I first met this lovely food lovin yogi at the annual ProBlogger Event. We met by chance while attending a food photography workshop and discovered an instant connection through our love of food, nutrition and cooking. From our first chats, I was also so interested in Susie's career pathway. Coming from a nursing background, working in the pharmaceutical world and now studying holistic nutrition and considering studying naturopathy...to me, it's quite the transition.
Susie is based in Brisbane and is so passionate about health and nutrition that she left behind a successful corporate career to study nutrition full time. She’s the founder of health and wellness website, www.headthisway.com.au where she blogs and creates beautiful wholesome recipes (you NEED to check these out). Susie is also a yoga teacher, and uses mindfulness techniques, plus her knowledge of nutrition and food, to provide a holistic foundation for guiding people back to wellness. Whoa - you can see why we became friends!
I was instantly drawn to Susie's gentle nature and passion for what she does. I was also a little curious and intrigued so I asked Susie to tell her story, so you and I can learn what motivated her to leave successful career, how her thinking around health has changed, what she has learnt and how her lifestyle and health has improved as a result of leaving a busy corporate life to study nutrition full time. From a professional perspective I wanted to learn what is involved in studying nutrition via a non-dietetic pathway, how a holistic nutritionist may practice similarly or differently to a dietitian and question the science behind natural medicine.
It was so lovely to get to know Susie - each time we chat we could seriously chat all day about food and nutrition. Although we have gained our qualifications in nutrition via different paths (and with that comes slight differences) we practice in a very similar way and both believe that we . We both have a sense of balance and moderation when talking food and nutrition, and when working with clients we put their needs first to help them find their own healthy path (considering many lifestyle factors). We are also very passionate about cooking and enjoying wholesome, real food and still ENJOYING the occasional indulgence (without guilt)! These similarities I feel are the most important.
So read on as Susie and I chat about her studies, the conflicting nutrition world that motivated her, her own healthy lifestyle, science versus intuition, her fav nutrition tips and her foodie loves. Please also enjoy the amazing foodie photography along the way...you may be hungry by the time you each the end!
KERRYN: You have had a really interesting professional background being a nurse, working in the pharmaceutical industry to now studying holistic nutrition, what prompted this recent profession change?
SUSIE: I have loved working in health care in every form. Whether it be direct patient care or from the business side, being involved in ways to assist doctors and patients to access the most recent and cutting edge treatments available in Australia. The role I held in my last 5 years in the pharma industry involved almost weekly business travel and was very stressful, and I found myself completely burnt out. During this time, I was trying to eat more healthily and was finding it very confusing as to what was the best way to eat for good health.
There is so much conflicting information available, and I became quite fascinated by the health and wellness industry, specifically nutrition because of the many contradictions I could see, particularly on the internet. I decided that I wanted to know the facts. Science-based and research driven, in order to improve my own health as well as being a possible career (given I knew I couldn’t sustain the work-life imbalance I was experiencing at the time).
The universe supported my plan and just 3 months after I commenced my online studies in nutrition, I was retrenched, and therefore I could study full time on campus, which is where I am now.
KERRYN: Coming from a pharma and nursing background and now learning about alternative therapies I feel would require a big change in your thinking when approaching a person’s health, can you explain some of the challenges you have faced and some positive changes (in your approach and thinking) that have occurred as a result of this?
SUSIE: The complete change in the way I now look at health has been one of the wonderful aspects of entering this very different world. In conventional medicine, we tend to focus on the ‘sickness’ model. As a consumer, we seek medical advice when we are sick. We expect treatment to make us well again, or at least functional if we have a chronic illness like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and then we go back to our lives (and lifestyle). That’s certainly what I’ve always done, and that’s what my family members do as well. I’ve now changed my focus to the ‘wellness’ model. This is a disease prevention emphasis, where the focus is on modifying lifestyle factors such as diet, stress, mindset and exercise with the goal being to avoid going down the sickness path. It is well known now that the most common serious illnesses (such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease) in the Western world can be influenced by our lifestyles – what we eat, our stressful existence and our lack of exercise.
Natural therapies are not anti-conventional medicine. Far from it in fact. Conventional medicine has wonderful results and has saved many lives and in fact, natural therapies can support the good work that conventional treatments offer - they often work very well together. The ultimate positive impact on client’s health, for me, would be to have a client with a chronic illness that I can help by dietary modification and lifestyle advice that reduces their symptoms, or improves their quality of life, or even allows for dosage reductions in medications (and therefore reduced side effects).
KERRYN: How are you finding the science base in natural therapies? How big a factor is science and evidence in considering your recommendations for your clients, or do you work more intuitively?
SUSIE: One of the things I was surprised about in studying natural medicine, is the scientific approach that we are being trained to take. My perception of natural therapies was that it might be more based on intuition and tradition, rather than scientific evidence. What I’m finding is that there is in fact a significant focus on evidence, and the amount of referencing I’m required to provide on assignments is beyond what I was required to do in my Bachelor and Masters degrees. Recent peer reviewed medical journals are required for every assignment, and, as an example, for a 1000 word case report I’m required to submit at least 10 references, which is pretty huge.
KERRYN: Can you please explain what a holistic nutritionist does and is there a difference between a holistic nutritionist and a naturopath?
Firstly, I’d like to outline the naturopathic philosophy which underpins how holistic nutritionists and naturopaths approach their clients. There are 6 principles:
First, do no harm.
The healing power of nature.
Identify and treat the cause.
Treat the whole person.
Healer as teacher (educate the client and encourage self education).
A holistic nutritionist is trained to look at the client’s eating patterns and lifestyle and understand health issues that they might be experiencing. Often a client may not realise there is a connection between what they are eating and how this impacts how they feel physically and emotionally. For example, I’ve recently helped a client with extreme PMS who had very poor protein and healthy fats intake. By increasing the amount and quality of her protein and healthy fats in a way that suits her lifestyle (as she doesn’t like handling meat) she’s reported that her PMS symptoms have decreased dramatically – and that wasn’t even the reason she came to see me! This is an example of how a holistic approach can assist a client to uncover their own needs. Sometimes, the nutritionist will refer the client for pathology tests such as blood, stool analysis, urinalysis (sometimes done in-house), etc. There are also certain conditions that require referral to an Accredited Practising Dietitian, such as renal disease and epilepsy. Once the client’s need is established, a dietary plan is developed to fit in with the lifestyle of the client, and supplements may be prescribed to support the body during the transition to the new eating plan. Lifestyle advice is also provided if appropriate, such as stress reduction activities, or general exercise. A Naturopath is trained to take the same approach, and they also support their clients’ health with herbal medicines as well as nutrients. They also use some tools that nutritionists don’t use, such as iridology, live blood analysis, flower essences and homeopathic remedies.
KERRYN: Your next option is to go into naturopathy, what are some of your thoughts, concerns or motivators for this?
SUSIE: I’ve been quite conflicted about this. My passion is food and nutrition and I’ve never had an interest in Naturopathy. I come from a conservative background and no-one in my family has every visited a Naturopath to my knowledge. However, now that I’ve had some exposure to the practice and some of my wonderful lecturers are Naturopaths, I’m starting to feel very drawn to this. From my pharma background, I’m aware that herbs were the first medicines. In fact, the last company I worked for is over 200 years old and started out in traditional herbal medicines. I’ve also used herbs myself over the years such as echinacea, valerian, vitex and evening primrose oil and have found them all to be very effective. My primary motivation for exploring Naturopathy as a career is to ensure I have access to the best care for my clients. And if herbal medicines are the best care for that client, then I want to be able to prescribe them.
The natural health industry is undergoing somewhat of a revolution at the moment. As of the end of this year (2015), the Advanced Diploma qualification is being phased out and the minimum qualification is 3-4 year degree level. There are many in the natural health industry who are wanting a national registration body that is government regulated. This exists for health care professionals such as doctors, nurses, dietitians, physiotherapists, etc., already. This will ensure that the standards of practice are consistent and that the titles of Nutritionist and Naturopath are protected. Right now, theoretically, anybody can call themselves a nutritionist or naturopath even without qualifications. They won’t be insured to practice, however they could still see clients and the client would be under the impression that they are seeing a qualified practitioner, when in fact they are not. I’m excited about the moves that are being made towards national registration, and I have no doubt that this will happen in the not too distant future.
KERRYN: How would you explain your personal approach to food and nutrition?
SUSIE: I personally follow a vegetarian diet, and have done for the last 7 years or so. That works well for my body and I’ve been the healthiest that I’ve ever been in my life by embracing this. This is my personal choice and doesn’t influence how I advise my clients in their food choices. In terms of my food philosophy when it comes to nutrition, I’m a big believer in moderation. I still eat not so healthy food if I feel like it, for example in a social setting. I do so though, with an awareness of what it does to my body and how it will potentially make me feel. I don’t think about it in terms of putting on weight though, it’s always about the health aspect for me. It’s interesting how many people feel that they are judged by what they eat. In a nutrition consult I will always ask my client to describe their typical day of eating and it often brings up embarrassment, apologies sometimes, and often shame. No one has the ‘perfect’ diet 100% of the time, not even nutritionists. And if a bowl of ice cream or a piece of chocolate cake brings a smile to your face (yes I have a sweet tooth J) and provides some social connection for you –then it IS good for you. That’s the holistic viewpoint anyway. Moderation is the key of course though.
KERRYN: What are your key tips to help a person eat well long term?
SUSIE: My first tip for everyone is to have protein at every meal. This fills you up and helps stop sugar cravings. It’s also very good for mood balancing (for neurotransmitter production) and for your immune system and hormone production.
Secondly, planning is critical to healthy eating. It’s very easy to eat well when the ingredients are on hand, and very easy to take the unhealthy option when you get home tired from work and there’s nothing in the pantry/fridge to make a complete meal. While a full written meal plan for every day of the week isn’t essential, a fair idea of what you’ll cook for your meals each week will allow you to think ahead when you’re at the grocer and buy what you’ll need.
Thirdly, always have healthy snacks on hand. This can be as easy as a bag of raw mixed nuts in your desk drawer at work or in your handbag. I always have a batch of my chocolate bliss balls in the fridge so if I’m hungry I can quickly resolve it.
Number four, keep hydrated. Many people still don’t drink enough water. I always have a bottle with me, and it makes a huge difference to my water intake.
Lastly (although my list could go on and on!), enjoy your food! Find healthy options that you LOVE! Treat healthy eating as your lifestyle, not as a short term goal. There is an abundance of beautiful and delicious healthy food options available to us, so be brave and try some different foods that are yummy and healthy (perhaps some that you can’t even pronounce – quinoa, I’m looking at you!). I guarantee you’ll discover you can really enjoy healthy eating.
KERRYN: I know you love to cook, what are your 5 must have ingredients and why?
Quinoa – This is essential in any kitchen in my opinion. It’s a complete protein, which is ideal to add to many meals. The versatility of quinoa is awesome! You can have quinoa porridge for breakfast, have it cold in a salad, use it as a substitute for rice, pop it in a wrap – it’s amazing! It’s also gluten free for those who are coeliac or who have a non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.
Baby spinach – I probably eat this almost every day. Again, it’s the versatility that makes it such a great green leafy to always have available. I put it in my smoothies, sauté it up with eggs and tomatoes for breakfast, have it in a salad or wrap, add it to pastas and risotto dishes, plus others. It’s a great source of iron and Vitamins A and C.
Organic Free Range Eggs – I love eggs and I always make sure I know exactly where they’ve come from. There are many animal welfare issues in egg production and the definitions of free range vary from state to state in Australia, so make sure you are getting what you are paying for. Eggs are an incredibly healthy food, a complete protein, a good source of omega 3s, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. They have too many uses to list, but I’ll have these for breakfast lunch or dinner, hard boiled for a portable snack, added to a smoothie (if you’re feeling hard core!), perfect in baking and in desserts.
Fresh ginger – Ginger has great medicinal benefits, specifically to prevent nausea, improve digestion, as an anti-inflammatory and to support the immune system. I use this in fresh juices, stir fries, biscuits, soups, curries, tea and kombucha.
Lentils – A very versatile source of protein and fibre that are also packed with minerals. The trick with lentils is in the preparation. Lentils contain phytic acid, which can cause, well, you know, flatulence. To avoid this, soak them in water with an acid such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. I use a tablespoon of the acid to a cup of lentils normally, and soak them for at least 6 hours. Then rinse them before cooking. Lentils can be used in so many things, including soups, salads, curries, bolognaise sauce, pasta dishes and burger patties.
KERRYN: Considering a holistic nutritionist often incorporates supplements into a person’s lifestyle, what are your favourite/most used supplements and why?
With any supplement, quality is really important. There are a lot of supplements in the retail market (supermarkets and pharmacies, etc.) that are not formulated well, they use cheap fillers and can be difficult for the body to break down and absorb. And don’t even get me started on multivitamin supplements! Many people take multivitamins and then feel like they don’t have to worry about their nutrient intake as they’re covered by their multi. You would be far better off focussing on your food intake, than wasting money on multivitamin supplements. Some of the formulations are really not useful for anyone (ie the dosages are well under the body’s requirements), and often the chemical structure means the nutrients have a poor bioavailability. This means that the nutrients won’t get to the cells and be utilised. If you genuinely have a nutritional need, then a targeted supplement with the right dose in the right formulation will be so much more beneficial for you. These supplements are often prescription only from a nutritionist or naturopath, and require a consultation so that you are receiving the right supplement to meet your needs, and are also receiving advice to incorporate more nutrients into your daily diet. Ideally, supplements are not taken long term. Most people can receive their daily nutrition requirements from their food. Sometimes, people have absorption issues (such as gut inflammation) or multiple food intolerances that make it difficult for them to get their daily nutrient requirement from food, and this is where long term supplementation may be useful.
Here are my favourites:
Magnesium - I find that this mineral can be very beneficial for people, particularly when they are under a lot of stress, can’t sleep or are not eating well. My favourite one is in a powder form with activated vitamin Bs and taurine.
Probiotics – These are a hot topic in the nutrition world and there is a lot of research going on in this area. On top of digesting our food, the gut has a significant role in the immune system and probiotics are being researched extensively in this area. Most people have been on antibiotics at some stage which depletes gut flora. Poor diet can also deplete gut flora, as believe it or not, these gut flora actually need to be fed! I find probiotics very useful to use in people having digestive problems or frequent colds. Specific strains of probiotics are required for specific issues, therefore it’s always wise to get advice on using these.
Activated Vitamin B complex – Activated vitamins are in a form that’s very easy for the body to use. B vitamins work best when combined together and I use this supplement for people under stress, to support cardiovascular health, for energy, Vitamin B12 deficiency and nervous system support.
Zinc – Zinc is an incredibly useful mineral and I use this in clients to support the immune system and wound healing, to reduce inflammation and for liver support.
Vitamin C – When Vitamin C is needed, the powdered form is my preferred option as the dosage can be tailored effectively and there are less fillers and better absorption. I use Vitamin C in clients as an antioxidant, for immune support, adrenal support, mental health and energy production.
KERRYN: Who are your foodie inspirations
Jamie Oliver is one of my favourite chefs. His food is unfussed and achievable for even the most basic of cooks. I love his passion for educating children in where food comes from and how to eat properly. He’s someone who uses his influence to change the world in such a positive way. I really admire that.
Teresa Cutter, aka The Healthy Chef, is also someone who inspires me. Her generosity with her free recipes, and her easy to understand explanations of the benefits of the ingredients in her recipes are brilliant. My curiosity about healthy eating really drew me to her website and I would absolutely count her influence as one of the reasons I chose to study nutrition.
Dana from The Minimalist Baker. Her food is beautifully photographed, easy to make and very healthy. Her website is a great resource for me and for my clients.
Matt Holloway from Thug Kitchen. This food blog is hilarious. There’s a lot of swearing so if you can get past that, the food is fantastic and very easy to prepare. His food is simple, hearty and made for real people. It’s all vegan, and you don’t have to be vegan to appreciate it.
KERRYN: What is your favourite quote?
SUSIE: The philosophy of my whole business revolves around this anonymous quote:
“Create a life that feels good on the inside, not just one that looks good on the outside.”