Velina Hristova is one of the few Bulgarians who has graduated from one of the most prestige and renowned programmes in the health and wellness industry: The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), New York. In addition to being a certified health coach, currently Velina is pursuing a PHD degree in ‘General Experimental and Genetic Philosophy’ at University of Sofia. The focus of her research is the connection between food and the human’s brain, and how a specific diet affects conditions such as anxiety and chronic stress. In this interview we talk about this, as well as about eating disorders, motherhood and Velina’s blog Vita Real.
2HB: How does our relationship with food affect our life and the way we see the world around us?
V: Everything is connected. Food is never just food. Behind it there is always something more, something deeper. Often food comes as a substitute for something that is missing in a person’s life or as a ‘quick fix’ to an emotional trauma. In those cases food works as a primary emotional coping mechanism that is not necessarily connected only with ourselves and the way that we feel or look, but also with our relationships with the people around us: parents, friends, colleagues, partners.
2HB: One of 2 Health App’s main missions is to bring eating disorders awareness. From your position of a researcher and an integrative nutrition health coach what’s important to be said about eating disorders?
V: The first thing would be that no one is safe. Anybody can suffer from it. In our days men suffer from eating disorders as much as women. The situation with men, however, is even more complicated as they are expected to be strong and never to surrender to their weaknesses. Men seek help less often and usually in more advanced stages of the disorder.
Moreover, it is important for us to say that very oftentimes traumatic experiences in one's life can elicit high levels of stress and anxiety, which can lead to destructive behaviours such as eating disorders. This is one of the reasons why it is very hard to deal with the problem on your own. It is important for the patient to seek professional help in order to be able to eliminate the root causes of the disorder. Not eliminating them can deepen the problem or can lead to a change in the way that the disorder manifests.
Very often people don’t realise that they are suffering from an eating disorder. For them being almost destructively strict in your eating and workout habits means that you have strong willpower and motivation to be ‘healthy’ and lean. As a matter of fact this confusion originates from the fact that people know very little about these diseases and don’t know how to recognize them properly. The so-called orthorexia is a common problem in those days. Extreme fixation on food and relating food to too many emotions is the core of this disease. When food is used to satisfy different emotions it becomes affection. Especially when one uses food to punish himself/herself.
Another problem is the fact that religion has a very small role in people’s lives these days. People seek for things outside of religion and spirituality, such as healthy lifestyle for instance, that could set rules and guidelines in their lives, and could make their existence meaningful. This is exactly how the orthorexia works: if you consume food that you consider unhealthy you immediately find a way to punish yourself for ‘making a sin’. And if you manage to resist the temptation then you are a better person. So the connection between the lack of spirituality and religion, and the obsessive focus on food can be easily established.
2HB: Tell us a little bit more about the mission of Vita Real.
V: Its main mission is to provide up-to-date research-based information from the Nutritional Phycology. The main focus is establishing the connection between specific psychological conditions such as depression, panic attacks, chronic stress and anxiety, and the diet that one is committed to. I am interested not only in the way that one’s dietary approach reflects on those conditions from a physiological point of view, but also from a physiological, as they are very much connected. My target group are people who are suffering from any of those conditions and are looking for a way to overcome them.
Each and every article stresses on the fact that the problem is complex and one psychological condition is not only rooted in some kind of trauma, but also in a physiological problem of the body. The solution should be complex as well, and the approach multidisciplinary: to combine professional psychological help with medical help, when necessary, and adequate holistic changes and adjustments in the way the patient lives and eats.
2HB: With that being said, can we heal conditions such as anxiety and chronic stress with the right diet?
V: What we eat and the way that we live have their effect on those conditions. Yet, as I said, the solution should be complex and should include a healthy way of eating and professional psychological help.
2HB: Sugar, white flour (gluten), dairy products. Which one is the worst enemy of one’s physical and emotional health?
V: One person’s food in another person’s poison. People are different and the approach towards their diet and what they should or shouldn’t be eating must be individual and unique.
2HB: Does the universal diet exist?
V: Absolutely NO. As I already mentioned our dietary approach has to be individual as we are all very different. We even change with time and based on what our body, mind and soul need in this particular moment we have to make changes in the way that we are eating. There are no good and bad diets. There are only diets that are right for you at this particular moment.
As a whole, however, I would say that diets are not the only way we could deal with weight. They are just a way to control our life. The individual, balanced, holistic approach is the secret.
2HB: As a mother and a professional health coach, what advise would you give to all the mothers out there who are experiencing constant chronic stress and exhaustion? What changes should they make in the way that they live and think in order to be able to deal with all that and to see motherhood as a serene time of their lives?
V: One of the most important things for one child is to have a healthy, happy mother by her/his side. Very often mothers tend to put themselves second in the name of their kids without realizing that in this way they compromise their kids’ needs. The sooner they realize this, the faster their recovery will begin.
When it comes to nutrition my advice would be to never miss a meal and to aim for a rich and varied diet, especially the mothers who are breastfeeding. No matter how busy they are, mothers have to learn to put themselves first. When they feel at their best: satisfied, relaxed, balanced and happy, they will channel that emotions and sense of overall health and wellness to their children. Another advice would be to find time for themselves even if it’s only 5-10 min a day. Motherhood is really that simple: you commit to it without forgetting about yourself.
2HB: What are the foods that a mother should never give to her child?
V: Via honest dialog the parents should teach their kids about healthy food choices without restricting them, but rather introduce them to the pros and cons of certain foods. I wouldn’t, however, encourage the consumption of foods that are scientifically proven to be unhealthy and even toxic such as trans fast, artificial sweeteners and coloring. The tendency should be towards one nutritious, balanced menu full of real, whole foods.
For more health, nutrition and wellness inspiration read our interview with the adorable Sofi Yotova.
Welcome to ‘Learn It From The Best: True Inspirational Health Stories’: our special series where we are interviewing inspirational health and wellness coaches and motivators from all around the world, and are sharing with you their secrets, health tips and personal stories. If you have liked this article check out also our interview with Valerie Ho: a true Singaporean health and wellness warrior.