Saying grace: I don’t let a single day go by without practicing gratitude. I find the tiniest things to notice and to laugh about. Whether it’s the way the sunlight comes in the windows or the smell of my husband after he showers in the morning, I turn up the volume on the little things in my life and amplify them. It’s my way of saying to the Universe, “more of this please”.
As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Mary Brooks, M.Ed. Mary is the owner and creator of Sustainable Nutrition and the FuelBetterFormula, a system for helping people get the right fuel mentally and physically to lead their best lives. Her focus is helping people get to the root cause of low energy, fatigue, and burnout. She has a Master’s in Health Education from the University of Virginia and is a certified Integrated Nutrition Coach with over 28 years’ experience in the health coaching field. Mary has helped hundreds of people achieve remission as well as reach their performance and wellness goals. She is a thyroid cancer survivor who used her experience of being underserved by conventional medicine to help facilitate better healing for others. You can connect with Mary via her website at www.sustainablenutrition.net.
Thank you so much for joining us Mary! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
Mylove for food started at a very young age. My mother was Greek and I learned about the importance and value of making and creating beautiful food. I would give just about anything to see my Greek grandmother in her kitchen creating pastry again. I was also raised in Pittsburgh where ethnic food was everywhere. I think often people in nutrition forget about the origins of food: how it’s grown, where it comes from, how it is prepared. When I got thyroid cancer, despite my University degree in Nutrition, I still didn’t understand that food or stress could have had anything to do with my condition.
When I worked through my years of fatigue and insomnia, I saw that it was mastering my own eco-system mind, body and soul that made the biggest difference.
I now see that our body sends us messages and I help people truly solve the root of their fatigue or illness so that they can live full out. It’s the most amazing thing to see how we can heal outside of conventional medicine with food, lifestyle and dialing down our stress.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
Yes, absolutely. We are in a powerful and exciting time when we can bring more kinds of awareness of the ways that sickness and disease occurs. I love that we are in a time in the US where there’s more blending of Eastern and Western medicine. Also, the science on the microbiome is showing us that our digestion and our food can influence our genes as well as impact our mental health. I am working within the food community as well as bringing the message of internal wellness to entrepreneurs and creatives who face massive stress and lack of self-care. My project The Beautiful Life is teaching women to take care of the inside first.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?
Like many women of my age, I was raised on a lot of guilt and shame. I grew up with a mentally ill older sister and implicitly programmed myself not to talk about it. It felt so bad and I had no language for it. I dealt with it by being high functioning, ultra-productive and driven. I tried to over-achieve my way out of it. Whether it was in college where I was a Phi Beta Kappa, at work where I constantly hit my goals, or in a bad marriage where I thought that I didn’t deserve any better, I always covered over my stress and shame. When I realized that trauma impacts our biology, I knew I had to make peace with myself. Finding myself lovable was not easy. I had to go deep into those experiences again to come out on the other side. I had to learn how to recognize and deal with my triggers so they could no longer harm me.
Knowing that our unconscious mind is ninety percent of our thinking and that our thoughts have the power not just in our reality but in our biology was the push I needed to do the work of healing, accepting and taking care of myself.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
We start this kind of dialogue so early in life. Americans seem to constantly sort and type themselves by external characteristics. For me being in health and nutrition, it became very easy to associate working on the exterior as a sign of health. For a long time, I saw internal work as a weakness. The consequences are a never-ending loop of not good enough or reliance on compliments. Our bodies do change: whether it’s from childbirth, illness or aging.
That kind of never being enough thinking is exhausting. No physical characteristic will make you a better person. We all have gifts to bring and that work is much more fulfilling and sustainable.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
If you are raised on shame, then hiding out is normal. You believe that if people really knew who you were, they wouldn’t love you. It’s human to crave connection but if that connection is based on a fake, phony or artificial version of yourself, you create more disconnect. And ultimately you are telling yourself that others matter more than you. It takes bravery and courage to do that. The biggest lesson I learn on a daily basis is to trust myself. You really can’t feel lonely if you have trust, love, and faith in yourself.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
Whew, that’s such a gnarly one. In my first marriage, I craved normalcy so badly. I was scared that my family dysfunction would follow me. But instead, I signed up for a life where feelings didn’t matter and emotions were a sign of weakness. I accepted being criticized and assumed that everything was my fault. I signed up for a whole different kind of dysfunction. But I wanted the outside to look okay so I accepted peace at any price.
Being in a mediocre relationship isn’t about the other person. It’s about not being in a place where you believe you are deserving of love and emotional connection. We have to get to that place of worth ourselves.
When we talk about self-love and understanding we don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times, self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but for our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
I love Byron Katie’s work around this. Her four questions: Is it true? Is it absolutely true? What happens when I believe that thought? What would I do differently if I didn’t have that thought? This process helps me reconcile when I am off course. When I find myself believing something that causes me harmful or harsh thinking, I go do that work. I usually come out the other side realizing that I need help, compassion or redirection. I do it so much more quickly and less destructively than I did in the past.
So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
Stillness and insight are the keys to accessing our subconscious and our higher selves. I was always okay with time alone. When I was young, I was perfectly fine as long as I had a good book to devour. We really all have a deep knowing that we were born with. Today we are living lives of complete distraction. Finding rituals and routines to return to that place is vital to a full life. Women, in particular, have a deep sense of knowing but we often have to deprogram ourselves from all the messages and input that are distracting us and interfering with our wisdom.
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
Brene Brown talks about this. She says people are really doing the best that they can. One of the ways that I made peace with my bad marriage was to understand that what was emotional abuse was not done intentionally. It was done because of lack of awareness and limitations. It’s important not to live in victim land. Doing that inner works helps so much with not only connecting with others but being less critical. The inner work definitely changes how you are in the world.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
I think the first thing I had to do was to really listen to my inner mean girl. Understanding that thoughts were just things, was very helpful. Next, learning that everyone does this to some degree. Ruminating and evaluating is part of the human condition. Sometimes we think that we are the only ones and that makes it even more lonely and hard to tolerate. Finally, learning to apply compassion to myself so that I can move forward. When you are doing that work, you elevate your own game and in turn have more compassion for others.
Having a coach or mentors is so needed with this. We cannot often see our own work because we are too close to it.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
1. A loving relationship with food: The first thing I do every day is look at the fuel and food that I put in my body. That connection to the whole, real, colorful food is a way of saying to myself “I am going to take good care of you.” I know for a fact that food will impact the way I feel about myself, my life and the world. How lucky are we to make that choice!
2. Saying grace: I don’t let a single day go by without practicing gratitude. I find the tiniest things to notice and to laugh about. Whether it’s the way the sunlight comes in the windows or the smell of my husband after he showers in the morning, I turn up the volume on the little things in my life and amplify them. It’s my way of saying to the Universe, “more of this please”.
3. Words matter: I chose carefully the words that I say about myself. Whenever I say the words, “I am”, I think about the words that follow. I have not always been kind to myself. But if I think about the idea that my body and my soul are listening to this, I chose more wisely.
4. Patience: Something that I struggle with as a result of being an academic and spending so many years in the corporate world was that I was supposed to get it right the first time. This made it really hard for me to accept my flaws and imperfections. I once worked for a company who’s values included “good enough never is”. But sometimes good enough is good enough. I practice more patience and more acceptance of myself now. I play the long game and as long as I am learning, I can accept mistakes.
5. Creative dates: Part of loving myself is giving myself permission to do things that maybe not everyone else likes or enjoys. I have always enjoyed things that my friends didn’t always get. Not long ago, I was at a conference for three days in New York City. On the third day, the agenda changed and I found myself with a free day. I actually took myself to not one but two Broadway shows by myself. It was a lot of money to spend and it felt odd to go unaccompanied but I was so full of joy that I gave myself that experience to feed my soul. I try to do one thing like that every single month to feed myself.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic has so many good things to say about not listening to fear and giving yourself permission. I know it’s a book that seems like it’s aimed at the artist but I believe it speaks to how to live a life that you love.
Rob Bell has a podcast on Good vs Perfect. It helped me deepen my understanding that the things we really love are not perfect. Life is messy and yet beauty comes out of these places that seem dark. It helps me reject the idea that I am not getting it right.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
The thing I hear over and over from people, especially women is that we are so deeply tired. The last few years when social media become so pervasive is that we are chronically comparing and looking to outside sources for validation, confirmation, and acceptance. We interact with people that we don’t’ even know. We’re connected but deeply lonely. I am working to create more social movements where food is the bond. When we gather, prepare and share food, we can bring families, communities, and people back together. Food can be that connection to healing and love.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
“All things great are wound up with all things little.”
― Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
I have a daily practice, I call Best moment of day. When I look at the things that I value the most, it’s the tiny things. It’s my dog leaping off the deck with abandonment. It’s a delicious belly laugh with a friend. Those little things that you love so much, where time stands still, this is where my heart is.