At the age of 10, Ana Bella knew she wanted to become a chef. Today, she is a Red Seal Chef and registered holistic nutritionist based in Vancouver, B.C. With her love for food and a passion for nutrition, Ana uses food as medicine to support herself and others. She finds joy in creating and shar-ing nourishing recipes for the mind, body and soul.
What is the link between trauma, anxiety, chronic pain and diet?
Trauma is a distressing experience that can have adverse effects on a per-son’s mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and social well-being. Chronic pain is a continued physical pain that lasts longer than what the natural pro-cess of healing should allow. Symptoms of anxiety and depression often arise alongside chronic pain. The main link is chronic inflammation. Inflam-mation is part of the body’s defence mechanism and it is triggered when the body feels like it is in danger.
The state of our gut health directly affects both our physical and mental well-being. An overgrowth of “bad” bacteria in our guts can trigger inflammation in the body. With our Western diet being composed of processed foods high in refined carbohydrates, riddled with sugar and toxic additives, it is highly likely that those who have chronic pain are also suffering from poor gut health, without knowing it.
How can people with anxiety and depression eat to support them-selves?
High blood sugar is one of the biggest risk factors for depression. A diet rich in refined carbohydrates and processed foods is the main culprit of high blood sugar. To combat this, a diet composed of whole foods is the way to go! The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative damage so foods that are high in antioxidants would lessen bouts of anxiety and depression. My fa-vourite antioxidants are ginger, turmeric, dark chocolate, kale, arugula, pumpkin seeds, avocados, blueberries and strawberries.
The main recommendation I give to my clients is to eat their greens and veggies first and then they can eat whatever else they want. This way, they fill up on nutrient dense foods and won’t have as much room for the rest.
But as important as a well-balanced diet is, it needs to be combined with restful sleep, body movement and self-love.
What inspired you to get involved with supporting people through food?
As a child growing up in the Philippines, food has always been a big part of our culture. My family and I moved to Canada when I was 10 years old and taking food classes at a young age inspired me to become a chef. After a decade in the culinary industry, my own health started to suffer. I had low energy, a weakened immune system, terrible mood swings, indigestion, ec-zema and migraines.
I had my “aha moment” in 2012 when I decided to eat healthier. At that time, I didn’t know any better and blindly followed a guide that advised consum-ing more wheat and dairy. Eating that way made me feel worse; I felt itchy, bloated and more fatigued. Even with years of cooking, I never once thought that what I consumed affected how I felt. Here I was experimenting with vari-ous diets and it finally hit me – there was a correlation between the food I ate and how I physically felt. Soon thereafter, I decided to go back to school to learn more about nutrition.
How do you support yourself as you support others?
To support my own well-being, I cook deliciously nutritious foods, practice self-care, visit other health care practitioners and surround myself with peo-ple that I love and trust. A few things I do for self-care include walking around the seawall, dancing at iDance studios, going to a hot yoga class, cleaning, journaling, diffusing essential oils, reading and drinking tea.
I have a physiotherapist for active rehab to support my recovery for my neck, back, leg and foot pain injury. I see a counsellor every couple of weeks for my mental health and I have an excellent massage therapist and acupunctur-ist to help get into those deep tissues.
I have a close friend who I can talk to about everything and I’m also pretty close with my siblings. Together, they give me advice in supporting my mental and physical health. Having close friends and family around for sup-port is really important. It is all about community! As I get support from oth-ers and practice self-care, I am then able to support others that are going through the same thing. We all need each other!
Can you tell us about your nutrition and business workshops?
I mostly teach cooking classes with a nutritional flare. I love getting people excited about eating healthy foods, particularly whole grains and vegetables that they don’t normally eat. As a chef, I love to include cooking methods to enhance the flavours of the food. As a nutritionist, I try to balance nutrients in every dish that I make.
I’ve recently developed new plant-based classes for Cook Culture Cooking School and I teach at their downtown location for public and private events. I also run small workshops at The Bella Life House which includes fermenta-tion, knife skills and healthy chocolate creations. And I am currently in the middle of writing a course that focuses on the basics of cooking with nutri-tion at its foundation. My plan is to start teaching this course in September. Stay tuned for that!