Q & A with Hannah of Wholesomely Hannah

Friends, I am so excited to share my interview from a few weeks ago with Hannah of Wholesomely Hannah. Hannah is a college student at Northeastern studying to be a nurse and has an amazing instagram and blog that both inspire us to take care of ourselves but not obsess about food and strongly encourage us to critically think about diet culture and all of the harmful effects it has on us. Talking with Hannah was inspiring and informational and I am so excited to see all the wonderful things she does in her life. I hope you'll enjoy our interview as much as I did! 

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Q: Who is Hannah? What are some things people might not know about you looking at your Instagram or from listening to your podcast?

A: For people who look at my Instagram and listen to the podcast, what people might not know at first is just that it used to be a place of pretty deep disorder. I don’t have any regret or remorse or hate for how I used to engage with food and exercise, but it definitely was not always – and it’s still not always – wholesome. It wasn’t rooted in body acceptance and intuitive eating and living like it is now. I used to struggle with a lot of orthorexic tendencies. Orthorexia is not in the DSM 5 – the disorder database for therapists and nutritionists to use – it’s the way that people eat when they think they need to have a perfect diet and always engage in foods that are pure and whole. It made me think that I needed to eat like I was on the whole 30 everyday for my freshman year of college and most of my sophomore year. During that time is when I created the Instagram and it used to be called In Hannah’s Kitchen – the website too- because I preliminarily focused on food and more specifically paleo food. They were all paleo foods – grain free, dairy free, refined sugar free. Not a lot of different foods. My mom kept telling me “Hannah you’re eating the same foods! Why are you doing this?” And I didn’t even realize that this was of concern. It wasn’t that I loved eating eggs and sweet potatoes, but I really though those were my only food options. I was very into the world of the paleo podcast and the world where grains were bad for us and would wreck my immune system. I was like on some higher moral ground – I put myself on a pedestal of I eat so much healthier than other people in college and it’s inspiring and to many people, the Instagram grew because it was rooted in that diet culture that we see nowadays with the real food movement. Not for reasons of health – which is a tricky word – but I was in that for dieting. I didn’t realize it was a diet at the time but that’s what I was doing and that’s where I took the Instagram. People identified with that and I found a lot of paleo bloggers through that. People at college would come up to me and say, “how do you do it? You’re so healthy!” It was easy for me to do it because I would spend ALL of Sunday meal prepping and all of the day before grocery shopping and planning each meal for the week. I think, now, that meal planning can be really helpful in a moderate and relaxed way – especially if you’re busy – but the way I was doing it was so stringent and obsessive that I wouldn’t leave room for error or for life to happen. When my Instagram was more paleo/whole 30 focused, my life revolved around eating that way and cooking that way and my life did not revolve around feeling fulfilled by friends or work or movement – just around the food that I was eating. Something that I never posted was the effects of that. One of them was the obsessive thoughts about when to meal plan. For a while I got into calorie counting which is another thing I never showed because I thought I had to have it all figured out, but that definitely made it’s way into my diet brain.

So I am a 21-year-old college student in my 4th year at Northeastern in Boston. I am hoping to go to Nurse Practitioner grad school in a couple years after I finish my undergrad degree. I come with this diet culture background from the orthorexia background and paleo/whole 30 to a place where now I’m just like I completely and totally surrender to whatever my body wants to look like and feel like on any day. My body is so much smarter than I am and I never know how it’s going to look or feel so I just have to support it in whatever capacity I can on any given day. That’s how I’ve come to celebrate and really accept intuitive eating and health at every size movement, which I really try to embrace in my everyday life and talk about on the blog and Instagram. The podcast has been such a beautiful way for Holly and I to connect with listeners. We’re not above it – we’re in this with listeners and readers. It’s become this wonderful way to engage with others and hopefully help others realize that their struggles are valid and not in isolation. Everyone is in this together and through talking about it, hopefully we can help others realize that they are supported and not alone in this mess of diet culture. If they want to get out of it, we hope to provide resources other than ourselves.

I love doing the podcast. It’s been about 7 months and it’s going well and I don’t see an end in sight.

Q: What about people who say food is medicine? Is it true or is that just BS?

 I am still trying to work this out and think about it. I don’t know if I know enough medically about what role food can play in medicine. There really are a lot of people who will really say that food can be totally healing. I think where I’m at right now is – we’re all changing all the time – food can have a place in helping, but it might not be exclusive. I think that – take maybe acne for example. A lot of people don’t want to try medicines; they just want to try eating real, whole foods, more nutrients, something like that. For some people, maybe that works. For some, it might just be placebo. I definitely believe in the placebo effect. I don’t bash it – if using the placebo effect is going to help you, that’s amazing because I want everyone to feel as good as they can. So with the acne example, sometimes there are medicines that can help with that and I think that sometimes people don’t want to take medicines for certain reasons which is another personal choice and I’ll never tell someone what to do or restrict them because we’re all free to do what we want. But part of it might not be you have to cut out ALL of certain food groups in order to heal this one thing. What if those foods in other areas of your life make you joyful? What if limiting the dairy gives you less acne but you also supplement with medication that works for you? I think we can combine things and that food shouldn’t be the ultimate power as medicine. Just speaking from personal experience that can get into a place where it almost restricts social life too. If your doctor says “no alcohol or bread or cheese” what if your friends want to have a wine night with charcuterie and bread and brie and you can’t even go because you’ll be tempted by the foods and you “should not be eating” those foods. I think that’s tough because – especially when doctor has just given you some sort of prescription – what if you’ll be ok and you’re missing out on this interaction with your best friends because of some possible thing that might get better if you don’t engage with those foods? From my personal background, that’s where it got messy and restrictive. I would just binge on almond butter and stress about that binging which isn’t better for me. Stress is one of the biggest things that can give us less sleep, potentially acne – stressing about sticking to a medically prescribed diet can produce even more negative consequences than even just eating the foods. That’s what I think about that! 

I think everyone deserves to feel as best as they possibly can. If there’s a way that you know works for you, do it! For me, I’m allergy tested at the doctor and I know that dairy and I are NOT friends. It makes me breakout, but that’s not the biggest thing – straight ice cream/milk/butter really just gives me terrible stomachaches. That’s something for me that I don’t feel like is a restriction but more of a freedom because I am free from those stomach pains and hate those.

 

It’s not because I think that non-dairy products are better. For me, I could eat dairy products if I wanted to – there’s no restriction there – but what makes me refrain from that is just the fact and knowledge I have in my head of I might get a really bad stomach ache and you don’t want to be uncomfortable. Comfort levels are important. 

Q: How did @wholesomelyhannah start? How about Nut Butter Radio?

A: More people are becoming conscious of healthism and weight stigma. We do not ever want to compare healthism and weight stigma in terms of levels of severity to something like racism because they exist very differently in many places and intersect in others. We always want to be conscious of that as two thin, white women.

Q: Tell us more about Nut Butter Radio!

A: So Holly and I both had similar backgrounds. We come from different backgrounds in diet culture – she came from caloric restriction and I came from the paleo world. We were at Northeastern together. She graduated and I went to Cali for an internship for 6 months. Holly and I were on opposite sides of the country still keeping in touch but simultaneously having these different/similar roads to full recovery and learning about intuitive eating and health at every size. Those two giant concepts truly changed our lives. We both started listening to Food Psyche. I consumed so much of that info and read the book Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size. I got rid of tons of people on social media that weren’t contributing to my well being but weren’t. She was doing the same and she texted me one day saying “food psyche is making me want to start a podcast” and I was thinking about it too and I was like me too I think it would be so much fun to do it with you because we have very similar ideas and values in relation to health and eating and food and diet culture. Holly is more impulsive than me whereas I’m like let’s make a plan and take our time – we did a combo of the two of us and we thought about logistics and how to get it in apple podcast and what to call it. We were texting one day and she was like what if we just forgo the health names and call it nut butter radio? And I was like that’s it! We got on skype, talked about the show, we were super nervous, we ordered microphones. I googled ‘how to record a skype call’ and we got right into episode one. We are now in the 30s – it’s been that many weeks. I love it. We’ve come a long way with our perceptions of health as well. This has shown that we are still growing and learning and changing. I don’t think anyone is static in their beliefs. When people listen to the show and know that what other bloggers are saying is something to be considered but it’s not the end all be all. As of now, we’re just still getting a firm grasp on what we believe and what health at every size and body politics means. I’m excited to continue growing it and working on it. Holly and I are super busy with our projects and life but we always find time to record. It’s a nice way to kind of talk and bounce new ideas off of each other and really interact with this giant group of predominantly women who are struggling with things like we did or are just very interested in these concepts. I am so grateful for everyone who has ever given us a listen. IT means the world to us.

Q: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned since starting your Instagram and podcast? 

A: Definitely health at every size and intuitive eating. Another thing that transcends the bounds of eating and food on Instagram is that everything is absolutely, 100% never ever what it seems. Some people do a really great job – one of my favorite accounts is @bodyposypandy – she’s adorable. She gets real close to the reality – yesterday she was posting about how Feb is a tough time and has produced a lot of anxiety. Also Claire from @becommingbodypositive. Their instagrams are really close to their reality but even still I’ve learned that nothing on social media is really truly how they’re living or thinking. We can get close but we can also be so far away. The people that do say “these are grain free bars and this is what works for me” – I question that all the time now! I don’t follow people if they post too much kale. I try and – for my own sanity – I know that what I’m going to take in is what I’ll stress about. I want to take in messages that are helpful to me because if we’re going to take in the information that you can make Japanese sweet potatoes and carrots into French fries and think that those people don’t feel deprived is in many ways a lie. That’s definitely what I’ve learned.

Since starting the podcast, we’re constantly learning from each other. We agree on many things, but we are also constantly learning bigger things from each other. I’ve learned that I can learn from my co-host just in the conversations that we record for this show – that makes me realize that just because I have this podcast with Holly doesn’t mean that we are in any way better or more recovered or anything. We are learning too as are the listeners. An example of this is just that the other day we were talking about airport food and she made a really good point that I hadn’t quite learned about. You think you’ve learned about intuitive eating and then there are just so many other facets and nuances that you might never see. It’s a whole world once you open up the Pandora’s box. We were talking about airport food and how even if the airport food isn’t the best food you’ve ever eaten, it’s OK because with intuitive eating, your meals don’t have to be perfect or delicious because you can always eat again! I’m so glad that I can learn from her and we can exchange knowledge in that way. The thing behind not every meal needing to be perfect and delicious is that yes it would be incredible if every meal was perfect and so delicious but that’s not life.

As a teacher, people are incredibly busy and can’t even take time to eat all day. While that’s not ideal, a sandwich that’s not the most tasty thing in the world might just suffice if you just need energy.

I don’t need to be crafting these amazing ancient grain bowls and oatmeal concoctions. I can just eat some simple toast that fills me up or some pasta or whatever. It doesn’t need to be all complex and perfect but it can be basic and satisfying and needs to get you through your day. There’s definitely a time where food can be celebrated and can be delicious and the focus, but there’s also life which is busy and messy and stressful and I can’t even imagine what it’s like being a real adult outside of college. Those times just call for FOOD that’s going to fill you up and let you experience life in the way that you want to. It can give you the nourishment to carry through your day – it doesn’t have to be a fancy five-course thing to post on instagram. 

Q: What does intuitive eating mean to you? How can someone learn to really LISTEN to their body? 

A: Yes really good question. So the first part for me – I know it’s different for everyone in intricate ways – it just means that all restrictions are off and every green light of freedom is turned on. It means that I’m not going to feel any sort of judgment for any sort of food that I want to eat or cook or buy at the store. In my cycle during the month, there are some weeks where I’m way more hungry and craving way more foods that I might not want at other times of the month. Those increased hunger signals used to scare me and I would try to ignore them. I realized that this wasn’t helping me because I would go to bed hungry, feel stressed, mad, and not fall asleep. Now if I’m feeling extra hungry or not as hungry, neither of the actions or experiences are judged. No longer is that a part of who I am. It used to really define who I was. Now it’s more like ok so I had breakfast an hour ago and now I feel hungry again. It used to be like what the hell why are you hungry again? You must be intolerant to the foods that you ate. Or some crazy excuse – judging my body for being hungry again. Now it’s like OH I’m hungry again so I’m going to make something else and I respect myself and want to satisfy myself before my busy day. That’s another thing that for me intuitive eating has become – a way to care for and respect myself. It comes with the non-judgmental attitude. I’m just going to care for myself – many think that comes from eating real food. For me, eating real food only is a level of restriction that I never want to go back to. I would believe that I was bad if I ate non-paleo foods and now caring for myself with intuitive eating is how I define it. To care for myself is to listen to myself and treat myself with love as opposed to rigidity and guilt or this is bad/good toxic behavior. 

A couple of suggestions on how to listen to your body. One of the first things that I would recommend an individual do – I’m not a dietician but it helped me – is just start looking at the ways in which you engage with food. Everyone does it a little bit differently. If you’re someone who is at the store and thinks I love this chocolate but I cannot buy it today because I will eat it in a minute. Start to pay attention to those thoughts and how the thoughts make you feel. If you’re thinking you can’t buy the chocolate because you’ll be crazy, well why are you going to be crazy? Is it that you don’t usually buy this? You think that if you don’t buy it you’ll work on your diet and be able to become thinner or something? Just try and be honest with yourself and get to the root of this as much as you’re comfortable with. This is a great initial way to start listening to yourself. For so long, people in diet culture don’t listen to themselves – they just turn off all of those intuitive thoughts.

After that I would start to think about – when you eat a meal – how you’re feeling during the meal. Something that was helpful for me was not to watch TV or be on my phone during a meal but to actually enjoy the food. With this it’s tricky because I never want people to feel like they need to STOP at a very specific place when they’re done eating. Robin – who I interned for at the Real Life—RD.com – touched on this well. Some days you might undereat and some days you might overeat. None of them are bad. That’s another thing – the non-judgment. I never want anyone to think that they need to stop eating at a certain point because intuitive eating is the hunger and fullness diet because it’s not. Just pay attention to whether you like the foods or you don’t like the food. If you really want pasta but you’re eating zoodles, why are you doing that?

Those are some internal things that I’ve done in the past to help. Two external things are to read the book “Intuitive Eating” or start listening to free resources like food psyche. Free podcasts are an amazing resource – obviously you need a mobile device or computer but if you can get your hands on any of these resources, they’re super helpful and eye opening for everyone who I’ve recommended it to.

If you’re feeling like you want more moral support, if you have the capacity to go to someone who is an intuitive eating counselor or therapist or someone who can work with you on intuitive eating and embraces a health at every size approach. I know that not everyone who wants to do this may have the financial means but this is a great option if you have the means.

Q: Why isn’t there more information on intuitive eating and health at every size out there?

A: I think that it is because it’s not perceived – this is coming from me who loves this stuff and supports it – as immediately attractive and appealing to people. Unless of course someone is prescribing that intuitive eating will guarantee shedding weight which is never the guarantee with intuitive eating. You might NOT shed pounds. It’s just not this attractive guaranteed fixed thing. I think that intuitive eating is – for some people who have never really been exposed to diet culture – they naturally do intuitive eating. It’s back to the basics and I think that there aren’t that many resources because it’s not this pretty little box that’s going to promise you results of any sort. In a way, I think that’s somewhat false because intuitive eating helps you free yourself from diet culture and food restrictions, which is wonderful and appealing. But it doesn’t promise the body and weight change aspect. Even the whole 30 will emphasize that you’ll probably go down a pant size and things like that – this makes it so much more attractive than saying “you might not change weight – you might go up or down! That’s just not the focus of this at all.” I wish there were more resources which is why Holly and I started the podcast. Even blogs – like Robin’s or Christie Harrison’s who leads Food Psyche are so helpful. 

Intuitive eating is not glamorous. The answer to our lives is not going to be in the whole 30 or a plant based diet for non-environmental and ethical reasons. I think that people who do plant based diet for those reasons can be a way to eat intuitively. For people who just think it has the answers for their weight or body image might be doing it for concerning reasons – about weight or body image. Life is not going to be easy and figured out in this 30 day plan. It’s a life long work of intuitive eating OR you were involved in disordered eating/diet culture and you just feel off with food and want to get back to a place of being an intuitive eating that we all start out as babies.

Q: You’re a busy college student! What are your favorite filling on the go snacks?

A: This is something that I’m always looking for inspiration for too! First, before I give mine because I definitely have some, I LOVE the way that Robin from the Real Life RD posts blog posts about good and satisfying snacks and meals that she’s eaten that week – that’s how I learn about fun new ideas. She said she’ll sometimes make oatmeal bites or a loaf of banana bread and take some throughout the week. I definitely recommend her website – she posts amazing and honest, rich, vulnerable content. She also posts things like “the weekly eats.” It’s a non-restrictive approach so it’s really helpful. Learning from others about what options there are in a non-restrictive way is really helpful for busy people!

Some of my favorite snacks are from Trader Joe’s. I like the TJ’s trail mix packages – they’re so convenient. I typically have noticed that sometimes I’ll eat that and feel like I need something else so I’ll bring some pieces of chocolate or an apple or a couple pieces of bread or granola just to supplement that trail mix packet because I like how convenient it is but it isn’t always filling. I might start making my own when I have time!

For a quick on the go meal, I’ll make a big Tupperware of pasta and keep it in the fridge. I have no issues with fridge and I’ve noticed that wheat pasta keeps me really full for long periods of time especially if I have it with olive oil or pesto with sea salt and then add in a chicken sausage or some kind of protein of any kind – that meal keeps me full for a while and is easy to take on the go.

I like Lara bars – I honestly do like the taste of them.

I like apple and peanut butter or banana and peanut butter. I don’t just do two tablespoons, but I do a big and liberal scoop of whatever I want because that’s just more satisfying than measuring out the two tablespoons. That’s definitely not a meal for me, it’s a snack. I’ll pack random stuff to go along with it like if I want something salty I’ll pack popcorn.

I just like to have options if I can. Something that I’m trying to get better at is in the morning thinking about my schedule for the day and knowing I’ll be in class for lunch sometimes and should I eat a snack before or eat lunch before – in a non-restrictive way I think about the day to come and about when I’m going to be fed. I definitely have those times where I find myself not eating enough during the day because of school and stress and then getting home and realizing I have a headache or feel lethargic because I didn’t eat. I don’t like how that makes me feel. I’m really working this semester – still a work in progress – of just figuring out how to be better about just feeding myself because I don’t live at home anymore and have my parents to guarantee my meals. Even though I’ve been at college for four years, I’m still learning how to adequately and happily feed myself throughout each day in a way that is intuitive.

Options are just good. Having things in my bag is just insurance that if hunger strikes, I’m good to go.