I have been moving in the direction of holistic nutrition gradually ever since finding my way to the local farmer’s market in the summer of 2005. This marked the first step on my journey away from the processed foods so comforting to a picky eater and toward a diet full of fresh, organic, whole foods cooked from scratch with my own two hands. My resolve to overcome picky eating gained momentum when my first son was born in 2008, and redoubled as we became concerned with his developmental delays in the next few years. Learning of the GAPS protocol for autism in 2010 fueled my interest in the traditional foods movement, and marked the initiation of my desire to use diet and other complementary and integrative therapies to support my family’s optimal health and vitality.
The more I learn about holistic wellness, the more I want to share with others—and that is how I found myself applying to the Nutrition Therapy Institute in Denver, Colorado last summer. I will soon begin offering services as a Certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner (CNTP) with 260 hours of training, and I am currently working toward my candidacy as a Master Nutrition Therapist (MNT) with an anticipated completion date of 2015.
I chose to name my nutrition therapy practice Flourish for several reasons, tied both to my personal history and my future goals. As a noun, a flourish can refer severally to a bold or extravagant gesture, musical fanfare, an elaborate literary expression, or a flowing ornamental curve in calligraphy—this very much represents my liberal arts background of English, Classical Studies, manuscript illumination, and printmaking, as well as my writings on this food blog. It also represents the cards I make under the moniker Scribbles by Sparks, using my autistic son’s scribbles—or flourishes!—as a foundation.
As a verb, “to flourish” comes from the Latin florere meaning “to bloom or flower.” The modern definition is a living organism that is growing and developing in a healthy and vigorous way, especially as a result of a particularly favorable environment; I expand this meaning to refer either to physical growth, financial or occupational prosperity, or mental and spiritual development. But the initial inspiration for the name came from this verse in the Bible:
“The godly will flourish like palm trees
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house.
They flourish in the courts of our God.
Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
they will remain vital and green.”
(Psalm 92:12-14, New Living Translation).
This is my goal for myself and for my clients: Not simply to regain or maintain average health, but to cultivate extravagant health throughout all stages of life, according to God’s design. The specific path to this goal will look very different for each individual—and likely even for different phases of that individual’s life! However, the foundations are the same for everyone: Gut health and epigenetics.
As Hippocrates wrote nearly 2,400 years ago, “All disease begins in the gut.” Clinical imbalances in the gut can contribute significantly to a range of systemic health conditions, including diabetes and obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, autism and other developmental disorders, depression and other neurological conditions, atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular concerns, and of course the more obvious gastrointestinal connections such as IBS, SIBO, and generalized malnutrition, among many others. This is because the gut has several incredibly important, and in some cases, under-recognized functions beyond the digestion of food and expulsion of waste.
- The enteric nervous system in your gut actually contains more neurons than your spinal cord, and produces as many neurotransmitters as your brain, spawning the relatively young field of enteric neuroscience.
- The majority of your immune system is located in the gut; moreover, there are approximately 100 trillion microbes living in your gut, comprising a system called the microbiome. These organisms collectively weigh as much as 4 pounds, outnumber every cell in the human body by 10:1, and contain 99% of the genetic material in your body! Dysbiosis refers to imbalances in the symbiotic versus pathogenic microbes in your gut, the repercussions of which we are just beginning to study—the potential impact on our immune systems is just the tip of the iceberg!
- Technically, the contents of your gastrointestinal tract are outside your body! This fact means that the intestinal lining, just a single cell thick, is the gatekeeper between your body and the outside world. Leaky gut, also called intestinal permeability, refers to damage to this delicate lining which both prevents optimal absorption of nutrients and allows bacteria, toxins, maldigested proteins and fats, and other waste material to sneak into your bloodstream. Often associated with chronic inflammation, this condition can trigger or exacerbate all of the disorders listed above.
Epigenetics is the intersection of your personal genetics with environmental factors. A relatively new field, epigenetics reveals that the human genome is a dynamic living thing that continuously grows, learns, and adapts to stimuli. Consequently, your environment—including the food you eat, environmental pollutants you encounter, and even psychological factors like stress—significantly impacts how your genes express themselves, either positively or negatively.
The reason individuals develop so differently is due to temporary markers called genetic tags that attach to DNA and govern which genes are actively expressed and when. Some tags are in place at birth, but our life choices and environment cause certain tags to detach and others to accumulate. In other words, our genes learn from our experiences and respond accordingly. Food choice is one of the most direct ways we can impact our epigenetics, because the food we eat speaks directly to our genes through the molecular language of nutrients, and can change not only the way they function in our own bodies but also how that will be translated in future generations.
As a nutrition therapist, I start with these foundational ideas and collaborate with you to develop a nutritional program that will support your short- and long-term health goals. My approach:
- Focuses on your bio-individuality and your personal health goals;
- Empowers you to take an active role in making positive choices for your health through guidance and education;
- Considers the body, mind, and spirit of equal importance for optimal health;
- Accesses your path to balanced health from a functional perspective, examining the signs and symptoms of imbalance as clues to the underlying dysfunction rather than disorders to treat in isolation;
- Emphasizes whole foods, traditional methods of preparation, and natural remedies over supplementation; and
- Offers cooking support with recipes and hands-on demonstrations.
To learn more about how my holistic nutrition therapy services can provide you with support, analysis, and counsel throughout your journey toward extravagant health, please contact me at email@example.com.