DR. PHILLIPS – For Pamela Vergari, eating is more than just something people do for pleasure or necessity. It’s virtually become a lifesaver for her – although that’s because she finally learned how to do it right.
“I was on medication for 14 years,” Vergari said. “I had been diagnosed with ADD and ADHD. The moment I changed my diet, it changed my life. The fog cleared.”
What she discovered was that healthier eating meant the elimination of a lot of bad things in her life. Foods she didn’t know were either making her sick, sluggish, or unable to maintain the lifestyle she wanted, disappeared from her menu. And now she’s feeling a whole lot better.
“I know what I felt like then, and I know what I feel like now, and I’ll take now,” she said. “It’s a little more work, but it’s worth it.”
That was just the beginning of the major changes that brought Vergari to where she is today.
“In 2009, I made a decision to go back to school for holistic nutrition,” she said, noting that she attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition of New York. That training enabled Vergari to become a certified health coach; she runs Achieve Optimal Wellness, a program that focuses on holistic nutrition. Her office is at 955 W. Fairbanks Ave. in Winter Park.
“I finally decided to get healthy,” Vergari said. “What we put in our bodies has a direct reflection on how healthy we are. Today we have what we call the standard American diet, and in my mind it has failed us. We need to eat more live foods that haven’t been cooked to death.”
On Monday, Vergari made a presentation at the Southwest branch of the Orange County Library System in Dr. Phillips. The free program, presented to a packed house, was “Nutrition on the Go,” or tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle while also keeping up a busy schedule. It was all about teaching people they can develop a healthier and more sensible diet while still enjoying what they eat, Vergari said.
“Going back to school was the single brightest decision of my life,” she said. “I’m passionate about healthy living. It’s not about running home and throwing everything out of your kitchen and putting in new stuff. This is about taking baby steps.”
The first key step, she said, is to recognize what she called the “processed food epidemic” – the way foods sold in local stores have been ruined by processing designed to extend its shelf life.
“Our ancestors’ diets were a little different,” she said. “Everything was whole and unprocessed vegetables and fruit, grain, beans, chicken and fish – only small amounts of sugar and honey. This land was not spoiled, either. And there were no cars, planes or buses. There was physical activity pretty much day, unlike today.”
As people spend more time being physically inactive in their car or behind a desk, they need to rely more on a healthy, nutritious diet – but they don’t always get it from shopping at their local supermarket, she said.
“Processing the food changes the original content,” she said. “Consider white bread versus wheat bread. They both come from wheat. But wheat bread uses the entire grain, while bread is made by removing the bran and the germ during the milling process. Manufacturers remove these parts to create lighter, fluffier bread to extend its shelf life.”
Processed foods are also made with additives, and “There are studies that show these additives have ill effects,” she said. “Manufacturers now add sugar to everything, from ketchup to toothpaste. If you get nothing out of this tonight, it’s read the labels, read the labels, find out what’s in it.”
Some of the chemicals used to process food, she added, can also induce allergic reactions in people.
“It can cause allergic reactions and stress to our lives to process such chemicals, many of which are cancer forming,” she said. “Sugar can suppress our immune systems up to 50 percent.”
A better alternative, Vergari said, is to do some homework on foods that haven’t been spoiled by processing.
“I encourage you to eat foods in their whole, natural state,” she said. “Simple eating celebrates the richness of whole foods.”
Whole foods can also enhance your mood, as well as your physical health, she said.
“The food-mood connection is a big thing for me,” she said. “This is where it all came together for me.”
These foods, she said, often contain serotonin, which is responsible for helping to induce calming and relaxing states, and are released as a result of eating carbohydrates.
On the other hand, “if you’re tired after lunch, you may need to eat more protein,” she said. “If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, you may want to limit your protein and increase your carbs at your evening meal. Dehydration is also a major factor affecting mood swings. Drink plenty of water throughout your day. It is an essential solvent for nutrition. And if you’re having mood swings, eat more whole foods – whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean protein, beans, nut and fish.”
Vergari noted that she wasn’t trying to push a one-size-fits-all diet on everyone. Everyone’s body is unique and reacts differently to particular foods. The key, she said, is to find out what works best for your system.
“Everyone is different,” she said. “This is not about being perfect. Try to avoid foods that can stress you out, like sugar, salt, alcohol or caffeine. Keep in mind that people medicate themselves with food, by reaching for the cookies or pasta whenever they’re upset.”
A better solution, she said, would be to seek out foods known for boosting energy naturally. They include grains, oats, vegetables, and fruit.
She also recommended that people avoid the old theory that they should stick to just three meals a day to prevent overeating.
“Eat five to six smaller meals a day,” Vergari said. “It can keep your blood sugar stable and helps control cravings. What happens if you skip meals? Your blood sugar drops after four hours of going without food, causing a dip in energy.”
Most of all, be aware of the best products to put in your body.
“Fresh organic produce contains on average 50 percent more vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other micronutrients than intensively farmed produce,” she said. “Common sense says that organic is safe – and organic produce simply tastes better because it has no chemicals. One-hundred percent organic means the product must contain only organically produced material, excluding water and salt. If you can’t buy organic, buy the ones that have not been sprayed with the most chemicals.”
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