Heidi Merker’s passion for health and nutrition started more than 30 years ago when she was pregnant and caring not only for her own health but that of the child growing inside her. Originally from Frankfurt, Germany, Heidi trained as a naturopath where she worked with people with all sorts of issues from diabetes to obesity. In those early years with clients her curiosity began to arise . Why are these people getting sick in the first place?
Heidi then began to focus more and more on nutrition as one of the main areas of prevention. Heidi now specializes in the emotional causes of overweight and how to work with them so that weight loss becomes the natural result of healthy eating. I spoke with Heidi to learn more about her passion for health and nutrition and her counseling service in Ashland.
Heidi, thank you for speaking with me today. Your background is so varied.Can you tell me about your work in health and nutrition in Germany and how you eventually came to Ashland?
As a naturopath trained in Germany in the 80’s, I was oriented to finding the underlying causes of every health problem presented to me, not just treat the symptoms. And the more I saw patients in those early years, the more I saw the connection between their lifestyle and their symptoms. This connection brought me to my passion for helping people become vibrantly healthy and full of energy. Since nutrition is one of the strongest areas of prevention, I’ve focused my study and practice on the relationship between nutrition and health, including weight loss without dieting, the best natural supplements for the body, and detoxification. It’s been amazing to me to see the changes in my clients’ health and well being from their commitment to change.
In 2002, I came across a book called There’s no such thing as a negative emotion by Daniel Barron who lives here in Ashland. I immediately sensed that I had encountered something that would change my life. For the last decade, I have immersed myself in my own emotional healing and was also an emotional growth facilitator in Germany based on Barron’s work. In 2008, I moved to Ashland to continue my journey of emotional healing. I am now bringing the health and nutrition services I offered in Germany to Ashland, with a particular emphasis on the emotional causes of overeating and low energy.
What is the connection you’ve found between emotional eating and weight loss?
For over 25 years, I’ve tried many different approaches to helping people who eat compulsively and I’ve found, like many people have, that diets don’t work. The solution is more causal. Permanent weight loss, in most cases, requires an honest examination of the sources of emotional eating. Why do I eat what I eat? Why do I have cravings? What is physical hunger versus emotional hunger?
By exploring the emotional roots that influence most of our food choices, we can re-boot our natural choice mechanism and make healthier food choices. I’ve seen it work again and again.
What has been your experience with this approach? How do your clients lose weight and keep it off?
I´ve met many people who have been dieting most of their lives. They are often very frustrated and full of guilt about not having been successful. In my experience, these women and men keep cycling through losing weight and gaining it back again because their emotional wounds, causing the weight gain in the first place, have never been explored and brought into awareness.
When I ask women and men questions about their childhood, they start seeing patterns that started very early and are living in the unconscious. These are big aha moments for them when they realize how the patterns are still affecting their eating today. So, the first step is to bring the patternsinto awareness. Then we look at what the benefits of these patterns are in the present. This helps people discover what they are really hungry for that food has become a substitute for.
While my clients identify the emotional roots of their eating patterns, I help them, step by step, discover foods they love that support weight loss .The emotional connection makes it possible for them to change old habits permanently. For example, one client went through her parents divorce when she was 5 years old . She felt a lot of pain about this and every time she cried, her mother gave her candy to soothe her. This became a habit of eating sweets whenever she felt hurt or sad and developed into a lifelong sugar craving. When she came to see me she had no idea that her addiction to sugar started when she was 5 years old, or that it was created as a protection she no longer needed. It’s not always easy, but changing just one pattern like this can change someone’s relationship to food significantly. I don’t focus on losing X number of pounds—that’s the recipe for a lifetime of dieting—I support people in slowly but surely moving towards healthier nutrition where weight loss is a natural, inevitable result. Through this approach, they find their own way of eating that works for them for the rest of their life.
Heidi, who benefits most from this approach? Who is your ideal client?
Not everyone is ready to feel emotions they’ve been covering with food. My most successful clients are people who are willing to change their life from the inside out, people who are ready to leave old eating patterns behind, men and women who are at a point in their lives where they want to experience true aliveness, and know, from experience, that it’s time to end the cycle of yo-yo dieting.
I understand your work has been particularly helpful to women in their 50’s who are experiencing the challenges of menopause, mood swings, and empty-nesting. Can you tell me more about that?
Women in their 50’s go through many physical and emotional transitions. The menopausal changes in hormones often lead to mood swings which can cause cravings and overeating. This is also a time when children leave the house. Mothers who’ve primarily focused on their children can experience an emptiness when they’re no longer needed full-time. And, for some women, one way to numb the feelings of emptiness is uncontrolled eating. A hormonal imbalance can only add to this situation. This is why some women suddenly find themselves struggling with weight issues for the first time, or gaining weight they’ve never gained before, except maybe during pregnancy. At the same time, women 50 and older typically have more time for themselves to focus on their emotional life. In my experience, women and men who have the courage to explore the emotional roots of their eating habits have the most success finding and maintaining their ideal weight.
Heidi, you prefer not to use the term Anti-Aging in your work. Why is that?
Anti-Aging implies that age is something negative, something we have to overcome or fight or cure. Aging is part of the natural flow of life. I think that this whole idea of anti-aging comes from an earlier time when aging was connected to diseases and people died much younger.
I like the term Graceful Aging. I bring to my clients the experience of a European lifestyle that supports aging later and living longer. I help them embrace their fear of aging so that it is no longer running their life unconsciously. By proactively taking steps towards a healthier life, we can take responsibility for our age and honor it instead of running away from it.
Another way you help your clients is through supplementation selection. How do supplements fit into your picture of vibrant health?
People often tell me that they believe they get all the necessary nutrients from their food. And, it’s just not true. Research shows us that many health issues are directly connected to insufficient nutrients in food, for example, allergies, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and digestion problems, It’s counter-intuitive, but well-documented, that most people with weight issues are undernourished. Making the transition, gently and step by step, from processed food to healthy, fresh food, is one solution. Another is adding vitamin and mineral supplements that help the body feel more nourished until it gets all the necessary nutrients from food.
Before I started to include supplements in my counseling work, I wanted to determine if all supplements were created equal. Exploring this question was like entering a labyrinth. Each supplier of vitamins and minerals claimed their products were the best. My confusion grew with every new company and every new marketing angle until I discovered a company that produced Real Food vitamins and minerals. They showed how their supplements were fundamentally more bio available than isolated versions because their vitamins and minerals were bonded in a living food environment. This means better absorbtion, longer retention and higher utilization.
In 1990, in Germany I started to use them myself and follow their impact on others, mainly other health practitioners. These Real Food supplements brought dramatic changes quite quickly to many different conditions, from high blood pressure to low bone mass, from allergies to immune disorders. All supplements are not created equal, and Real Food supplements are an important ingredient of any movement towards a healthy eating plan and natural weight loss.
Ok. Let’s speak about what you do and why it’s helpful for people to see a Health and Nutrition Coach to deal with their emotion-based eating issues.
If you´re having trouble meeting your health or nutrition goals, you can benefit from health coaching, someone who can support you in taking manageable steps toward your goals, identifying emotional causes that play out as personal roadblocks, and tracking your progress. Someone with the heart to feel your challenges and the experience to guide you to a different relationship with food.
As a Health and Nutrition Coach, I love to help people see how food and lifestyle affects their overall health and wellbeing. There are literally tens of thousands of books, magazines and websites focused on educating us to become healthier. But people get more and more confused, especially because there are a lot of contradictions in the area of nutrition. People come to me with questions like: “What should I eat?”, “When should I eat?” “Is this food ok to eat or do I need to eliminate it from my diet?” or “How can I create a meal plan that fits into my lifestyle?” I support men and women to find their personalized way of healthy eating and living, one that works for them and is enjoyable just as food is meant to be. I also hold them accountable until they become accountable to themselves which is only a matter of time.
Heidi, what else can you share about the relationship between emotions and weight loss?
Emotions are the root of our being. If we don´t start there, any changes are just temporary and on the surface. Compulsive overeaters can reframe their relationship to food by investigating their emotional connections to how they nourish themselves, to their health and their life. I’m talking about freedom from a lifetime of poor habits and overeating. Rather than just treating symptoms, like a new diet regime, people who get to the source of the problem can find permanent solutions. It is a joy to see people get excited about food again and feel more confident to come out of hiding, in both subtle and obvious ways, as they lose the weight they want to lose.
How do you actually support people in this process?
I work with clients primarily one-on-one, in person or on the phone, with emails to answer questions or help people through stuck moments in between sessions. I’m also available to work with groups. I really enjoy working with families or small groups of friends. My sessions are affordable and are available in single sessions or packages of multiple sessions.
I also put out a free monthly newsletter to provide ongoing education about nutrition and health and to stay connected with people who are interested in the role that emotion play in vibrant health.
How can people find out more about you and your work?
I have a workshop coming up on Wednesday, March 13th from 7pm to 8.30pm at the Ashland Library called, “Breaking Free of Compulsive Eating”. This is a great way for someone to be introduced to what I do and for us to get to know each other. Anyone interested in a Free Health History can email or call me. And they can check out my website where they can also subscribe to my newsletter.