Written by A Wild Dove | Photographed by Caitlin Mitchell
Did you ever wonder why certain events might cause you to overeat? Or why you might forget to eat in times of stress? According to Dana James, cognitive behavioral therapist, certified nutritionist and founder of Food Coach NYC, it’s due to your childhood imprints and how you developed your sense of self worth. Her philosophy is that women are divided into four female archetypes based on these ideas - each affect our eating patterns and diet. And that we can change our diet and relationship with food by examining our archetype and then plan productive menus and recipes around it. She outlines this exciting vision in a new book, The Archetype Diet: Reclaim Your Self-Worth and Change the Shape of Your Body that seemed to hit us head on. Her rare approach to women’s weight loss - by putting self-worth at the center of the conversation - is enlightening, inspiring and pretty genius. We sat down with Dana to talk the tangible, the intangible and the quest for a healthy lifestyle.
I love your philosophy around the "modern women." I think we all are that woman at some point in our lives. Can you discuss this concept and how we can feel "at peace?"
That’s my Martin Luther King speech. Haha. "I have a dream that we live in a world free from the tyranny of diet dogma and self-doubt. That we live in a world where we instinctively know how to rebalance ourselves with food, nutrients, elixirs, mantras, movement, and scents. A world where food is nourishment, not punishment. A world where we trust ourselves, not shame ourselves. A world where we amplify beauty, love and magnetism. This is my dream for the modern woman."
To find peace we must unlearn our conditioning. We've trained ourselves to use food as a reward, comfort, a distraction or pacifier. It’s much easier to eat a muffin than admit that your life is chaotic because you struggle to say no to people. Learning how to say no and not feel guilty requires inward looking. Why do I people-please? Why are my boundaries porous? Why have I placed a value on not disappointing people? This is an example of my Nurturer archetype. Finding your peace is dependent on where you source your self-worth from. The answer is hidden in that.
I am fascinated by your navigation system for the friction between food and feelings, science and spirituality, conscious thought and subconscious thought. Can you share the lifecycle of this inner “conflict?” How young are we when this starts?
It’s less of a conflict but rather an inclusion of both the tangible and intangible. Just because we can’t see it or measure it doesn’t mean it is invalid. Your feelings can’t be seen but they are valid. Equally so, your subconscious thoughts are drivers of your behavior, more than your conscious thought. I created the four female archetypes to bring to light our subconscious thoughts and change the repetitive behavior that stops us from seeing continued success.
Can you describe your four archetype approach and how we can become our own muse?
The archetypes are based on where a woman sources her self-worth as this will influence her behaviors, including her eating behaviors and intimate relationships.
Wonder Woman - If you need a glass of wine to wind down most evenings, you’re probably a Wonder Woman who sources her self-worth from achievement and recognition and this gives you permission to switch off.
Nurturer - If you find yourself comfort eating or secret eating, then you’re probably a Nurturer, who sources her self-worth from always being there for others but this comes at a cost to you. You often de-prioritize your own needs in favor of others and you’ll eat this way because you’re exhausted and no one is taking care of you.
Femme Fatale - If you’re scared to gain weight or that you’ll never lose the weight you’ve gained, then you’re likely to be a Femme Fatale who sources her self-worth from her physical body and you’ll find yourself constantly on a diet because you believe that a leaner body is better. It’s not but that’s your belief.
Ethereal - If you’re highly sensitive to emotions – yours and other people’s – then you’re probably an Ethereal, who sources her self-worth from being intuitive and different but this can feel lonely, like no one understands you. You’ll often forget to eat or numb this sensitivity with carbs because you don't know how to release these feelings.
How does Functional Medicine play a role in your unique approach?
Functional medicine is the core of my practice. It’s finding the root of the issue. For instance, if your hormones are out of balance, the answer isn’t adding more hormones, it's understanding that stress, the gut microbiome and the liver play a key role in hormonal balance and it’s rebalancing these inputs. It’s the same with the mind. Where do your perceptions come from? When in childhood did you develop this view and why? What needs to be reinterpreted so you can move forward? Whether it is the mind or physical body, the answer lies in the seed that created it.
Your practice offers so much! Can you tell us the philosophy and goals for your clients around your meal plans, one-one programs and of course your amazing retreats?
The end goal is always my client's goal - weight loss, body confidence, digestive ease, stress reduction or an improvement in mood or brain function. To get there a lot of insight and self-awareness is required and we spend most of our time looking into erroneous beliefs and reprogramming them. Knowing what to eat is easy, the harder part is understanding why your life is structured in a way that has you fall off time and time again.
What are five must haves that mamas and kids can both eat and find satisfying?
Make something they can get involved in. They are more likely to eat it when they’ve been part of it.
Berry smoothie - equal parts nut milk and frozen berries with 2 tablespoons of collagen protein powder with a hint of raw honey.
Avocado smash - have them smash the avocado then drizzled on some fresh lemon juice. Let them dip crackers in it and you can have vegetable crudités.
Chia seed pudding - kids love making this. Put two tablespoons of chia seed into a mason jar then add 8 ounces of nut milk. Add the lid and shake vigorously. Get your kids to shake the mason jar for 20 seconds. Let it rest for ten minutes and you have a very nutrient dense snack with fiber, omega 3’s and protein. Add fresh fruit if desired.
If you were on a desert island, which three supplements would you want with you?
Probably none because stress wouldn’t be robbing me of my nutrients! The reason I add supplements in to someone’s program is to correct imbalances, which are principally stress-driven. But I do love a good probiotic and an activated B complex is vital for replenishing our energy and mood.
What is your therapy?
Touch. There is no more powerful therapy. You can give a baby sugared water and she will stop crying but will start up again once it is removed or you can touch her and she will be soothed and her crying will stop. We’re just older versions of a baby but far too many of us blindly use sugar to appease an uncomfortable emotion. Connect with others, hug someone tight, get a massage, a foot rub or play fight with someone. Touch is a profound mood-rebalancer.
What are your favorite restaurants where the entire family can eat in NYC and LA?
In NYC it’s Cafe Clover and Quartino. Cafe Clover has the best flax crackers and sweet potato hummus. It’s better than any bread basket! I go to Quartino when I want a home-cooked meal - fish from Montauk Harbor and lightly roasted vegetables with a hint of olive oil. Mmmm delicious! In LA it’s my own kitchen! There’s nothing better than picking fresh greens and herbs from your garden and transforming them into a colorful salad that makes your mouth pop!
Can you tell us a few highlights from your new book ?
I’d encourage all women to take the female archetype test which they can find on www.danajames.com. This will help them identify their core beliefs and why they are struggling in certain areas of their life; be it a physical imbalance or habits they don't like. The Archetype Diet also gives a ten-day meal to follow for each archetype. As each archetype has different hormonal influences the diet is also different. I bust many pervasive food myths that make women scared of food. And finally, I take the reader through a 6-R reprogramming process so they can break the erroneous belief that their self-worth is based on an external factor like their success, looks, helping others or their intuition.
What makes you fly?
Seeing women awaken and transform their life. One of my greatest success stories is a woman, who within six weeks of us working together, increased her income by 300% and found the man of her dreams on a last minute trip to Nepal. She is 47 and froze her eggs five years before. They are now talking about having a child together - her ultimate dream! Her erroneous belief was that she wasn’t worthy enough to have it all. Once she cracked that, everything she desired came to her. Just magical.