Christa Orecchio Discusses Food as Medicine at TEDxVillageGate (Transcript)

Christa Orecchio

Here is the full transcript of Whole Journey founder Christa Orecchio’s TEDx Talk: Food as Medicine at TEDxVillageGate.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Food as Medicine by Christa Orechio at TEDxVillageGate


Good morning everyone. I’m a clinical and holistic nutritionist, and I have been for the past eight years. And I honestly can’t imagine ever being or doing anything else. This is a field that is just so fascinating to me, and I feel like it’s the reason I was put on Earth, is to share this information.

Because I believe so strongly in using food as medicine, and over the last eight years, I have seen over and over again: give the body what it needs and it will heal itself. Take away what it doesn’t need and it will heal itself.

There’s one thing though, that as I do this work, that blows me away every single day, and that is how much our food supply has changed. Our food supply has changed more in the last 50 years than it has in the previous 10,000 years. So many things have happened, and we’re going to talk all about what’s happened and how to avoid the landmines, the pitfalls, and how to use food as medicine to really thrive.

Because as a result of the changes in our food supply, we’re dealing with health issues that we never had to deal with before. Our kids are dealing with health issues that they’ve never had to deal with before. We have celiac disease. We have autoimmune issues in children that never existed before.

Raging food sensitivities. I remember being a kid; that’s a benefit you get to eat anything you want and it really doesn’t affect you. Kids have really kind of lost that privilege today because of what’s happened to the food supply. We’ve got major digestive disturbances. And the one that really gets me is mental and emotional issues like we have never seen before in children: depression and anxiety. And all of that can absolutely be helped, reversed, eliminated through using food as medicine. And that’s the power in this.

In using this information, taking them into your daily life, because your children’s, our children’s organs are forming now to what their health is going to be in their adult life. Their glandular systems, their digestive systems, so what you choose to feed them and how you feed them is laying the foundation for their adult life, for how their health is going to be.

So this field of holistic nutrition, it still seems to be very new, and an alternative thought pattern. So I just wanted to describe what it actually is. It’s a philosophy that talks about health and the interplay between all of the systems — the mental and emotional, the physical and chemical, and the spiritual and environmental aspects of one’s health and being.

How can we separate it? For me, I can’t understand how we can separate the mind from the body from the spirit. It’s impossible. Sounds like this is a new concept but it’s not, it’s ancient wisdom. And its time has come to bring it back into the mainstream so that we can achieve wellness and experience wellness on all levels.

And I’m going to go into what’s happened to the food supply and we’re going to talk about food, but I would be remiss if I didn’t start, especially as a holistic nutritionist, with the mental and with the emotional. Because in order to make this last when we make changes in your diet and changes in your life, you take it away from being a diet and it becomes a lifestyle. And so much of that is your perspective around food, your approach to food.

How many of us think of food as a relationship? I think we think of food as a habit, as something we do, three times, four times a day, however often we eat. But if we can start to shift that perspective and look at food as an approach to life, something much bigger and deeper, something that can connects us to the world around us and to our families, that’s the perspective shift that takes away the diet and it becomes a lifestyle. And that’s what we have to talk about.

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For years, I have been teaching clients to separate emotional nourishment from biological development, where we say that food feeds us and enhances us biologically, and keeps us alive, but it shouldn’t nourish us emotionally. We shouldn’t turn to food when we’re stressed, and when we’re tired and when we’re lonely, but we teach them, turn to primary foods — your sense of spiritual connection, your relationships, exercise that you enjoy, creative outlets. And that philosophy worked for me for a really long time, but then most recently, I really started thinking about it.

Is that complete? Is that possible even, to separate emotional nourishment from biological development? Is it honest? And the answer that I came to was ‘no’. And actually, it dawned on me, and I felt a little ashamed that I hadn’t come to it sooner, because I am 100% Italian. How can I separate emotional nourishment from biological development? My friends knew during my childhood and adolescence not to call me on Sundays, I couldn’t be with them, because, you know, we were eating. That’s what we were doing on Sunday. And we would be at the table from 12 to 6 or 7 o’clock at night and that was a tradition, that was a ritual, it was a family ceremony.

So food, it’s not just for our bodies, it’s also for our mind and our emotion. And it’s a way to connect to so much more than just the actual food that we eat. Now I’ve been calling this the form and function of food, right? So food is more than its physiological function, there is form to it. It’s the difference between a house and a home. A house is a structure that will protect us from the elements. But a home is a place where we store our memories and our emotions, and the things that are most dear to us, the place that we go for solace and nourishment.

You can ask any morning coffee drinker — How many of you are morning coffee drinkers? Right? It’s not just about getting a cup of coffee, it’s about the ritual of it, it’s about the ceremony of it. I see clients for the first session and they say, “Don’t take away my coffee. I’m not coming back if you do.” It’s their weapon to the world. It’s the security blanket to go out into the world and have this warm cup of something that nourishes you, your little buddy, your friend, at your desk by your side. It’s so much more… It’s so much more than just that morning coffee.

I also relate — it’s the difference between clothes and fashion. Clothes are so much more than their function to cover our bodies and to keep us warm. They are a tool for self-expression, for creativity, for individuality. It’s fun to dress according to how you feel, right? It’s a way to let the world know who you are, how you feel, and how things are working.

So if we can have this approach to food, it lays a foundation, because I can talk all day long about greens, and water, and grains, and all of that stuff, but it’s not going to be a finishing work, unless the perspective has shifted.

So we get that foundation in place, and then we move on to the physical, and to the chemical. That’s what we’re going to talk about: challenges in our food supply. And we have a lot of them. Because in the last 50 years, our food supply has changed so dramatically. The reason I’m telling you this is not to incite doom and gloom, but rather, empowerment, because awareness is the first step towards changing anything. And the reason I’m standing up here is because I am certain, I will tell you, so many of us have no idea how amazing we can feel, how many extra levels of wellness that there are than we’re currently experiencing right now.

First major challenge is soil depletion. Do you believe that we have to eat three apples today to equal the nutrient value of one apple in 1940? How do you like them apples? 85% soil depletion is what we’re dealing with in North America. Less minerals in the soil — weaker plants. Weaker plants, we need to spray them with more chemicals. We need minerals for so many functions within the body. We need minerals for our bones, for our teeth. We need minerals so that our nervous system can function properly. There are nutritional roots to mental illness. So much of it lies in mineral deficiency. And we need minerals for our metabolic process to function. The body doesn’t work without minerals.

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This next one is the one that really gets me. Hormones and antibiotics in our meat supply. So what I want to know is when did it become okay for it to be looked at as the mainstream to eat polluted meat? When did that become normal, and guiding people towards eating organic, free-range, all these buzz words that seem on the fringe — we’re just guiding them to eat real food, that’s all.

Antibiotics — when we’re eating a low dose of antibiotics every time we eat out from these animals that are raised in feed lots, in conditions that really no living thing should have to be subjected to, of course they have to give them antibiotics because there’s not enough room for them, and there’s disease that comes up. And the antibiotics that we’re eating are killing the good bugs, the good bacteria in our guts. And digestion is the cornerstone of your health. If that’s not the foundation and that’s not working, nothing else is going to work and everything else will be a band-aid. So taking antibiotics, a low dose, when we eat out, these animal meats, eggs, milk — that’s weakening our immune system.

And then we have hormones. I think every other woman in the room would agree with me when I say, it’s hard enough to keep our hormones balanced, do we ever need to have anything else that’s going to start to throw them off course? In March, the New York Times came out with an article, and the title was: “Puberty at Age 10: The New ‘Normal’?” I’m not okay with that. Girls are developing three to five years earlier on average now, largely due, in part, to the consumption of added growth hormones to the meat supply.

So if there’s one thing to remember from what I have to say, and there’s one thing you need to take, and you’re going to shift your budget somewhere else with your food, it’s towards clean animal products.

How many of you know what a GMO is? Good. Almost everyone. Genetically modified organisms are organisms where they take the DNA of one species and they inject it into the DNA of another species in a lab. And that creates a combination of plants that have not existed in nature before and also do not exist in traditional cross-breeding methods.

So what we have with GMOs is Frankenfood, in my opinion. Corn, soy, canola, dairy — these are the foods that are the most genetically modified and in 30 countries around the world, and all the countries of the European Union, there’s severe limitation and restrictions or outright bans on GMOs. That’s what I mean. It’s not that the food supply has just changed for its processed foods, but the raw materials that go into those processed foods has changed so dramatically, and we need to avoid them. Especially when we’re eating out, restaurants are using genetically modified soybean and canola oil because it’s not that expensive, and we’re not getting the nutrients out of our meal. We’re getting maybe 50% of the nutrients out of our meal when we’re consuming GMOs.

There’s lots of chemicals that we’re contending with. The FDA has 2,700 intentional food chemicals from food dyes, FD&C yellow number 5 and yellow number 6. We’ve got artificial sweeteners, MSG — we really have to start to look at that. And bath and body products is the other part of the hormonal equation because there’s a huge opportunity to disrupt your endocrine system by what you put on your body. And I just want you to think about the skin as the largest absorbative organ. So if you wouldn’t put it in your body, a good rule of thumb is don’t put it on your body.

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And this one I could talk about all day long because this is how I got into nutrition. There is no doubt in my mind I would have diabetes right now and I would probably be 50 pounds heavier than what I am had I not found this field, because I used to eat a package of Sour Patch Kids and a package of Swedish fish every day for lunch. I was a total sugar junkie. And we don’t have to talk too much about sugar because I think everyone knows that it’s not good for you at this point.

But I just want to point out: How did it become okay to drink a soda the size of your head? I don’t know how that happened. Clients say, “I only drink one soda a day.”

I have to say, “But what is it?” “It’s a Big Gulp, but that’s okay, it’s from, like, lunch, all the way to the end of the day.” Right? One soda today is the equivalent of 18 in 1955. The solution is simple. That’s a simple solution to changing things. But you need to know what real food is in order to change it. A chicken breast — a client will say, “It’s just a chicken breast.” — isn’t a chicken breast any more. We need to know, what did the chicken eat? How was it raised, how was it fed? So that’s why we have to challenge the food supply, so you can discern what’s real food and what’s not real food.

You can be part of the solution. Local, organically grown fruits and vegetables. We have Community Supported Agriculture — farms that we can buy our food from. We’re so blessed to live in this area. You buy local, organically grown fruits and vegetables, you don’t have to eat three apples, you can just eat one, because the nutrients will be there, the minerals will be there, because of the way that they’re using traditional farming techniques.

Wild fish and pastured animal products. ‘Pastured’ — such a buzzword these days. It just means the animal ate what it wanted to eat in nature, and lived how it should have lived, then you’re getting nutrients from that food.

Choosing gluten-free grains — that’s really important. Gluten sensitivity is huge. Staging beans, legumes and root vegetables throughout your diet, will slowly release the glucose in your system, so you never really get those cravings for the white stuff or for the sugar.

I’m such a fan of healthy fats and oils. There’s nothing wrong with grass-fed butter, coconut oil, avocados, all these things are so important. And keep the sweetness, but lose the sugar. Learn about sugar alternatives. There’s so many of them out there. Coconut sugar — looks and tastes exactly like brown sugar. It doesn’t affect you nearly like regular sugar does. Stevia has no effect on blood sugar; it’s 100 times sweeter than sugar. We can still enjoy sweet treats. We don’t have to have this approach of denial or deprivation, it’s just upgrading.

And we’re creating rituals, traditions, having that anchor around food. Mindful eating, not being a stand-at-the-kitchen-counter eater, or eat-in-your-car eater. It’s eating for true nourishment.

This is not a new concept. Two-and-a-half thousand years ago, Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” So if I leave you with one thought, it’s that healthcare reform, it doesn’t start in Washington, it starts in our kitchen. We need to vote with our dollars when we go to the grocery store and that’s voting for a cleaner food supply. My favorite quote by Margaret Mead states, “Never doubt that a small committed group of individuals can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Thank you.

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