Towards the end of my Master's Degree program in 2016, I was given a business assignment: come up with a company name. I contemplated my entire journey through food and nutrition over the previous decade and a half, and searched internally for a consistent theme and a few words that would best fit to describe it.
Throughout my studies, I had never been deeply interested in the "superficial" uses for nutrition, things like bulking up muscle mass with protein powders or counting calories for weight loss. I first became interested in the connection between food and health when I learned of a familial link to colon cancer, and it was out of pure fear that I even embarked on this adventure (which is starting to look like a lifelong commitment) of figuring out how we can eat in a way to improve our longevity and quality of life. (Translation --> how does what we eat affect how we die?)
I obsessively researched ailments like cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, stroke, high blood pressure, Parkinson's disease, and others to find themes for how and why they happened, and how we (selfishly, I) can reduce the risk of developing them over the course of a lifetime.
The picture started to become clear. Foods and herbs from nature, in their pure or enhanced form, have the ability to provide us with all of the nutrients we need to maintain, or come back into optimal health. A few examples are listed below.
Omega-3's reduce inflammation & support cardiovascular & brain health
Pre- and probiotics support a healthy gut & immune system
Sulforaphane aids in detoxification pathways & suppress/prevent tumor growth
Ashwagandha & other adaptogens support healthy adrenal glands & improve our physiological response to stress
At this realization, the answer popped right into my head. My business would strive to educate people about the small but significant nutrients in our foods silently working away to help us thrive, and to empower people to bring more of the foods that would best serve their body to their routine as often as possible.
The idea was born: "The Purposeful Plate."
It was around middle-school age that I learned of my familial link to colon cancer. I was stunned. So much so, that I began to think about cancer obsessively. What was it? Why did it happen? How could it affect someone so young? How do I make sure to never get it?
Over the next year or so, I started to think critically about the way my family ate -- from Italian heritage, our Sunday suppers were extremely rich. I remember feeling intense chest pain on the way home from Grandma's house after a few of these meals, wondering if I was having a heart attack. (Nope -- just acid reflux, turns out I can't handle that much olive oil, sausage, and marinara on one plate).
I became curious about this connection to how we eat and how we feel. I knew and had experienced its immediate "symptoms," but I soon came to realize how our food habits create lasting effects on our internal wellness.
Shortly after this new realization, I decided to try living on a plant-based diet. Since then, I have explored various iterations of plant-centric eating, and although each journey provided its own powerful learning experience and growth opportunities for me personally and as a nutritionist, I have finally arrived at my very own version of eating, one which does not include a label.
I have spent years mastering the art of a plant-based diet -- how to feel completely satiated and balanced, how to provide our bodies with all of the essential nutrients, and how to make it easy and fun -- and now I want to help make it work for others with various needs and in any stage of life.
I am absolutely thrilled to have finally found my "sweet spot" among a world of endless options, and I want to encourage my clients to develop their own plan of eating, too. One that makes them feel alive and well, and thriving, not one that makes them feel confined, restricted, judged, or limited. (Can you tell? I'm a little anti-diet minded.)
In 2008 I attended CSUSM in sunny San Diego, California for a B.S. degree in Kinesiology, with an emphasis in Health Science. Following graduation, I was hungry for more, and enrolled in T. Colin Campbell's Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition program via Cornell University, a 12-week program about the correlations and connections between the way we eat and chronic diseases.
Upon completion, I knew it wouldn't be long until I applied for a Master's Degree, and arrived at NUNM in Portland, Oregon in the early summer of 2016. I was drawn to this program for its farm-to-table emphasis, functional food / food as medicine background, and strong ties to the naturopathic medical community.
It was there, in that speck of time, that my light really began to shine. In the kitchen, surrounded by nutritionists, talking about food all day long. I had found my true happy place.
During my studies in Portland, I volunteered with "Taking Care Portland," a local cancer survivorship program. I learned to cook large-scale meals for groups of cancer patients, survivors, and their families who would come to our events in search of community and healing. We would educate them in between courses about the ingredients used, their effect on the physiological processes related directly and indirectly to cancer care, and how they could incorporate them into a part of daily life at home.
Towards the end of my degree, I accepted an internship with the Brian Grant Foundation, a non-profit organization advocating for research and education about Parkinson's Disease, and specifically the relationship between the disease and food. By this time I had already known that certain foods either promote or soothe inflammation, but through my internship studies, I learned specifically which foods exasperate the symptoms of PD, and which foods suppress them. I also learned that eating for brain health should begin at an early age.
It suddenly shocked me -- people (including doctors!) don't often know what to feed someone with a neurological disorder....or almost any other common disease.
I believe whole-heartedly in the miraculous power of food. It transforms the human body and experience. It is social, emotional, familial, and physiological. Our health and wellness depends on it, yet most of us have no idea how to eat (to thrive), or why we should.
When given an illness diagnosis by a western-trained doctor, control is presented to the patient by way of medication. However, I believe the true power lies in the kitchen, using the medicines of the earth, in order to come back into a state of balance, reduce symptom severity, reverse the illness, or prevent additional complications.
If you are currently in great health, but want to reduce your risk of developing a specific or class of disease, clear yourself of headaches, aches, pains, inflammation, bloating, acne, emotional imbalance, fatigue, or other symptoms you might be experiencing, I am here to help guide you to optimal wellness.
If you are looking to bring more plants or variety to your plate, need support feeling satisfied on a plant-based diet, struggle with a negative relationship to food, or want to get rid of the yo-yo dieting and the binge-restriction mentality, I am here to help guide you to optimal wellness.
Have any questions? I am currently accepting new clients, and would love to get to know you and your needs better. Shoot me an email to get the conversation started.
From my plate to yours,
Leesa Morales, M.S.