Some people see medicine and nutrition as contradictory–but Nashville nurse and blogger Izzy Cooks is one medical professional who’s fully convinced healthy food matters. In fact, working in the ICU has only further convinced her of this fact. In the below interview, she offers approachable, practical advice for anyone who’s overwhelmed by the idea of healthy eating, doesn’t know where to start and/or wonders if diet is even worth caring about at all. All photos used with permission from Izzy Cooks.
Tell me about your overall approach to eating and how you arrived at that.
I grew up in a pretty healthy household. We ate a homemade, balanced meal at the dinner table most nights and rarely had junk food. But, I did drink soda and eat fast food sometimes, especially in high school and college. As I’ve gotten a little older, I realized I feel so much better when not eating these harmful things, so I started to get back to living as healthy as I can, even taking it a little further than when I was living at home. It really helped to have a healthy base from my childhood to build off of, but it’s never too late to make a change!
How has being a nurse shaped your perspective on health? Has being in the medical profession made you more interested in nutrition?
Being a nurse has opened my eyes to so many things. I’ve been able to see how people who eat right and exercise heal so much quicker than people who don’t. No matter how well we treat our bodies, we’re going to get sick/hurt but I’ve seen a direct correlation between faster healing time and a healthy lifestyle. Being a medical professional and some of my own struggles with digestion (specifically GERD) has made me more interested in nutrition. I had to have my esophagus emergently stretched because my heartburn got so bad, it caused it to close and not reopen. I was then prescribed a Proton Pump Inhibitor, which made it worse, so that caused me to become obsessed with doing my own research rather than just doing what a doctor says without question. So, the combo of being a nurse and also a patient has contributed to my outlook on health and wellness. (For more information, see this post on Izzy’s site about her personal experience healing from GERD: Low Stomach Acid–the Cause of GERD.)
What, in your opinion, are some of the biggest hangups to eating healthier for people, and what would you say to those hangups?
The biggest hangup I see is that people don’t have time. We, as a society, have to work so much to pay for a bunch of stuff we don’t need that we don’t even have time to take care of our own basic needs. If you feel like you don’t have time, I urge you to get online and search for “quick healthy meals” or “easy healthy meals.” Pinterest is a great resource for meal ideas for busy people. If you don’t have time to even cook the recipes you find under these searches, I beg you to make some changes in your life. You and your family’s health is important enough to make time.
Another hangup I see is immature taste buds. My response to this is pushing past it. Also, start your kids young with healthy foods before they know any better. For example, I used to LOVE Pepsi. I decided to stop drinking it and for a long time, Pepsi still sounded good. One day, about a year after not drinking soda, I decided to drink one. One sip and I realized something. It didn’t taste good at all anymore! You can retrain your tastebuds! If you don’t like healthy food, start with easy transitions. Drink more water, put leafy green lettuce of your sandwich, make a green smoothie, etc., and slowly work your way up to Brussel sprouts.
Do you feel like anything about our society’s way of viewing health is broken? What and why?
This kind of ties into the nursing question. Working in healthcare, I’ve been able to see how medications are a band-aid for problems. Don’t get me wrong, modern medicine has its place, and it can work miracles. But, sometimes the quick fix isn’t the answer. For example, high blood pressure can be caused by so many things; it’s a symptom of an underlying problem. When we treat the symptom with medication rather than getting to the root of the problem, we aren’t really fixing anything. I hope that the trend switches from everyone wanting a quick fix to actually realizing that our health takes a little work. We have one body that was given to us and we should care for it like it’s our most precious possession because, well…it is. Nobody would buy a vintage Porsche and put regular gas in it or never change the oil. We treat our material things like treasures and our bodies like a garbage can. That needs to change.
You’re gluten-free and your husband isn’t, right? How does that play out in daily meals, cooking, meal planning?
I am very lucky that my husband isn’t picky. He’ll gladly eat gluten-free as long as I cook it and put it in front of him. I do buy him regular sandwich bread and a few other things, and when we go out to eat he doesn’t follow a GF diet. But, for the most part, he eats what I eat when I cook at home. Other than him not being picky, part of the reason he’s able to enjoy the GF food I make is that I’ve figured out what GF products are the best. I’m lucky to have a Trader Joe’s and Sprouts near me, which have excellent selections of affordable GF products. Most of the time he even likes the GF version of things more than regular. If you’re gluten-free, do some research and take the time to find the best tasting/textured products. It’s so much easier than it used to be, so now being gluten-free doesn’t feel like a punishment. It feels good and tastes good too! Also, I should point out, I don’t buy very much processed food, so other than bread and pasta we don’t eat much that would have gluten to begin with.
If you could only give someone one starting place for a better diet, what would you recommend?
Cut out fast food or soda. If you’re thinking, “but I’m too busy to cut out fast food,” fine. I’ll give a pass and say pick a healthier fast food option because healthier options are out there now! No more Mcdonald’s though!! Cutting out/replacing one major thing at a time is good for two reasons.
- When you take it slow, you’ll be less likely to give up. If you go from one extreme to the other, it’s not going to end well. You’ll last for about a week and then give up. This is a process of breaking an addiction. Give yourself some grace to go slow because it’s hard to change a habit.
- When you successfully cut something out like fast food or soda, you’ll see how much better you feel, and it’ll encourage you to take the next step. Any time you make a change, it’s likely to suck at first. You’ll feel tired and cranky, and your body might even go into a type of withdrawal. This will pass, and you’ll be able to clearly feel how much more energy you have and see a change in your body. This drastic change will give you a boost of confidence and encouragement to continue on your health journey.
Could you share some of your favorite recipes that reflect your perspective on health?
- Get your greens without hating it in this simple green smoothie.
- In my world, healthy doesn’t mean no more sweets. Try these chocolate-covered banana peanut butter balls!
- Here’s an easy dinner for busy peeps: the best fish tacos.
- This is great for meal prep (breakfast or snack): chia seed banana bread (grain free)
Thank you, Izzy! You make a compelling case for why healthy food matters and why anyone can take small steps towards better nutrition. What else would you like to add for anyone reading this?
I’d like to ask people to really think about the food they’re putting in their bodies. What we put in our body is fuel. When we put little to no nutrients in our body, we have nothing to run off of. Most processed foods are basically void of nutrients. I’ll go back to the car metaphor. Your car can’t run on empty. You wouldn’t expect it to so why do you expect your body to run on empty? Our body needs REAL food to function! A healthy lifestyle isn’t about deprivation. It’s about making choices to fuel your body with what it needs. A healthy lifestyle isn’t about losing weight or looking like a fitness model. It’s working towards achieving your optimal level of health and enjoying the process!
Izzy is an ICU RN and healthy lifestyle enthusiast with a passion for cooking! She’s the creator of Izzycooks.com and lives in Nashville, TN with her husband and fur baby, Alfred. Follow along for everyday moments, recipes and wellness tips on @izzycooksinsta.