A Conversation with our Nutritionist
Mary’s Place by the Sea offers a variety of different modalities to its guests during their healing journey. Nutrition is one pillar of the Mary’s Place philosophy. Laurie Gowen has been teaching nutrition education to our guests for the past year and a half.
“I started out at Mary’s Place through knowing Michele and Maria on a friendly basis. I was inspired by their mission and I started helping as a house volunteer six years ago. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 20 years, and I’ve always wanted to teach my children healthy eating habits. I’ve always done my own research and educated myself on foods that can help us to be healthy. As my children got older, I enrolled in a course at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and I became a certified holistic health coach. It was then that I saw a need at Mary’s Place for nutritional counseling. This role is the perfect fit for me,” said Laurie.
Guests are often pleasantly surprised by the meals set before them at the dining room table at Mary’s Place. Many of the women are being introduced to vegan meals for the first time. No matter what their perspective is when they first sit down to lunch, a change happens when their forks meet their mouths. They experience delicious plant-based, organic dishes that nourish their mind, body and soul. At Mary’s Place, we believe that a whole-foods, plant-based diet is the best defense for creating a strong and healthy immune system.
“The food choices our guests make on a daily basis can in fact help them to heal their bodies,” Laurie said. “When our guests are putting live, fresh, real food into their bodies, it’s going to affect their energy levels; it’s going to affect every cell in their bodies. It’s going to create an environment that is more alkaline, which is an environment that helps fight off disease. Good food is going to give them energy. Emotionally, it’s going to make them feel lighter.”
Following their lunch, our guests are given the opportunity to discover the intention behind Chef Cathy’s dishes. Laurie greets them with her warm smile as they gather in the sanctuary.
“How was your lunch?” Laurie often begins. The conversation flows from there. As a nutritional counselor, Laurie teaches our guests how to incorporate healthy eating into their lives, as a part of their healing process. Guests chime in and share their differing perspectives in an open dialogue. For some of the women, nutrition is completely new to them, and a session with Laurie is just the tip of the iceberg.
With no discussion of past habits, Laurie speaks with our guests about taking control of their future nutritional decisions. A chart that she shares with them shows the acidity of various foods, ranging from very acidic to very alkaline. Her encouragement to the women is that they take a look at where their diet currently tends to fall. She encourages them to swap some of those very acidic foods (highly processed junk food, processed meats, dairy) for more alkalizing foods (vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and whole grains).
“At Mary’s Place, we teach our guests how to incorporate healthier foods into their diet. We like to use the phrase ‘crowding out the bad stuff’. If they are eating more whole foods, then their bodies begin to want healthier food. They start to feel better, and then those splurges happen less and less.”
Throughout the nutrition session, guests will often share what small changes have been positive for them. “I’ve swapped from whole to almond milk.” “I’m drinking a fruit and spinach smoothie every morning.” “I found a big bag of organic quinoa at Costco for a great price.” These conversations are inspiring. As they share their own stories, these women see that making small changes is possible, and it’s empowering.
“We have choices to make every single day, including what food we put in our bodies. When dealing with cancer, people need to know that their diet affects how their body responds to treatments they are receiving, medicine they are taking, and how their body can recover from illness. We need to make those food choices count! Sometimes when we are dealing with a health crisis, we don’t always have choices - what medicines the doctors tell us to take, what therapies they tell us to do. But the one choice that we always have is what we put in our mouth every single day.”
Laurie has seen many guests who have taken the information from the nutrition education session and made dramatic changes. Many guests are incorporating more whole & plant-based foods into their diet. When they remove some of the overly-processed, chemical laden foods from their diet, they experience less side effects from their treatments and benefit with a stronger immune system. Laurie feels continually inspired by our guests and the opportunity she has to make an impact on their journeys.
“When I leave a session, I feel that the guests have taught me more than I’ve taught them. Their stories touch me in a way that I feel their struggles, and that inspires me to learn more so that I can help them on their journey. I know that food is medicine for them. If they walk away feeling inspired and empowered to make those changes, I know that it is going to help them in their future and in their battle. Then they can thrive with cancer and not just survive.”