Monica: Thanks so much for sharing your story with us today, Rachael! How did your path to the food and nutrition world first get started?
Rachael: Growing up, I had the privilege to be able to do quite a bit of travel around the world. Because my parents were both adventurous eaters, and were always interested in learning more about different cultures, that meant a lot of our trips centered around food and exploring new cuisines. I also lived in New York City, where we were exposed to many different cultures through food.
I have so many happy memories of exploring the Italian grocery store down the street, multi-course meals in Chinatown, and my parents cooking recipes given to them by people from different backgrounds at work. All these experiences taught me at a young age that food is SO much more than fuel. Food and eating is one way we can connect with our own culture and other people, experience pleasure, and celebrate, as well as being a basic form of self care. My love of food inspired me to become a dietitian, but as I learned more about nutrition, I started to feel pressure to eat a certain way.
Nutrition is often taught without regard to our own personal relationships with food.
I felt pressure to count calories, modify recipes to have less calories, and avoid or limit certain foods I also loved. It created a lot of stress for me personally, and as I became a dietitian and started working with individuals one-on-one, I realized my approach was creating a lot of stress for them too.
Thankfully, I had these early “joyful eating” experiences that I could draw from, which reminded me that healthy eating wasn’t all about nutrition, and I started to change my practice approach. That’s when I began to delve into intuitive eating, mindful eating and non-diet nutrition and wellness so I could learn to help my clients improve their health AND their relationship with food.
Monica: I really love how much your own upbringing helped you keep your own health in perspective despite what our culture has shaped our definition of it. How has that influenced the way you view health, for those you help and for yourself?
Rachael: When I first became a dietitian, I would have thought of health as an absence of disease. And to be honest, I thought to be healthy, you had to look a certain way (i.e. thin). Through the research I’ve done on Health at Every Size principles and the work that I’ve done with clients with bodies of all different shapes and sizes, I’ve learned that weight has next to nothing to do with physical health.
And also, while I hope to empower clients to be able to engage in behaviors that promote their physical health, mental health is so much more important to how we experience life. Does it matter if you are physically healthy if your days are spent obsessing over calories, socially isolating to avoid specific foods, and doing exercises you hate just to stay/get thin?
One of my goals as a dietitian is to help my clients live a life and take care of their body in a way that’s in line with their values. Doing that constantly reminds me of what’s important to me – relationships with my husband, family and friends, experiences, learning, and fighting for a world that’s more inclusive and safe for others.
Monica: Those are such valuable lessons to learn along the way, thank you so much for sharing your insight. If there’s one thing that’s helped you that you believe will help others shift their views to truly thrive in life, what would that be?
Rachael: For me personally, that journey has been all about self acceptance and learning how to be content in the present moment. It’s such a simple thing, but I’ve seen how as I’ve become more accepting of myself, I’ve become more accepting and kind to other people, and unafraid to speak up for what’s right.
Chipping away at shame and working towards self acceptance has paved the way for great things in my life, but has also given me a sense of peace and content that’s allowed me to be OK even when things aren’t so wonderful. One thing I’ve observed with my clients is how often shame keeps them trapped in the same behaviors – it’s something I witnessed in my own life! So a big part of my work with them is creating a shame-free, safe environment where they can learn to begin to accept themselves, and their body.
You can’t take good care of something you hate.
Therefore changes to your exercise or eating habits are unlikely to be sustainable if the goal is weight loss. Instead, think of how you would take care of your body if you were OK with it. Think of what kinds of foods you would eat, how you would enjoy moving your body, what kinds of self-care you want to engage in, and then always work towards that.
Learn more about Rachael at www.rachaelhartleynutrition.com.