Sunday, November 27, 2011

Relax, it's just food: Nutrition with Heather Moxley Part 1 of 4

Heather Moxley is a registered holistic nutritionist here in Ottawa with a private practice, and she recently offered to have me attend a four-week nutrition course that she offers. I (Jordan) am blogging the experience as I take this important step towards our NEST goal of feeding ourselves. This is Week One. You can also follow Jordan's twitter journalling of the experience with hashtag #jordaneats; click on the hashtag to see a Visible Tweets feed.


Heather Moxley gave me too much homework.

Heather herself.
She is making me deep breathe. And eat five colours of vegetation—daily. I think there’s another homework item too, but I’m feigning ignorance and letting myself forget it. Don’t get me wrong, I can  already feel the positive effects, but sister, helping out your body is hard work.

Heather is a bit of a local celebrity, thanks to her ongoing segments on CTV Morning’s ‘Today’s the Day’ clips. I’ve actually been watching Heather on CTV for quite some time, so getting a shout from her to come to her course was pretty cool. When I met her in person and she started presenting Day One of the course, I was thrilled to find that she’s an engaging, funny speaker with a wealth of information that she shares in a way the average normal person can understand. What’s even better: Heather is a super nerd in her field, exhibiting her genuine love, fascination, and excitement about nutrition and the human body. I love that, because I am a super nerd too, and when I want to learn something, I become immersed in it, entranced by it, and intrigued with every tidbit of info I can gather.

I expected there to be ‘whammy’ moments in Heather’s course. A ‘whammy’ moment is a moment where you go, ‘Oh…my…god’, and there’s that epiphanous moment where your brain opens up to a new concept—though that whammy may be either distressing or exciting. I don’t think I was prepared for how many whammy moments I would have on the first day.


I have had heartburn all my life. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t take Tums, and I rarely manage a day without at least one. I have reduced my food repertoire to avoid as many acidic foods as possible, but it’s hard to do especially when the world seems to have a serious love affair with tomatoes. I always understood that the way to fix heartburn was to toss an antacid into your belly…two, or even three if need be. Heather explained heartburn in a new and mind-blowing way that made me rethink the entire process…luckily, you can watch this little clip to hear her explain:

I tried it last night. I was skeptical, because for those of us who have chronic heartburn, it’s a terrifying concept to ADD acid to our sensitive stomachs. I found the vinegar too intense, so I poured it into a couple ounces of water and was fine to swallow it down. I ate my dinner, a pasta dish with olives and cheese that would normally mean heartburn for sure…and no heartburn happened. I found myself tensing up throughout the evening whenever I burped, thinking I would feel the terrible splash of acid, but nothing happened. In fact, the only time I had any burning at all was at bedtime, when I lay down. I suspect this has to do with my poor stomach sphincter being in rough shape after years of burning? I will ask Heather this week. But the amazing thing was, from 7pm to 11pm, I was heartburn free. My head reeled as I thought of my dad and brother, both tender-tummied like myself, who have been choking back expensive prescription antacids for years. It’s actually a little overwhelming to think that a quick visit with the right nutritionist may have meant years less suffering and expense. If you, reader, are a heartburn sufferer, I’m telling you to give this a try. If it doesn’t work, you can be mad at me all you like, but if it does work, just imagine what that means for you. Amazing.


Heather explained about people with food sensitivities. In a very tiny nutshell, people misunderstand the body’s response to food and label themselves ‘allergic’ to things that they are only sensitive to, and that list of perceived allergies grows…and so, over time, a person can end up limiting their diet to a handful of foods, but sometimes these are simple sensitivities that can be retrained away.

Onions: terror has many layers.
This blew my mind because I am one of these food-phobes. You’ve heard of agoraphobia, and people usually think that it’s a simple fear of crowds. Actually, agoraphobia is a slow process of developing various fears of various social situations until the person is limited to, say, one social visit a week at only a specific coffee shop. I see this all the time in my work as a counsellor, but I now have a new appreciation for it, as I ‘out’ myself as a food-agoraphobic. I have slowly and methodically removed at least two-dozen foods from my life over the last five years, and I’m always fearful to try new things. The real ‘whammy’ part of this discovery is that Heather tells us we can work towards a rotational diet (ie. where you eat wheat on Monday but not again ‘til Friday) until our system works itself out…and at the end of this process, we may not be limited anymore in what we can eat.

Do you remember the movie Shawshank Redemption? There was the old guy who was finally released from Shawshank at 80 years old or something, and when he got out in the world, he was terrified by the freedom. That’s a bit what I feel like right now: that someone’s swinging open that door and they’re saying I could step through, and I don’t even know how to cope with that concept. If I explore this particular ‘whammy’ further, I will be restarting my entire relationship with food. I will be trusting that, at some point in the process, if I eat a tomato, I won’t be sick all night. It’s exciting, and completely distressing at the same time. I will need to ponder this further.


I got my gall bladder out at 21 years of age. This is a Kent family tradition: my great uncle died from his gall bladder, and everyone else has had it out, usually at very young ages. We make gall stones like it’s a family business. When they found my gall stones, it was actually a fluke: I was having an  ultrasound on my ovary, and the technician said she just wanted to see something…then she showed me a sack that looked like a bag of marbles. It was huge and distended. I got it taken out within six months. People think this fixes your digestive issues, and I agree that I suffer far less pain than I used to…but I found that I had to stop eating almost all fat-rich foods, regardless of how healthy they are. I didn’t fully understand why—I actually thought it was about my IBS, not my gall bladder at all—but at the course I learned about bile. Turns out, your gall bladder plays a very important role in releasing the proper amounts of bile in proportion to the fattiness of your meals, and without your gall bladder, you can suffer new digestive struggles than you did before, particularly with fats.

Heather says there’s ways to deal with this issue, too, though I think it’s a bit more advanced than the Nutrition 101 course…but either way, just knowing this info is wonderfully liberating. When you have digestion issues and food sensitivities, you get a lot of people implying that you’re a head case. “You used to eat Yorkshire puddings all the time,” they say. They don’t know how much better you’ve felt since you cut out almost all fat (for better or worse), and without the knowledge I learned this week I’d have no way to explain to people why this would make me feel better. Now I can explain to my family why I occasionally just eat the potatoes and veggies at family dinner, leaving the meat or other fatty foods behind. I’m not crazy! Hurray!


I’ve been trying to eat my five colours a day. This does not include candy. I’m breathing five deep breaths before each meal—or at least I remember after only a few bites. I’m pondering the (kind of ironic) freedom of a rotational diet, and I’m telling everyone tidbits from my course. In fact, I think my family is rolling their eyes a little bit because everything I say is, “At my course, I learned…” My best friend, MJ, is happy for me, though: she’s seen me end up in the hospital with guttural distress and she’s watched me slowly shut down on food; and she’s seeing me get excited about the cool stuff I’m learning. Brian is argumentative about certain things, like the fact that jam does not count as a fruit serving. I am finding ways to eat within my comfort zone, and stretching a little bit (although onions were a mistake, as always. Make a note).

A day or two after the course, I messaged Heather and told her that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, and she wrote back a simple message:

‘Don’t be afraid! It’s just food!’

I had to laugh. Nothing about food, from the way it makes me feel, to the ways it prevents disease, to the way it changes our shape and size, seems trivial to me. Perhaps that’s why food is often discussed in such anxietal tones. As the week has progressed and I’ve attempted to keep up with my homework from the course, I’ve pondered Heather’s brief message, and I still don’t feel that it’s ‘just’ food…but it’s somehow reassuring to know that the food wizard herself feels that way. Maybe I will one day, too.

1 comment:

  1. Great post - and its true: its *just* food! I look forward to hearing more of your journey!