Four Questions with Nina Manolson, Food Psychologist and Holistic Health Coach

Year after year the top New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, so this week I spoke with Nina Manolson, who helps women end their “wars with food” and make peace with their bodies. Nina is a certified psychology of eating teacher and holistic health coach with 20 years of experience in the health and wellness field. She holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology and offers a free video series and website with healthy recipes and wellness tips.

We’re entering a new year with people making food and health resolutions. What are your top three pieces of advice for those wanting to do things differently when they wake up in 2015?

Can I offer four because this is the Four Questions? The first two really go hand-in-hand—start talking to yourself nicely, and then maintain this mindset. Women tend to be so hard on themselves and have incredibly high expectations. We need a softer approach and self-compassion, which is a proven way to make healthy changes. Willpower and white-knuckling aren’t lasting ways to make changes; it’s about treating ourselves nicely and sustaining that attitude. We can do anything for two weeks, but it’s self-compassion and kindness that allow for long-lasting change. Keep in mind there are three areas we have to work on: food, lifestyle and mindset.

My third piece of advice is to drink more water. We’re chronically dehydrated, especially busy people. When we’re thirsty, we stress our bodies. Thirst raises our cortisol levels—our stress hormones—and leads to inflammation. I believe in bio-individuality, which means it’s hard to say that one thing works for everybody. But a good blanket statement is to drink more water! My fourth piece of advice is about lifestyle—don’t walk out of your house without a healthy snack in your pocket. “America runs on Dunkin’” is a terrifying sentence! It’s up to us to take responsibility for our own nourishment. In general, healthy isn’t what’s available.

I try hard to get whole foods on the table every night, but I work full-time and have a toddler. What are some tips to make my life—and that of other parents—a little less stressful?

There are three parts to getting dinner on the table: getting food in the house, making it and cleaning it up. Working full-time and planning, getting, making and cleaning is a lot! We need systems. The first thing is to make a plan. Designate a nationality to every night, for example. Tuesday could be Mexican, which means tacos, nachos or burritos. You can riff on the theme each week using the same ingredients, which means your grocery list looks the same each time.

The second part is getting the food in the house. If you can afford to do it, have it delivered. Some people might point out that it’s more expensive this way, but if you’re walking into Whole Foods without a list, you’ll probably end up spending the same amount as you would buying online.

And then you’re left with the cooking, which is a life skill. Cook with your kids; teach them how to use the kitchen. People would watch me give my children a knife and question it, but the only time my kids ever cut themselves was when the knife was dull. Your kids should be in the kitchen cooking with you. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be about walking in the door every night and cooking something. Do some things on the weekends, like making bases for meals during the week.

Then the last part is cleaning up. Ask for support; if there’s another person in the house over the age of 2, they should have a rag in their hands. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to ask, but it’s a training program for life.

I’d love your take on kashrut (Jewish religious dietary laws). Some think of it as the first step in mindful eating, while others think of the schmaltz and matzah balls. My husband, who is not Jewish, thinks keeping kosher is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. What do you think?

It really depends on how you use it. If you think about it in ways that are confining and controlling, it won’t feel like you have freedom with food and body. If you have real food freedom, you love the food that loves you back. Now there are beautiful movements like eco-kashrut, which asks where the food comes from and how it was raised. Our guiding force is tikkum olam (repairing the world), and kashrut is mindfulness to table. Is it a place of control or respect? Work at controlling and respecting your food and body and you’ll be able to create long-term sustainable control.

Which holiday treats land you in “food jail”?

At Passover I’m known as the “Imberlach Queen.” Imber is ginger, and it’s a ginger candy I’ve made for more than 20 years. Over time I’ve changed the recipe from a simple ginger candy with matzah meal, ginger and sugar to one with nuts and dried fruit dipped in chocolate. I always use good-quality ingredients, and I consider it my once-a-year treat. But I always eat more than I can eat and then say, “Man, that was a lot of imberlach!” But the next day I practice self-compassion. It’s a type of celebratory nourishment. We have different types of nourishment—healthy nourishment, detox nourishment, celebratory nourishment. Sometimes we eat to celebrate, to mark a moment.

Four Questions with Nina Manolson, Food Psychologist and Holistic Health CoachFour Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!

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