Bernadette, thanks for speaking with me. I was looking forward to this interview because I am curious about the holistic mindset you are living and teaching. In preparing for the interview, I visited your Shining Life website, and I must say that the home page is welcome and bright. Fittingly I think, it shows you in action at a cooking class, held at one of the many venues you have graced over the years in your career.
I once knew a dietitian who kept a ready store of frozen hot dogs. To me, this epitomized an approach to nutrition that was either out of balance or sadly incomplete. I cite the recent castigation of 'nutritionism' by Michael Pollan in support of my opinion, where numerical levels of isolated nutrients as opposed to 'whole foods' are the subject of too much focus.
Q: As you claim on your web site: "most dietitians dwell on calories, carbs, fats, proteins, restrictions and lists of good and bad foods, I work with my clients to create a happy, healthy life in a way that is flexible, fun and free of denial and discipline."
Bern, what is your value proposition for your clients?
A: Bill, I help people get clarity about what foods and lifestyle habits are right for THEM, with an emphasis on whole, real foods and gradual long-term changes. As you allude there's an overload of information in the media about what's “good” or “bad” and it seems to change week to week. The people who come to me want to do the right thing for themselves and their families, but are really confused and overwhelmed. So I help them cut through the clutter, make a plan based on their lifestyle and goals, and provide all the support and accountability they need to get there. It's really a journey of discovery, and I help people tune into their own wisdom about their bodies -- sometimes for the first time ever.
Q: How long is your typical client engagement?
A: I find that six months is optimal, three months is minimum, with at least two meetings per month. It takes a bit of time to “unwind” unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits, and to create new ones. Often after working with someone for a bit of time, we schedule monthly “tune-up” sessions, or meet as needed.
Q: Do you require or prefer face-to-face, at least once, to kick off the relationship, or can this be done with telephone conversations, email, etc?
A: Ideally I like to meet at least once face-to-face, as to me it’s the best way to get to know someone, and I find most people really appreciate the direct interpersonal contact. But I have worked with many people solely by phone, or a combination of the two. A sense of trust and safety can be developed pretty quickly by phone. I offer my clients unlimited email support, and we touch base by phone for about 10-15 minutes on the weeks between each hour-long session. That way they get constant support and accountability and we can correct course as needed – as well as celebrate discoveries and accomplishments.
Q: I agree with you about how the voice over the phone can convey so much, and help weave together a good relationship. What percentage of your time is devoted to cooking classes?
A: In the fall and spring, mainly, I teach several group cooking classes, either demonstration or participation. They are time-consuming to prep for, but I love them, and students really get a lot out of them. I also do one-on-one teaching with private clients – usually one session of our series is a cooking class – as well as the occasional in-home group demo. So, it’s a mixture, which I really like.
Q: I find the notion of 'Primary Food' appealing; our understanding of nutrition I think can be expanded to encompass more than the physical matter we ingest as energy sources for our 'physical plant'; how did you come to this view?
A: I’m glad you appreciate this philosophy as much as I do. It’s really the cornerstone of the Integrative Nutrition approach, which I first experienced when I trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. People really "get" the notion that absolutely everything is food – it can be nourishing or harmful, and if another part of your life is out of balance (career, relationship, spiritual practice, or physical activity) you won’t have vibrant health, no matter how perfectly you eat.
Bernadette, thanks so much for taking the time to chat, and Shine On!