Tulsi: The Incomparable & Sacred Medicinal Herb

Tulsi: The Incomparable & Sacred Medicinal Herb

Love at first smell (and sight)

Absorbed in deep communion during a Plant Initiation Weekend, I was seeking to meet the spirit of Tulsi. A lovely spicy aroma began to envelop me, then I saw her. She was dancing. Green robes and gold swirled, moving and spinning a little like the ballerina in your first jewelry box. Tulsi danced in a shaft of gold-green light, clearly enjoying herself immensely.

She looked at me with a sparkle in her emerald eyes, and said “So, what shall it be today?”

I was smitten – enchanted – and remain so to this day. 

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Tulsi is a powerful medicinal and culinary plant. Also known as Holy Basil or Sacred Basil, it has been used for centuries in Ayurveda, which is a traditional system of medicine that includes yoga therapy that originated in India. In the ancient language of Sanskrit, the word “Tulsi” means “the incomparable one”. 

This blog post will explore the integrative nature of Tulsi and how it can benefit your overall health and well-being.  We’ll review the integrative biochemical properties as well as an Ayurvedic health and metaphysical perspective.  Tulsi’s natural rhythms and abilities can synchronize with your own internal biological clocks, much like nature’s timekeepers, the solstice and equinox. Each of these aspects of The Incomparable One can help you to maintain a calm balance in our hectic modern world. 

Biochemical & Genetic Properties of Tulsi

Tulsi holds immense spiritual significance. It also possesses a range of powerful biochemical properties. Let’s delve into Tulsi’s composition and explore its health-enhancing properties.  Those properties create an impressive array of effects on your physiological systems.

Chemical & Genetic Composition of Tulsi

Sacred Basil contains numerous bioactive compounds that contribute to its therapeutic potential. It contains essential oils, flavonoids, tannins, phenolic compounds, and vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin C. Its essential oil is a rich source of bioactive compounds, such as camphor, eucalyptol, eugenol, alpha-bisabolene, beta-bisabolene, and beta-caryophyllene. The complex composition of the plant taken in the whole form is what provides Tulsi’s unique range of benefits. The whole genome of Holy Basil is available, and sequence analysis suggests that compounds in the herb interact with genes for metabolite synthesis pathways in a variety of helpful ways. 

Tulsi the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant & adaptogen

Holy Basil leaf extract has topical and systemic antimicrobial-antibacterial properties. Due to the great variety of phytonutrients (plant nutrients), it acts as an adaptogen, meaning that it works in a variety of ways in a variety of pathways to establish or maintain homeostasis (balance).

A key reason for Tulsi’s widespread use is its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Flavonoids and phenolic phytocompounds have antioxidant activity, which helps combat oxidative stress and the damage caused by too many free radicals (oxygenated species naturally created by metabolism that the body clears – in part with an antioxidant-rich diet) in the body. By neutralizing excessive free radicals, Tulsi supports cellular health and so helps prevent various chronic diseases.

In addition to its antioxidant effects, Tulsi also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties. The active compounds (eugenol and linolenic acid, among others) in Tulsi help reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body. This anti-inflammatory action can help calm symptoms associated with inflammatory conditions like arthritis and promote overall well-being.

Like other whole foods, Tulsi’s complex nutritional phytochemistry (plant-chemistry) creates a multifaceted profile of health-promoting properties. That’s what food-as-medicine is all about. 

Tulsi in Ayurveda

The Ayurvedic system recognizes the holistic nature of health and well-being.  Ayurveda and other holistic indigenous systems are the original integrative medicine – and the original food-as-medicine science. The elegant system of Ayurvedic nutrition relies on mindful seasonal whole-food eating and uses tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent & astringent) to balance the elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) within an individual.  Tulsi is valued for its medicinal properties to support the mind, body, and spirit in a food-as-medicine approach

Ayurvedic classification & actions

In Ayurveda, Tulsi is thought to promote longevity and rejuvenation, so it’s classified as a “rasayana” herb. It is also classified as a “tikta” herb, which means it has a bitter taste. It is considered “ushna” (hot) in potency. 

These qualities make Tulsi beneficial for balancing the Kapha and Vata doshas (Ayurvedic constitutions).  Doshas are the energies derived from elemental makeup responsible for an individual maintaining physiological, psychological, and whole-being balance. Tulsi is known to pacify (balance) excess Kapha and Vata. The plant is said to enhance the flow of prana, or life force energy, through the body, helping to promote physical and emotional well-being.

Metaphysics of Tulsi

Sacred Basil is believed to have metaphysical (beyond or outside material reality) properties and is a potent integrative medicinal herb. In Ayurveda Tulsi is considered to have a divine essence that can purify the mind, physical body, and soul.

Tulsi is a powerful tool for meditation as it helps to clear the mind and increase focus. It is associated with the element of fire, which represents transformation and purification in Ayurveda and other indigenous traditions.

Tulsi & Lakshmi

The plant is believed to have originated from the tears of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi and is an earthly embodiment of her divine energy of abundance, healing, beauty, and goodwill. It is often used in rituals to honor Lakshmi and to seek her blessings for wealth, prosperity, and good fortune. Sacred Basil is also associated with Lord Vishnu (the protector and defender of the universe in balance), who is believed to reside in the plant in the form of his consort, Lakshmi.

The story of Tulsi is closely linked to the important Hindu epic, Ramayana. In the story, Lakshmi is the wife of a demon named Jalandhar, who is eventually and dramatically defeated by Lord Vishnu. Lakshmi is heartbroken by the loss of her husband and curses Lord Vishnu. As a result of her curse, Vishnu is forced to take birth on earth as Lord Rama and undergo the trials and tribulations of mortal life. Later, Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu fall madly in love. So yes, it’s complicated but passionate. 

Here they are. 

Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu

Effects of Tulsi on Physiological Systems

Tulsi’s bioactive constituents have a profound yet subtle impact on various physiological systems, making it a hard-working and versatile herb with a wide range of potential health benefits. Remember that most whole herbs have a similarly complex action because of their complex nutritional makeup.

Tulsi system benefits

Tulsi in Integrative Medicine 

Holy Basil’s complex biochemistry as well as its metaphysical benefits make it a compelling adjunct to a number of Western integrative therapies, in addition to being a central herb in Ayurveda. 

Tulsi’s bioactive constituents have a profound yet subtle impact on various physiological systems, making it a hard-working and versatile herb with a wide range of potential health benefits. Remember that most whole herbs have a similarly complex action because of their complex nutritional makeup.

Tulsi & Immune Health

One of the key benefits of Tulsi is its ability to strengthen and regulate the immune system. This herb contains powerful bioactive compounds that enhance the body’s natural defense mechanisms. Tulsi is rich in antioxidants, such as flavonoids and phenols, which help to neutralize harmful free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the body. By reducing oxidative stress, Tulsi supports a healthy immune response and helps to protect against infections and diseases.

Additionally, Tulsi possesses antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that can help fight against various pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It acts as a natural immunomodulator, regulating immune function and promoting a balanced immune response. Regular consumption of Tulsi can strengthen your immune system and possibly improve your body’s ability to ward off illnesses.

Anti-cancer Properties of Tulsi

Research suggests that Tulsi may also exhibit anti-cancer properties, making it a valuable herb in cancer prevention and management. Studies have shown that Tulsi extracts can inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells, and even induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in certain types of cancer. The active compounds found in Tulsi, such as eugenol, rosmarinic acid, and apigenin, possess potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can help protect cells from DNA damage and inhibit tumor formation.

Additionally, Tulsi has been found to enhance the effectiveness of conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, while also minimizing their side effects. Its natural compounds can help protect healthy cells from damage and improve overall treatment outcomes. While more research is needed, Tulsi shows promising potential as an adjunct therapy in cancer prevention and treatment.

Tulsi, Stress & Cortisol

In our fast-paced lives, stress and anxiety seem to be the price of the full and busy lives we often lead.  Fortunately, Sacred Basil can help us find balance and serenity amidst the chaos. Let’s delve into the use of Tulsi in managing stress and anxiety, exploring its impact on cortisol levels, weight management, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and blood pressure.

When we experience stress, our adrenal glands release cortisol, a hormone with far-reaching effects on many of your body’s systems. Elevated cortisol levels can contribute to various health challenges, including weight gain, hormonal imbalances like PCOS, and high blood pressure. Tulsi’s adaptogenic action assists in regulating cortisol levels, promoting a healthy stress response, and restoring neurological and metabolic equilibrium. 

Sacred Basil is also known to have an uplifting effect on mood and cognitive function. It can help improve focus, concentration, and mental clarity, making it an excellent herb for supporting healthful behavior change and overall mental well-being.

Additionally, Tulsi has shown promise in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Chronic stress and anxiety can contribute to elevated blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems. Tulsi’s adaptogenic properties aid in reducing stress and its impact on blood pressure, promoting a healthier cardiovascular system.

Beyond medicine, Sacred Basil also has benefits for skin, hair and overall beauty. You’ll find it in a range of beauty products. Given its myriad actions, it just makes sense. 

Awarenesses & contra-indications 

Tulsi is not to be taken by individuals who are pregnant or lactating.  If you plan to take it to address an imbalance, it’s important to work with a qualified nutritionist or health professional who can advise you on how to use Tulsi within a comprehensive protocol. Generally, starting with a small amount to test your tolerance and gradually increasing the dose minimizes gastrointestinal or other potential issues. It’s important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before incorporating Tulsi into your routine, especially if you have any underlying health conditions (like diabetes or heart disease) or are taking medications.

How to take Tulsi

The best time to take Tulsi is before any health issues discussed in the article begin. Like Ayurveda itself, Tulsi is a fantastic preventive agent, helping you stay calm and balanced in a world that’s anything but.

Incorporate Tulsi into your daily routine by enjoying a cup of Tulsi tea or adding fresh Tulsi leaves to your meals. If you make tea, remember to steep the leaves for 5-10 minutes to make a potent cup. Tulsi is delicious with chicken, and you can add fresh leaves to salads, dressings, soups, and stews.  

You can also find Tulsi supplements or extracts available in various forms. A 4% Holy Basil extract has been used in dental health, sometimes in combination with other botanicals. 

Tulsi is often offered in a compound with other botanicals for a specific aim, be it weight management or cancer prevention. 

Holy Basil in supplement form (usually as a capsule) is most often used in a 500-900 mg daily dose and used for 1.5 to 3 months. You can find or make a tincture of Tulsi – meaning the leaves were soaked in a solvent like alcohol to extract the oils – and you take the liquid. Tinctures are often taken as drops under the tongue, but can also be added to water or made into an herbal cocktail.

Finally, the flower essence. A flower essence is an energy medicine often made by setting the plant in clean water in the sun for a period of time, then making dilutions with a solvent (brandy or vinegar) and water. Tulsi makes an especially lovely flower essence given its metaphysical profile.

We use flower essences in our meditative Plant Initiation Weekends.

Examples of Tulsi Products

Here are a few examples of products from a good manufacturer that a qualified nutritionist might suggest you try for either daily use or to address an imbalance. These products are from my Emerson/Fullscript supplement formulary (where you always get 25% off & free shipping with over $49). 

Your Next Steps

Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, clearly encompasses a wide array of metaphysical, biochemical, Ayurvedic, and healing properties that make it a truly remarkable herb. From its profound spiritual symbolism to its scientifically substantiated benefits, Tulsi has captured the attention of health enthusiasts worldwide. 

So, the real question now is – how are you going to use it? 

As you reflect upon Tulsi’s metaphysical, biochemical, Ayurvedic, and healing properties, remember its profound value as a flexible holistic herb. It prompts us to slow down, reconnect with nature, and nurture ourselves on multiple levels. I hope Tulsi guides you in the pursuit of wellness, encouraging you to honor your body, nourish your mind, and cultivate a deeper sense of harmony in your lives.

Plant Initiation Weekends

Sources for this post

Upadhyay AK, Chacko AR, Gandhimathi A, Ghosh P, Harini K, et al. Genome sequencing of herb Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) unravels key genes behind its strong medicinal properties. BMC Plant Biol. 2015 Aug 28;15:212. doi: 10.1186/s12870-015-0562-x. PMID: 26315624; PMCID: PMC4552454.

Hasan MR, Alotaibi BS, Althafar ZM, Mujamammi AH, Jameela J. An Update on the Therapeutic Anticancer Potential of Ocimum sanctum L.: “Elixir of Life”. Molecules. 2023 Jan 25;28(3):1193. doi: 10.3390/molecules28031193. PMID: 36770859; PMCID: PMC9919305.

Cohen MM. Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Oct-Dec;5(4):251-9. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.146554. PMID: 25624701; PMCID: PMC4296439.

Forget Resolutions – Set Intention Instead

Forget Resolutions – Set Intention Instead

Set Intention

Wise life coach Marcia Goldberg once wrote, “Intention is the thread on which the pearls of our life experience are strung”.  If we go through life without intention – without consciously knowing what we want to embody – we are more likely to have haphazard experiences in life.
There’s a balance between going with the flow and setting the agenda. Intention speaks to why – the motivator – of your actions that can help you know when to let go, and when to lean in.

Finding that balance is a fun and fascinating experience, if you also hold a sense of being open to the odd ironies of life that surround us. First, however, get clear on your why – set intention.

How To Set Intention

As you vision your life unfolding over the next year, consider what you’d like to have more. Peace, abundance, fun, balance? How about taking some time to visualize what it would feel like to embody a life with more of what you vision – can you open your senses to explore how it might feel to be living your intention? What would you be doing most days? How would you be feeling physically, emotionally, in your bones?

Your intention speaks to what you are seeking in life. It speaks to the why behind your actions. When I hear, for example, that someone is interested in addressing metabolic (weight-related) health – things like high blood sugar or high blood pressure – I always ask why. Why do you want to be healthy? That’s when I hear – “I want to see my son graduate from college”, or “I want to see my grandkids get married” – I can feel the energy behind the intention. That’s motivation!

From there, your practices for the year are grounded in and fired by the motivation of intention. In my own life, this adds meaning to my planning and what I choose to do to each day. If I can take some time daily, reminding myself of my intention – the why, it directs my conscious and unconscious being in the direction I’m aiming.

Intention Rather than Resolutions?

New Year’s Resolutions – our declarations about doing this or that, being this or that in the New Year, are designed to fail. “Lose Weight!” “Get Healthy!” “New Job!” These are missives and there is nothing wrong with a declaration. Resolutions fail when they are not rooted in intention and do not follow up with a plan.  When it is just a declaration without the why or thought of how, well, that’s when, in March, for forget what your resolutions even are.

So, this year, try something new.

What is your intention for the New Year?

You can see that I have a free transformation workbook available to you to help you find your intention, and then to power it with some mantras and affirmations. This is the type of work that can be fun and helpful in supporting real change. Give it a download.

In the coming year, I plan to continue to cover the connections between nutritional science, spirit, and wisdom and to grow our community with online opportunities (personal & professional!) to learn together.

Hopefully, as the year unfolds, I will see many of you in person at some of our favorite gathering spots. Much of my year, however, will center on online offerings.

Thank you to those of you who have commented, dugg, stumbled, twittered and otherwise reached out.

My wish for you is that you enjoy health, happiness, and the light of your truest self.


Please please share your intentions for the New Year in the comments!

6 Benefits of Mindful Eating

6 Benefits of Mindful Eating

Updated 10/12/2023

Mindful eating – using the tenets of mindfulness meditation while eating, has done nothing less than transform mind-body nutrition. Practitioners everywhere are incorporating it because it helps our clients change what they eat. Simple as that!

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating is a type of meditation wherein you focus your attention on the sensory and other aspects of eating with an attitude of non-judgmental awareness. In essence, you slow down, eat with all five senses and stay curious about the process, about the food, and about your own relationship with food.

When I work with an individual, I almost always combine clear steps to bring food and lifestyle into balance (the what of lifestyle) with mindfulness (the how of lifestyle).

Since I’ve become a student of mindful eating myself, I enjoy my food more, often eat less, and am more satisfied. It takes longer to eat, (and to do the dishes as I really slow down), but I’m happier. Thich Nhat Hanh (who said he’s happier when he washes this teapot as though it were the baby Buddha or Jesus) is right.

The Science

The research community agrees that mindful eating is an effective tool. It can help promote a healthy natural weight (1) and curb destructive emotional eating (2). While the science is still young, it is evolving quickly – we are learning more about it all the time.

For emotional eating, mindful eating has been found to be most effective when combined with other behavior change techniques like coaching with a qualified nutrition professional. For effective weight management, again, mindful eating is most effective when it is done within a more comprehensive nutrition program and delivered by a well-trained professional.


6 Benefits of Practicing Mindful Eating

  1. Enjoying your food – First off, when people slow things down – and eating is a dramatic example – they tend to taste and enjoy their food more. It might seem ironic, but eating slowly is more interesting and enjoyable, once you get the hang of it.
  2. Epigenetic benefits – Epige-what? Epigenetics is the impact that choices have on gene expression. When you choose to eat a plant-based diet or move your body, you actually impact your gene expression, which in turn builds a more resilient future for you. It’s some of the biggest news in lifestyle medicine now.
  3. Neurobiology benefits – Mindfulness manages stress. When you slow down and breathe – particularly when you extend your exhale – you activate the whole rest-and-recover side of your nervous system. That not only manages stress but can improve digestion.
  4. Turn down the external messages on what and how much to eat. Face it, modern life is filled with messages from the media – commercials for fast food, billboards – it’s just everywhere. We are told we need to be eating basically all the time. It’s hard to ignore, but mindfulness can help you un-hook from those messages. That helps you to begin to find your own way.
  5. Tune in to your internal guidance system – instead of responding to cues from the outside, mindful eating gets you more in-tune with your internal guidance system – to if you are actually hungry, and when you are satisfied.
  6. Improve your relationship with what you eat. Eating is a two-way conversation. Mindfulness is an excellent way to tune in to the conversation. Beginning a mindful eating practice can bring up some uncomfortable aspects of your relationship with food. But, if you stay with it, keep your heart open as best you can, and practice compassionate self-observation, it can be a pathway to profound peace and self-compassion. 


An Awareness and Caution

One caveat – this practice can uncouple eating and satiety. It can help you eat less, but it can also help you undercut your nutritional well-being if your emotional eating has evolved into a more serious condition like an eating disorder. This is not a practice to help you stop eating or to eat less than your body actually needs. But, it can be misused in this way. Don’t do it – it won’t end well for you. You can avoid that risk – here’s how.

In addition to mindfulness, use nutrition guidelines for adequacy – adequate protein and energy needs – for your body. For example, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM, formerly the IOM), a non-governmental nonprofit affiliated with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which among other things tracks the research on dietary needs and creates recommendations, suggests that most humans need about 50 gm of protein to be reasonably healthy. I’ve found that a reasonable screen – is a starting place, for someone. A qualified nutritionist can help ensure that you are getting the nutrition you need to be who you want to be – strong, energetic, and healthy.

So How Do I Start?

Here is a free tip sheet to help you use mindful eating through the holidays.

Here’s another post:  Mindful Eating: The Art & Science of Eating Better 

Ready to practice? Check out my Mindful Eating Mini-course: How to Eat. Do it on your own, or bring me in to help. 


  1. O’Reilly GA, et al., Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Obesity-Related Eating Behaviors: A Literature Review, Obesity Reviews, Published online 2014 Mar 18. doi: 10.1111/obr.12156
  2. Katterman, Shawn, et. al., Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review, ScienceDirect – Eating Behaviors, Volume 15, Issue 2, April 2014, Pages 197-204, doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005

Ready to Practice?

Check out ‘How to Eat’: Mindful Eating Mini-course

mindful eating mini-course self-study
Emotional Eating, Disordered Eating, Eating Disorders

Emotional Eating, Disordered Eating, Eating Disorders

What, Why & What to Do

These words – emotional eating, disordered eating and eating disorders – are often tossed around by people who don’t understand the complexities of an individual’s relationship with food. Your relationship with food, I’ve learned from decades of serving those struggling with these issues, is as unique as you are. Some folks have very little emotion in their relationship with food, while others are near pure emotion. One is not better nor healthier than the other, though one is easier when it comes to shifting your eating.

Why are some of us so emotional about food? When does it become a problem?

Everybody eats. Every human feels the effect of what they eat. So, in one sense – of what happens in their own body and mind – everyone IS an expert. An expert of their own experience.

When it comes to naming other people’s experiences, however, understanding the deeper currents of our own behaviors, and recognizing when we’ve blasted past the guardrails of healthful behavior, gets complicated. Food is a stand-in for everything – from love to politics to economics. I see a complex relationship with food as a collection of opportunities for self-inquiry and healing.

A Deadly yet Well-Hidden Issue

Why is it important for everyone who eats or cares for an eater to know what these terms mean? Don’t we all want to be slim and look healthy?  Actually, no. When it comes to weight, our culture needs a serious re-imagination of what health – and beauty – looks like. I’ve experienced many thin unhealthful people, and many many a healthy full figured woman or man. Science continues to confirm that it’s your behaviors, not the number on the scale, that determines your health. Let’s celebrate our beauty in it’s unique fullness and the beauty of every body shape and size, every age and color.

When my own eating disorder was most active (and I looked most like an ‘after’ weight-loss picture) was the summer of my sophomore year at Cornell, where I was, ironically or not, a nutritional biochemistry major. I worked on the beach on Hilton Head Island with a group of friends, drank a six-pack of diet coke by day, something alcoholic by night and allowed myself one bag of the junk food of my choice each day. Nothing else. There was cocaine.

When I returned to school, I was showered with enthusiastic attention for my petite boniness. My mother cried when she saw me, correctly worried for my health and maybe my life. I eventually found the help I needed, through counseling and a body-kind yoga practice. Aspects of a disordered eating mindset, and the physical fallout of decimating my physical body haunt me to this day. Now, however, I have a bagful of nutritional, emotional, mental and physical tools to rebalance.

Eating disorders are the deadliest of psychological disorders. A young woman with anorexia, for example, is 12 times more likely to die young (2), and 59 more likely to commit suicide (3) than a young woman without it. Eating disorders don’t discriminate – every gender, color, religion, and corner of the planet have their versions, and we are all susceptible – particularly young people in the formative years of their identify. Even the wold of yoga struggles mightily.

In addition to high risk of death, eating disorders are wildly unbalancing to your physical and emotional well-being. When an individual over-restricts their nutrition, they have inadequate vitamins, minerals, healthful fats and energy to maintain a healthy brain and nervous system. Purging (vomiting) erodes teeth, impares digestion in ways that undermine bone and mental health, and sets a body up for future weight gain. Fatigue, low energy, and inability to think clearly are common.

Here is a mini-primer that can help you understand what these words mean, and if and when it’s time to get some help. I hope it helps you know if your health is at risk or you are simply a human enjoying treats. Treats, by the way, are part of healthy eating.

Food is one of life’s great sensory experiences. Enjoying what we eat without feeling bad about it, or getting compulsive about it, however, is for some one of life great struggles. Happily, there are many dietitians well-versed in how to support you in your journey to finding more peace and balance with food.

Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is when you eat to address an emotion rather than your physical body’s need.  Eating when you are stressed, uncomfortable, worried, or bored has physical hard-wiring based in our genetics of survival. Biochemically, stress gets relieved for the moments you are eating. Problem being, eating never solves the real emotional problem you’re being invited to address.

Everybody has this biochemistry, and the more you use it the stronger it gets. It’s easy for emotional eating to slide from sensual delight of occasional treats into a daily mechanism for managing emotions. When you begin to use food as a means of getting through the day, or managing stress, you’ve got it. Imbalance isn’t far behind.

Every human who has access to bountiful food and stress does some emotional eating. It’s normal. We all, on occasion, overeat. When emotional eating leads to consistent over-eating or begins cycles of deprivation then binging, and the emotions become fear-dominated and increasingly self-incriminating, that’s when it’s become something else. It has led to disordered eating.

Disordered Eating

Every eating disorder begins with a diet. Whenever you manipulate what you eat to create an effect – be it to lose or gain weight, or even to address a biomarker like high blood glucose (sugar) or high blood pressure, you are on a diet, and therefore at risk. You are no longer eating in balance.

Some nutritionists would say ‘diet’ is a dirty word and we should never ever do them. I would say that whenever you ‘diet’, be under the care of a qualified nutritionist. That’s because any diet as I’ve described it, puts you at some risk for emotional or disordered eating. These are next steps along the continuum toward an eating disorder. A qualified nutritionists will spot that slide (hopefully) and curb it before it becomes a psychological problem.

What, when and how you eat impacts your psychology to a impressive degree. So, when you alter how you eat, it’s serious stuff. The media is a nutrition disaster – filled with conflicting and often incorrect or poorly described nutrition information. Some seeking health quickly get lost in binge-deprivation cycles, obsessiveness or compulsion and compensatory food behaviors. Nutrition doesn’t work like that (quick adjustments don’t work for weight or preventing chronic disease – it’s not a straight-forward equation). Over time restrictions change your body composition, which changes your metabolism and nutrient needs. It also impacts your mental health through long-term inadequacy of nutrients needed for brain and nerve health, and psychologically through deprivation. It’s the plight of the ‘good dieter’ that over time, you loose muscle mass and create physical and psychological imbalance through restricting. When it comes to weight, slow and steady always wins the lifelong health race.

Disordered eating is when you follow a diet that erodes your physical and mental well-being. You continue the pattern even when you experience fatigue, irritability, illness and other signs that the diet isn’t working for you. Overly restrictive diets, over exercise, and eliminating entire types of healthful food for weight, often do the trick to create a lifetime on a rollercoaster of suffering. Managing weight and health doesn’t have to be that way.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders (ED) are a collection of psychological imbalances of abnormal or maladaptive eating and related behaviors. Each type of eating disorder is based on signs, symptoms and behaviors. The science of eating disorders is young and evolving, as people with identical symptoms might have different underlying causes and benefit from different strategies. It’s a fluid, moving line of when and how emotional eating and disordered eating turns into a diagnosable eating disorder. Everyone is different. With effective treatment more available, if you struggle with eating, err on the side of getting help.

Here are a few eating disorders defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. These definitions are not complete nor exhaustive, but if you recognize yourself in the next paragraph, you can get help.

Anorexia nervosa (heavily restricted eating, intense fear of weight gain, body image disturbance); Bulimia nervosa (recurrent binge eating, feeling a lack of control, inappropriate compensatory behaviors, self-evaluation focuses on weight); Binge eating disorder (regular binge eating without compensatory behaviors); Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ongoing excessive dieting); Night eating syndrome (binging at night); Purging disorder (vomiting after binging); to name a few.

An individual with an eating disorder can be any weight – under, over or normal. An eating disorder can become more and less severe, based on how frequently the behaviors occur. An eating disorder can be inactive, then reactivate under stress.

Until an individual has long-term treatment that instills confidence in nutritional adequacy without disordered behaviors, the self-knowing to understand when disordered cycles are underway, and when support is needed, their eating disorder remains active. Many nutritionists have issues with their own relationship with food, yet can provide excellent professional support so long as they have participated in treatment, have access to ongoing support and clinical supervision. An individual with an active eating disorder who has not received treatment from a qualified professional may do more harm than good in supporting healing for those they would like to serve. Clinical supervision (ongoing review of clinical cases with an experienced clinician) is especially helpful for those treating eating disorders.

What to Do?

If you think you have an eating disorder and feel ready to make a change, there are many qualified psychological and nutrition professionals to choose from. In fact many doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists work together with nutritionists on an integrated plan for healing. Your doctor may work with someone, so that may be a place to start.

If you’ve read this far, you’d probably benefit from making an appointment with me! I’ve done this work for years, and helped thousands to women & men find more peace with food. Please know there are many dietitians well-trained to help you, so if you are looking for someone in your state or locally, there are great resources to help you find the right a nutritionist.

Find a trained, experienced pro to help

NEDA – The National Eating Disorders Association – helpline: (800) 931-2237 NEDA is filled with resources & support, including an online screening tool to help you determine if it’s time to get help.

The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (AND) – Articles to help you understand eating disorders, and “Find an Expert” directory of dietitians.

EDReferral – Find lists of trained dietitians and other professionals, treatment centers, and information.


(1) Jessica Setnick, MS, RD, CEDRD. Eating Disorders, Second Edition. Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, Chicago, IL. 2017.

(2) Sullivan PF. Mortality in anorexia nervosa. Am. J Psychiatry. 1995.

(3) Keel, PK et al. Predictors of mortality in eating disorders. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003.

Let's Get Cooking at Kripalu

Let's Get Cooking at Kripalu

Want to eat better? Cook.

People who cook at home are healthier – studies like this one suggest they eat fewer calories, more nutrients, less sugar and more fiber. When you eat better, you feel better, look better and just might live longer. It’s worth it – you’re worth it.

Want to really eat better? Learn to cook (and eat) at Kripalu.

When people come to do yoga at Kripalu, the largest yoga and holistic education center in the country, they rave about the food. The food there is rave-worthy, filled with fruits and vegetables lovely prepared into delicious dishes.
A couple times a year, I team up with Kripalu’s Executive Chef Jeremy Rock Smith to offer a program called Nutrition and Cooking Immersion. Over the course of a five night program, we take you through the basics plus of a mindful approach to nutrition, and the basics plus of preparing delicious balanced whole food cooking tips for home.
I think of this as the perfect program – the perfect balance of information (I teach nutrition and mindfulness in the morning) and experiential learning (in addition to mindfulness experiences in the morning, the knives come out – in a good way – in the afternoon). Through the week, you put together – while understanding why – a balanced meal with variations. What you leave with is a plan. And some skills. And the know-how to feed yourself. Well.
What unfolds looks a little like this:
Sunday night: Welcome and introductions – of each other, of the program.
Monday & Tuesday morning: The new basics of whole-food plant-based nutrition
Wednesday: Supporting positive change
Thursday: Planning for success: meals, recipes, shopping lists
Friday: Take it home

Now, let me tell you about my colleague Jeremy.

To say that Jeremy is entertaining is an understatement. He’s funny. I’ll let you be the judge of just how funny he is. He’s not only funny, however. He brings the goods. Even foodies learn a little something new from Jeremy. He’s designed the afternoon cooking session to give you cooking tips and the principles of whole food plant based cooking, and then a flexible framework to help you make it seasonal and flexible and varied.

Five-day Transformation

I’ve been teaching this program for 7 years or so, and I love to see the transformation that happens to people from Sunday night when we come together – nervous, afraid it ‘won’t work’, stressed from life, to Friday morning – roaring to get back to our own kitchens, confident and ready to go, rested and yoga-ed up. Another part of the secret sauce is the bonds you make with other people in the program – I have a growing Facebook group of grads of the program, and years later, they’re still cooking.
So, if you want to get into your kitchen with a little more enthusiasm and a little less angst, see you there.
If you want to bring whole-food plant-based eating into your life, and learn cooking tips to do that, see you there.
If you want to know the why 0f eating – and the how of eating – see you there.
Here’s where you can check out all mu upcoming workshops.
Be well.

What is Medical Nutrition Therapy? Real Food As Medicine

What is Medical Nutrition Therapy? Real Food As Medicine

What is Medical Nutrition Therapy? Real Food As Medicine by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com
We are in the era of the nutritionist. There is so much confusion around food and nutrition, and so much wacky advice flying around. This while Americans are just not able to make it to the basics of healthful eating. Nutrition-related chronic diseases continue to be the primary health issues, and each of us has our own variation of health and disease.
Because we are in a time when so much that sounds like nutrition is actually marketing and bluster, and so many who call themselves experts are so far from it, confusion reigns. Enter RDNs (Registered Dietitian Nutritionists) and MNT (Medical Nutrition Therapy). If you know me, you know that I am a mind-body therapist – I use things like meditation and gentle yoga practice as tools to help us cultivate the best of ourselves, and soothe us as we gather our courage and strength to sing our song, to sing our note.

What is MNT?

There is a large body of evidence that tells us how to manage a range of health and medical conditions with food and nutrition. MNT, or medical nutrition therapy, uses that evidence and through a qualified therapist, translates that evidence into healing. While there is a range of nutritionists operating today, with various levels of education and experience, and I honestly believe there is room for everyone, I am partial to those who have a 4-year science degree and access to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Knowledge Center for working with people with a medical condition. I am biased for sure, being one who sweated through all that nutritional biochemistry and worked in an ICU (intensive care unit of a hospital) writing TPN (total parenteral nutrition) orders to keep people alive until they could eat. Then I taught at Kripalu for nearly a decade, watching how mind-body used skillfully helped people with the will and knowledge transform. The combination of clinical skills and experiential practice are, in my opinion, the sweet spot when it comes to healing nutrition-related issues.

What conditions are we talking about?

There are guidelines for a range of medical conditions. Those I am well-versed in include:

  • Weight gain – from adolescents to adults, and family-based, for any reason
  • Eating Disorders, emotional eating and disordered eating
  • Unexpected weight loss due to cancer, HIV/AIDS or other chronic condition
  • Pre-diabetes and diabetes
  • Cancer – prevention, management and prevention of recurrence
  • Heart Disease – prevention, management
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Digestive approaches to auto-immune conditions (Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and others)
  • Digestive distress due to:
    • Irritable Bowel
    • Crohn’s Disease
    • Colitis
    • Constipation
    • Reflux/Heartburn
    • Food Intolerance (lactose-intolerance, gluten, and others), and Allergies

I use an individualized approach. That includes an initial assessment of nutrition-related symptoms and medical history, review of nutrition-related labs and reports, and development of a custom way of eating that you enjoy and that adheres to evidence-based practice.
We then co-create a plan to get there – your way. There is no such thing as failure, no such thing as relapse in this world – but there is learning, through loving self-compassion, how to navigate your life in its fullness. It’s a dance of mindful skillful effort, and surrender (that’s yoga!).

Within that list, do you specialize?

While I can help address any of these conditions, and they all have relating threads, I particularly like to work with weight, women in midlife, and digestive issues. I have also had a personal experience with cancer, so helping people with that interests me.

How much does it cost?

Depends. I am a licensed nutritionist in the state of Massachusetts. If you have a medical condition and live in the great state of Massachusetts, or another state that does not have state licensure, it is worth it to give your insurance company a call to see if our work together can be reimbursed. For this, you will likely need a referral from your primary care doctor.
If you are not insured, in another state with licensure or your insurance doesn’t cover, then you are what clinicians call private pay. It’s likely that our work together could be included in your health spending account if you have one.
Bottom line, if you value your energy level and lifestyle, it’s worth it to have a skilled coach to help you move forward.
My rates are $150/hr, and most people I work with do an initial assessment, then a half-hour twice monthly for 2 months, then monthly for 4 months.

Tell me about telehealth

I’ve partnered with a practice-management group called Healthie. They provide an interface for us to work through, including journaling, billing and video conferencing. So, we can meet face to face in the comfort of your own home! I think telehealth is part of the future of medicine, and I am excited to be part of it.
Ready to make the change? Let’s do it – Make an appointment now .
Questions? I’m all ears.
Be well,
What is Medical Nutrition Therapy? Real Food As Medicine by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com