By Carla Hernandez, NTP
Practicing as a Nutritional Therapist, spreading awareness about the powerful healing potential of a nutrient dense, whole foods diet, has always been my reason for entering this field, though the rewarding results from working with clients did not come till much later in my career.
Sandrine asked me to write about my experience with conventional nutrition, and more specifically, weight loss. It’s pretty common for women to have trouble losing weight after pregnancy, and many continue to struggle long after giving birth, regardless of whether a healthy whole foods diet is in place.
Women can certainly be healthy and have extra weight, but whether they feel confident and comfortable in their body is a different story. And women are not the only ones who gain weight during pregnancy, many men do as well. I am an advocate of a the dietary principles discovered by Dr. Weston A. Price and use this as a foundational model with clients in my practice, but the fact is that this diet is very energy dense, especially for those who may not be as active. I see many actually gain weight on the diet when they become too comfortable with it, maybe not at first, but over time. I had a personal experience with this when I made the switch. I initially lost weight and my health improved, but because of the convenience, my consumption of grains and nuts became excessive. My weight started to make me feel uncomfortable.
My Initial Education
Since I was a teenager, I always had an interest in nutrition. This led to me to study Dietetics and Nutrition in college. I was on a path to becoming a Dietitian, which I was told was the ‘Expert’ in the health field on nutrition. In addition to studying the general sciences such chemistry, bio chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physiology … which I am very grateful for learning, we also took many nutrition courses. What I learned in my nutrition classes though is very different from what I promote and how I practice today.
My undergradate education was based on the conventional nutrition model, aka the Food Pyramid. Although this model continues to change the way it looks, the recommendations are always the same and continue to be outdated, and in my opinion, a deceiving way of portraying a healthy diet that a human being can thrive on.
An Unhealthy Relationship with Food
As a child I had more than enough baby fat that lasted into my teen years. Like many girls, I was self conscious and insecure because I didn’t look a certain way. At 15, I became a competitive runner and lost 20 pounds in the first 2 months. This was a huge changing point for my health. I immediately started to receive compliments, and began to slowly gain confidence. The more I ran the more weight I lost and the more obsessive I became about my weight. A few months later, I became a vegetarian and began to restrict my calories and especially fat intake. I started to develop health issues and overtime my symptoms began to worsen and continued into college. I followed the dietary advice that I was learning in school, thinking that this was what I needed to heal. I ate low fat, low cholesterol, “health promoting” soy products, sugar free diet foods and convenient “energy bars” and protein powders. I remember one of my professors (a Registered Dietitian) would lecture with a diet coke sitting at her desk after she had finished a lean cuisine microwavable lunch.
I remember the day when another one of my professors told the class about the dangers of saturated fat – from coconut – and to stay away from it at all costs, although I didn’t completely buy into this. Now looking back at that advice, I wish I would have questioned him. Today coconut is praised for the health promoting medium chain fatty acids it contains. The critical roles that fat plays in our bodies were never emphasized throughout my undergrad education. There was however a big emphasis on the importance of consuming poly unsaturated fats and sadly enough there was no education on the quality of oils and how to differentiate a health promoting fat from a rancid fat. I was therefore trained to think of fat as the villain, and like many Americans became very fat phobic. This later led to me developing hormonal imbalances, gallbladder attacks, digestive issues and thyroid problems by the time I was 23. I also continued to struggle to maintain my weight because of how I was eating. I had to run everyday at least 5 miles to make sure I kept weight off. This eventually took a toll on my adrenals and further increased my hormone imbalance.
Straight out of college I went to work at a fitness camp for overweight women and children. It was a well known, high end camp in a wealthy area of California. We had children attending from all over the world, including the children of celebrities. As you can probably assume, this was not a cheap experience. The purpose of the 2-3 months spent here was to lose weight, become educated on nutrition basics and develop proper eating habits. As one of the Nutritionists on site, I was in charge of the meal preparation, planning, and enforcing the portions that the campers would receive. The food being served to these children was shocking, even back then when I was not aware of what I know now. These were the breakfast options the kids chose from:
- Soy sausage
- Special K cereal (amongst other low calorie cereals)
- French toast with sugar free syrup
- Soy or fat free milk and juice
- Egg beaters
- Sugar free fruit flavored yogurt
As long as the kids did not go over their specific number of starches and protein, they could have any options. Many of these kids would usually opt for toast, cereal and or French toast with sugar free maple syrup or jelly and topped it off with fruit juice. They would have to survive on this for the next four hours until lunch time. Many of them would come to me complaining of hunger and headaches within half hour of finishing.
Because of my personal experience and struggle with weight loss and weight maintenance, I wanted to help support others who were also struggling. Jenny Craig was the turning point of my career. Little did I know it was going to be the last job in the conventional nutrition model I would have. I worked for the company as a nutrition consultant for not more than 6 months (that was all I could handle). I loved the interaction with clients and the ability to talk with them one on one on a personal level. I gained wonderful relationships with my clients and I truly wanted to help them. It was there that I discovered my ability to connect with people and listen to their needs. I may have listened too well, because after months of working with some of them, they had barely lost but a few pounds and were frustrated, still tired, struggling with other health issues and desperate. You could see in their eyes how badly they wanted a solution; this was a tough position for me.
While working here, I had started to become more aware of our food industry. The program at Jenny Craig consisted of purchasing frozen and prepackaged food weekly (spending close to $300 at times) based on a calorie level and the USDA guidelines for nutrition. The whole program was based on a deficit of calories, no education on food quality. They also had free foods that you could eat in any amount, one of them being diet soda and Splenda! Clients may have lost weight initially because of the decrease in calories, but they would sooner than later reach a plateau where they became stuck or gained it back. I eventually stopped promoting the food they sold and started showing people how to eat foods that would actually nourish them. When they started to do this and focus on quality instead of quantity, the weight began to come off. However, this did not jive with the company and I had to eventually quit.
What I did find out was that if I wanted to help others in the way that I knew was healthful, and support the body’s natural ability to lose weight, then I was going to have to go on my own. Every health oriented company I attempted to be part of was another disappointment. It was unfortunately getting to be impossible to find a job that aligned with my beliefs and what I wanted to promote.
Photograph: Sandrine Hahn. All Rights Reserved.
After my experience with Jenny Craig I knew I had to go back to school, but this time to study the real nutrition I was longing for. The program offered by the Nutritional Therapy Association, which focuses on foundational holistic nutrition, was life changing for me. It was difficult in the beginning to accept some of the things I was hearing because of how contradicting it was to my conventional education, but I knew it was the truth and that this information was going to change and save my life. Sure enough after 6 months of starting a new diet and protocol to address my needs, most of my symptoms had subsided. The most satisfying part was that I didn’t have to run 35 miles a week anymore to maintain my weight! I could eat more than I previously was, felt much more satisfied, and maintained my weight just fine. I even lost a few pounds initially!
Getting To the Root Cause
Today I couldn’t be happier and more rewarded than where I am now with my career. I have my own practice helping people with a wide variety of issues through diet and nutrition. I promote a traditional, properly prepared, nutrient dense, whole foods diet to help rebalance the body to achieve optimal health. When addressing weight loss specifically, I look at these underlying causes that can contribute to weight gain and can make it difficult for one to lose weight:
- Digestive Problems
- Food Sensitivities
- Yeast Overgrowth
- Unstable Blood Sugar
- Dehydration and Mineral Imbalances
- Fatty Acid Deficiency
- Stress and Adrenal Fatigue
- Hormonal Imbalances
- Toxin Overload
- Brain Chemistry Deficiency
I focus on foundational nutrition with all my clients to ensure that these vital components are balanced to establish proper health.
If you are or have been struggling to lose weight, know that there is a solution and support that will work for you. You do not have to let your weight dictate your life.
Bio: Carla Hernandez, BS, NTP
Carla is a Certified Nutritional Therapist with a private practice in San Francisco, Wise Roots Nutrition. Wise Roots is a holistic approach that focuses on each person’s individual needs and health concerns to address the root cause of a person’s health challenge. Carla offers individual nutritional consultations, workshops, grocery store tours, in home pantry makeovers, and cooking classes to support her clients transition over to a whole foods lifestyle. Carla also serves as a volunteer presenter for Nourishing Our Children and answers questions for the Facebook community once a week.
To learn more about her practice, visit http://www.wiserootsnutrition.com
Carla offers a 12 week weight loss class that teaches people how to lose weight naturally by getting the body healthy, which educates people on the above and how to address these concerns. To learn more about her 12 week Get At The Roots weight loss classes visit: http://wiserootsnutrition.com/services/get-at-the-roots-weight-loss-classes/