We’re excited to introduce you to Michelle Yandle, nutrition coach for empowered eating. In addition to being a nutrition coach, she is also a sought-after public speaker, author, and educator. Find out how Michelle’s unique background and inquisitive mind guided her career and her life’s calling. She’ll also share with us about some exciting new projects she’ll be launching soon.
What led you to the health and wellness field?
All my life I’ve been interested in healthy eating. Unfortunately, this stemmed from having been put on several diets as a young child. I became fascinated with what’s ‘healthy’ and what’s ‘not healthy’. I later decided that studying nutrition would have been too hard and so I left it for many years but the interest never disappeared. Once I decided, in my late 30s to leave school teaching, I knew that a nutrition profession was the way to go and I’ve never looked back. My yo-yo dieting days are gone now, but a balanced approach to health and wellness without restriction has become my passion for everyone I work with.
Can you talk a bit about your background growing up in Nova Scotia and your journey to living in New Zealand?
I often say I come from a ‘long line of storytellers’. My father told stories through music and on my mother’s side, telling stories through writing and teaching were commonplace. Both my mother and father have indigenous roots. My father was mainly French Acadian but the French had a great relationship with the Mi’kmaq and that is still celebrated today. Many Acadians have a Metis background due to intermarriages amongst their families. On my mother’s side, my great grandmother was Mi’kmaq and the traditions of both these families were strong as I grew up in Nova Scotia. I later became a school teacher, like my grandmother and was able to use that skill to build my new life with my Kiwi husband in New Zealand where I’m surrounded by the beautiful culture of the Maori people every day. It is both the Mi’kmaq and Maori teachings that have created the foundation for my message today in health and wellness.
Did you experience any of your own health struggles that lead to your passion for good food and health?
I spent most of my childhood being what others would consider ‘overweight’. I had been put on diet after diet and by the time I was 13 I had been on as many diets as I was old. This always came from a place of love from my mother and I hold no resentment for that but it was this obsession with becoming ‘thin’ and ‘healthy’ that led to disordered eating habits for the rest of my life. While I never had what would be considered an eating disorder in common sense, I definitely grew up with a lot of black and white thinking around food. Fear, guilt, and shame were common feelings when it came to the foods I ate. It wasn’t until halfway into my nutrition career that I realized that damage my ‘healthy eating plan’ was causing to me mentally, emotionally and physically and decided that enough was enough.
In your TED Talk, “Going Back, Moving Forward”, you talked about a more ancestral way of living and eating. You turned your ideas of food and nutrition completely upside down. How did you come up with this concept?
It was all part of a somewhat long journey starting with some mild health issues. I was a vegetarian at the time and I was becoming more and more tired despite my best efforts. I then came across an article about a man named Bossy Ducharme who had gone back to his native ways when it came to food that I then asked myself “what did my ancestors eat” and changed things around. It was more than that though. As I went down the rabbit hole I realized it wasn’t so much about what they ate, but how they ate. It was then that I came across the Medicine Wheel and everything changed. The Medicine Wheel is a teaching tool used by my ancestors that teaches us that health is more than the body, but the health of the mind, spirit, and heart as well. The Maori have a similar model for health Te Whare Tapa Wha and even The World Health Organisation states that health is not just the absence of disease but emotional and mental health as well. I thought, if indigenous cultures all over the world share a common principle for health — they must be onto something. I realized that most of the diets out there, the ‘healthy eating plan’s they are focused only on the body. Everything revolves around being smaller ultimately and being ‘disease free’ when we’re missing out on so much more and it’s often these missing pieces that result in the disordered eating habits in the first place.
What are some tips that you can share on how to guide and inspire our clients to get back to the basics with regards to diet and lifestyle?
Imagine there were no health or diet books, no supermarkets, no internet or social media… What would you eat? Start there. Understand though that thanks to technology we have so many delicious foods available to us and that no food is inherently bad or good in insolation. I also teach people to ask themselves one powerful question before eating: “Am I Hungry”? This seems simple but the answer can open up so much learning. We tune into what hunger feels like and can look for answers if we’re not hungry but still have the desire to eat.
You do a lot of public speaking which many of us would love to try but are often held back by fear and anxiety. Do you have any suggestions on how one can overcome those fears and what it’s like to finally embrace public speaking?
I don’t actually think we overcome fears, I know I don’t. But I do it anyways. I’m still nervous every time I speak, but, well my passion is bigger than my fear and that’s what propels me forward. We may get more practice and fine tune our delivery but we have to walk with the fear, recognize it and move forward with it.
For someone aspiring to give a TED Talk, where would you suggest they get started?
The thing TED wants is a ‘new idea’ something that people need to hear. Start with your idea, what sets your message apart from the masses? That’s the pitch we need to begin. Then, don’t give up and know that if it is meant to be, it will be. Keep building your profile, keep spreading your message (and keep spreading your wings!)
You like to use an ancient teaching tool — The Medicine Wheel with 4 equal parts — body, mind, spirit, and heart. All need to be in balance to be healthy, happy and well. How do you perform this assessment with your clients and how do you track this to measure improvements in those 4 areas?
I use it more as a teaching tool than a tracking tool. I avoid tracking with clients as for many who are recovering from yo-yo dieting, this can be very triggering. Instead, we present it as a discussion and encourage clients to reflect on their own lives to see which areas might be needing some care. My Empowered Eating course walks them through each of these areas so people can self-identify and work on those areas that are in need of action. For many, it’s just starting with self-care.
You’ve written 3 books — A Diet for 7 Generations, a cookbook Beyond The Bin, and The Empowered Eating Handbook. What do you find is more challenging, putting your thoughts on paper or expressing them to a crowd of people and why?
I am an introverted person, many people would find that surprising and so the written word is my voice of choice. I love to write, always have. Speaking is also something that I enjoy too, I have teaching in my blood, but it always starts with the written word to get my thoughts clear in my head before presenting.
Tell us about what you’ve got coming up that you’d like our readers to know about and where they can learn more?
For those who might be in New Zealand or Australia I’m organizing an epic conference here in Taranaki with some of the best minds in health and nutrition (and some of the best foods as well!) You can find info on my facebook page @wellfedtaranaki and on the website www.wellfed.info
Also, keep an eye out for my upcoming books, especially Well Fed which I believe will be a gift every mother will want to give their daughters and daughters to give to mothers. Sisters will want it for sisters and friends for friends.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Michelle.
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