What if that craving for Mint Milano cookies with afternoon java were something to take seriously, instead of trying to will power it away? “Seriously” doesn’t mean letting a craving always have its way with you, but if you listen to your longings for foods, they carry valuable clues about what your body really needs. It might be a nutrition issue, yes—but often there’s more to it than that. Foods have their place in serving our bodies, but they are only one part of a holistic health formula. The perspective of integrative nutrition, a philosophy and a practical approach to well-being, is that food is a secondary source of nourishment, while relationships, career, spirituality, and exercise are primary nourishments that sustain us most deeply.
“You can eat all the broccoli in the world and still be unhappy and unhealthy because other aspects of your life aren’t balanced,” says Joshua Rosenthal, founder and director of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. “When you are satisfied with your career, in a loving relationship, have a spiritual practice, and exercise on a regular basis, you will be more likely to make better decisions about the foods you eat.”
The institute is the largest nutrition school in the world, offering programs of study with leading health and nutrition experts, and spanning topics from traditional philosophies about food to modern physiological and even ethical aspects of food. Graduates of the program are nutrition counselors, trained to address each client’s individual, holistic needs. “One of our unique theories is bioindividuality,” says Rosenthal. “There is not one diet that works for everyone. Integrative nutrition teaches over 100 dietary theories to give our students the knowledge they need to decide what works best for each person.”
Holly Anne Shelowitz is a certified nutrition counselor based in Rosendale and director of Nourishing Wisdom, which offers workshops, classes, and individual counseling on nutrition and food preparation. Many of Shelowitz’s clients are women who are trying to juggle too many things. They may be having health problems, trouble sleeping, depression, weight gain, relationship issues, fertility issues, or other challenges—many of which are interrelated.
“Often the motivating factor that gets them to see me is a high level of stress,” says Shelowitz. “They’re on the go nonstop from the minute they wake up to the minute they fall onto the pillow. Often they are taking care of a lot of other people but not taking care of themselves. These women are eating out a lot, grabbing food on the run, and have no time to cook.” Shelowitz likes how the integrative nutrition approach doesn’t profess confining dietary regimens for everyone, like taking supplements every day or staunchly avoiding bad foods. “Inevitably, with those approaches, people fall of the wagon and eat stuff they know they shouldn’t.”
Cravings As Clues
Andrea Ramirez is a holistic health counselor in Beacon who also sees a lot of people under the duress of an overly full and demanding schedule. She can attest to the power of food cravings as a manifestation of something being out of balance. “For 90 percent of people, the craving is for sugar,” she says. “Most people are at such a disconnect from their bodies that they aren’t aware of how much sugar they are having.” The sugar-caffeine team is especially common as a way to endure a stressful, overscheduled day, she says. That combo might give a jolt of energy in the morning or a kick to bridge the afternoon, but the pattern can escalate and become self-perpetuating. “Glucose goes up after eating something sweet,” Ramirez explains, “and insulin release is triggered to get the excess glucose out of your bloodstream.” Then, in response to insulin, blood sugar may drop precipitously, leading to an energetic “crash” that you seek to treat again, often with sugary foods and/or caffeine. Nutritious meals, good sleep, and natural ways of energizing are left in the dust.
Sugar cravings can reflect the body’s legitimate need for fuel when reserves are running low—a common issue when meals are skipped, or nutritionally meager. Patricia Charles sought aid from Ramirez after getting some glaring clues from her body that something had to change. “I was working 40 to 60 hours a week and not taking very good care of myself,” Charles says. “I wasn’t eating full meals, and I was eating fast food a lot. In the morning I would have cookies for breakfast, and sometimes wouldn’t even have lunch. I would get so busy that I could go through the day without noticing I was hungry until I got dizzy. So I was having dizzy spells, having pains in my legs, and I even had a seizure, maybe due to not eating properly.” Charles had been having anxiety attacks at work as well. “I had been to counselors for too much anxiety,” she says, “but they would say there was no solution, that it would be a lifelong struggle.” Anti-anxiety medication was suggested, but she didn’t want to resort to that.