Health and Nutrition 101: Using Food as Medicine

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Gina Cousineau

By Gina Cousineau

Four months into the new year, and 13 months into the pandemic, I am seeing a bit of desperation as people start to acknowledge the repercussions of their behavior over the past year, or perhaps their lifetime.

I could have titled this column “Every Pill Is a Poison,” but decided to go after the approach I live and breathe, to move toward a healthy lifestyle: using food as medicine in tandem with supplements, medications, exercise and attitude.

My clients learn early on that I am going to teach them not only what a healthy lifestyle approach can look like and how to make it come to fruition, but that I also help them advocate for their health. Once this happens, we look to living that long, healthy, independent, joyful life that we have long desired.

Unfortunately, when a physician gives the prescription for a lifestyle shift, most patients take the pill. As an integrative and functional nutritionist, I teach my clients that while every pill is a poison, that very pill could save their life.

But it is here that you have to understand your options and that a lifestyle change cannot only prevent and halt disease processes, it can completely reverse the ramifications of years of poor choices.

What I see on a regular basis, regrettably, is a serious disconnect between how to make that happen. I have heard of medical practitioners with little to no nutrition or exercise physiology education prescribing diets and fitness programs to their patients that can be harmful, and certainly not helpful, to their plight.

It is crucial to educate patients in the concept of eating wholesome real food, while understanding that everyone has a calorie budget, especially when weight loss is desired, and that healthy/clean food choices don’t necessarily translate to proper nutrition, nor sustainable weight loss and improved health.

Whether you are a young adult laying down peak bone mass and trying to perform in school and sport, an 80-year-old senior desiring to maintain independence, or someone in between, appropriate calories, macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and other substances including fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals and others, are hard to plate up in a nutritious and delicious way.

And, disappointingly, your nutrition influencer is likely restricting food groups and calories, limiting your nutrition, as well as bullying you into believing that you must eat organic, take a basket full of supplements, and that dairy and gluten are the enemies.

Take a deep breath, and let’s have a chat. Our food supply is safe, and the farmers that provide a large portion of your food stuff, feed their families the very foods you are eating. Sadly, with the influx of social media and the internet at your fingertips, your Google searches can prove dangerous to both you and your family.

My suggestions are multifaceted and come in a handful of ideas:

  • 1. Eat food in its most natural state.
  • 2. You cannot outtrain a bad diet. Simply begin a walking program of 150 minutes or more a week to be a healthy human.
  • 3. Have a physical once a year with bloodwork, age/symptom-appropriate preventive screenings/testing, and follow up with a face-to-face visit with your medical practitioner to discuss your situation, considering your personal and family health history.
  • 4. If necessary, seek experts to help you advocate for your health, including specialty physicians, physical therapists, certified fitness professionals, and qualified nutrition experts. You don’t see a dentist for your heart condition, so why would you listen to an actor for their nutrition advice?

Gina Cousineau sees clients virtually and in person out of her San Clemente office. Her extensive education—a BS in dietetics and MS in integrative and functional nutrition—chef training, and 30-plus years as a fitness professional allow her to help clients lose weight and improve their health. You can reach her at mamag@mamagslifestyle.com, 949.842.9975, and on Instagram and Facebook @mamagslifestyle. Register for her complimentary weekly newsletter at mamagslifestyle.com.

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