About Andrea Holwegner
Andrea Holwegner (@ChocoholicRD) is the founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. established in 2000. Her mission is to empower people to create a healthy and joyous relationship with food and their body.
She leads a team of experienced dietitians that help busy families with meal planning success, weight concerns, eating disorders, digestive issues, sports nutrition, heart health, diabetes and more. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education.
In her spare time, she enjoys skiing, mountain biking and sipping wine with her husband over a delicious meal. Most of all, she loves being a mom and playing in the dirt in the vegetable garden she grows with her son. Join Andrea’s free nutrition newsletter that goes out to thousands of people each week for her latest TV segments, articles and healthy recipes from her award-winning blog at www.HealthStandNutrition.com/newsletter
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:02):
Andrea, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are?
Andrea Holwegner (00:12):
Well, thanks for having me, Sam, of course. People mostly call me the Chocaholic Nutritionist because of my passion for balanced, not clean living. But of course, my name’s Andrea Holwegner. I’m a registered dietician, a busy mom and owner of Health Stand Nutrition in Calgary and lead a team of about 10 dieticians and growing as we speak specializing in really helping people with overall health and wellness and, you know, topics like how to get enough veggies to wanna, you know, take care of your health, but still save room for our favourites, like chocolate and potato chips and all the good stuff too.
Sam Demma (00:52):
If I was choosing to work with a dietician, they would have to have a giant picture with chocolate-covered strawberries in their office, or they would not be an option.
Andrea Holwegner (01:03):
Oh. And that might just be what I’m staring at right behind me here.
Sam Demma (01:09):
Yeah. That’s, it’s so awesome. Where did your passion for, you know, health and nutrition come from? Where, where did that stem from?
Andrea Holwegner (01:19):
You know, I was raised by a mom that like baked bread and we had family dinner together each night and just a family of, of food, loving people. My grandparents were farmers and grew all sorts of good stuff in the garden. So I just had a really rich upbringing with the love of, of good food and good culture. And then along the way, my dad in his forties became quite sick with cardiovascular disease. He became one of the youngest guys that were being followed by a local cardiologist here for very complex heart disease. And so he had some bad genetics both of his parents really complicated health histories and, you know, my dad, wasn’t the healthiest guy. There was probably a little bit too much you know, baked goods and all sorts of good stuff that he liked to to get into.
Andrea Holwegner (02:12):
He was a chewing tobacco guy. He was a banker, but he was a chewing tobacco guy, which was an interesting thing. So that also increased his risk. And so I watched him go through complicated, you know, health, recovery quadruple bypass surgery carotid artery surgery. And, you know, as a, a kid in high school going into post secondary, I was really starting to look at the connection between nutrition and health. And so the rest is history, sort of a, a food loving dietician, married with a total nerdy science brain that wanted to know more about how food connected to our overall health. And that’s how I ended up here.
Sam Demma (02:56):
When you’re going through school you get bombarded with so many different ideas. Atkin’s diet, this diet that diet eat these food groups, don’t eat these food groups. How do you approach nutrition from a Al approach? And maybe this is like what you get when you consult with you, but in a nutshell, what is your approach to nutrition and how could someone listening start to embody the same approach?
Andrea Holwegner (03:28):
Well, I love this question because of course the word diet when you even you ask people how that’s perceived or even the word dietician, and of course the word dietician has the word diet in it, and it also has the word diet it. And so most people think they’re going to be deprived and it’s gonna be awful. And that they’ll, you know, never be able to enjoy their favorite, fast foods or chocolates or ice creams or taco chips, whatever your favorites might be. But really when we look at our brand at health stand nutrition and our overall philosophy, it’s always about coming back to the big picture. So I always say to people, there are no bad foods, there’s only bad overall diets. And so if you love McDonald’s French fries, or if you love chocolate like me what we want to think about is, well, how do we make sure that stays in your diet? And then we wrap healthy eating around it. And this is a way more vulnerable, enjoyable, fun way to live than thinking about taking out all of the joy and being known as a fun sucking dietician. I have no interest in that. I have a total interest in teaching people how to keep all the good stuff in and finding the joy.
Sam Demma (04:38):
Do you think it’s obvious that there’s a, between nutrition and physical health, even explain through your situation, watching your father go through his situations? Do you also believe there is a connection mentally based on the foods that we choose to consume and eat?
Andrea Holwegner (04:57):
Absolutely a hundred percent. What we know about nutrition is if you think about it, there’s nothing more immediate that has an impact on your energy, your mental health, and how you focus, concentrate at school or work and how you feel than what you’re eating. And that can happen in the matter of minutes to, you know, an hour. If you think about how you feel, if you haven’t eaten in a long time, it could be state of hangriness that starts to, to emerge where we get hunger mixed with anger in our practice, we’ve also coined the term anxiety, and that means you’re, you know, anxious. Some people get really anxious when they haven’t fueled themselves properly and maybe it’s cuz they didn’t plan ahead, they forgot, or maybe they’re following some crazy cleany eating plan or low carb plan or whatever plan might be trending on Instagram or TikTok trying to, you know, make them a, a different version of themselves. And the more we restrict fuel, particularly carbohydrates for our brain, usually the hanger and the more anxious people get and nutrition has an absolute direct correlation to how we feel. And so when, what we’ve seen through COVID is a massive spike in mental health issues across the globe. Our business has grown as a result of so many emotional eating issues and working from home issues for parents, for kids and massive increases in eating disorders very much directly a mental health illness connected to food.
Sam Demma (06:33):
What does that look like? What is typically, what does the K that you typically get presented? It’s obviously not a good thing that more of these cases are happening and I mean, it’s a good thing. Your business is growing, but it’s unfortunate that it’s because of the health challenges of more and more people. What, when someone comes to you with this sort of a challenge, what does, what does it typically look like? And I, I would assume every situation is different, but give us a little bit of an idea,
Andrea Holwegner (07:01):
You know, maybe the best way to, to share this might be just to go through a couple of examples of, you know, some of the situations that we’re seeing, that’s really common. So we’ve seen you know, whether it’s teachers or, or, you know, individuals that are working from home, the whole changing dynamic of work has really shifted how people eat when they eat, what they eat and when your refrigerator is right next to you and you’re bored or you’re stressed, it becomes a source of comfort, right? And we all eat for emotional eatings or emotional reasons. Dieticians included, you know, the beginning of the pandemic, I pretty much wanted to just sit down with a box, a chocolate and call it a day. I mean, it was overwhelming for all of us.
Andrea Holwegner (07:41):
So because of that shift in the working environment, we’ve seen a huge shift in in people’s mental health. And then as a result of that, we’ve seen some people, for example, put on 50 pounds in developed diabetes or heart issues struggles with their body image and their confidence as a result of, you know, even being on a screen and through video conferencing has shifted people’s ability to really, you know, feel self confident. When you’re staring at yourself on video each day, it, it’s not healthy. It’s like walking around with a mirror attached to you and that’s not good for anybody. So one of the first things we do with our clients working on zoom is we teach them how to turn off their self view so that they’re not having to see themselves, cuz it’s really exhausting people, self-check themselves a lot and we just want them to be present and focused on why we’re here and what we’re doing.
Andrea Holwegner (08:34):
The next sort of piece, you know, if we were to sort of dive a little deeper into what we’re seeing with eating disorders you know, it depends on the source that you’re looking at, but there’s probably been a 30% rise in eating disorders, particularly amongst young adolescents going to school and that’s for a variety of reasons, you know, no surprise, everything changed school, changed their social community, changed you know, dance and music and sports, all of that community. And that way that adolescence really connect and alleviate stress. All of that became, it was just gone. And then households were experiencing a lot of family dynamics and family stress as a result of that as well. And so we see this huge increase in in eating disorders and knowing that in Canada alone, we’ve got a million people diagnosed with an eating disorder right now on top and that was pre COVID. So I don’t know what these numbers are gonna look like towards the end of this year, but it’s super concerning what we’re seeing in the collaborative work we’re doing with physicians and and therapists throughout the country,
Sam Demma (09:41):
Seeing yourself on conferencing is one challenge. I think for young people, it’s also challenging when they’re on TikTok, Instagram, seeing what is being presented as the perfect person, the perfect body image, the perfect diet, the perfect exercises it goes on and on. How do we address this? Or when someone comes with you comes to you with a case of emotional eating or an eating disorder, what are some of the initial steps that you know, that you can take or they can take to start working on it and, and hoping to soon resume back to a positive, more holistic diet approach?
Andrea Holwegner (10:26):
Yeah. So if we, if we were to look at first off, you know, like why do eating disorders even happen in the first place? I think a lot of times people see it as you know, it’s purely image focused or body weight focused, and really that’s actually quite a myth. What we know about eating disorders is there’s some genetic predisposing factors for example, being highly perfectionistic and achievement oriented. So we see if I think of our client load that we see often in our practice, these are like the top of the class. These are the kids that are the troublemakers. These are the adolescents that are, you know, on the social committees. They are like leading the charge in their peers. But with that drive and that high achieving mentality sometimes comes a lot of anxiety and a lot of feeling the need to perform or be perfect in so many of ways from school and in their extracurricular activities.
Andrea Holwegner (11:21):
The other thing too we know about eating disorders is there’s a lot of cultural factors, there’s mental health factors. There’s a lot of family dynamic factors. So for example, how your family communicates and how sort of emotionally connected they are, has a really big impact on our ability to be emotionally sound as well. And so oftentimes we see when we inherit an eating disorder, adolescent or teenager or someone in their twenties or thirties, oftentimes we probably inherit their family in the work that we need to do. So sometimes you know, parents might not be great at emotion coaching and helping their kids through stress and anxiety and what to say. And, and and so therapists that we collaborate with will spend a lot of time digging into the family dynamics. Sometimes it’s you know, when, when we look at who also is at risk for eating disorders, absolutely.
Andrea Holwegner (12:16):
The LGBTQ plus community is highly at risk for eating disorders just based on so much of a journey and being true to who they truly are at the end of the day. So if that is you, I, I, and you’re listening to this podcast. I just want you to know you are absolutely not alone. There’s help eating disorders that are affecting all different ages, all different genders all different socioeconomic patterns. You know, we’ve had lots of LGBT members as clients. We’ve had young boys that are 13 with anorexia. We’ve had women in their sixties that have never sought help for their eating disorder women that are pregnant and the list goes on, so it really can affect anybody. And it’s a lot of complex factors on how we get here.
Andrea Holwegner (13:06):
Along the way. And then Sam, you, you asked me about like, well, what do we do? Like what we know it’s affecting a lot of people, but what are the steps in kind of reaching out for help? And so when we’re kind of looking at overcoming and eating disorder, there’s three pieces or probably four pieces of, of help. The first is actually, you know, somebody in your trusted friend in family community that can be a support person is going to be someone that’s in your corner can be so helpful. Well, just that is more connected to you. Second is going to be working with your family physician, cuz sometimes there’s assessments or medical treatments and sometimes medical monitoring to make sure your, for example, your heart is healthy. All of these types of things need to be monitored, your mental health.
Andrea Holwegner (13:52):
The third piece is actually the field of psychology. So we were work with a lot of psychologists. The heart of the treatment, any needing disorder is absolutely through therapy and through really digging into how did we end up here and what are the ways that we can you know, get ourselves back on track to feeling more comfortable in our skin. And then of course working with a registered to dietician that specializes in eating disorders and it’s super important to find somebody that really gets it. Otherwise you’ll just be frustrated. It’s kind of like going to see a kidney doctor when you’ve actually got heart health issues. You need to find to all doctors are not created equally. And so all dieticians are not created equally in terms of their areas of specialty. So someone that really stands mental health and eating disorder behaviors is really who you wanna be seeing so that when you’re talking to them about your fears and worries and it’s, it’s something that we’ve heard before and people have gone before you, and we know what to do with that to help you kind of overcome some of these challenges.
Sam Demma (14:54):
There may be someone listening who is going through this right now and you’re giving them some great information for them to think about and start their steps on a healing journey. If there’s someone listening who, when you’re explaining the situ can identify someone else in their life, who they think is struggling with this, who they’d like to help, how would you advise that person reach out to that individual? Like how can you be there for somebody if I, if you had a friend in high school or a colleague who might be going through this, how can you make sure that you’re not crossing a bad and making them feel uncomfortable, but you can also be there for them through this tough time.
Andrea Holwegner (15:34):
This is such a great, great thing to to be talking about Sam, cuz I can promise you, there’s probably somebody, you know, that is struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidality, self-harming behaviors, eating disorder behaviors. And the best thing that you you can do is, is really just reach out with compassion and care. You know, you might say something like, Hey, I’ve noticed that you don’t really seem yourself these days is everything okay? That’s a better question than saying, Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve dropped some weight. So somebody with a needing disorder, this is highly triggering. And sometimes actually will we in the nature of what we know about the distortion in body image and mental health might actually be perceived as a compliment that Hey, people are noticing that my weight is down. So that is the worst thing that you could say.
Andrea Holwegner (16:25):
That’s a do not say, do not comment on people’s weight, their body size, make it all about, I’ve noticed the it you’re different. I’m seeing maybe some of the life in your eyes has gone down. You know, I’m noticing that you’re, you know, not as engaged or you’ve kind of lost a little bit of, of some of your pozas in your spark that I kind of know you for oftentimes adolescence, we see them socially isolating more and that’s been tricky to sort of suss out through co with. But for teachers and parents really taking a pulse on sort of that social isolation piece is really, really key to notice on.
Sam Demma (17:04):
That makes a lot of sense. And I asked because in high school there was some people like that in my life and it was always a, it was always a challenge to figure out how to approach it. So I think it’ll be helpful for teachers and also for students to have that context. So thank you for sharing.
Andrea Holwegner (17:21):
I think all of us, when we’re going through a tough time, don’t want somebody to come and, you know, attempt to fix it for us cuz you know, that probably just makes us angry if anything. Yeah. But what we know is really helpful is if people can see that we’re struggling and people can sort of hear and express compassion and just give us some space to even talk about it without any need to fix it as a parent or a teacher or a friend that is the best thing that we can do is just give people that forum and that space instead of tip toing around it and pretending it’s not there and ignoring the elephant in the room is name it. In emotion focus therapy that therapists use, we talk about, you know, validating or seeing the, or, or naming the emotion first.
Andrea Holwegner (18:08):
So we call that name it to tame it. When you say to somebody, Hey, I can see that you’re looking sad or Hey, I can see that you’re looking angry. This actually calms emotion because you’ve named the emotion in our brain. It just sort of feels like, wow, validating that somebody can see that I might be struggling. The next thing that you can do is then, you know, either add to the validation that it’s like, it makes total sense why you would be feeling sad or I can imagine it feels really scary or that you’re really angry about X, Y, and Z. So that naming it and validating it and then just allow some space for them to tell you what’s going on or not share. And if they don’t share the first time, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean it has, hasn’t been successful. They just know you’re someone that’s not going to judge them or try and fix the problem for you and give you all of the, you know, 10 strategies on what you should do to get better at this. You know, you can keep kind of having those conversations and in time that person will talk to you. This is what we know. They just need to know that they’re safe with you and that you’re not judgemental.
Sam Demma (19:12):
I was listening to an amazing podcast with Jay she and a rapper named Russ sounds unrelated, but this’ll make sense. In a second, Russ was explaining how he always wanted to feel understood and when he was going through tough situ people in his life would tell him, I know exactly what it feels like. And Russ knew that they had no idea because they had never been through it. And he said them saying that actually made him feel more alone. So, you know, there is understanding in accepting that you don’t understand what someone’s going through, but just deciding that you’re gonna be there to support however they need it. And I thought it was a really beautiful phrase or mindset and it sounds very similar to what you’ve just explained. So I thought I would bring it up.
Andrea Holwegner (20:04):
I love it. That’s so great. I mean I think if we can really just say, I can’t imagine what you might be going through, but what I do know is that you got people in your corner like me, if you choose to kind of, you know, open up to me that have got your back, that’ll help you figure out the next steps. And I certainly don’t know the exact answers as to what we need to do next, but Hey, we could do it together. And that type of support is so much more you know, wrapping people with a warm, cozy blanket which is really what we need through this COVID period, more than ever.
Sam Demma (20:38):
And some chocolate covered strawberries. Yeah.
Andrea Holwegner (20:41):
You know, chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate covered almonds, chocolate covered raises. All of them are good for me.
Sam Demma (20:48):
That’s awesome. Well, this has been a phenomenal conversation. If someone would like to get in touch with you, reach out with a question, excuse me, or check out some of your resources, what would be the best way for them to absorb everything that is you in the company?
Andrea Holwegner (21:08):
Oh, okay. Well you can go over to our website first off its www.healthstandnutrition.com. And if you go into the search area of our website and just search the topic, eating disorders, we’ve got a ton of videos and articles and supporting resources that might be a useful place for you to to start to inquire. We’ve also got a free weekly newsletter. It comes, you know, goes out to thousands of people each week where we give people really balanced living tips and recipes and information that is in alignment with the topics that we’re talking about today for physical health, as well as mental health. And the other resource I would suggest is you can go over to the national eating disorder formation center. They’re known as www.NEDIC.ca. And they’ve got a ton of supporting resources for teachers, parents, students and the general public on all things, eating disorders. If you need a little bit more support there.
Sam Demma (22:03):
Awesome. Andrea, thank you again. Keep up the awesome work and I look forward to talking again.
Andrea Holwegner (22:09):
Thanks so much, Sam.
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