How Does Nutrition Affect The Bereaved?

An interview with Frances Holmes, nutrition consultant and grief practitioner, Part One

Today SevenPonds speaks with Frances Holmes, a certified nutrition consultant and integrative grief practitioner. She specializes in helping people change their diets to improve their quality of life and also works with the bereaved. Frances’ practice is based on the fact that many people dealing with grief and loss don’t realize that their nutrition and eating habits have a huge impact on how the process unfolds.

Portrait of Frances Holmes, CNC

Credit: Frances Holmes

Lucas Morgan: What are your personal and educational backgrounds?

Frances Holmes: I am the seventh of nine children. My mom died when she was 58. In fact, I turned 58 this year, so it has been an interesting year of feelings. Cancer runs in my family. My dad had cancer as well, which he died from, and my oldest sister is a breast cancer survivor. So that’s what put me on the trajectory for nutrition and lifestyle. At one point I thought, “How am I going to navigate these genes I have in my body?”

I started working on nutrition on my own, thinking I was doing a good job. Then years later I was introduced to a dentist who had a couple of nutritionists working in the office, and I loved what they were doing. It really resonated with me. They were students at Bauman College. Bauman is a holistic, nutrition and culinary school. So I attended their nutrition educator program, and also followed up with a nutrition consultant program. I graduated in 2006. I’ve also done some continued education with supplement companies.

Lucas: What kinds of educational opportunities do those brands offer?

Frances: They put on a lot of extracurricular activities. And many times they will put on programs, seminars to help us understand the body on a more holistic level (body, mind, spirit) and also on the functional level. Essentially, they focus on how all the systems of the body work synergistically.

Lucas: How did you get into the realm of using nutrition to help those dealing with grief and loss?

Frances: During my educational journey, about five years ago, I was experiencing a lot of loss. I had a very good chiropractor, who was very intuitive, who told me, “Your body is in grief.” And she connected me with a woman named Lyn Prashant who does something she calls “degriefing,” which is a bit of a play on words. I worked with her, and through my journey with my own grief, my own loss, I decided that nutrition plays a huge part in all this. And I realized that if you are not watching your nutrition, you can really exacerbate your grief symptoms.

Lucas: What is the initial process when someone reaches out to you? I would assume each person’s program is pretty different.

Frances: Definitely. We really have to customize the program. For instance, if you and I present together, and have the same issue, maybe an IBS issue, it will present itself differently in my body than in yours. Number one, that’s because you’re a man and I’m a woman. Number two, it’s because you are Lucas and I am Frances. So it is not a cookie-cutter approach. I first talk to the person for a complimentary 20 minutes or so to see if it’s a good fit for us. There are a few areas I may not feel comfortable with, and I may send them to someone else who may be better equipped to help them. From there we have an initial intake interview that is very thorough. I will get a history, from the time the person was born to where they are now.

Lucas: What are some things from our past that can impact us today?

Frances: Everything that’s happened to us is connected, whether it was many years ago or right now — even how you were born. Were you born vaginally or via Cesarean section? It’s amazing that how you came into the world has an impact. Also growing up, what was happening to you? How were you doing in school? If someone has had an ongoing health issue, like heartburn, when did that first start? Most people will say, “Oh that’s what I’ve always had, so for me this is normal.” But that’s not the case. That’s what is your normal, but how can we fix that? How can we make it a little better, and maybe fix it entirely?

And so it’s looking at the interconnection of all the different body systems. Grief affects the endocrine system. The endocrine system is very tightly regulated and works very synergistically with the nervous system.

Bunch of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries symbolizing good nutritionLucas: In what ways can a more personalized, nutritional diet help someone cope with immense grief?

Frances: What happens is that food can become our best friend or our worst enemy. Some people will eat and eat and eat, and others will not eat at all. Some people have no appetite, but others try to soothe themselves through food, so they will eat simple carbohydrates, lots of sugars, things like that. Those foods give a sense of relief for a short time because they increase your serotonin, but it is very short-lived. The withdrawal from that is awful. And now you’re in a vicious cycle.

Nutrition can also help with the somatic aspects of grief by properly balancing the blood sugar. Many of the symptoms of low blood sugar look much like the common symptoms of grief and loss. So if my blood sugar dips, my grief symptoms are going to escalate. And if somebody is not eating or hungry, the question becomes, how can we get them to eat little bits of food so that they make the connection that when they do eat something, they feel better.

Check back next week for the conclusion of our interview with Frances Holmes, CNC, when we discuss in further detail how diet can either help or hurt people dealing with grief.

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