woman sitting with hand on chin

Dana James is a functional medicine nutritionist and the founder of Food Coach NYC. I have been following her work for a few years now; I am endlessly intrigued by dietitians who are navigating the wellness world with credible (but no less progressive) advice. One of my favourite pieces by Dana was her shakedown of the tomato-inflammation debacle I like to call Gisele-gate.

While Dana aligns with a holistic approach to practice, she doesn’t suffer fools…which is why I am extremely excited about her upcoming book, The Archetype Diet. Amidst book edits and a departure to her Mallorca retreat, she graciously took the time to chat and share her knowledge with me.

Q. How we eat and why we eat is so complex, and one of the areas I feel most dietitians and nutritionists are unprepared for is the emotional and psychological meaning of food in our lives…but you are trained in cognitive behavioural therapy. How does that change your approach to nutritional counselling?

A. I was fortunate that I was trained as a nutritional therapist, which included the “therapy” part. If you know what to eat (which we all do these days) and you’re not doing it, then you need to ask yourself why. Food is just a symptom of what is going on in the mind. You need to ask what the the psychology is, that has you saying “yes” to food that isn’t aligned with your wellness goals.

It’s not as obvious as, “oh I like food” or “it was social”, there is, most often, a deeper driver, like the fear of being perceived as a diva and therefore looked upon poorly when you ask for something different. This fear will go all the way back to childhood when the person didn’t feel fully accepted. CBT helps to reinterpret this memory so that the pain of isolation is much more muted. One this is resolved, it’s much easier to say no to the pizza at the social event and yes to the salad instead!

Q. Tell me about the archetypes that underpin your upcoming book, The Archetype Diet.

A. There are four ways that women source their self-worth: achievement, looks, giving and creativity. Based on your dominant belief structure, there will be a set of unconscious patterns and behaviors that stem from this and ultimately determine where you store body fat as well as your risk of certain disease like Hashimoto’s, adrenal fatigue and IBS.

By looking at where a women stores body fat, I can very quickly determine her self-worth source and the behaviors that create self-sabotaging patterns. The book lays out how to break these seemingly self-sabotaging patterns. It’s a highly insightful tool for women and for anyone that works with women – particularly nutritionists and other health care practitioners. Unless you help a woman understand why she does what she does, she’ll just keep repeating the same pattern and getting frustrated in the process. This book puts an end to that!

Q. I talk a lot about simplifying your life and your approach to health…in the interest of keeping food simple, which daily practices are most transformative for your own health?

A. My daily practices are more on the mind – I rarely miss a day of breath and meditation – but I have two important food rituals that I always abide by:

  1. I only eat within a 12 hour period
  2. I never put food into my mouth more than five times a day.

It’s the snacks that trip most people up. I keep mine to less than 120 calories and choose either a fruit, fat or vegetable.

Q. What limiting belief about food or health holds us back the most?

A. That going on a “diet” is depriving. This one bothers me the most. The underlying belief is, “it’s too hard to get started, I’m going to fail anyway, so I may as well continue on doing what I’m doing.” I show people what a depriving diet looks like (hard boiled eggs, poached chicken and steamed broccoli) and compare to what I want them to eat, then they very quickly see the difference.

Q. Just for fun…if you were designing a special feast for your girlfriends that was equal parts pleasure and nourishment, what would that meal look like?

A. Oh gosh…an opulent meal that is reminiscent of what you would expect the Greek goddess, “Aphrodite” to eat, full of color and beauty and overflowing with abundance. Most importantly music, pretty silverware and lots of laughter. It’s the food, ambience, conversion and connection that makes the meal so special.