After spending time on a farm in Southwestern United States, Britton has since become a certified nutritionist from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition and is sharing her love for organic food on her blog, and delicious plant-based recipes in her multiple cookbooks. Learn more about Britton below…
Can you tell me a bit about yourself? When did you first decide you wanted to become a nutritionist?
Sarah Britton: I have a background in fine arts and sort of took a 180 turn after spending a year on an organic farm in the Southwestern United States where I became really interested in organic agriculture. I was just eating what we were growing on the farm and about a week into this experience I had a realisation that for my whole life I had been fuelling my body with things that did not support me. It was the most exciting transformation because I finally was awake to my life, my health, my physical, emotional and spiritual body.
After spending a year on the farm, I went back to Toronto where I was living, I realized that something pretty amazing had shifted inside me. I knew that food had an impact on how we felt, but I didn't really understand the depth of that. So in order to gain a better understanding, I decided to go to the Institute of Holistic Nutrition in Toronto and it was amazing to learn how our systems function and how to support them through food and lifestyle. I was so passionate about what I had learned that I started a blog in 2007 at the suggestion of my then boyfriend, who was really sick of hearing me talk about spirulina and bee pollen. I wanted to spread the word on how food really does have an impact on how we feel, how we look, how we think and how we exist in the world. Understanding how our bodies work is really the foundation of us feeling empowered to look after ourselves and our loved ones forever. The blog started with more lifestyle content, food was definitely a part of it, but I was by no means a cook or chef. I became interested in food through nutrition because once I understood what food actually does to us the recipes kind of came.
So after the blog took off, it was a couple of cookbook deals, a TV show and my online wellness platform called when I share videos on cooking, nutrition, lectures and workshops. My work is very lifestyle focused because health goes beyond the kitchen and I think it's really important for us to remember that there's primary food, which is all the stuff in our lives. That's the people we interact with. That's the media that we're consuming and it's the nature that we're connected to. Then secondary food which actually the calories that we're putting in our systems. So, primary food definitely needs to be considered when we're looking at someone's holistic health because you can be eating all the things you think are right but if you're constantly stressed out, if you're surrounded by people that don't support you in your wellness or make you feel very good about yourself then all these things will add up and potentially even negate all the wonderful things that you’re eating.
How has your relationship with your body developed? Did you always prioritise a healthy lifestyle?
SB: No, I haven’t always prioritised a healthy lifestyle. I became a vegetarian when I was 16, but I really didn't know anything about nutrition and mostly subsisted off bagels and cream cheese. I became vegetarian for environmental reasons but I didn't think about what the meat should be replaced with or making sure I was getting enough vitamin D and B12 and Iron and Zinc and these things. Yeah, the relationship I've had with my body has definitely gone through a lot.
I was always a little bit heavier. When I hit puberty, I sort of bulked up a little bit, which is something that happens to most girls who are transitioning from girlhood to young womanhood. But I was criticized for it a lot and became incredibly self-conscious. I have definitely flirted with disordered eating in my life and I think it’s mindset more than anything else.
What was really tough about that particular time of my life was that I had never really gotten attention from guys until I lost weight, and unfortunately, I equated the attention with the thinness, but in retrospect, I really understand that it was my confidence. That was the attractive part of it. I just didn't feel good in my body when I was bigger, because again, I was criticized for that. I thought that if I was thinner, I'd be happier and I would probably get more attention which incentivized further weight loss.
I would say that this challenging time in my life has impacted me by making me more vigilant with my thoughts to this day. Those very early memories of being teased or criticized by family members have left an indelible mark on my psyche. I now know when I'm starting to drift into unhealthy mental territory and now that I acknowledge it I can get myself back on track because it's pretty easy and seductive to go down that path for me.
Nevertheless, I'm happy to say nowadays, I think I have the best relationship with food I've ever had and it's through understanding how my system actually works, knowing how to listen to my body so that I fuel it in the way that it is asking and reminding myself that weight is not equal to health. But I still get criticized for my weight online and that's really tough. It's disheartening, especially in this culture and climate that we find ourselves in that people can still be negative about that. But I think we've come on great leaps from where we were even a couple of years ago. Which is really awesome to see!
How do you define a healthy lifestyle?SB: I would define it as balance. I think it's really important for us to care about what we're putting in our bodies and how we're moving and the kind of people we're surrounding ourselves with. But there is a fine line where it tips into preoccupation or even obsession. I've definitely been there after I studied holistic nutrition. It wasn't weight I was focused on but the healthiness of things, and that then became the next obsession for me. It turned into orthorexia, which is an obsession with healthy eating. It crept up on me and when I realized what it was (it didn't even have a definition at the time) I knew I had taken things
It was also difficult being in an environment with people who were very obsessed with what they were eating and it was sort of contagious. So, that experience has shown me that balance is really key. To me, that looks like a good balance of work and social time also time alone. It looks like not going hard at the gym 30 days of the month. It looks like taking time to honour myself with my menstrual cycle and how I’m feeling. It's also saying yes to the piece of cake because I've learned the hard way from restricting oneself. So, a healthy lifestyle is all about balance and I'm really proud of myself for getting to the point where I have a very healthy relationship with exercise and food instead of obsessing about it.
What are your opinions on diet culture? Does this help or disrupt our relationship with our bodies?
SB: I think diet culture is just a result of the patriarchy trying to restrict and repress women. Everyone can negatively be affected by diet culture but I’d say women are more affected than men. If there’s a problem and people are giving us a solution to that problem and that solution costs money then there's an industry born. Diet industry really keeps women locked in this perpetual cycle of not feeling good enough. And then, of course, just exacerbating the rampant consumerism that revolves around this whole idea that we're too fat and we constantly need to lose weight.
I now try to be careful with how I talk about these things and what I'm choosing to promote because I don't believe that everyone needs to lose weight. I really firmly believe that health can be at any size and our bodies are all just really different. I’m much more into health culture now and that looks like a balanced mind, body and soul.
Do you have any advice for people struggling with their body image?
SB: Focus on what your body does for you and not how it looks. Repeat the mantra, the way I look is the least interesting thing about me. I don't know what I would do without my body to be able to carry me through this life. Focus on the gratitude you have for the things that you are able to do with this amazing body of yours.
What is your advice for people wanting to introduce healthy habits into their lifestyle but may not have a lot of time in their schedule?
SB: I have three things every single person can do without buying anything or it taking much time:
Drink more water.
Chew your food.
These things are simple, free and we all have access to them. They’re really easy ways to start on a healthier track. If you’re strapped for time, try making one healthy change a day. Whether that's swapping out a cup of coffee for a glass of water or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, it doesn't necessarily take more time or money or energy, but it does make a difference. These small things add up.
With winter approaching, how can we maintain a nutritious diet when we might not have
SB: If you feel unmotivated, check in with why you feel this way. Is it because it's dark and grey outside? Is it because you don't have access to fresh food? Is it because you're exhausted? I think we have to reorient ourselves inside our bodies and actually believe what they're telling us. I think we've been led to believe that the voices inside of us are wrong and that we need to listen to external voices and not to trust ourselves. It's scary to trust ourselves when we've been led to believe that maybe we don't know best, but we really do. I think getting well is quieting the noise and just listening. What do I really want? And then not judging whatever the body wants. You just have to trust it.
It's time to hibernate. It's time to be quiet. It's time to potentially put more weight on and that's okay. Maintaining a nutritious diet in the winter is going to look different from the summer. It's not going to be about salads or smoothies. It's going to be about soups and stews, slow-burning carbohydrates that are going to keep us nourished for hours.
What are your thoughts on the impact social media has had on our diets? Is the promotion of fad diets healthy?
SB: Social media has had this amazing effect since its beginning. We are now much more invested in people's stories and their personalities with people sharing so much. But there's a lot more pressure to look good. There's also a lot of promotion of unhealthy regiments that exist on that platform. We have access to so much information on diets and wellness which can be very overwhelming, but indoctrinating in a sense because the more people are talking about it the more you feel left out and like you need to be contributing in some way to the narrative. So be careful who you follow for advice.
In terms of fad diets, I think it depends. Some people try a fad diet and have never felt better but the majority of people who go on any kind of calorie-restrictive program end up gaining all the weight back because it's not sustainable. So, I don't think fad diets are healthy to promote because it gives people this dietary whiplash, like what are we supposed to believe? There are so many contradictions, it's very confusing. I've always maintained the belief that eating a diet rich in natural whole foods is the best diet and making sure that you're getting a lot of plant material both for the phytonutrients and also the fibre.
How can you find the right diet plan for you?
SB: The only diet plan that's going to work for you and last is one that you enjoy. So, it's really about finding the foods that you love and the way that you like to eat. It's the one where your body feels the best, where you feel the strongest, where you feel the clearest in your mind and have the most energy. And that you're not, of course, calorie counting or thinking about macronutrients. I think as soon as we broke down food into its constituents is when we really got into trouble. Food is whole for a reason it comes from nature to us in this perfect package where it has everything we need. When we start looking at food, as macros, as protein, fat carbohydrates, or as calories we take that connection to the natural environment away from it. Food is such an intimate and personal thing, as well as the most intimate connection we have with the planet that we live on. I almost find it disrespectful to food to break it down. Eat until you're full, enjoy every bite and just know that when you are eating nutritious food you will naturally come into balance.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can sometimes be a challenge. What are your tips on staying consistent with a nutrition plan?
SB: Find recipes you enjoy and love to cook. Don’t punish yourself for enjoying certain food and drinks. Find joy in food and what works for you.
Can you share with us your go-to recipe this autumn?
Fuelling your body with good food has physical and mental benefits. What are the benefits you’ve noticed from following a healthy lifestyle?
SB: It’s changed my life from a personal standpoint and motivated me to inspire other people. I have energy, mental clarity, drive, passion, enthusiasm and a fire to be alive! The benefits are immeasurable. But remember it takes time to properly listen to your body. I’m still learning and adapting. Health is not a destination it’s a process and it’s going to be changing all the time, so learn your body. There’s no goal except to sustainably shift your life so that you are in connection with your body.