Our founder Kiana Estevez sat down with Dietician Jessica Jaeger to learn more about the practice of intuitive eating and repairing our relationships to food.
Kiana Estevez at Aisle Mine: Jessica, I’m so happy to have you here. So if you want to just kick off by introducing yourself, where you’re joining in from, and my first question is how did your journey to becoming a dietitian start?
Jessica Jaeger: Thank you so much for having me! How did I begin? I was in high school, I ended up getting a job at a smoothie shop, just a little part time job. For whatever reason, it really sparked a big interest in food. Shortly after, when I was in my undergrad, I thought ‘Oh, you know, heck, I’ll take a nutrition course’. I started learning about the scientific side of things. I’ve always loved food but the love for food combined with the science, combined with counseling, psychology, and sociology. All of my interests were able to come together in one place. Then, I ended up transferring schools to start a nutrition program. However many years later, here I am.
Kiana: What’s your relationship with food today?
Jessica: That’s a great question, because that’s actually what all of my work is centered around. I talk about the nutrition piece, of course, but it’s the relationship to food and body and movement that I’m most concerned about. It’s an area that really is not addressed enough. If we don’t have a good relationship with food and with the body, it’s going to be really hard to make choices that allow us to take care of ourselves and to nourish ourselves.
For myself I am very big on intuitive eating: making choices that benefit us, physically and emotionally. =I don’t make choices based off whatever would be “the healthy option” that you would typically think of healthy. Sometimes that might be the case. Other times what’s healthiest in the moment is comfort food. I’m working on broadening that scope of what healthy actually means.
Kiana: Wow, I have never heard that term, ‘intuitive eating’.
Jessica: There’s actually a book [about intuitive eating], the authors are Elise Thresh Evelyn Tripoli, if anyone’s interested in checking it out. They do a fantastic job of talking about how we can eat and relate to food in a way that doesn’t feel rigid or obsessive or anything like that.
Kiana: You talk about nourishment over dieting. We love that. We love that. How did you find that path?
Jessica: People are becoming a little more familiar with it. When I first started working, I was on college campuses and I was really interested in sports nutrition. I always liked going to the gym. Inevitably, what happens working with sports nutrition with athletes of any level and especially at the collegiate level is you run into eating disorders and disordered eating. I swore I would never work with eating disorders. But it got to the point where I realized that I need to learn this. Otherwise, I’m I’m doing a disservice to the people I’m working with.
By learning about disordered eating, it made me better able to counsel and relate to people. We can talk about the things that were maybe not food but were aligned with food. There was a missing piece prior to being able to talk about that relationship with food component.
Kiana: After seeing that spectrum from eating disorder to nourishing your body, why is it important to nourish our bodies?
Jessica: There’s there’s so many different reasons. Ultimately what it comes down to is we want food (and the way we eat) to be able to support our lives. We want food to be an added pleasure to our lives. Not an added source of stress.
Jessica: I started my private practice, right around when COVID started, which may sound like a similar story. It’s the COVID silver lining.
I had been counseling for a couple years at that point, and I got to this place where, I knew what I wanted to do. It’s been an amazing, amazing experience. There’s this sense of empowerment and competence that comes along with that.
Kiana: You know, I really hear you stepping into your power and amplifying that with those who work with you. What is your vision with your private practice and your platform?
Jessica: I absolutely love the work that I’m doing and helping others find how they can feel empowered. That’s why this work feels so good. I can watch people grow. That’s what it’s all about. I’d love continue to do the individual counseling. I would like to have a broader impact at some point in the future. Whether that’s getting more into writing or books or things like that, to really get the message out there. The individual work is amazing and so valuable. At the same time, I can only meet with so many people a week.
Kiana: Yeah. You look at this collective beast, and you’re like, ‘how can I actually amplify this message?’
I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on nutrition and food accessibility in underserved communities.
Jessica: Yes, absolutely. We talk about health by making these individualized food choices and food decisions. A big missing piece of that puzzle is talking about community nutrition, access to care, and access to food. That can come from policy. In nutrition and dietetics programs, it’s all put on individual choice. And yes, that’s going to play a role but we also need to make sure that we’re talking about food accessibility and how we can get to that point. We can suggest that you eat “X,Y, and Z” but if that food is not accessible, then it doesn’t do anyone any good.
Kiana: For lots of people, McDonald’s and Burger King are the only viable option within two miles.
Jessica: Absolutely. That needs to be spoken about. If we assume that it’s all individual choice, and take out that other component of what is accessible within the communities, society, or whatever it may be. Now we’ve created this sense of guilt for the individual without solving the real problem.
Kiana: How does our relationship with food impact our lives overall? It’s such a large question. It’s such a large scope.
Jessica: When we can have a positive relationship with food and we can feel good about the choices we made, both in a physical sense and an emotional sense, the world is our oyster. But it’s not going to be taking up this negative or excessive amount of headspace. And it’s going to give us the things we need to be able, like you said, to go on and do the things we want to do and meet our goals and all of those different things.
If we have a negative relationship with food, then what I see most often is that there’s so much headspace being taken up by ‘what did I eat today, I eat too much that I eat something bad. ‘
I never use ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods in my counseling. It really is a huge hindrance on people’s lives. It can zap your energy away from the important stuff. If we have a healthy relationship with food, we can eat for nourishment, we can eat for enjoyment. It’s the expression of culture, it’s helpful for connecting and socializing. That’s what I love to bring to people! All of the other components of food, aside from just the nutrition piece.
Kiana: In these last 12 months, what has been one takeaway for you in your relationship with food?
Jessica: Oh, that’s a good one. Oddly enough I don’t think I’ve been asked that, at least not recently. I’ve gotten so much more enjoyment out of food, and I’ve always loved food. But a lot of the time, what can happen for people is even if we’re not super aware of it, maybe we have these underlying food rules, our perceptions or judgments about food.
For me being able to kind of like pinpoint ‘Was there an old food rule there? Am I thinking that that’s a ‘bad food?’ Then challenging that and being able to enjoy food and all types of food. I would say that is the biggest benefit that I’ve gotten out of working with food this year.