All Episodes

359. Food and Freedom with Sue Van Raes

the daily helping podcast Apr 29, 2024


Sue Van Raes would like for us all to befriend our biochemistry. Today she joins the show to teach us how. Sue is a functional nutritionist and food psychology specialist. She is also the author of a new book, “Food and Freedom: Discover your Personal Recipe to Eat, Think and Live Well.”

 Our willpower is tied to our blood sugar levels. The health of our relationships is tied to understanding our rates of cellular oxidation. Expressing the full range of our emotions changes what we put in our bodies. Sue Van Raes explains the intersection of our inner biochemistry and our lived experiences. 

 Everyone has their own individual ratio of how much of the three macronutrients they need: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Through both blood tests and developing better internal sensation observation, we can learn to eat to feel how we want to feel. And that is freedom. 

 Join us on today’s episode to learn more!

The Biggest Helping: Today’s Most Important Takeaway

If we could, and can, tend to our relationship to food and self the same way we would tend to another important primary relationship in our life– by showing up, by listening, by prioritizing, by tending to– there is incredible healing that is possible. And this relationship with food and self is the most primary and profound relationship we can start with because from there, everything else, every other relationship in our lives improves. The ripple effect is incredible. And I think it's also the relationship that we forget about the most. So it's my reminder to turn to ourselves and take care of ourselves because we need to be our number ones. 




Thank you for joining us on The Daily Helping with Dr. Shuster. Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts to download more food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, and tools to win at life.



Produced by NOVA Media



Download Transcript Here

Sue Van Raes:

If we could and can tend to our relationship to food and self the same way we would tend to another important primary relationship in our life by showing up, by listening, by prioritizing, by tending to, there is incredible healing that is possible.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

Hello and welcome to The Daily helping with Dr. Richard Shuster, food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, tools to win at life. I'm your host, Dr. Richard. Whoever you are, wherever you're from and whatever you do, this is the show that is going to help you become the best version of yourself. 


Each episode you will hear from some of the most amazing, talented and successful people on the planet who followed their passions and strived to help others. Join our movement to get a million people each day to commit acts of kindness for others. Together, we're going to make the world a better place. Are you ready? Because it's time for your Daily Helping. 


Thanks for tuning into this episode of The Daily Helping podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Richard. And I'm really excited to share our guest with you today. Her name is Sue Van Raes. And she is a functional nutritionist, food psychology specialist, Wellness expert, yoga instructor and the founder of Boulder Nutrition. She has extensive experience as a featured health writer for the Chopra Center, and her work has been featured in People magazine, The Sacred Science, Natural Solutions Magazine, Origin Magazine and Elephant Journal, to name a few. 


She also hosts a podcast, Satiate and leads wellness and yoga retreats in Colorado, Costa Rica, Bali. And virtually, she's here to talk to us about her newest book, Food and Freedom, Discover Your personal Recipe to Eat, Think and Live Well, which is available everywhere. Sue, welcome to The Daily helping. It is awesome to have you with us today.


Sue Van Raes:

Oh, thank you so much for having me. It is such a pleasure to be here and I'm really excited to have this conversation with you. Dr. Richard.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

It's going to be a good one because we're learning more and more that there is an absolute direct connection between food and wellbeing in the apple a day thing. We've heard that forever, but now we know through science that there are psychological ramifications to not having the right but gut bacteria, not eating a healthy diet, and all of these things. So you sit in the space that's really interesting and exciting to me. I can't wait to talk about your new book, but I want to first jump into the Sue Van Raes time machine. Tell us what puts you on the path you're on today.


Sue Van Raes:

Wow, that's such a great question. So when I was a kid, I was a competitive gymnast for my whole childhood and I had undiagnosed hypoglycemia. And growing up in the ‘80s was, what, I was born in the ‘70s, but kind of growing up in the ‘80s in that era there was a lot of processed food in my life and in the lives of most people I knew. And I was starting out the day eating sugary cereal and toast most of the time, and I was on a constant blood sugar roller coaster, but I didn't know that, but I was constantly crashing and feeling like ravenous and insatiable. 


And because of my competitive gymnastics, I was also exacerbating my calorie needs and blowing through my food really quickly. So it just kind of exacerbated the hypoglycemia even more. And it really highlighted how out of balance I was. And it wasn't until I became a nutritionist or sort of in my early 20s, like right before I started studying nutrition that I was officially diagnosed with very severe hypoglycemia, and it really had amplified my relationship to food. And it was always front and center in my life because I felt like I was insatiable. 


And also, there was a lot of food rules. Like we weren't supposed to have snacks in between meals, and we weren't supposed to overeat or things like that. There was all these, like, kind of constrictions that were imposed upon me. And so it was like an upward battle that I just couldn't seem to get a handle on until I finally learned about blood sugar and metabolic health and how to basically feed myself in a way that would actually keep me in the proper zone of my blood sugar, which made me feel so much more energetic and imbalanced and my cravings were much more manageable. And I finally felt like I was actually nourished. 


And so when I look back at that, it really doesn't surprise me that I do what I do because what I went through to get there was just a lot of confusion and a lot of imbalance in my body that just I couldn't get a handle on it until I found the right people to treat me and to work with me and to educate me. And it really opened the door to my work now.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

If not for the hypoglycemia, do you think you'd still be doing this work?


Sue Van Raes:

It's a really interesting question. I don't know if I've ever even really considered that, but I might not because it really -- food was so front and center in my entire childhood that it really brought me into this deep care and almost obsession with figuring out how to feel good in my body with food. So I might actually have to say no.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

Interesting. It is always funny how the twists and turns kind of shape the paths we take right, the river bends that guide us, if you will. So, but now, here we are. It's 2024. You're a well-known functional nutritionist, the world over. You're doing all of these great things and you've got this new book that is out, Food and Freedom: Discover Your Personal Recipe to Eat, Think and Live Well. Before we get into the book, why this book and why now?


Sue Van Raes:

So I find that when I sit down with people and talk to them about their food stories and their histories and their health, there is so much confusion. There's confusion about what to eat. There's confusion about how our body responds to food. And there's surely confusion about our relationship to food and how to improve that. 


And when I made the transition from clinical nutrition early on in my private practice to including a lot more on food psychology and how we relate to food, it really opened up to so many different kinds of people that I've had the privilege of working with and talking to and learning about their stories. And this book really is a culmination of the last two decades of my work. 


And why now is a really interesting question, because of course the book journey is a long and windy road, but it feels like this time in my life I'm in my early 50s, and I feel ready to show up in the world in a really expanded way, more so than I ever have. And I've done a lot of different kinds of inner personal development and growth along the book journey to prepare myself to be able to like shepherd this book into the world. And I feel so excited that the time is here and that I'm where I'm at in my life and that I have the honor really of doing this work. 


And I was talking about this recently at my book opening, which is really I feel like my mission right now is just really to do the book justice because I know that it can help so many people. And so getting the book out there and into the hands of people who need it most really has been the biggest inspiration for me.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

So high level. What is this book going to teach somebody?


Sue Van Raes:

So this book is a really interesting combination of functional nutrition and food psychology. And I think sometimes we think of those things as separate. But what I have found is that if we can learn to eat, to feel how we want to feel, to bring our biochemistry on board and to understand how to work with feeling good with the actual physical sensations of food in our body feeling satiated, feeling imbalance, and really befriending our biochemistry, then we have so much more ease and so much more grace in learning how to improve our relationship to food. 


I think when we start at the other side of the equation, which a lot of times is happening, like just looking at relationship to food without biochemistry, it's possible, but it's just harder. And this for me, feels like the most downstream flow way of doing the work around our health and around our psychology.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

So you've dropped a few terms a couple of times, and I think I'd be remiss if I didn't have you give us a little bit of one on one here. So you've talked about functional nutrition. In your definition, what does that word mean? Or two words, I guess. What does that mean?


Sue Van Raes:

Yes. Functional nutrition, I mean it's a little bit of a tangent off functional medicine. And functional nutrition is really the exploration of how food makes us feel on a cellular level, how food impacts our biochemistry and how we can work with learning our own metabolic individuality to understand how our own biochemistry can work for us, basically. Yes.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

That's a great explanation. And so you've talked about biochemistry, you've talked about this personal metabolic journey that we're all on. And I've seen a lot of different techniques that people have been getting at that. Some will say, hey, you got to get really high-level genetic testing done to identify this stuff. Other people talk about food elimination diets. So if one's listening to this and maybe they do feel out of balance and they want to get a handle on this, what's the road map? How do we start?


Sue Van Raes:

That's a great question. So the way that I start working with people is from a blood sugar perspective and a biochemical perspective because it's the foundation of my work. And I love data, I love the science, I love testing, and I do incorporate a lot of different kinds of tests into my work. But I think the primary place to start is with an understanding of how macronutrients work in our bodies. And those three primary macro nutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates. 


When we are trying to find our way to stability with our blood sugar and biochemistry that helps us feel good, including those three macro nutrients in our meals, at every meal, is going to automatically bring you a lot more into balance. When we start to look at unique metabolisms from like that individuality, perspective and customize, we can take that further into how does one's cells make energy or ATP at a mitochondrial level, what is the rate of cellular oxidation that is happening on an individual level, and what are the appropriate building blocks and ratios of those macronutrients that work best for that person. 


That's a really helpful tool to learn because when we understand that for ourselves, knowing that it might look very different from somebody that we spend time with, maybe our husband or wife or our best friend or sister, we can start to understand that it doesn't look the same for everyone. And that's why what one person is doing might make them feel great, but you try it and it might not work for you. 


And for me, that was a major light bulb moment in my journey because I was doing a lot of radical eating styles as a young person exploring and some of them left me feeling incredibly depleted and weakened and low energy and noticing like brain fog and noticing my body composition changing in ways that were unhealthy. When I finally understood what to eat for my particular metabolism, which actually was completely the opposite of what I had been doing, and I gave myself permission for that, it was an incredible shift in my entire life. I felt like I finally felt like myself. I finally felt like I could do the things I'm here to do instead of reeling from not feeling satiated. 


And I think that that's really the goal in my work is like, how can we feel empowered, feel satiated in our eating, and learn to eat to feel how we want to feel. Hopefully that answered your question.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

It did. And you mentioned when you had this roller coaster, this blood sugar odyssey with the hypoglycemia, you would go through these periods of the brain fog. Yeah. I generally don't eat fast food. I'll share a dirty secret here with everybody. Like, I love the mic rib I have since the ‘80s. 


And the only time an entire calendar year that I will eat fast food is when that thing comes back. And I'll go to McDonald's, and I'll order him to grab a fries and usually like an orange Fanta and I never drink soda either. But that's when I let myself do it one time a year, right. And I feel like crap. And knowingly, I go into this knowing I'm going to feel disgusting and I’m going to have low energy. And then 365 days go by and I don't do that to myself again. 


But so there are things like the brain fog, the energy stuff, the feeling bloated, like there are these really overt signs that we're out of whack because of what we're eating. But what are some of the more subtle signs that we might not immediately recognize or that aren't immediately evident to us, that there's something very wrong with our diet that we should be thinking about as warning signs?


Sue Van Raes:

Yeah. Thank you for that. That's a really great question. The first thing that pops into my mind is that we often think of our cravings as who we are. And I hear it all the time. Like I have a sweet tooth or I'm somebody who craves sugar every day. And I will send people off after sometimes just one session with me, and they'll come back, and they'll be like I am not craving sugar anymore. I've started eating more protein. And all of a sudden, my sugar cravings in this life, long sweet tooth has diminished. And they're literally dumbfounded by just that small change in their diet and how it can impact something so grand as this lifelong craving pattern. 


Another one that's so interesting is willpower, and blood sugar. People feel like they have low willpower, or I don't have much willpower in my life, or I can't make these changes that I want to make, whether it be related to food or other things. What's so interesting in the science is that they've now uncovered this direct relationship with imbalanced blood sugar, specifically the crash and our willpower in anything we're doing, including eating. Meaning maybe we're not making great choices around food, but maybe we're also not making great choices around other things, and we feel powerless. You can actually trace that back in many cases to blood sugar. 


And so there's lots of subtleties that we can look for. We can look for sluggishness in our energy. We can look for how we feel when we wake up in the morning. Is it hard to get out of bed? Do we feel like we're always tired? And those types of patterns might be feeling like they're part of just who we are, but what I've seen is that we can actually shift those from a metabolic perspective when we know how to eat, to feel how we want to feel.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

I'm not surprised you mentioned that correlation between willpower and low blood sugar, because if you look at the science of how cults program people, they often will feed them a high sugar intensive diet. It’s almost all they give them. And so when you mentioned willpower, it makes a ton of sense to me based on that research alone. 


So but you -- I want to -- let's flip this and let's start spending the rest of our time being positive here and giving people the direction because you said there's a way to reverse this metabolically, right, and to move people in the right direction. So I want to spend some serious time there. Take us through some of the tenants in your book as to how people do that.


Sue Van Raes:

Sure. So the first part of my book is really about this foundational element around our blood sugar and biochemistry and how to bring our metabolic health back on board. Including like it is possible to reverse type 2 diabetes if we know how to eat to balance our blood sugar. I've seen it firsthand. When we learn what our metabolisms need, meal by meal, ratios of macro nutrients, we can then start to incorporate very specific precision nutrition into our day-to-day eating, that's really the first step. But what --


Dr. Richard Shuster:

How do you find that ratio, though? How does a person do that?


Sue Van Raes:

I test for that. And I work with a test that I used through a team of holistic medical doctors. And I can help people uncover that information within their own bodies and lives, which is really, I think, one of my most well used tests in my private practice.


Dr. Richard Shuster

Okay, got it. So blood test. Right. I didn't mean to cut you off, but I didn't want to lose that point either. So you were rolling and I interrupted that. So I apologize for that. Keep going with what you were saying.


Sue Van Raes:

No, no problem. But what I think is really fascinating in the work that I love to share with people is as we become more in real time with our eating, more embodied, more able to track what I like to call the sacred language of our body, which is sensation, we can learn so much about what we need. And a lot of our society is obviously very driven with to doing and rushing and productivity and being in our heads really, we have very much as a culture kind of lost touch with this very primal and very wise and intelligent aspect of being a human, and even being an animal because sensation can really guide us into things like the cues of our hunger and fullness and how pleasure is integral in our eating from that primal perspective. That's foundational to understanding our bodies on a deep level. 


And it really turns the focus inward rather than externalizing or eating, and looking at things from the outside, like for example counting calories. So when we are more tuned inward, we are then able to trust ourselves more, which is another really wonderful quality to develop self-trust, but also to be in a conscious space of awareness and listening to what our bodies need, meal by meal. So the embodiment peace I find to be an acceleration of the healing aspect when it comes to food psychology and our relationship to food. 


I also think it's really important to take a look at the relationship between food and brain chemistry. Food and biochemistry that then completely informs our brain chemistry. And we spend a lot of time in our culture looking at mindset. And once again, that can feel like a really big shift to make, to improve our mindset, especially when things are not in our favor biochemically. When we can use food as an ingredient to help us improve our neurotransmitters and to feel, for example, happier or more calm or more joyful, our mindset shifts are going to be so much more useful and in the flow than trying to do it the other way around. 


So there's like kind of a trajectory through my book at looking at things from a body perspective, looking at things from a mindset or mindfulness perspective, and then looking at how can we improve our emotional resiliency, how can we improve emotional resolution? How can we tap into the deeper aspects of how food impacts all of the different kinds of feelings that we're experiencing and giving ourselves permission to actually feel those feelings to their full potential so that we can use our own experience of emotional health as a way to amplify our wellbeing rather than kind of doing the quintessential eat your feelings type of a thing, which obviously is another major issue in our society that we don't have the tools to experience the full range of emotion in a lot of cases and so fluid becomes a crutch. Food becomes a comfort. Food becomes the way that we regulate ourselves. And all of this impacts our wellbeing as you and I both know, because our food is one piece of the puzzle, but our wellbeing includes so much more than just what we eat. So my book is really about all the layers of wellbeing through the lens of food. And I get really excited talking about it as you can probably tell.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

Clearly. No. It is exciting because it's a very unique take on, really it's blending two topics, but it's a very unique take on it, so I'm excited to read it. Well, I've enjoyed our conversation today. I'm excited about the book. As you know, I wrap up every episode by asking the guest just this one question. Sue, what is your biggest helping, that one most important piece of information you'd like somebody to walk away with after hearing our conversation today?


Sue Van Raes:

Such a great question, Dr. Richard. Thank you. I would have to say that if we could and can tend to our relationship to food and self the same way we would tend to another important primary relationship in our life by showing up, by listening, by prioritizing, by tending to, there is incredible healing that is possible. 


And this relationship with food itself is the most primary and profound relationship we can start with, because from there, everything else, every other relationship in our lives improves. The ripple effect is incredible. And I think it's also the relationship that we forget about the most. So it's my reminder to turn to ourselves and take care of ourselves, because we need to be our number ones.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

Well said. Tell us where people can learn more about you online.


Sue Van Raes:

Thank you. Yes, is my website. There's lots of great information there. I have a free guide called How to Make Peace with Your Plate: Five Daily Practices to Cultivate Food and Body Freedom. You can grab that if you're interested in checking out my work. I'm also at @BoulderNutrition on Instagram. And my book is, of course, in all the places books are sold, Food and Freedom. 


Dr. Richard Shuster:

Perfect. And we'll have links to everything Sue Van Raes in the show notes at Well again, really enjoyed our time together. I'm excited to read your book, and I think it's going to help a lot of people. Thank you so much for coming on The Daily Helping today.


Sue Van Raes:

Thank you so much for having me and helping me get the word out.


Dr. Richard Shuster:

Absolutely. And I also wanted to thank each and every one of you who took time out of your day to listen to this conversation. If you like it, if you're inspired, if you start thinking about your relationship with food a little bit differently, go give us a follow and a five-star review on your podcast app of choice, because that is what helps other people finally show. 


But most importantly, go out there today and do something nice for somebody else, even if you don't know who they are and post on your social media feeds using the hashtag #MyDailyHelping because the happiest people are those that help others. 


There is incredible potential that lies within each and every one of us to create positive change in our lives (and the lives of others) while achieving our dreams.

This is the Power of You!