Local nutritionist Karen Kennedy is prepared for what the new year always brings in America: people with resolutions to get fit.
She has noticed that for the last nine months of the pandemic, many people stopped caring about things like diet, exercise and nutrition — not because they wanted to, but because they’re in “survival mode,” a state of chronic stress over a long period of time.
“When we live chronically in survival mode, you can’t survive and thrive at the same time. To survive, you want to live to the next day. You don’t care if you eat well,” she said. “We’ve been in survival mode for so long we’re losing our thrive.”
Kennedy, 51, hopes to help folks navigate the process through her business, Real Food Matters, based out of her La Center home.
During the pandemic, Kennedy has been working virtually with clients and developing a new program. A Clark County native, Kennedy is required to be certified through the state Department of Health to operate as a nutritionist, which is slightly different from a dietitian.
Obviously, it’s something she’s passionate about.
“Our entire health depends on what we eat. We don’t just have a little store of supplies in our butt cheek. We can’t just say, “Oh, I need some serotonin, let me get it from my butt cheek. We have to eat it,” she said. “We like to think we know everything the body needs, but we don’t. There are so many things in food that we don’t understand that helps support a healthy micro biome and that helps our mental health in ways we’re just finding out. Everything falls apart if we don’t eat properly.”
The Columbian chatted with Kennedy to learn a bit more about what she does.
Tell me about yourself.
I’m actually from Clark County. I went to Columbia River High School and I grew up in Hazel Dell. First, I was up in Puget Sound, where I went to college. I worked in the Seattle area in vaccine and cancer research for about 10 years. I started shifting gears; I got more interested in preventative methods rather than remedies.
So what exactly do you do at Real Food Matters?
I recently retooled and went back to receive training in functional nutrition. I’ll get a client, and rather than saying “Oh you have diabetes and you need to be on a diabetes plan,” we need to look at them as an individual and see what the underlying factors are in their health problem. Two people with diabetes could have completely different issues. I always look for the root cause of their problem so this person doesn’t have a lifetime of medication. I look at their history, I look at their labs, sometimes I run extra labs. I have a lot more time –their regular doctor has a lot of great skills, but they don’t have much time because of the model they’re working in.
How has COVID-19 impacted business?
You know, it hasn’t impacted very much. It has kept me from doing in-person cooking classes, which are a great way to give people tools and confidence, but it was very straightforward to pivot to virtual consulting or meeting people outside. That was not a problem for me, so I feel fortunate. I do miss being able to go in someone’s kitchen and have them show me what’s in their fridge or cupboard. That can be helpful in my job.
What are some myths and misconceptions about nutrition?
That we’re going to take all the good food away from you — that we’re going to take away the butter, the bacon, the eggs, the fat. Over the last 10 years that has shifted, I think, with the popularity of keto diets. In the first 10 years of me working as a nutritionist, I felt like I spent every day trying to convince people that fat wouldn’t make them fat. They were starving themselves and binge eating because they were never full.
What are your thoughts on obesity? Does it conflict with body positivity?
I’m a Gen Xer (born between 1965 and 1980). I grew up in a non-body-positive climate. I have a lot of millennial (born between 1981 and 1996) friends. I love what they have brought to the world in terms of body positivity. I think it all works together. A lot of times with obesity, there’s obesity and there’s just big. You can have a bigger body but not be obese — obesity creates a metabolic health crisis and a whole host of other issues. But being a big person isn’t bad. People in my generation approached it with a depriving, self-hate attitude. That makes it not fun. The mindset is so destructive. It makes it not sustainable. I think the body positivity and not feeling shame of your body and who you are — I think it’s an integral component to viewing your body as something you want to care for, rather than something that needs to look a certain way for someone else. (Body positivity is) a treasured gift that millennials have given us.
What can we do to come out of this “survival mode” from the pandemic?
We need to intentionally bring ourselves back into thriving. That’s what I see in January and February next year; being mindful of that and knowing we need support to shift back. Do whatever you can to get a good night’s sleep. Set a timer to go to bed. Set a timer to drink water and exercise for your mental health, not to burn calories.