I've been hankering to get in the kitchen and teach again. It's been a long time coming. Not many people know I got into naturopathic medicine through cooking and baking.
For as long as I can remember, I've been researching diet as medicine and altering my diet as a way of experimenting with the effects foods have on the (or at least my) human system. I think I was 13 when I decided to become a lacto-ovo vegetarian. Throughout the years, I've been lacto-ovo vegetarian, Ovo-vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic...I've tried South Beach, the Ornish diet, the DASH diet, the eat right for your type, pescatarian, plant-based, paleo, keto... the list goes on.
After undergrad, during what my mother calls my Bohemian years, I began to waitress at a vegan/macrobiotic restaurant in Connecticut. Eventually, I moved up the kitchen ranks to a sous chef and baker. That's where I learned my skills - under the guidance of some recognized vegan chefs who have won medals at the Culinary Olympics (that story for another day).
After a while, I began to work with the patients of a local ND practice, providing them with cooking classes and recipes that were allowed on their various elimination diets. Here, I began what I call "flipping recipes." Patients would bring in favorite family (or comfort food) recipes and beg me to figure out how to make said recipe so that they could enjoy it again. Multiple substitutions and many failed attempts later, I would emerge with a product that was as close to the original as I could make it. Ultimately, one of the NDs, who was a regular at the restaurant, said something to the effect of, "Jeez, Christine, you just need to go to naturopathic medical school." So I did. Back in the day when there were only two naturopathic medical schools in the US. I went to NCNM.
Fast forward through a 2 decade career, during which I was the "Naturopathic Chef" in Tulsa, OK and where I would feed close friends my new recipe experiment in Phoenix, AZ, I'm now cooking again. For all of you along the way who have encouraged me to write the cookbook, I have good news that boasts my advanced behavior: I'm actually writing down the recipes - with measurements (gasp!).
What I've learned over the years, is that there isn't really the one right diet. Our nutritional needs change with lifestyle - my nutritional needs were VERY different when I was running marathons as compared to when I was not - and with age - the nutritional needs of a young person are very different than the needs of a menopausal woman, for example. My patients have less healing capacity than they did just 10 or 20 years ago - across the board! I think there are many reasons for this, but ultimately, diet and the lack of nutritious whole foods make my top 3 list. I say this as a scratch cook. I'm not talking about packaged foods. I have found that our food has been declining in nutritional value (soil is such a big deal). I'm talking about the plants we eat and the animals we eat that also eat those plants. We're just depleted.
My focus is now how to take in the most nutrient dense foods as possible to feed my cells. When I pay attention to this, I feel the difference. When I get lazy about it or my travel schedule ramps up, I find that I fall into the same old rut of not meeting my nutritional needs. This results in brain fog, feeling creaky and puffy and old. The kicker is that this is often insidious and lulls me into the complacency of the well furnished rut. Well, darn it. If it's happening to me and I need to be vigilant, then it's for sure happening to my patients and to the rest of the humans around me. So. What to do. Well, it seems to be time to share my knowledge on a bigger scale. I'll start in my community and write the book along the way.
My cooking classes are at Natural Grocers in Flagstaff. Start on Feb 2, I begin with a class on nutrient dense and keto-friendly soups. Feb 12th I walk you through a healthy romantic dinner for two (with wine pairings), then I offer gluten free sweet and savory pies (including pizza!) late in the month. March finds us getting saucy with recipes and techniques to change up your home menu. Additional classes are in the works, so stay posted! Check the Stone and Sage calendar or the Flagstaff Natural Grocers Calendar for details. Oh! By the way, the classes are FREE!
Dr. Christine Girard is a physician and educator. Prior to medical school, she worked as a sous chef and baker at a vegan, macrobiotic restaurant. She lives off-grid in Northern Arizona.