Health from the Inside Out - A Q&A with Herbalist & Nutritionist Kristin Dahl
We had the pleasure of interviewing top holistic practitioner Kristin Dahl of The Women's Wellness Collective to learn about healing from the inside out -- the ways in which what we eat and how we care for our digestive system can impact overall wellness.
Kristin Dahl is a Los Angeles based nutritionist, herbalist, and women’s wellness educator whose teachings emanate from her extensive education in holistic healing, Ayurveda, herbal medicine, plant-based cooking, and functional nutrition. Her book, The Art of Wellness, co-written with Olympic Gold Medalist Stephanie Rice, has gained global attention for its integrative guidance on health and wellness. Kristin’s approach merges the practical and spiritual, educating and empowering individuals to take preventative steps and make lasting change. Visit her websites www.kristindahlnutrition.com & thewomenswellnesscollective.com
ELANVEDA: Tell us about your journey and how it led you to do the work that you do.
KRISTIN: Over 15 years ago, I saw a naturopath for the first time and, following her recommendations, I experienced true vitality for the first time. Nurturing myself in this way completely transformed and elevated my life. It gave me a profound understanding and first-hand experience of the healing powers of herbs, plants, and food. I had been a vegetarian since elementary school and was passionate about exercise from a very young age, but I didn’t know how to truly nourish myself.
As a teen and well into my 20s, I suffered from extreme hormonal imbalances that affected me both physically and mentally and caused debilitating PMS symptoms. Each cycle left me physically sick and emotionally exhausted. These imbalances were remedied as I shifted into a life centered on wellness practices, daily self-care, and balanced nourishment. Learning to honor the needs of my body on a moment to moment basis and respect every bit of my being has been one of life's greatest gifts - a gift that inspired me to share my passion and the ability to transform with others.
The last 15 years of my life have been dedicated to broadening my knowledge and immersing myself in a holistic lifestyle. I’m continuously expanding my knowledge and am always eager to learn and grow. After studying holistic nutrition in Toronto, I started building my nutrition practice in New York City. From there, I went on to study plant-based cooking, functional nutrition, and herbalism. My latest project, The Women’s Wellness Collective, was born out of a desire to motivate and educate women to take healing and preventative measures into their own hands -a support system I wish I'd had through the many struggles with my health and hormones the first 20-odd years of my life. The collective is a culmination of my decade-long studies in holistic health + my insights and first-hand experience from almost 10 years of working in the wellness field.
E: How would you define "healthy eating"?
K: Healthy eating is nourishing yourself fully and regularly with a variety of seasonal foods. In my opinion, healthy eating is always listening to your body over trends – being flexitarian vs. rigid and dogmatic in your approach, and really tuning in to what your body wants & needs.
It’s also about becoming mindful of the fact that the foods we need change as our bodies change (and as the seasons change) and that as women, our caloric needs vary as our hormones fluctuate throughout each month, with pregnancy, through menopause, and so on. Honoring our cyclical nature means listening to the subtle rhythm of our bodies’ changing needs and responding with whatever feels most nourishing.
There’s a time and place where committing to healing protocols and seasonal cleansing rituals is necessary and supportive, though there’s also a time for indulgences. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy, but take care of yourself daily by nourishing your body with regular and consistent meals and mealtimes, plenty of water, and dishes full of fat, fiber, protein, and unrefined carbohydrates.
E: In your opinion, what are the worst things you can put in your body?
K: Fast, processed and denatured foods, artificial sugar, soda, and inflammatory oils (like corn, canola, soybean, safflower, and rapeseed). When eaten regularly and in excess, these foods cause systemic inflammation which eventually expresses itself as degenerative disease, diabetes, IBS, inflammatory bowel syndrome, allergies, food sensitivities, mental health disorders, and autoimmune disorders.
E: How is Ayurveda a part of your daily wellness practice? In terms of nourishment or otherwise?
K: What I love about Ayurveda is the dynamic integration between environment, body, mind, and spirit. Ayurveda is something that I often draw on by incorporating elements of ritual into my daily routine. I tongue scrape every morning & evening and practice Abhyanga (self-massage) daily & breast massage 3x per week (or as often as possible) to regulate & ground my nervous system, move my lymph system, and create a loving connection to myself & my body. Exercise is a priority for both my physical and mental well-being & spending time in nature every day in some way shape or form is non-negotiable.
When it comes to food, I’m prominently plant-based and I often lean towards what in Ayurveda is considered a sattvic style of eating, which is gentle on my body, digestive system & mind. I gravitate towards more neutral and natural foods most of the time and find that my body feels best that way.
E: What are your go-to daily herbs and what is their purpose?
K: This really shifts with the seasons, environment, my moods & intuition (like with food & everything else in life) – I always gravitate towards what my body wants & needs. What I love about herbs is that they nourish and replenish the body from the inside out, much like food. There are also so many wonderful herbal remedies for support through menstruation, for deeper sleep, and for optimal digestion.
Some of my current favorite herbs on rotation include:
Nettle (I like Mountain Rose Herbs) + Peppermint sun tea or infusions: A lovely cooling, alkalizing, and replenishing mix for summer – full of vitamins & minerals.
Holy Basil tea or infusions:Holy Basil (also known as Tulsi) is an adaptogen that'sgrounding, mood-regulating, blood sugar balancing, and a wonderful caffeine replacement. It has been one of my biggest herbal allies since my first cup many years ago while traveling through India. However, it’s best to avoid if you’re breastfeeding or trying to conceive.
Ashwagandha in tincture (I like Herb Pharm) or powder (I like Anima Mundi Herbals) form: Another adaptogen, ashwagandha is so helpful for stress management, sleep support, anxiety relief, immune system regulation & energy balance. I love this for super busy days, when I’m feeling a bit maxed, and when traveling.
Amla & Triphala in capsule form (check out Elanveda): I alternate these both and take them about once a month just before my period to support digestion and elimination. The wonderful thing is that each is both nourishing and supportive to bowel health and simultaneously has a gentle cleansing effect. Amla is an anti-inflammatory antioxidant loaded with vitamin C and its cooling effects are helpful for overly active Pitta in the summer.
Burdock as a tea or infusion (I like Mountain Rose Herbs) :This is something I often have on rotation and drink when I feel like my body needs a bit of a cleanse. Burdock is often used to cleanse the skin and blood, eliminate accumulated toxins via the kidneys, and improve liver function. For women, it can help clear skin disorders and alleviate both premenstrual and menopausal symptoms through gentle detoxification. In Chinese medicine, burdock is utilized for its ability to calm excess “heat” in the body (a common condition for Westerners).
E: So many people rely on caffeine to get through the workday. What’s your take on this, and what are some alternative energizing herbs or “brain foods”?
K: It truly all depends on how well your body metabolizes caffeine & how it makes you feel. I’m a slow metabolizer of caffeine so I personally feel best when I stick to yerba mate or green tea or skip caffeine altogether (I’m a double fire sign too). I save coffee for special occasions, a random creativity or workout boost, or when traveling and exploring all the foods and goodness a place has to offer.
If you’re really exhausted + running on fumes, then guzzling coffee to push on and “get through the day” tends to eventually, if not immediately, have adverse effects. Excess caffeine sends the nervous system into a state of fight or flight where the body is running on adrenaline & cortisol. When we do this long-term, it eventually leads to burnout and exhausts the endocrine system (+ our energy stores), at which point having caffeine may even make you feel more fatigued.
For women, coffee often has an adverse effect on hormone function which can affect moods, sleep, weight, and the delicate balance of our monthly moon cycle. In cases of hormonal imbalance, estrogen dominance, or healing from any health-related issue, coffee is often the first thing to go (along with alcohol) to help the body come back into homeostasis.
When it comes to reclaiming your energy, connecting with nature & getting at least 15-20 minutes of natural sunlight daily is crucial – this is my #1 remedy for burnout. Walk in the woods, on the beach, or in a park - hang in your backyard. Soak in as much nature as possible daily to help your body to re-align with its inherent nature. Hydration is also key – aim for ½ your body weight in oz of water per day.
For energizing herbs, I like schisandra, rhodiola, maca, ashwagandha, and ginseng. Again, like with everything, it’s a process of feeling out what works best for you & your body and knowing that may change – with the seasons, with travel, with your workload, with your emotional life, etc. It’s always best to work with a practitioner 1-1 when you need support, to create a plan that's most supportive of your body and lifestyle.
The most energizing foods tend to be the freshest ones – raw foods and seasonal produce, rather than excessive amounts of packaged foods. The best way to get energy from foods is by supporting optional digestion and regulating blood sugar levels. This means eating regular meals at regular meal times with plenty of protein, fiber, fats, and carbohydrates. Plus, always taking in what you need – never starving or overstuffing yourself.
E: Can you talk a bit about the connection between mental health and the GI? How can diet influence our mood, and why does digestion seem out of whack when we’re stressed or emotionally unstable?
K: This is such a huge topic to unpack – but here are the basics:
Digestion plays a key role in our moods as the gut is often referred to as the “second brain”; about 95% of our serotonin (the feel-good hormone) is produced in the gut. Gut health is often this missing link in mental health disorders. When our digestive system is working properly and our microbiome is happily propagated with lots of good bacteria, it lifts our mood and we experience less anxiety and depression. Highly processed foods, pharmaceuticals, and OTC drugs negatively impact the microbiome as they’re loaded with chemicals and additives that deplete positive gut bacteria and over time break down the protective gut mucosa.
The gut and nervous system are in constant communication and when we’re overly stressed or emotionally upset, the stomach is almost always the first place we feel it. The digestive process requires a lot of energy and when our body is demanding that our energy go elsewhere or when we’re in a perceived state of danger (fight or flight mode – aka stress or emotional distress), digestion shuts down as a protective mechanism.
E: What are your top tools for boosting digestion?
K: Waiting to eat or eating very little when you’re extremely stressed or in a state of emotional distress.
Drinking plenty of water every day, as mentioned above. If you tend to get very bloated after every meal, 1. Drink water away from meals – at least 30 mins to 1 hr, and 2. Try taking bitters before meals (I love Herb Pharm).
Eating plenty of fiber throughout each day in the form of fresh produce, leafy greens, nuts & seed and sprouted lentils & grains.
E: What are your favorite beauty foods and herbs? For hair, skin, etc.?
K: Gosh! So many – almost too many list but here are some favs! Lots of spring water (in glass!), fresh green juice, green tea, chlorophyll, dark leafy greens, watermelon, berries, nuts & seeds (like flax, hemp, and chia), nut & seed mylks, salads, loads of veggies, and sprouted lentils. Lots of fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, mint, and thyme. For herbs and supplements, I love nettle, amla, schisandra, shatavari, spirulina, and chlorella.