Nutrition coach: You are what you eat

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We all know that stress can cause or worsen digestive problems, but is the reverse also true? Nutrition health coach Catherine Polet is convinced of it: our gut influences our emotions and how we manage stress. Commission en direct spoke to her to find out more.

by Ján Glovičko, CEND (European Commission Intranet) on 17 January 2019

What is integrative nutrition?

Integrative nutrition is based on several concepts, which go beyond food. It takes into account 'bio-individuality', which means that everyone is different. Everyone has unique nutritional or lifestyle needs, and what is one person's medicine can be another person's poison.

Another concept is 'primary food', which is not the food you eat. It is much more than food. You can eat all the vegetables you want, but if you do not like your job, if you are not satisfied with your relationships or if you do not do daily exercises or other forms of personal care, you will be undernourished in life. It is also about 'exclusion'.

If you do not nourish your body well enough, you will not be able to cope with stress.

Most diets focus on the things you should avoid, creating a cycle of deprivation, pressure, embarrassment and failure. Integrative nutrition focuses on change by adding more good things to your diet instead of reducing bad ones. The '90/10 rule' is a useful reminder that if you eat healthy foods and take good care of yourself 90% of the time, the occasional indulgence won't hurt. The goal of well-being is not to adhere to anything so strictly as to deprive oneself of all the pleasures of life.

Finally, the basic diet philosophy is to 'eat real food' that is not processed. Eat seasonally; explore a varied diet of different colours and textures, which include vegetables and fruit, cereals, different sources of proteins, legumes, nuts and seeds. The most important thing is to really know how to listen to your body and give or reduce, depending on what makes you feel the best.

Why is it important to balance nutrition and stress?

For most of us, stress and food go hand-in-hand. Food can give us the feeling of power, control and satisfaction that we need in stressful situations. It's no surprise that when our stress levels go up, our resistance to 'comfort' foods goes down.

Good nutrition is an important stress management tool. If you do not nourish your body well enough, you will not be able to cope with stress. Most people are undernourished, which does not mean that they do not eat enough, rather that their body is missing important nutrients to function well. Under such circumstances, we cannot handle everyday stress as well as we should. Correct nutrition helps you face the challenges of the day.

How did you become a nutrition health coach?

I am the daughter of a yoga teacher. My mother was the first yoga teacher in the Commission in the late 60s and early 70s. Thanks to her I was always interested in healthy eating, natural healing and yoga.

I became a yoga and autogenic training teacher when I was 26, then I started various certification programmes to become, among others, a certified nutrition and health coach. As people often turn to me for advice, bringing my knowledge together to guide people towards living a better life seemed the right step to take. Being able to help and give to others is just natural to me and resonates with who I am.

What is your role as a nutrition and health coach?

The role of a nutrition and health coach is to be a supportive mentor. Health coaching is not about advocating one diet or one way of living. Instead, I focus on bio-individuality. This means that I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellness. Instead, I help people discover how to fuel their bodies and become the healthiest, happiest versions of themselves.

The simple act of having someone listen to how you are feeling releases stress and tension – two of the major causes of chronic disease. By lending an ear, I reduce people's overall strain on the body while getting a holistic perspective of what is affecting their health.