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Beyond Food - How Nutritional Therapy Can Transform Your Health and Well-being

Ciara Ryan and Angela Egan from Ciara Ryan Nutrition enjoying lunch together
Ciara Ryan and Angela Egan from Ciara Ryan Nutrition

Most people get – on a conceptual level at least – that they should probably eat a bit better than they do, they should probably move more and take the time for more ‘me time’ in order to live a long and happy life.

‘Life’ seems to have a habit of getting in the way of achieving that. Many of us are juggling jobs and the complexities of modern life, leaving little time to dedicate to the business of ‘being healthy’. Convenience often wins. It’s not that that’s wrong per se, but here’s the thing: all the time we are not eating or moving or living as well as we know we should, we are silently getting sicker. That may not actually be going-to-hospital sick, it may just mean having health niggles that bother us greatly but that we have learned to cope with. I’m talking here about things like IBS or other digestive troubles, PMT, arthritis, persistent fatigue, stress or anxiety, haywire hormones, or possibly weight that has crept on over the years and you can’t seem to shift it, no matter what you try.

What I want to share with you today is that the food you eat matters more than you can possibly imagine. Not only the actual food but when and how you eat it. And that, in many cases, simply by making changes to your diet, the symptoms of some of these conditions can be improved so markedly that there is a really profound shift in how you experience life.

What is Nutritional Therapy?

Nutritional therapy used to be referred to dismissively as ‘alternative medicine’. It’s only now that the science of what to eat is getting the recognition it deserves and is being actively promoted by a small number of well-known and recently enlightened medical doctors, like Dr Rangan Chatterjee, Dr Michael Mosely and Prof Tim Spector to name a few that you may have heard of.

Thyroid panel test test tube and record sheet
Functional testing helps to personalize your plan and get to the core of the issue

Essentially, nutritional therapists apply the latest hypotheses and research in nutrition and health sciences to you and your symptoms and they come up with a diet, lifestyle and (sometimes) supplement plan to support those needs. Sometimes we may use functional testing to help to get to the root of an issue or to steer us in personalising your plan, but not always. Some tests that I work with in my clinic are Comprehensive Stool Analysis, Organic Acids Testing, SIBO testing and IgG Food Intolerance tests. Some of us, like myself, are also trained health coaches and we bring in some coaching to help you put the ideas into practice, iron out unhelpful food habits or break through whatever barriers have held you back in the past.

Personal Service

It’s a very personal approach. We are all so different in terms of our biochemistry, our DNA, our lifestyle, our health history not to mention our food likes and dislikes and stage of life. That means that there isn’t a single way of eating that is right for everyone. All of these factors mean it takes time and skill to create a personalised plan just for you. You could download something from the internet – if you knew what you were looking for – but it is not the same. A nutritional therapist may also work with supplements targeted to a specific condition or your own health goal. This can be a minefield – potentially dangerous and inevitably costly – if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s the same with testing, it’s often not necessary and if I suggest that someone forks out a few hundred quid for an expensive test then I need to be able to justify that to my client and to myself.

Why doesn't everyone see a nutritionist if the results are so good?

It’s unfortunate that so many people don’t understand what a huge impact a personalised food and lifestyle programme can have on the symptoms they have or how they experience their life.

The media is full of soundbites about the latest foods, but they don’t really join the dots, and it’s difficult to see what might be possible for you. Yes, all of this nutrition advice online is great but often it can leave people confused and overwhelmed.

The vast majority of doctors – even those being trained today – have next to no current knowledge or practical experience of what their patients should be eating or how they might integrate the theory into their lives. They live in a world, by and large, where the solution presented during your 10-minute session lies in a prescription. That’s by no means a slight on the great work that GP’s do but they see so many patients in a single day that they could not possibly dig deep into each patients’ diet and lifestyle.

Some – like Chatterjee – are taking on training in something much bigger called Functional Medicine. This is a framework for considering that the symptoms you are experiencing are a result of imbalances in your body and, rather than treat the specific symptoms themselves, nutrition professionals try to understand the root cause of the problem and base their programme around that. If you think about it: nearly all medications merely suppress symptoms. Only very few are an actual cure – antibiotics come to mind here. The exclusively pharmacological approach conventional medicine so often employs does nothing to uncover the root causes. Metformin lowers blood glucose – but why is it high in the first place? Statins lower cholesterol – but why is it elevated? Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) numb pain – but why are you in pain? These are the questions nutrition professionals will ask before embarking on a quest to find out to then be able to address the root cause.

What happens in a nutrition consultation?

picture of Ciara Ryan Nutritionist engaged in a nutritional therapy consultation with a client
Consultations are available in our clinic or via Zoom

Your first consultation will last up to 90 minutes. You will have been asked to complete and send back a nutritional therapy questionnaire before you visit and sometimes a food diary. During the session, we’ll go into your medical history, your health goals and any other challenges you’re facing, what you generally eat, what you like to eat, what you hate to eat and how you have to eat (on the bus, in a rush at your desk, and so on). There’s no judgement whatsoever and anything you share with me is kept in confidence. I have heard it all (and more) so no-one ever needs to feel nervous or embarrassed about admitting what they eat, what their relationship with food is like, what their bowel movements (one of my fave subjects 😁) are like or about all of the mad or fad things they have done to shift weight in the past. I love listening to and helping people and developing a good relationship with my clients, especially my longer term clients, is key.

Picture of daily food intake and exrcise
Your daily food diary can help your Nutritionist gain insights into your eating habits and patterns

Nutritional therapy sessions are usually sold in programmes that run over a number of weeks. This is because it is rarely helpful for anyone to leave without the knowledge that they have at least between 3 and 6 sessions in place to help them implement the programme, make changes at a pace that suits them, and to deal with any hurdles, challenges or questions that come up along the way. We tweak and mould your food and lifestyle plan as we go along and firmly establish life-long healthy habits and give you the education and tools to make changes for the long term.

What if I already know what to do?

Knowing what you should be doing is only part of the problem if you are unhappy with an aspect of your health. Staying motivated and focused is the hardest part of any plan. The single best way to stay in the zone is to have a coach who can give you a nudge or call you out if you start to go off piste. I’d say this is the single biggest thing that makes the difference between reaching your goal and actually staying there. That’s where health coaching comes in. It keeps you accountable and helps ensure all that good work doesn’t go to waste.

Understanding why you feel the way you do can be so empowering and connecting the dots is what we are trained to do. Many times it’s not something that you did wrong, it’s not your fault and it’s not even always about the food!

Yes, it may be challenging to change how you eat and to focus on prioritising yourself and your health. This is easier once you get clarity of what you actually want for your health, what is important to you and your health goals. When this is clear making the changes become a whole lot easier.

Angela and I work with both men and women as well as with young adults from our gorgeous clinic room at The Bodyright Clinic on Fair Street in Drogheda and also over Zoom.

If you’d like to chat to me about if or how nutritional therapy and health coaching might be the right thing for you then feel free to book a free 30 minute health review with by either by phone or Zoom.

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