Ex-dietitian talks move into holistic practice, improving immunity during COVID-19

Former dietician Megan Pennington Submitted

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Holistic practitioner and food sensitivity specialist Megan Pennington turned her back on being a dietitian after four years of studying at Montreal’s McGill University and four more in the field.

First of all, she says the school experience made her stressed, miserable, overweight (she gained 30 pounds in two years,) food-focused, diet-obsessed, and gave her skin issues, digestive problems, an eating disorder (bulimia,) fatigue, and brain fog.

Ultimately, it was the least healthy she’d ever been.

“University was very stressful,” said the Montreal-based Pennington, 35, a native of Chilliwack, B.C. and divorced mom of a seven-year-old son.

Pennington says there was also a huge focus on calories and grams of fat as opposed to quality of food, allergies, chemicals, toxins, food sensitivity or leaky gut, or how to consult and listen to a patient and discover emotional triggers, bad eating habits or poor self-esteem.

“There was a lot of focus on diet but in an unhealthy way,” said Pennington.

After graduating and getting her Bachelor of Science, she ended up backpacking for four months in Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and her physical and emotional well-being improved.

When she returned she split her time working as a dietitian at a long term care facility and visiting family in Montreal, but found there was little she could do for patients with Canada’s Food Guide.

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“I was cutting down sugar and fat for certain people with heart disease, I was following the best guidelines, but nobody was really improving all that much,” she said.

“I did realize that these are elderly people, it’s maybe not the best indication as to how effective it could be, but it didn’t help with my mentality of going out into the world and being helpful.”

Pennington said her depression about her work continued, but set up a home practice in Montreal after having a baby.

“That’s when I really got to start trying different things and start incorporating holistic practices like stress reduction, and the primary nourishment that I had experimented with just backpacking,” said Pennington, who also took online courses at the National Institute of Whole Health and the Institute of Integrated Nutrition.

“If you do things that make you happy it will improve your health and it doesn’t have everything to do with food. I think a lot of people are feeling like, ‘I’m eating super healthy and I’m still not seeing results,’ and they feel like there’s something innately wrong with them like they’re not doing it right, or it’s just their genetics or there’s nothing they can do. And I really want to get this message across, that there’s always hope. Food isn’t everything. Diet isn’t the only way to feel good.”

IMPROVING IMMUNITY DURING COVID-19 

I asked Montreal holistic practitioner Megan Pennington what people can do in the short-term to keep their immunity up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A wide variety of nutrients are going to help support the immune system to do its job properly,” said Pennington.

“Particularly vitamin D, because we’re entering spring it’s the end of winter, a lot of people are deficient or low in vitamin D.

“If you’re sleep deprived or you’re not hydrated, then that’s going to impede the immune system. Basically those three things are the most important, easy things to do.”

In terms of the best food for nutrients, Pennington recommends “fruits and vegetables, as much colour as possible for antioxidants, and to keep things simple, so unprocessed but it’s okay if it’s frozen too because there might be some food unavailability at this time. So it’s okay if it’s even canned, just stick with real food, not processed, so it has the most nutritional value.”

Pennington also says to remove things like booze, sugar, stress, and any food sensitivities.

She understands it’s hard to not be anxiety-ridden right now, so she also advocates meditation, taking baths, listening to music and exercising at home.

“You can watch funny cat videos,” said Pennington.

“Anything that gets you out of that fear based, ‘Oh, my God, the world is ending!’”

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