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Interview with Alegra Loewenstein of Healthy Family Harmony

Sam - Okay so we are recording and this is Sam from Eating Clean, Cooking Dirty and The Thriving Family and we are interviewing Alegra Lowenstein today.  So Alegra is a very ambitious woman who wants to help other ambitious women, end emotional eating, stop binging on sugar, cut the sugar addiction, not count every calorie in life and still enjoy the food that they're eating and finding a good relationship. So thank you Alegra, thank you so much for joining us today.

Alegra - Thanks for having me, I'm happy to be here.

- [Computer] It's 11 o'clock.

Sam - It is 11 o'clock, I don't know where that came from.

Alegra - I'm sorry, that's my computer. And I always forget to turn it off. It's so that I don't sit for too long although half the time I ignore it.

Sam - Oh, I like that, that's a good little tip. Is that like an app or something?

Alegra - Just a setting on your Mac clock if you have a Mac.

Sam - I do.

Alegra - The voice, they're all computer voices you can pick from them.

Sam - Nice, I have a standing work station but sometimes I still end up like sitting down and an hour passes and I'm like eh, it doesn't feel good.

Alegra - Yeah you gotta move a little.

Sam - Yeah, yeah, yeah, so tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and why you started Healthy Family Harmony.

Alegra - Yeah well this is the most random thing. I don't even know where I ever heard about a health coach. The first time I ever heard about it I said that's what I wanna do, I would be so good at that. And that was years and years and years ago. Like I said, I don't even remember.

And then I worked in science education so it's similar. I love science, I've always loved healthy eating.

But, how I got to where I am was a journey kinda on the business of self discovery side where I started Healthy Family Harmony sounds a little more obvious, and is a little different than sugar addiction because I started out really focusing on families but over time I found that that wasn't what people were needing or coming to me for. It was the emotional eating and those stuck patterns.

In helping those people, I was going back to my own book shelf, I feel so blessed that 15, 20 years ago I was seriously addicted to sugar. I ate sugar all the time, I ate it all throughout the day. I denied that I had a problem. I said oh, I'm healthy, I eat vegetables. I eat all this stuff, I eat everything you're supposed to. Well, I was also eating sugar all the time. And what happened for me what I had recurring throat infections that the regular Western doctors just anti-biotics, anti-biotics, anti-biotics.

I only did that once and then it was a journey for me. I found traditional Chinese medicine and she is the one who was like, it's too much sugar. That's all kind of a long story but the point is that I'm going back to my book shelf reading all this stuff about how I went down my own path to end the sugar.

And then I realized well, this is what I'm doing. This is what I should be doing and so then I kinda turned to really just push that out forward and help people with that specifically.

Sam - Yeah and so helping people with sugar addiction is your main focus?

Alegra - That is definitely my main focus, my passion and it's that inner play, it doesn't have to be sugar but it's that inner play of you have something happening in your food habits that making you feel bad so whether you're gaining weight or you have some kind of acute problem or you're developing a chronic problem, whatever it is, so sugar's really, really common.

Let me put that forward but sometimes it's just junk food or whatever, you're just overeating. It can play out in different ways but I struggled with the sugar and a lot, a lot of people struggle with the sugar so it's that inner play of the sugar and the emotional reason, why we're using that.

Sam - And there's a memory to it, right?  You eat the sugar and then you have this memory of how your felt, right, that goes beyond after you're crashed from the sugar, right so it's recurring.

Alegra - Yeah. The whole thing, absolutely yeah, I mean, you know a lot about this stuff, it's complicated.

It's the memory of it, there is biological stuff and I don't discount that, you have to change your eating patterns, you can't just well, this is my emotional reason and keep eating the sugar. You have to eventually change the food.

But for me, I just found that there are people like myself if you don't identify the initial reason, none of that, I pledged so many times.

I go through old journal right here, sitting right here and there's probably 30 times in this journal where I'm like "tomorrow I'm gonna quit sugar". And then like a month later, "I've been eating so bad". I'm gonna quit sugar tomorrow over and over so that's the pattern, that's the stuck-ness where you don't know why, you have to figure out why you got there, how to change it.

Sam - Yeah, absolutely. I find that this is super common. You have this yo-yo effect of "I'm gonna change everything about me tomorrow", then you fail and then you have a moral failing or you feel like you have this moral failing.  You beat yourself up with it, but the reality is there's so many biological reasons and it's not a moral feeling that you just can't stop eating sugar, you just can't make a drastic change overnight, it's just not gonna happen.

Alegra - Absolutely, yeah, this is gonna be fun 'cause you already know all the geeky stuff I'm talking about.  The hormones which are triggered by the sugar, those hormones are also probably, as you know, triggered by something else before you ate the sugar, you just imagine the first time you ever binged on sugar, there was something going on.

You felt crappy, you were stressed or you broke up with your boyfriend, whatever it was, there was an initial thing. So whether that's an echo from the past that you have, then you've gone into the biological thing and then you're getting triggered by the hormones or whether that feeling is still there and it keeps surfacing so the emotions are also there. 

I kinda think of it as a pathway over here that puts you where the hormones. You can't resist your hormones, right? It's not a moral failing, it's your hormones controlling you because your hormones do control you.

So you have this emotional path it sent you down or and then you get the biological and then keep going, going, you have to stop both. They both will keep you going down that path and so sometimes for my clients that work with me, they have tried the biological and they didn't get the emotional dealt with and so then you've gotta do them both.

Sam - You're talking about the hormonal impact of sugar a little bit and so when you're working with your clients, do you look at their hormone levels?  I'm not sure if you do that yourself or if you collaborate with other health professionals to do that, what, how do you do that?

Alegra - I don't typically focus on numbers of any sort. They can be tools, they're not really ones that I tend to work with.  Certainly I have clients that are getting numbers from doctors but that's usually their choice. If they're working with me and working with a doctor, I will look at the information that they have, sure, to help understand them and help them understand it and help them know what it means. There's are amazing doctors but many of them can be kind of black and white. So I help them understand more like the nuance or maybe that there's alternative pathways to, they have to know where they want to go and that's when I heal.

Sam - Yeah, totally.

Alegra - Then I can help them get there.  If they are happy with what their doctor is doing, that's just the path that they're gonna stay. I supplement to support them so they feel their best and if they want to do something different than what their doctor is saying. I'm not medically trained, I don't ever contradict a doctor's advice but I can help empower them to go back to the doctor and have another conversation of what else that might look like for them.

A lot of my clients, are not working on the issues that they're working with me with the doctor. So a lot of times it's weight loss and I'm  getting rid of the numbers.  I'm tell them to throw out your scale or hide it away or give it away. These are powerful red flags but they are distractions sometimes to the process.

Sam - Absolutely.

Alegra - As far as hormones go, I do work to reset hormones with my clients but it's not dramatic. It's really slow and subtle and it's a process, for sure.

Sam - Having a process that is slow and subtle definitely makes change more sustainable.  Because of what I do, I interact with a lot of health professionals and I randomly have started having more and more women MDs, mom MDs coming into my membership reaching out to me and then also so NDs, some Naturopathic doctors that are also moms.  I've started building up this web of connections between these MDs and these NDs.  

It's interesting, because, when I get an opportunity to talk to them, I always wanna pick their brain because there is so much going on in the hormonal and thyroid side, when you look at what the traditional line is with medical doctors, where hormone levels should be, where thyroid levels should be and then you start speaking with NDs on where their guidelines lie, it's very different.

But it's interesting because I've had some more personal conversations with some MDs who are moms recently, even this week, I had one and a few weeks ago I had another.

Both of them were of the casual opinion, not professional medical advice, I will state that right now. But casual opinion that when it comes to dealing with hormones and thyroid, NDs that are trained to look at those numbers, help analyze those numbers and help with natural solutions to balance those out are often times more effective than western medicine.

So it was really interesting, I had this opportunity to have this candid conversation with an ER doctor who is telling me  she took her daughter to a Naturopath to work out some stuff that her daughter was dealing with and I was shocked. I was like wow, the ER doctor's taking her daughter to an ND. That really speaks huge words in what, just what food can do in helping women. It's not about rushing out and getting yourself on a whole bunch of medication or whatever it is to balance out your hormones.  

Or, When your medical doctor tells you that it's all in your head. There's a whole other opportunity to work with somebody like you who is like no. And there is the biological but also the psychological piece going into it, I think that's really, really important to attack because it's, I don't think you can have one without the other and effectively make a change.

Alegra - No you can't and that's kinda where I think Western medicine starts to fail, right? I mean, I love your story because the ER is the best of western medicine, right? You want western medicine when you have crushed bones that is where western medicine is just amazing.  You can be saved and you can restore your life, but it's all those more subtle, more complicated stuff, that western medicine doesn't have a solution for "I feel like crap".

Sam - Right, right.

Alegra - They just don't.

Sam - They do, it's called Prozac or whatever like the current version is, right? Prozac was the thing 20 years ago, today I've totally taking myself out of the western medical prescriptions, anti-biotics and everything Pharmaceutical as much as possible and so I'm not cool anymore but I use the term Prozac.

Alegra - Yeah, well and I mean there's a place for all those things, there really is a place for all of those things.

Sam - There is.

Alegra - But there's a whole subtle realm that I think there's a movement. They're trying to merge them together. There's just some movement.

Sam - To some degree.

Alegra - It's slow, they're like big institutions typically so those things happen slowly.

Sam - Yeah. They are, so I was in the ER two weeks ago. We had to cancel our meeting, our interview and I had this surgeon who goes to my Crossfit gym, who is very fit and on the younger side for a surgeon.

Alegra - I have to say I like having sexy doctors.

Sam - Yeah, he was a good looking doctor.

Alegra - I really do.

Sam - He was a very good looking doctor but they couldn't diagnose my appendicitis; it took them two days. They started looking at my history, which has a whole lot of digestive issues in it, a lot of which was caused by sugar and bad carbohydrates which are sugar.  So, they're looking at my history and I've had four colonoscopies and three endoscopies before I was 30, I had a lot of stuff going on.

And he's asks how I am now? I said well, 2007 found Crossfit, found paleo, stopped putting bad stuff in my body on a regular basis and I don't take any medications or over-the-counter supplements except for some iron supplements because that's just not fixing itself.

He looked at me like I had grown horns. This is a guy that is in my Crossfit gym who is healthy, who lives a healthy lifestyle and he literally looked at me, when I told him that I literally just stopped eating crap like I had grown horns and was on top of the ceiling.

Alegra - That's bizarre.

Sam - It was hilarious. I couldn't believe it. I was like "really"? Like "really"?

Alegra - Why would he be so shocked by that?

Sam - He is in western medicine. Even though he was a surgeon and an ER doctor.

But I had a follow up, I had a conversation the next week with Michelle Levitt. She is a pediatrician who specializes in childhood obesity and I was telling her this story and she's like you know what, my husband's also a surgeon. And he eats a healthy lifestyle but you start asking him about his patients and what they should eat and he knows nothing because they don't teach you that. They're surgeons, they're plumbers. They're there to go in and fix an appendicitis.

I would not be here today if I didn't have that surgeon. He was amazing but if I want to figure out how to not eat crap and have a better life, I need to talk to somebody like you instead.

Because, literally, the knowledge that you have when it comes to not feeling bad day in and day out is a lot more effective than that surgeon who has an MD at the end of his name. And I think that that from a western standpoint, that's a very hard thing for us to wrap our brains around.

We're have this assumption that the doctor, the doctor knows, he's a doctor, he's an MD, he's not an ND, he's an MD. And we're starting to get more and more into the idea of working with people like you who have this vast knowledge on how to make changes that are sustainable so that we're not just taking our prescriptions.

Alegra - Even doctors that get it, it's also the implementation, right, your doctor might say "like oh, eat more vegetables and lose 20 pounds" but that's not always trivial to actually do those things.

Sam - Right, no. It's so not trivial, but they're just not equipped. And that's a reality, they are not equipped. They're equipped for other, very effective, very important tasks but they're really not equipped to give advice on how to make long term changes to just feel like a good human being or a healthy human being. Maybe I should use healthy instead of good.

Alegra - Yeah well just to feel good in your body.

Sam - Yeah, yeah, totally so we have totally veered off all the questions that I had. Which is awesome 'cause I think this is very interesting.

We kinda dug into how what sugar addiction is and how it can effect your life.  

Tell me a little bit about, what choices or alternatives we can make for our family to reduce sugar without causing mutiny in the household?

Alegra - The easiest thing to do, this is a great starting point especially for families, is to look for hidden sugars, hidden sugars.

If you're not already paying attention, you are going find so much sugar that it's actually going to be pretty easy to replace after the initial effort. So, it's not something that takes a lot of sustained effort.  The hidden sugars could be in one or two trips to the grocery store, where you schedule a little bit of extra time and compare the ingredient lists.

And I always say ingredient lists first because that's more important than nutritional information. But, you can also do a quick check on nutritional information because even healthy products can have a lot of hidden sugars.  They can have date puree, concentrated white grape juice and Raisin puree and all this stuff.  You quick scan and say "oh, it's all natural healthy ingredients", then you look at the label and it's  24 grams of sugar, well, they're natural sugars but you might wanna find a different option anyways.

Sam - Yeah, I think that's a really awesome point. Honey and maple syrup, they're still sugar. And they're still part of the whole addiction. They might be better choices, if you're gonna use white sugar instead of honey or you're trying to make the choice. But, they also shouldn't necessarily be in your meals on a regular basis.

Alegra - Yeah, the more that you buy stuff plain the better.  If you're looking at hidden sugars in stuff like spaghetti sauce, which has added sugar, most of them have added sugar, but if you look, you can find some without or maybe that sugar's the last ingredient and it has a negligible amount and that' all you find in your grocery store. Just do the one with the least and that's how the nutrition information can be a good red flag, "oh I see sugar on both on them".

Just in case an listeners don't know, ingredients are listed by either weight or volume so the first ingredients are what it has the most of. So, if sugar's in the first three ingredients, it's mostly sugar. If it's found on the bottom, you can maybe lighten up a little bit if there's not a better choice and then also just less than 10 ingredients almost always the option with less ingredients is better than the option with more ingredients. Just almost always that's true.

Sam - That's a good tip.

Alegra - These are like tips and tricks so if you're a mom and you're managing your families, these are really good. If you're a mom and you're struggling with your own sugar problem, tips and tricks are only gonna get you so far because there's probably an emotional factor. You do have to make sure that you're looking at what's the purpose so tips and tricks, if you have an addiction situation are only gonna get you so far.

But, if you're looking at a family management perspective, they can be amazing super powerful tools. And then the other thing is by everything unflavored and unsweetened and put your own in.

Buy plain yogurt and put in your own fruit and if you need the honey because you were buying sweetened yogurt and your taste is used to it, you can start adding your own honey, maple syrup, whatever, like you prefer, you'll probably be adding less and you can reduce it over time. You're in control of those ingredients at that point. And you can put in a ton of fruit too which, most flavors, like strawberry yogurt is milk, sugar, strawberries and maybe.

Sam - Or strawberry flavoring.

Alegra - Right, right, right, depending on the brand, there might be just a whole lot of other garbage that you wouldn't even wanna eat. If you buy it, it can be like milk product, the yogurt, then whole strawberries, no strawberry flavoring and then a little drizzle of honey.

Sam - Yeah, totally.

Alegra - Right, so you're putting yourself in control and it doesn't really take any more time. It's like two things out of the fridge instead of one.

Once you get in the habit of it, that's the kind of thing for families that can be just those hidden sugars like breads have tons of hidden sugars, sauces, of course anything you get take out is gonna have a ton also of sugar in it. Minimizing take out and even if that means doing like frozen meals for a while as you transition. You can read the ingredients on a frozen meal and you don't typically do that at fast food or take out.

So you're just, it's all about more control that you can take back and the more empowered you can be, then you're gonna have a better sense of how much sugar you're actually eating.

Sam - Love it, that's awesome, those are really great tips. Yeah I love, I especially love the idea of picking stuff that has less ingredients instead of more.

Alegra - That's like, if you can do that, if you can buy single ingredients, I mean, your diet just got 100 times better.

Sam - Yeah. Even like with tomato sauce, I end up buying canned pureed tomato sauce that has nothing else in it. And then I just add my own seasonings when I'm not in a mood to make it from scratch, it's easy and it's so much better.

Alegra - I do, I buy straight up jarred. If it's noodle night and it's like no, I'm gonna boil noodles and pour some sauce on it.

I don't love noodles that much but it's like the easiest thing for my kids so I do buy jarred.  I have a brand that I buy and it exists. I think actually my favorite does have sugar but it's like the last ingredient. It's from Trader Joe's, there's like eight ingredients on the list.

Sam - Yeah, awesome. Cool, wonderful, those are great tips. I really appreciate that.  

I know we've taken a lot of time because we've had some technical issues. So let's get to the last two questions.

Tell us all about a book you're reading now?

Alegra - Right now, okay well I'm using reading multiple books but right now the one that comes to mind is called Women, Food and Desire.  

When we suppress our cravings but they come back stronger and that a lot of times our food cravings are actually representative of other cravings in our lives that we're not fulfilling.

Sam - Ah, I like that.

Alegra - So it's like the idea that how relate with our food is reflecting how we're living our life.

Sam - Sweet.

Alegra - And it's really, it's been great to read it. But it's non-fiction, it's slow.

But there's been some good little nuggets in there just about like releasing control sometimes and moving into really like listening.  A lot of what I talk about is listening to our bodies and then really honoring what we hear or feel within that.

So there's like examples of people who were really strict vegan and then they actually gave that up because it was like too much control was sabotaging their relationship with their health.

Sam - Totally.

Alegra - And just like, the last thing I read was a woman who was having all this bloating and the woman who wrote the book was like oh, you need to get your vibrator out or have sex.

And focus on this healing energy and love of your body and so it's kinda, there's some funny. It's not necessarily what you think of with health but it's all about our relationship.

Sam - Yeah, that's awesome, I will find a link to that and post it when we post that video, that's wonderful.

Okay, so what is one action that you take daily that makes a big impact in your life?

Alegra - Okay, if there's one thing that I could never give up, I drink a big glass of warm lemon water when I first wake up.

Sam - Would you say that that's almost a ritual for you?

Alegra - It's definitely a ritual and once in a while, if I just wake up a little late or I get distracted and I don't do it, I feel off for the rest of the day. I feel like I can never make up for having missed that thing that is just, I get really thirsty. I'm usually really thirsty when I wake up so I'm dehydrated and it just, it feels so much better than putting food into my stomach first thing in the morning and I try to do it an hour before I eat, I don't always make that if I wake up a little late but it feels so good.

Sam - Awesome, that's wonderful, thank you. Okay so tell us where we can find you, where we can connect with you.

Alegra - Yeah, so I have a website, it's healthyfamilyharmony.com so you can find me over there. I have some, like the top five mistakes that are causing your weight gain or your sugar addiction, actually I don't remember how I phrased it.  Then I also have a Facebook group, Love Every Bite, where I'm running a 21 day emotional detox. It's running right now through the 28th.

Sam - Oh cool.

Alegra - It's free and it's no changes to your food. It really is about getting in touch with those emotions and that relationship between your emotions and your food.

Sam - Awesome.  We will get this video up later today. And we're also going to turn this into a blog post as well.  Anything else that you wanna share before we jump off?

Alegra - I would just say the last thing, that I would want to put out into the world to help women is the idea that if you're turning to sugar over and over and over that it's a sign at the most basic level that you need to get sweetness in your life from another place.  You can start doing that.

That's how I started my journey, I made a list of sugar alternatives and I don't mean aspertain or xylitol. I mean like make a cup of tea, get a massage, hug somebody, call a friend that you can start to sustain yourself with those changes and find that sweetness in other ways.

Sam - I love, that is so cool, that's really powerful.

Awesome, thank you, thank you so much for joining us today.

Connect with Alegra Loewenstein

Healthy Family Harmony, http://healthyfamilyharmony.com

FB Group Love Every Bite, https://www.facebook.com/groups/loveeverybite/