was suffering because of the years of dieting and nutrition confusion.

It wasn’t until a number of years ago that I realized that the answer to health wasn’t nearly as complicated as it seemed.

It happened when I came across an article in the NZ herald about a man named Buffy Ducharme, an indigenous Canadian man who had gone back to the way of his ancestors and in doing so had taken back his health and wellbeing after a long battle without.

Reading this article, inspired me to pause and ask myself one simple question.

What did my ancestors eat?

And everything changed.

I realised in order to move forward – I had to go back.

I was born in Nova Scotia Canada. My ancestors, were the perfect blend of Nova Scotian heritage, the Mi’kmaq and French Acadians.

Did following the principles of my indigenous ancestors mean that I was going to have to start hunting and gathering? Living off berries and moose pies or go paleo?

No, rather than focusing on the specifics, I decided to focus on the basics. I asked myself; How can I apply this knowledge of health based on my ancestral diet in today’s modern world? How did my ancestors know what to eat without the books and internet gurus we have today?

My ancestors, they ate what they could grow, but also what was traded. Whole foods, minimally processed and for the most part local. But I can guarantee one thing – they would never have turned down a fine chocolate cake it one could have been presented!

My, and your ancestors hunted and fished and gathered berries and other plant foods.

They appreciated the sacredness of animals and hunted or raised them with care and gratitude.

Today, that simply means using whole foods as a framework (not a dogma) visiting local farmers markets, bringing the kids out fishing, and even growing your own food when possible.

And it was by following these basics without rules that, I was able to provide myself a framework that changed my health for the better.

Ah easy I thought! Just put everyone on a wholefood diet and they’ll be cured and happy!

And they were, for a short time. But something always got in the way. Something would happen to ‘knock them off that perpetual wagon’. They would self sabotage, eat emotionally, and basically just give up. As a practitioner, I realized I was doing my clients a disservice if they couldn’t maintain the changes for life.

And so I asked my ancestors again, from which they gave me a gift.

The medicine wheel

A teaching tool used by my ancestors

This symbol, divided into 4 parts represents the human person and all aspects that make us whole and healthy. The Body, Mind, Spirit and Heart.

The basic idea is that, to be well, to make sustainable changes, we need to nurture all these areas not just the body. If any of these areas are out of balance, the others will be too.

The reason why so many people couldn’t sustain a wholefoods framework for health, wasn’t because they were weak or lacked will power as diet culture would lead us to believe. It was because there was still so much missing. They were thinking only of the body. Only of weight loss and forgetting all these other areas that make us whole.

Weight loss alone does not automatically make us healthy, and in most cases it doesn’t even do that.

If you’re stressed all the time, no amount of healthy food will take that away. And vice versa, if we’re stressed or sad, often we’ll turn to food or other devices as a source of comfort.

If you eat well but going out with friends to somewhere non compliant makes you anxious, that’s not healthy or if certain foods cause you to feel guilt and shame. That’s not serving you either.

If exercise is punishment not pleasure why would we ever want to adhere to it?

You see, All aspects must be nurtured in order to feel truly well.

Health’s more than just nourishing our body with lots of veggies and creating a wholefood framework for our diet.

It’s more than finding movement that is functional and or makes us happy (and is not simply to burn off yesterday’s pie).

More than eating mindfully or chewing our food 35 times

It’s about using our mind to question the masses and simply ask yourself ‘does this make sense’ when you come across the latest fad or Facebook health post. As well as applying this to our own thoughts when they no longer serve us.

It’s about using our mind to stop and look at the WHY behind our eating choices. To be able to determine what is driving our need to eat when we’re not even hungry.

Nurturing the heart is about naming and responding to our emotions so we can feed the true need when eating has nothing to do with hunger.

It’s about using our heart to be compassionate with ourselves and to engage in self-care now, not 5kg from now.

It’s about using our heart to make peace with all food choices – including cake.

And understanding that self-loathing will always lead to self-sabotage and knowing you are enough.

And it’s about filling your spirit by doing more of the things that fill you up, the things that bring you joy.

Nurturing your spirit by living your values and finding your purpose no matter what your body size.

It’s about taking the time to connect with others , your community and recognizing and being grateful for the little things

So, when it comes to the age-old question of ‘What do I eat”? I believe somewhere, deep down, you know the answer. The answer is within us. You do not need me, you are your own guru.

Shift from the external dial to the internal wisdom. Stop dieting – start listening

Fill yourself up with food that makes you feel good (and yes sometimes that’s chocolate cake) and Fill your life up with the things that make you happy. Nurture all areas of self/ Body, Mind, Spirit and Heart.

Most importantly - Live the life you crave and food will lose it’s power.


In Closing:

In the way of my ancestors, I place this information at your feet. If you should find something good in it, pick it up and walk with it because it now belongs to you. We do this with gifts of this nature because we understand that each person has their own free will. With that free will comes a responsibility for this gift of life that is ours. Each person must take their own initiative and be an active participant to his or her well-being.

The symbolic laying at your feet shows that you have to take it upon yourself to pick up and use this information. Like any other medication, this only work if you take it.

Ralph P. Brown (Tawennihake)

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