We sat down with one of our educational collaborators, Natalie Yates, to talk all things food, wellness & sustainability. Her resource “Eating to Support Mental Wellness” was a big hitter in our May Mood of mental health & stress relief and one of our first resources to launch on our site. You can shop it here.
Tell us a bit about yourself & your business.
Hey everyone! My name is Nat. I am a health coach and the founder of Food for Mood! Food for Mood is a health coaching practice that focuses on the connection between food and brain health. During our work together we dive into your relationship with food and work holistically through the different areas of your life that are impacting that relationship. Typically, our work together is stretched out into a 3-6 month timeline that allows me to really get to know you as well as hold you accountable to the goals we set together! I don’t love the concept of dieting and I definitely don’t believe that one diet suits all. I focus on adding foods rather than taking them away and my goal is to help you create a lifestyle shift instead of a temporary fix. Let’s get cookin’.
What does food as medicine mean for you?
Food as medicine looks like using nutrient rich, whole foods to fuel areas of our bodies that may be out of balance. For instance, when I discuss anxiety, I love to get curious about what foods you typically gravitate towards. Adding foods into your diet like salmon, avocados, eggs, brazil nuts (among dozens of others), support your brain through their rich vitamin content. B vitamins, omega fatty acids or foods high in tryptophan are some of my favourites for anxiety management. Another example would be talking about digestive issues you may be experiencing and what types of foods you can eat to support gut health and a healthy microbiome. Fermented foods, kombucha, prebiotic and probiotic rich foods all support a healthy gut. Creating a diet that allows your mind and body to perform at their optimal levels is how I view FOOD AS MEDICINE!
What led you to journey towards food as medicine?
I began my journey years back when I got really curious about how food or a lack there of, was impacting my own personal mental health. Through my own experience with anxiety, I developed some strong aversions to certain foods, such as meat, eggs and dairy. In truth, I didn’t eat much at all. I had lost heaps of weight and I was dwindling more and more each day. I just wasn’t “hungry”. Hungry for food, hungry for activity, hungry for life. The panic attacks became more frequent as the weeks went by, on a lot of days they were entirely consuming.
My healing journey began on a yoga retreat in Tulum. The first few days I was quite disengaged and uninterested. However, the one thing I did find interesting was the food. Although the first few days I only really took part in the freshly squeezed juices, I noticed we were only being served whole foods that were organically grown and locally sourced. This was the first time in months that I had actually reintroduced some kind of food routine. The colours, the flavours and the nutrients were so pure and so obviously rich that it was hard not to express curiosity about them. I began to notice a sense of mental clarity as the week went by. I felt fuelled, I felt full but not heavy, I felt clear, I felt energized and I felt my anxiety settling at times where it was usually heightened. Coming home I wasn’t sure if the trip had just given me a glimpse of hope that would come crashing down when I would arrive back into a Canadian winter or if I was actually going to find some light in my path forward. When I say I found light I don’t mean right away. It took months to really dig deep and get curious about what my calling was/ is today. I started a Health coaching course in the fall. It was a very broad topic course that lead me to take another course more specifically on how food can positively impact mental health. I feel like I’ve seen rock bottom and my passion now is to help others reach their potential, regardless of their starting point. Here I am!
What are some of your favourite foods?
I could literally talk about food all day every day! I think this will be my favourite question... Living in Canada, we don’t really have the luxury of growing foods outside all year round. I do however eat pretty seasonally. I eat warm, hearty foods in the colder months and fresh, light leafy green foods in the warmer months.
Cold months: Squash, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes. I love me some good soups and chili. Baked cabbage steaks with balsamic vinegar, smashed avocado toast, stuffed peppers, spaghetti squash. Salmon with broccoli or green beans is a good go to. I also try my own recipe creations. This past winter I tried a rainbow lasagna that was a huge hit!
For breakfast I tend to gravitate towards things like banana oat pancakes, warm oatmeals, cereals or eggs (mood dependent).
Warmer months: celery, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach and different types of lettuce, cucumbers tomato salads with a home made vinaigrette. I’m also a sucker for bbq-ing sweet potatoes, zucchini and carrots!! Fresh salads. I drink smoothies much more regularly in the summer months as well.
For breakfast I enjoy fresh fruits like mangos, pineapples, kiwis. Also things like cereal or smoothie bowls are a go to!
How do you incorporate mindfulness into your food preparation practices?
“Mindfulness: the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”
Cooking is exactly that. It takes attention, timing and a focus to create a meal. Wether you are chopping fruits and veggies to keep in your fridge for snacking or you’ve decided to give that complex recipe a go, your attention is undivided. I find myself getting lost in the colours, smells and sensations on my fingertips.
How do food & sustainability intersect for you?
This is a great question because food has come a long way. In the past, people were far closer to the food they ate. They understood where it came from, how it was grown and when it was harvested. With the development of the global supply chain and industrial processes that most of our food now goes through before we touch it, it’s more critical than ever to choose our body’s fuel wisely. A big part of sustainable eating is making conscious buying decisions at the grocery store. While it can be more expensive to do so, I have opted to buy organic produce to support my body more positively, but also to casting my vote for organic foods with my dollar. Business will always be shaped by consumer behaviour so if sales for organic produce increases over time, so will production of those foods. As a result, the price will come down. That price reduction would make quality, organic foods more available and accessible to the millions of others that simply can’t afford organic right now. The same goes with that beautiful head of broccoli wrapped in a pound of plastic. If consumers don’t buy that product because of the way it’s packaged then producers will stop packaging that way. They key is to be mindful and curious when spending every dollar. Reading the labels and being intentional when spending is the best bet for a more sustainable food culture.
What does living earthy mean for you?
To me, living earthy means living each day rooted in the goods this Mother Earth has to offer us. Being CONSCIOUS not PERFECT and striving to make small changes to better my overall carbon footprint. It means educating those around me, without making them feel judged. It means not beating myself up over a brown banana but maybe making banana bread with it! Living earthy to me also means using what I have, utilizing the space I have and growing what’s possible considering the seasons we experience in Canada. Currently, I have a baby garden that is growing a variety of herbs, lettuce, carrots, broccoli and peppers. Connecting to my food has created a deeper rooted relationship with my own personal passions around food. We are so disconnected from the processes of the foods we consume as well as where they come from. It creates something I like to call “mindless consumption” for the general population. Growing your own food shifts that consumption pattern.
Living earthy is about living into all angles of curiosity. Being mindful. Bring present.