Nutritionist teaches how food heals

Bainbridge Island resident and nutritionist Jennifer Adler published her revolutionary eating guide and memoir in December. She will be signing her book, "Passionate Nutrition: A Guide to Using Food as Medicine from a Nutritionist Who Healed Herself from the Inside Out” at the Poulsbo Farmers Market on July 11.

Food can heal a person. Maybe even better than some medicines.

Skeptics may not think so, but Bainbridge Island resident Jennifer Adler isn’t a cynic. In fact, she’s a clinical nutritionist with a thriving business, Passionate Nutrition, based on the idea that food can be used as a type of medicine. She believes in that philosophy so much that she’s written “Passionate Nutrition: A Guide to Using Food as Medicine from a Nutritionist Who Healed Herself from the Inside Out” — a book that’s part healthy eating guide intertwined with her own story of healing with food.

On July 11, Adler will be present at the Poulsbo Farmers Market to sell and sign her book for the public. “It’s important for readers to understand that while this is a book about diet; it’s not about dieting, restrictions, pills or supplements,” Adler said. “Instead, it’s about gaining self-respect, self-confidence and knowledge through healthy food choices. I share my own very personal story to give others hope that anyone is capable of transformation and that we can use food to heal ourselves in positive and remarkable ways.”

For her clients, abundant eating is healthy eating. Taking in food that the body needs and allowing some wiggle room for bad eating days is part of the practice of self-love and healing — something she works on with all of her clients, most whom are women.

“The world of nutrition is not very compassionate. It felt needed,” she said of her practice and book.

Adler is so confident in her approach because she’s lived it. Growing up malnourished and neglected, she had no concept of healthy, whole foods — she doesn’t even remember tasting vegetables as a child. Dinnertime didn’t exist. For many years, the lack of nutrient-dense foods in her diet left her in pain, cranky, starving and exhausted.

As an adult, she knew something needed to change.She held onto the hope that she might one day feel better. Slowly, she changed her diet. Despite years of malnutrition, Adler figured out early on that food could heal her debilitating health issues, including constant digestive problems. Traveling the world, experimenting with spices, herbs and exotic foods helped her discover how quality food could leave her feeling revitalized instead of pained.

After college, she tried food healing with her mother who had been diagnosed with cancer. To Adler, it seemed the healthier fare helped lift her mother’s energy. Unfortunately, her mother ended up in the hospital again, which became a turning point in Adler’s own health conscious. When the hospital meal tray came, Adler could barely hold back her disgust with the food being served to patients in what should have been “a place of healing,” she said.

Her mom told her to do something about it.

That comment from her mother led Adler to becoming a nutritionist and healing Adler’s own ailments that scarred her life since childhood. Looking at her now, most people wouldn’t guess she is 40. The glowing skin, thick hair and bright eyes are all results from a diet her childhood self wouldn’t recognize.

Even through her current difficult pregnancy, Adler has learned to listen to her body’s cues for what she can and cannot eat. Before health issues arose, she planned on doing a large book tour. For her well-being, she’s limited herself to local events and bookstore talks, but continues to get the word out that health should come first in any part of one’s life. “It’s just about staying healthy,” she said of her current strict diet. Her journey into a healthy lifestyle came after a long and bumpy road inflicted with pain and suffering.

The final resolution between her and a publisher to tell her story made her uneasy at first. Revealing her past turned out to be the hardest part of the creative process. Details of her life were so personal that even her closest friends didn’t know prior to the opportunity for Adler to write a book. She let them know beforehand and said she was greeted with support and concern.  “It felt so scary. I felt really afraid,” she said of the book’s release. “I wanted it to come across as hopeful and not sensationalized.”

But she found that highlighting her personal flaws and background made readers feel the human connection. Since the book’s December release — right in time for New Year’s resolutions — readers have contacted her with positive feedback on how her story changed their perspective on life. “It means so much to me when people tell me how it impacts them,” she said. “It’s very gratifying.”

Adler said she created the outline of the book and chapters shaped around the way she would coach a client at one of her 20-plus offices. To her, it seemed like the best way to reach a reader who may not be able to come into her office directly, like the Texas residents who have been purchasing her books rapidly since its release, she said. In the end, she wanted her readers to understand how to approach food without fear. “In the U.S., there’s so much confusion with food. Labels are super confusing,” she said, remarking on the marketing techniques of huge food corporations.

When it comes down to it, Adler recommends eating what our ancestors would have eaten 100 years ago, something she calls “The 100-Year-Diet.” Essentially, it is eating foods where ingredient lists are pronounceable and not chemically processed. Her clients find that once their bodies are balanced with the proper nutrients, listening to natural cues is second nature, she writes in her book. “It’s just a foundational thing that people can do,” she said of the lifestyle change.

Above all, when readers get to the end of the book, Adler said she hopes they recognize that they can offer themselves grace when it comes to a relationship with food. “I want them to have compassion for themselves just knowing they’re doing the best they can,” she said. “Especially in our culture, there’s a lot of shame and beating ourselves up, especially over food.”

Whether her book changes one life or 100,000, the author said she hopes the average person comes to terms with being forgiving of themselves when they slip up. She also wanted to show people what true wellness looks like when they stop and listen to innate body wisdom. “Ultimately, nutrition is meeting people where they are; I feel like it is so individualized,” Adler said.

“It’s not just about calories in, calories out. What we do once in a while won’t affect us, but it’s our daily habits that do. It’s more of our daily habits that add up.”