You might recognize celebrity nutritionist, best-selling author and media personality Cynthia Pasquella from “The Doctors,” “The Today Show,” Fitness magazine or Shape magazine; she’s famous for inspiring people with her own transformation and for helping them discover what they’re really hungry for, so they can finally make peace with food and themselves. 24Life asked Pasquella for more insight into her own transformation — which began with food — and for her thoughts on the shortcuts and rituals that can turn food into fuel or make it nourishment.
24Life: How did you discover that food was the “place” to start to change your life?
Cynthia Pasquella (CP): One night, many years ago, I found myself on the floor of my little studio apartment in Los Angeles choosing to end my own life.
I had been sick for months. I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue, was 25 pounds overweight, had horrible cystic acne breakouts on my face and back, and even suffered from memory loss.
I wasn’t working because I was so sick and the added stress of being almost broke only made things worse.
One morning, after dragging myself out of the bed and into the shower, I found lumps in both of my breasts. And that was my breaking point.
You see, like so many other people, I had tried everything.
I worked with doctors, trainers and nutritionists. I tried all sorts of energy healing. I was even hypnotized. In a nutshell, I took the pills and drank the shakes and nothing helped.
So, I figured I had given it my best shot and it just was time for me to stop trying.
That night, I felt worthless and defeated.
I had grown up in extreme poverty in a home that was filled with drug abuse and domestic abuse. I was also sexually abused at a young age.
We had no indoor plumbing so taking a hot shower or just running a glass of water wasn’t possible, and I can often remember going hungry because we didn’t always have food.
I felt like I had been fighting my whole life, and I was just so sick of fighting.
And as I sat in that dark corner that night, with tears streaming down my face, asking why and how this could have happened, I started to finally understand. I realized that everything I had experienced up until that very moment hadn’t happened TO me. It had happened FOR me.
I also knew in that moment that I had a bigger purpose — to overcome these health conditions and then share what I had learned with others. So they didn’t have to struggle like I was.
So, I picked myself up, dried my tears and enrolled in a nutrition certification program. I used three credit cards to sign up, but I knew I was investing in me — the only thing left to invest in.
Over the next several months, all I did was eat, sleep and breathe nutrition. I finished my certification and started helping other people while still healing my own health.
Interestingly enough, the biggest thing I learned about health and weight loss was that food alone wouldn’t save us.
Instead, we have to go beyond food and discover what we are really hungry for.
By doing this, I was able to fully heal my body and heart while helping others do the same.
The weight fell off as if it had never been there. My skin cleared up, I had lots of energy, and I could remember everything.
I also received news that the lumps in my breasts were fibrous and not cancerous. What I didn’t know at the time was that my mother would be diagnosed with breast cancer just a few short years later. So, I feel very lucky to say the least.
I knew that if I could get this approach to health out there, real transformation could finally be created.
So, I put together a nutrition coaching system that I called Transformational Nutrition®. After 15 years of serving others, writing best-selling books, using this system with celebrities and being featured in the media all over the globe, I decided to take it a step further.
I founded the Institute of Transformational Nutrition® and it has been my honor and pleasure to see students enrolling, going through their own transformative experience, and then taking that out to share with the world. They are building amazing businesses that help provide for their families, and they are changing the world and living from a place of passion daily.
24Life: Why is peace with food so important as a key to transforming ourselves?
CP: When I first started coaching over 15 years ago, we all thought looking great and feeling amazing was as simple as “eat this, not that.” But I quickly saw that it wasn’t.
My health expert friends and I were telling our clients and followers exactly what to do to get the body and life they always wanted — step-by-step. It could not have been easier.
The problem was, people knew what to do, but they just weren’t doing it.
Even people who possessed wealth, personal chefs and everything they needed at their disposal didn’t lose the pounds or feel completely satisfied with their lives.
That’s when I knew: Food alone can’t fix us.
Being healthy and healing your body and heart is not just about the food we eat.
It’s about a hunger that we can’t satisfy, no matter how much we eat. Or drink. Or how many negative relationships we have or how much we shop.
To find peace with food and permanent transformation in ourselves, we need to discover what we’re really hungry for.
24Life: Do you think there is a “best place” for people to start their work to change their lives?
CP: Any change that we want to be permanent has to start with a shift in our mindset.
We need to be ready and willing for things to be different, whether that’s how we eat, our exercise routine or other key aspects of our lives like relationships and careers.
It takes an awareness of what you really want. At the end of the day, we all know what to do. The real question becomes why we won’t do it.
That’s why focusing on starting with our mindset and being open to doing things differently sets the stage to create the body, health and life we desire.
24Life: What’s your perspective on the role of food preparation and mealtime ritual?
CP: I think there’s something really beautiful about preparing a home-cooked meal for your family. I love the ritual of connecting, catching up on our days and knowing exactly what’s going into our food.
Preparation is key when you have a busy lifestyle. I urge my clients to spend one hour a week on meal planning and prep. It saves so much time when you already know exactly what you’re going to make and that you have what you need. I’m all about cutting out unnecessary stress in our lives!
I also make it a habit of having a gratitude ritual at night. Each member of my family shares what they are grateful for in that moment, and it’s a beautiful reminder to focus on slowing down and being present, which makes us less likely to overeat or engage in emotional eating!
24Life: Do enhanced food supplements or food replacement shakes have a place in our diet?
CP: I love supplements and use them daily. However, I see them as an insurance policy. You should never rely ONLY on supplements for your daily nutrients. Instead, I would recommend using them for what they were originally intended for — supplementing our diet.
If you find you are deficient in certain nutrients, supplements are a great way to get your body back to your optimal levels fast! From there, I would recommend that you focus on eating foods that contain those nutrients so you no longer require supplements.
Substituting a protein shake for a meal is a perfect, healthy and fast solution for busy lifestyles. As with anything, you just need to make sure to read the labels and stick to reputable brands that focus on whole food, quality ingredients.
24Life: Any tips for how best to integrate them into our diet or choose appropriately?
CP: When you’re in a hurry to jumpstart your day, there’s nothing like a delicious, protein-packed smoothie to boost your energy and fill you up fast.
Look for protein powders that contain plant-based proteins like hemp and pea so you can avoid dairy (one of the top food intolerances). Also, make sure it has as many organic ingredients as possible and doesn’t contain refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, gluten and soy.
24Life: Do you recommend any supplements or nootropics (supplements whose primary impact is on the brain)?
CP: It’s best to get everything you need from food, but it is also important to supplement if you have a deficiency. One way to measure this is through a simple lab test to check your levels.
I often recommend that people take a Vitamin D supplement. Everything from weight gain to dementia is associated with a deficiency in Vitamin D so it’s very important.
Probiotics and enzymes are also staples in my diet. They are important for weight loss, healthy digestion and the prevention of free radicals, which helps in slowing the aging process. They are also important because they can affect how you are absorbing nutrients.
B12 is important for plant-based diets, but it is also beneficial for diets that contain animal products as many people tend to be deficient.
Nootropics are a great way to boost your cognitive function, creativity and focus. Personally, I love Bulletproof® supplements like Unfair Advantage.
24Life: What is your take on the trend of juicing/intermittent fasting/detox culture?
CP: Every year, millions of people go on some sort of a detox program. They go on juice cleanses. Detox pill cleanses. Drink only lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper cleanses.
In the end, they often feel worse, regain the weight they lost (if any) and are more toxic than ever, only to repeat the cycle over and over again with yet another quick-fix cleanse.
The problem is that most detoxes only take you through the first phase and never prepare your body or mind for the second — and most important — phase of detoxification. This means, they’re releasing all the built-up toxins into your body but never supporting your body in a way that allows it to release those toxins.
Gimmicks like starving yourself or limiting yourself to only juices for days at a time don’t work long-term.
You’re essentially stirring up all the muck at the bottom of your body’s lake and then leaving it there, since toxins are eliminated from the body by binding to fiber and fiber is absent in juice cleanses.
In addition, you need protein to properly nourish and rebuild during a cleanse. However, protein is typically absent from juice fasting or other strict cleanses.
I define detoxing as “lifestyle changes that reduce the exposure of toxins while nourishing and supporting the body’s own abilities to improve digestion and elimination.”
It’s much more effective to detox by eating whole, organic foods, drinking lots of water, and avoiding toxic chemicals in your personal care products and transitioning to these habits permanently.
If you try a quick-fix cleanse or eat clean food and even exercise regularly just to return to your old eating and living habits, you are simply putting a Band-Aid on the problem rather than trying to fix it.
24Life: What are your thoughts on GMO — health risk or no?
CP: Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, says, “GMOs present some unsafe potential for humanity and for the genie we can’t put back in the bottle.” And I couldn’t agree more.
I think the scariest part, for me, is that we can’t possibly know the long-term effects that GMOs are causing, not only to our health but the entire planet. Plus, when crops are modified to withstand upwards of 7 times the amount of pesticide spray that means higher levels of toxins are going directly into our food supply.
When we’re regularly consuming GMO, toxin-filled products, we’re opening our bodies up to serious allergic or immune system reactions in addition to gastrointestinal issues like leaky gut.
I’m all for playing it safe and sticking to organic, non-GMO verified products and produce whenever possible. I’ve also seen amazing results in my clients who’ve made the switch to organic foods.
24Life: How do you think we can best get people to be aware and inspired to protect the environment and understand its link to food quality — and more?
CP: First and foremost, I think it’s time to start a bigger conversation. I recently launched my online show, What You’re REALLY Hungry For, as a way to bring awareness not only to what we’re eating but why. I think opening people up to a more conscientious and inspired way of eating and living really starts with awareness.
It’s also important to realize that people will make changes when they’re ready, not when you are. So, be patient and focus on what you can do to transform your own life first. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and I agree with him.
Trust that others will start seeing the difference you’re making and how amazing you’re feeling. And don’t be surprised if they start asking you to reveal all of your secrets!
Also, practicing gratitude at mealtime is a beautiful way to reconnect with where your food came from. To the spirits of the animals and plants that sacrificed so you can have that meal and to the planet that cared, and cares, for all of us.