A Talk with Sue Van Raes, author of Food and Freedom: Discover Your Personal Recipe to Eat, Think, and Live Well


A Talk with Sue Van Raes, author of Food and Freedom: Discover Your Personal Recipe to Eat, Think, and Live Well

Sue Van Raes is a functional nutritionist, food psychology specialist, wellness expert, yoga instructor, and founder of Boulder Nutrition. She has extensive experience as a featured health writer for the Chopra Center, and her work has been featured in People, The Sacred Science, Natural Solutions Magazine, Origin Magazine, and Elephant Journal. Van Raes hosts the podcast Satiate and leads wellness and yoga retreats in Colorado, Costa Rica, Bali, and virtually. She lives in Boulder, Colorado. More information at BoulderNutrition.com.

  • Food is a symptom: What to look for below your food stress?

Often women’s food stress are symptoms of other imbalances sprinkled throughout our daily living such as unexpressed emotions, cultural judgments about their bodies; feelings of overwhelm, stress, loneliness, boredom, trauma, while continuing to receive mixed messages from families and/or culture.

Our habitual patterns with food are a porthole through which we can gain insight into where we may be out of balance, emotionally overwhelmed, or generally unfulfilled. When you uncover what is really going on, you will gain a better understanding of how to support yourself through it while learning how to remedy these deeper imbalances. 

  • What are the best strategies to handle mixed messages about healthy eating?

As we turn inward and practice deep listening within our bodies, the food noise tends to quietly transform into more of a white noise, as it does not apply to us any longer. We gain agency and sovereignty within our bodies, and our eating, and learn to eat to feel how we want to feel. We practice honoring our unique biochemistry, and our metabolic individuality, and we listen to our inner voice. How magical that the most sacred voice we can hear, the voice of our inner wisdom, doesn’t have a voice at all. When we turn towards our body-based wisdom, which primarily speaks through sensation, including how food makes us feel, we have everything we need.

  • What are the best ways to regulate your nervous system around the dinner table?

The intention is to create an environment that promotes connection, relaxation, and safety, contributing to a regulated and balanced nervous system response around the dinner table. Here are some of my favorite practices to do just this (and no one needs to notice)

  • Gratitude 
  • Sacred pause
  • Track sensations in your body
  • Calming affirmations (continued)
  • Look for what is going well
  • Mindful breathing
  • Create a Calm Atmosphere
  • Limit Distractions
  • Chew Mindfully
  • What is embodied eating, and why give it a try?

Embodied eating is being in real-time with your eating via interoception –– the process of receiving, accessing, and appraising our internal bodily signals –– is a mindful and holistic approach to eating that emphasizes a deeper connection between the mind and the body during the mealtime experience. 

This practice involves being fully present and engaged with the sensory aspects of eating, such as taste, texture, and aroma, as well as paying attention to the body’s hunger and fullness cues. 

Here’s why you might want to try embodied eating:

  • Increased Awareness
  • Improved Digestion
  • Enhanced Enjoyment through savoring
  • A deeper connection and understanding of hunger and fullness
  • Reduced Stress
  • Cultivation of Gratitude
  • What are the best ways to stop your mind from bullying your body?

Stopping the mind from bullying the body involves cultivating a positive and compassionate relationship with oneself. There are many strategies to help shift negative thoughts and foster a more nurturing mindset, but I believe the most important starting point is to become the witness of your thoughts rather than the storm within them. As you watch your thoughts you can practice choosing the ones you want to feed.

  • Practice Self-Compassion by shifting how you talk to yourself (more like how you would talk to your own best friend
  • Focus on appreciating your body for their many amazing qualities
  • Recognize the “part” of you that is criticizing your body, so you can investigate why and what that part needs (most likely love and safety)
  • Surround Yourself with inspiration
  • Practice Body-Positive Affirmations
  • Focus on Self-Care 
  • Limit Social Comparisons (avoid excess social media)
  • Stop comparing someone else’s outside to your inside
  • Celebrate Your Successes 

Remember that changing thought patterns takes time and consistency. Be patient with yourself and commit to fostering a more positive and compassionate mindset towards your body. (continued)

  • What is the language of the body, and how to listen? 

The primary language of the body is sensation. As you practice turning inward and listening, you are developing a heightened interoception (the ability to feel what is happening on the inside). As you cultivate and practice more interoception, you will soon learn that your body talks to you, and all you need to do is listen.

Every twinge, ache, and flutter is a message, a subtle whisper of the intricate dialogue between mind and body. To truly understand this silent conversation, one must learn to listen not only with ears but with a heightened awareness of the sensations that reverberate through every fiber of our being. It’s an art of tuning into the whispers of the body, translating the unspoken into a profound understanding of our physical and emotional states and needs. In the symphony of sensation, the body unveils its stories, offering insights into our well-being, emotional health, and the intricate dance of being alive. As we attune ourselves to this subtle language, we embark on a journey of self-discovery, unraveling the mysteries encoded in the whispers of sensation that echo within.

  • What does how we relate to others (attachment style) have to do with our relationship to self?

When there’s a disruption in early attachments, particularly within emotionally dysfunctional relationships, especially those involving parents or primary caregivers, and when the essential 5 A’s (attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing) are not adequately met, these patterns often reverberate into our adult relationships. These patterns are deeply ingrained and play a pivotal role in our ability to love and care for ourselves, our level of self-referral, and our relationship with food and our body.

As we grow into an adult, our attachment style manifests in how we learn to offer the 5 A’s to ourselves, engaging with our ability to love, nurture, and nourish ourselves, extending beyond food. Since, as a baby, our needs were primarily body-centric—being fed, changed, cuddled, and rocked to sleep—there exists a dynamic interplay with how you relate to these same types of needs, including your relationship to food. This encompasses aspects such as body image, interception (awareness of internal bodily sensations), and somatic expression, all of which are influenced by the nature of your early attachments, whether secure or insecure.

  • What is the best way to overcome food coping skills such as comfort eating, food restriction, and food perfectionism?

Overcoming food coping skills, such as comfort eating, food restriction, and food perfectionism, involves adopting a holistic approach that addresses both the emotional and behavioral aspects of these patterns. 

Here are some strategies to help:

  • Cultivate Mindful Eating: Develop a mindful approach to eating by paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues (interoception). Slow down during meals, savor each bite, and be present in the moment. This helps you build a healthier relationship with food and enhances your awareness of emotional eating triggers. (continued)
  • Explore Emotional Triggers: Identify and explore the emotional triggers that lead to comfort eating or restrictive behaviors. Keep a journal to track your emotions, thoughts, and circumstances surrounding your eating habits. Understanding the root causes can empower you to develop healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Recognize that everyone has unique relationships with food, and it’s okay to have imperfections. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a friend.
  • Challenge Perfectionism: Challenge the idea of “perfect” eating. Allow yourself flexibility and embrace the concept of balance. Perfectionism often leads to restrictive behaviors and guilt. Aim for a balanced, varied, and enjoyable diet.
  • Establish Regular Meals: Maintain regular mealtimes and include a variety of nutrients in your meals. Regular, balanced eating helps stabilize blood sugar levels, reducing the likelihood of extreme hunger, brain chemistry imbalances, and overeating.
  • Build Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Explore alternative coping mechanisms for stress and emotions, such as mindfulness, exercise, journaling, or engaging in hobbies. Developing a toolbox of healthy coping strategies can redirect your focus away from food.
  • Create a Supportive Environment: Surround yourself with a supportive environment that encourages healthy habits. Communicate with friends and family about your goals and seek their understanding and support.
  • Celebrate Progress, Not Perfection: Celebrate small victories and progress on your journey. Focus on positive changes rather than aiming for an unrealistic ideal. Acknowledge the efforts you make towards developing a healthier relationship with food.

Remember that overcoming these patterns is a gradual process, and it’s essential to be patient and persistent. 

How can we practice self-love with our eating?

Working with the 5 A’s can be a helpful framework to cultivate self-love and a positive relationship with food. Here’s some examples of to practice them within the context of eating:

  • Attention: Pay attention to your eating experience. Create a mindful space by minimizing distractions such as phones or screens. Direct your attention to the colors, textures, and aromas of your food. Engage your senses fully in the act of eating.
  • Affection: Develop awareness of your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Check in with yourself before, during, and after the meal. Notice the physical sensations associated with hunger and how your body responds to different foods. This awareness helps you eat in response to genuine hunger rather than emotional cues.
  • Appreciation: Cultivate gratitude for the food on your plate, and the health and vitality it will bring you and your body as you feed yourself with love. Consider the journey the food took to reach you and the nourishment it provides. Express appreciation for the flavors and textures, savoring each bite. This practice enhances the enjoyment of your meals.
  • Acceptance: Release any guilt or judgment associated with food choices. Instead, approach meals with a mindset of nourishing your body and providing it with the energy it needs. Be kind to yourself and embrace a flexible and balanced approach to eating.
  • Allowing: Take intentional actions that align with your body’s needs. Eat slowly, allowing time for your body to communicate their needs. Listen to your body’s signals and respond accordingly. Choose foods that make you feel good both physically and mentally. Make conscious decisions about portion sizes and the overall composition of your meals.

How can you transform our eating so food can work for you rather than against you?

When you learn how food makes you feel at a biochemical level (via your macronutrients ratios and blood sugar balance) you gain agency and discernment with how and what you eat. You tune into your body’s signals, eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied. You focus on nourishing your body with wholesome, nutrient-dense foods. And most of all, you understand how your eating can set you up for success –– boosting your energy, supporting deeper sleep, curbing your cravings, creating metabolic flexibility, improving your focus, and elevating your mood. By incorporating these steps into your lifestyle, you can transform your approach to eating and empower food to work in favor of your overall well-being.


Food and Freedom: Discover Your Personal Recipe to Eat, Think, and Live Well

By Sue Van Raes

Health & Well-Being / Personal Growth • $21.95

Trade paperback • 344 pp. • 5½ x 8½ • Pub date: April 9, 2024

Black-and-white illustrations • ISBN: 978-1-60868-874-6

Also available as an ebook

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