My formal training in human nutrition began in university well over a decade ago. I completed my four year degree and then went on to do a year long internship (being trained by others in the profession) to become a registered dietitian.
The training that I received was very focused on a “Western” and modern way of eating. And I adopted this in my own life as well as taught this in my work.
Specifically - focus on grains, vegetables and fruit, plant based sources of protein, some low fat meat, low fat dairy products, if adding fat to meals I would choose liquid oils or margarine.
This training though, while I am grateful for it, didn’t give me the whole picture of human nutrition though.
Fast forward to when I welcomed my first baby.
I had some complications during pregnancy - some insulin sensitivity (but not diagnosed gestational diabetes), anemia and significant tearing at birth (that did not heal well).
In my first postpartum, my health both physically and mentally spiraled downward very quickly.
I’ve spent a lot of time unpacking and sorting through why this happened. But at the time I didn’t know what to do about it (or even had the awareness that something was wrong) before ending up pregnant with my second baby. I entered into that pregnancy feeling quite depleted and unwell.
I had been following a typical Western-type diet up to that point with some modification…
I restricted some foods based on my stomach symptoms (adapted low FODMAP), about 50% or more of my meals were plant based, I intentionally ate lower fat (focused mostly on liquid fats, margarine) which also meant higher carbohydrate.
During those years, I had persistent and significant gut symptoms and pain, I had skin inflammatory issues, my mental health was horrible (though I did have a lot of stress in my life, it’s impossible to know how my resiliency was affected) and experienced issues with my teeth and connective tissue (joints, ligaments).
I ended up with significant anemia - both iron and vitamin B12 were deficient, I suspect others as well. I developed gestational diabetes which meant that according to my blood glucose readings, my body was only able to tolerate a little bit of carbohydrates (maximum 15 grams per meal with protein/fat with a walk afterwards).
Because of those physical symptoms - particularly gestational diabetes - I found myself seeking out how to manage this better and approach my diet, as I was feeling quite thrown off by switching to eating more fat and protein over carbohydrates.
I discovered Lily Nichols book, Real Food for Pregnancy, and this started my interest and exploration of styles of eating which focus on deeply nourishing and whole foods.
When we look at the dietary recommendations for pregnancy (which are a bit of a guess for some or even on the lower end for other nutrients) and reverse engineer a diet, we discover which types of foods we need to be focusing on to meet those targets.
And what I discovered and learned was that these are the foods that cultures from around the world have wisely been promoting as preconception foods for couples, foods for a healthy pregnancy, birth, postpartum and lactation.
Mostly these are animal foods and they are generally high fat ones.
I then discovered the work of Dr. Weston Price. He was a dentist that traveled around to different cultures in the 1930s and studied the effect of modernization of diet on the health of populations. He looked at groups of people from around the world and compared people of the same culture who ate traditional diets and those who had switched to a “modern” type of diet. He took really interesting pictures of the striking impact, in particular the shape of the dental arch (crowded teeth) and shape of the facial structure. (You can google it if you want to see them).
In learning about a more traditional way of eating, I incorporated this into my lifestyle during my pregnancy with great results. I was able to reverse my anemia quickly in my third trimester and my body felt so much better with that way of eating. I had a very efficient and smooth birth and a very small amount of tearing which healed quickly and easily.
Since I have continued to learn, tweak and apply what I’ve learned.
This style of eating has come up over and over in different training sessions that I’ve done - include one specifically focused on postpartum nutrition which I apply in my work with clients.
Here are the general guidelines I promote in my work now as a nutrition focused postpartum professional.
Foods that are high in fats and protein
Foods that are highly bioavailable, easily digested and absorbed
Whole foods close to how you find them in nature
Animal foods which include eating from all parts of the animal
Natural fats especially including saturated fats and cholesterol
It took me a long time to shift my beliefs around saturated fats and cholesterol in particular. And to understand the research that those fats are not associated with cardiovascular disease. In fact they are important for neurological functioning/mental health, hormone regulation in the body as well as an important source of fat soluble vitamins we need in abundance for health that are found almost exclusively in these fatty animal foods (in particular vitamins A/D/K2).
We’ve seen a few significant shifts in how we eat as a society in the Western world that sets us apart from traditional cultures.
The introduction of refined flour and refined sugar.
The movement of “fats from farms'' to “fats from factories” as a modern idea of “healthy eating”. As well as the low saturated fat/low cholesterol (and therefore higher carb) movement.
The vegetarian/vegan trends in eating.
On a population level we have not seen an improvement in our health with these trends, in fact we are seeing the opposite, especially with our children and women in the perinatal years.
My approach is to shift back to more traditional ways of eating to see improvement in our collective health.
This means, whole foods, organic and local, connecting with our food supply, eating to nourish our body and cooking our own foods.
With light, love and warmth,
The Dietitian Doula
P.S. - If you want to learn more about working with me and how nutrition can be a game changer for your postpartum experience whether you are pregnant or postpartum - send me a message. I’m happy to see if I can help.