In January of 2016, I talked to a coach, Rylan Brown. (www.freedomthrufood.com)
George Russell: Rylan, don’t you think it’s funny that we’re pretending we’re talking, when we really did this all on email?
Rylan Brown: I’ll call you back.
GR: Can you tell us about the relationship of the gut to health and the field of nutrition?
Rylan Brown: I believe gut problems are the source of every major disease, and as you are thinking, it’s the American diet that causes the problems. Processed GMO foods, sugar, chemicals in our food, exposure to fluorine in city water, and food (even some organic food) that’s nutrient-poor due to over-farming the soil without crop rotation.
GR: So it’s a social and political issue as well as a personal behavior one – but that’s for another interview! How do I get started with improving my diet?
RB: You can start when you get home. Open the cupboards and purge them of processed foods.
GR: OK, you’re asking me to throw out the Spam®… (crying is not unmanly), and watch myself trying to sneak the colored mini-marshmallows back onto the shelf?
RB: Yes. Change is inevitable – but it happens over time. Taking out processed food gets you started on the road to simple-ingredient, whole food meals that you may end up enjoying more than Spam®.
GR (To myself): [More than colored mini-marshmallows?]
RB: Balance and mindfulness are important. You don’t change everything at once.
GR: [Wait, can he hear my thoughts?]
RB: Fermented foods — for example sauerkraut, and also organic miso, aged at least 1 year, are powerful gut transformers.
GR: Do you use supplements? What are your thoughts about when and how to do it?
RB: We need proper magnesium supplements to balance all that we are losing from fluoride exposure in our water. I have learned that supplementing good bacteria can throw the bacterial population in the gut even further off balance, however, so we have to be careful with supplementing in general. The best treatment is food. In my experience, clients who supplement seldom get results until they make fundamental changes in their diets, at which point most supplements aren’t needed. I’m not an expert on herbs or supplements by any means. Still, my belief is that when we try to introduce vitamins and minerals into our bodies by taking pills and capsules, or bodies just don’t absorb or utilize them as effectively as when they come as part of a whole food.
GR: You told me that the nutritional quality of, for example, GMO foods is poor, and that even some “organic” food isn’t as nourishing as it was in the past. How can a shopper evaluate the authenticity and nutritional value of foods touted as “organic”?
RB: Nutritional value and organic still go hand and hand. But processed foods labeled “organic” often have sugar and other strange ingredients in them. The idea is to eat whole foods, cutting out anything that’s processed. It’s important for people to remember that companies have an interest in portraying their food as “good quality”, “all natural”. Take Trader Joe’s. They have a good reputation, but they use the same bulk commodity non-organic ingredients to make their food as any other company does. If it doesn’t have the USDA stamp “organic” on it, or if the barcode on a fruit or vegetable doesn’t start with a 9 or 6, it’s not organic. One exception to this rule is small local farms. It is – as it should be – difficult for a new or small Page 6 of 10 farm to get the organic imprint, so many farmers in the New York area, for example, may be growing food organically but they either can’t afford to get certification or they are using less harmful pesticides than large commercial farms and are thus better even though they aren’t strictly organic. So when you go to the farmer’s market, talk to the farmers. Ask questions, and get answers, directly from them. Food harvested yesterday or this morning has more vital energy and nutrition than anything else. If the employees don’t know where the food came from or how it was grown, that may (or may not) be a cue that the farm isn’t so small or so organic.
GR: Are there any practical books you recommend to help people get good guts?
RB: For a client, what you read depends on whether you have a specific issue or complaint that we are working on. If you’re just trying to get healthier, The Clean Program by Alejandro Junger is a solid book and program. I find only a few holes in his process, one of the biggest being application and execution.
GR: Well, I guess that’s where a health coach is what we need. What happens in a consultation?
RB: Well, I can only speak for myself. As in any profession, the approach of a health coach varies a lot from person to person. But the general process is similar. I get to know you, what you eat, your current state of health, and what your goals are. Then I talk to you about what kind of actions and new habits can impact your life most quickly and efficiently for the better. I work with a mixed bunch of clients. I’m currently spending much of my time preparing food for people — specialized diets for cancer, gut issues, diabetes, and so on. My specialty is food energetics – how various foods create inflammation or healing in the body. Each food offers an inherent “energetic resonance”, a quality that you bring into you when you eat it, depending, for example, on the climate that it grows in and if it grows above or below the ground. Knowing a little bit about how various foods affect your organ systems can help you get to the next level by giving you a more concrete sense of what’s holding you back physiologically, and the direct connection between your difficulties and your habits – especially your diet. I also teach cooking classes. I also use visual diagnosis, which is a primarily Eastern technique that you may Page 7 of 10 have observed at the acupuncturist’s office. In visual diagnosis, I correlate details on the face and body to give me a sense of the way the organ systems are operating, how they’re stressed, and what foods the client could eat to rebalance and de-stress their organ systems. A big part of my job is helping clients create a structured plan and introduce the right habits into their lives over a manageable period of time – it needs to not be overwhelming. I do grocery store trips – for example, I walk through Whole Foods with a client or a group and help people to navigate changing their ways. I work with an organic chemist who looks deeper into bloodwork than most MD’s. The internal relationships between the numbers in your bloodwork, not just their absolute levels, can show me a lot about how food is affecting your body’s energetics for better or worse.
GR: I can see that you really get to the nuts and bolts of lifestyle change. You don’t just tell them what to do and send them out the door.
RB: Lifestyle change is the hardest, and the most important thing in improving health. The medical/pharmaceutical industry, and the food industry, have a vested interest in keeping people sick, dependent on pharmaceuticals and surgery, and addicted to processed food. And most people don’t or can’t make even the basic changes that are suggested to them even when they have information. Clearly that’s the central problem in nutritional (or any healthrelated) counseling.
GR: From listening to my clients (and the inside of my head), it’s definitely the biggest problem. I mean, people know lots of stuff they should do, but many feel they just can’t do it.
RB: Yes. Basically, the gut, and therefore, the person with health problems, is ravaged from so many angles in our culture. From food to beverages to fluoridated city water. I try to help people eliminate the main markers causing the inflammation. I am not a western style nutritionist. I look at food energetics from an eastern perspective. Since I am a personal chef, I bring a “practical execution” side to my work that people find rare. My long-term goal is to find and create streamlined educational platforms to help people make knowledge and practice come together.
GR: And it seems often that the people who need to change their diets the most have the hardest time doing it, maybe because they already feel so bad that they don’t want to give up their food pleasures.
RB: Changing your habits and life especially around food is so difficult for people because there is so much psychology and emotion attached to it. As the saying goes,”We are what we eat, and we eat what we are!” And, in case you didn’t believe it, food addiction is absolutely real! You have to make an effort to change any habit (habit means that you’re not aware when you are doing something), and clients need to be willing to put in the work and time. I help them manage this the best I can but some people are just not ready. They are literally addicted to their way of life. I have the most success with clients who have hit a bottom (in some cases, they have developed a disease) and are suddenly completely unwilling to continue living the way they have been. People who are completely stressed out have such a hard time making change. My first job is to help them manage their stress and give them digestible routines to get into.
GR: Well, a lot of the people who will read this are pretty motivated. Do you have different diets that you put people on, or is there a basic diet that you recommend for everyone?
RB: Different people, with different problems, certainly have different needs. But I have a standard elimination phase in the beginning for most people. The menus and recipes I offer range from Mediterranean to Asian and Indian flavors. The food is surprisingly varied and tasty.
Rylan Brown is a Certified Health Coach and a graduate of The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Macro America. His personal work in nutrition started when he healed himself from chronic headaches and anxiety by changing the food he ate. A major inspiration for Rylan is his mother Debra Reich, who has been cooking healthy food for people for 30 years. Debra’s website Rylan worked in his mother’s kitchen as her apprentice for two years. For more information on healthy eating or to reach Rylan Brown, go to his website, www.freedomthrufood.com