Keto? Intermittent Fasting? Paleo? Juice cleanses? Whole 30? Avoid nightshades… but also, what are nightshades? What are we even supposed to be eating? To demystify the world of nutrition, we sat down with Functional Dietician Miriam Jacobson to get her expert take on what belongs on our plate. Through her nutritional counseling program, Every Body Bliss, Miriam has empowered clients to create a new, healthier relationship with food. Plus we will take any and all tips from someone this dang glowy!
What initially drew you to nutrition as a career?
Miriam: Early on in college I discovered nutrition and connected with it right away. When I was younger I had experienced some trauma and benefited greatly from working with social workers and therapists. I knew that I wanted to help people in a similar way. Initially, I thought I wanted to be a social worker, but I took a nutrition class and instantly fell in love with it. I took more classes ended up studying to become a Registered Dietician (RD) working in a hospital with people on bedside nutrition for year. In that institutionalized setting, food was used in a very specific way to manage illnesses. I knew that nutrition had a more profound effect on the body than we were experiencing on just a clinical level. Food itself can be healing, and not just from a disease management point of view. We need to give our bodies credit to be able to heal, especially from chronic conditions that may have other root causes.
After I graduated with a masters degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, I transitioned my focus to wellness. I wanted to know why people were experiencing imbalances and disease in their body. In western medicine, the focus is on the diagnosis, but I wanted to know more about the underlying causes that could be linked to lifestyle, food, and other overlooked chronic issues.
What are the common issues or complaints clients come to you with?
Miriam: Every client is different, but I often hear of digestive complaints, bloating, gas, diarrhea, IBS-like symptoms, weight goals, and working through emotional relationships with food.
Can you tell us what working with a nutritionist looks like?
Miriam: I work with clients on a 3 month basis, for 6 sessions in total. After that period of time, the client and I make the call if it’s appropriate to continue to work together. The initial session is 90 minutes, allowing me the time to go through the client’s medical and nutritional intake forms with them to learn about any medical diagnosis and symptoms they may be experiencing. I’ll find out what they are doing on a day-to-day basis to understand what physical or emotional imbalances are going on. Then I create an action plan to strategize what their meals will look like. The structure of the meal plan will actually teach people how to navigate their own health for the long term by knowing what is good or not for their own body. The follow ups focus on whatever comes up for them after that. If there are more serious digestive issues, more diagnostic work via a breath or stool tests could reveal other metabolic imbalances or inflammatory markers. The follow up is really catered to the client’s experiences.
What do you consider to be the worst food offenders, things to be avoided at all costs?
Miriam: Any diet foods with artificial sweeteners, diet sodas, diet yogurts, all of these things mess with hormone hunger and satiety signals. I always recommend choosing foods that are closest to their natural grown form.
What food shopping advice do you give your clients?
Miriam: Always stick to the perimeter of the grocery store, and look to make sure your shopping basket is filled with mainly perishable items; veggies, proteins, hummus, etc. I like to buy organic products, but if cost is a concern, you can follow the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists from the Environmental Working Group, which will guide you on the specific organic produce you should be investing in.
I stock up on most of my dried goods using Thrive Market, where you can find pantry staples like almond and coconut flour, lentils, quinoa, salad dressings (I love the ones from Primal Kitchen), chia and flax seeds, macadamia nuts, coconut and almond milk. I also buy a lot of the ingredients from Thrive to make my own snacks like dehydrated flax crackers and paleo almond-based granola.
There are so many trendy diets out there right now. Based on your experience with clients, what works and what doesn’t?
Miriam: There are so many out there. Keto was originally created for people with epileptic seizures, because it changes the way you brain processes energy. Now it’s being branded as a way to burn fat, increase athletic performance, and prevent age related diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. However, it can be destructive to the microbiomes in your gut. Long term ketogenic dieting can disrupt healthy bacteria in the gut, which is why I'm not a fan.
I always want to think about what comes after you finish the short period of these diets; are they actually sustainable for the long term? For example, Whole 30, there’s not much guidance for maintaining the plan after the 30 initial days. Fasting is another practice that’s become popular, though the time frame can really vary. The overnight 11 hour range is a healthy break between dinner and breakfast, but if you go longer than 12 hours between meals it could end up wearing on your adrenal glands. This really varies person to person.
What is mindful eating, and how can we integrate that approach in our daily lives?
Miriam: Mindful eating means being conscious about our choices day to day. For my body, the soft guidelines of 3 meals and 2 snacks a day really helps me feel my best. If I go more than 4 hours during the day without food, I will not be a happy person! The intuitive part of this practice links to our hunger and satiety (feeling full). If there are gaps here, I want to think about I can bridge them.
Digestion starts in your mouth, so take time to eat your meals. Sit down with a fork and plate, don’t rush yourself. Plopping down on the sofa to eat while watching tv does not connect us with our hunger or allow satiety to process. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach has food in it, so take the time to enjoy your meals.
Are there any supplements you often recommend to clients?
Miriam: I work a lot with supplements that I individualize on a case-by-case basis. They can help expedite the healing process. We can all benefit from a Vitamin B complex (methylated B), to help our livers process toxins, alcohol, and stress. Vitamin B is needed to create our hormones and neurotransmitters. Personally, I take a daily multivitamin with activated Vitamin B in it.
Fiber is an important component of maintaining gut health. While many people use a supplement like psyllium husk, I’ve found that clients often tolerate partially hydrolyzed guar gum better. This type of fiber creates a good environment to help gut bacteria thrive. Just taking probiotics isn’t necessarily the most effective way to do this, but the resistant fibers that our bodies can’t break down allow the gut bacteria to feed and thrive, creating an acidic environment.
Collagen is also great and healing for the gut lining, while also a source of protein.
Digestive enzymes can really be really helpful to our bodies in the process of breaking down food.
Breakfast can really set the food mood for the day. Do you have any favorites in the morning rotation?
Miriam: Your morning meal is a really important. Cravings and low energy can really take a toll by 3:00 PM if you’ve skipped breakfast, or not had enough protein (20-25 grams). Your daily intake should be 1 gram of protein per kg of body weight. I’ve been making morning smoothies a lot recently. I mix it up depending on what’s seasonal, but I usually go with an almond milk base, a protein powder (Vital Proteins Collagen, or something with gut healing properties), seasonal fruit (today I used frozen blueberries and papaya), a handful of greens (kale or spinach), and some fiber (guar gum).
Divisive question: where do you stand on bananas in smoothies?
Miriam: I’m a half-banana kind of girl. If your goal is weight loss, skip the banana. If you’ve got to have them, half of a banana would take the place of your fruit in the recipe. This recipe shows the proportions I like to use for my morning smoothies.
Jenn: Can you put the smoothie recipe in a graphic/text box?
1 cup almond milk
20 - 25 grams protein powder
3/4 cup fruit (usually a mix - frozen is fine)
A handful of greens
Optional: green powder, partially hydrolyzed guar gum, other prebiotic fibers (acacia gum, GOS or FOS powders)
Do you have any food vices that you’ve struggled to avoid or make peace with?
Miriam: I love dark chocolate and cheese, especially a good goat milk brie or Humboldt Fog. Overall, I try to have a healthier relationship with food; if things start to get out of check, it usually has something to do with me personally or emotionally. People often binge eat to stop feeling things, and it can take a long time to recognize to build an awareness about ways to nurture yourself beyond food. Instead categorizing some items as “bad”, I try to think about food as a friend. I want to enjoy every bite of it, or try and take a step back and ask, “How can I take care of myself in another way?”
In terms of whole body and mind wellness, what other practices make you feel your best?
Miriam: When I move my body and go outside, I feel my best. I like to walk, take a workout class like Bar Method or reformer pilates. I’m a yogi at heart, so that’s something I grew up with. I try to take a strength class once a week, and throw in a hike and walks. Sometimes I’ll do a quick 20 minute workout from home with TRX.
Where should someone start? That’s the hardest part, right?
Miriam: We are all at different starting points. First, congratulate yourself for wanting to make a change, and celebrate that step of committing to a shift. Before making a change, build an awareness about your patterns and behavior. Using a food diary to track your eating habits throughout the day can help build this awareness.
When someone is first starting off, I encourage them to visualize their goals; what are they working towards, and how will they feel once they reach that dreamy vision for themselves? I try to encourage people to focus on how they feel versus how they look, because it drives the motivation more inward rather than looking for external validation and reward. Once you have this vision, think, “what the small, actionable steps can help get me there?” It doesn't need to be a crazy revolutionary change ... maybe the first step is cooking more veggies at dinner.
Lastly, I encourage people to find ways they can have fun with their health and food. Do they love cooking and playing with certain flavors? Maybe they love being active by going hiking, swimming, or biking? Find things that are fun about your health and begin aligning yourself with those activities that make you happy, but also healthier.
Your blog is full of amazing, creative recipes. What do you like to cook, and what cookbooks inspire you?
Miriam: I tend to cook plant-based paleo, a vegetable based dish with an added protein. I like The First Mess by Laura Wright, and Against All Grain and Eat What You Love, both by Danielle Walker. She has some great healthy spins on childhood favorites.
Thanks so much for sharing! You’ve inspired us with your breezy, easy California cool approach to the kitchen, and reframing of food-as-friend! I think there needs to be a Don’t Ask, Do/Every Body Bliss Farmer’s Market ride-along in the future.
About Miriam Jacobson:
Miriam has received degrees and training from the University of Wisconsin (BS Nutrition & Dietetics), North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System (Dietetic Internship), and the University of Bridgeport -(MS Human Nutrition & Functional Medicine). She’s a Registered Dietitian (RD), Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), Certified LEAP Therapist (CLT), and a 200-hour Registered Yoga Instructor. When she’s not studying or working, you can find her on the yoga mat, whipping up some scrumptious and healthy recipes or exploring the beauty and expanse of Los Angeles.