Episode 74: Nourishing Our Bodies and Making Healthy Eating Equitable with Dr. Akua Woolbright

Episode 74 of Balanced Black Girl Podcast: Nourishing Our Bodies and Making Healthy Eating Equitable with Dr. Akua Woolbright
Episode 74 of Balanced Black Girl Podcast: Nourishing Our Bodies and Making Healthy Eating Equitable with Dr. Akua Woolbright

Today we’re talking about nutrition for better health and dismantling food inequality with Akua Woolbright, Ph.D. Dr. Woolbright is an expert in plant-based nutrition who specializes in teaching people how to harness the healing power of foods to prevent and reverse disease, feel great, look younger, and live longer.

In 2009, Dr. Woolbright joined Whole Foods Market to help create and implement the company’s signature healthy eating program, blending science and evidence-based recommendations with a back-to-basics approach.

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Episode Topics

  • The difference between rural and urban poverty and food norms.
  • Nourishing our bodies and making healthy eating equitable.
  • Getting rid of biases and stereotyping in health education spaces.
  • The importance of nutrition education.
  • How to break through the barriers of food accessibility.

Gems From Today’s Guest:

“I teach my students to turn back to those foods that nature provides. The simple way of eating.”

“Because we didn’t have much control over our circumstances it [farming] felt more like oppression than empowerment, and I’m really enjoying watching the younger generation and these people in urban settings redefining what farming can be and reclaiming the power of that, and it’s something that is ours, and that can be beneficial to our people and our communities. So, I just love watching all those transitions that we go through as a demonstration of our resilience.”

“I just wanna challenge my colleagues to see people as strong, brilliant, and resilient and to meet them there.”

“Each of us has a different reach. So, make the choices that are within your reach to make and leave the rest until another day, another time. And then when that moment comes, do the next step and then the next step. And that’s what a healthy eating journey looks like.”

Mentioned In This Episode:

Balanced Black Girl Partners:

This episode is sponsored by Cantu Beauty.


Les: Welcome to Balanced Black Girl, a podcast dedicated to mental, physical, and emotional health from the Black woman's perspective. Tune in to hear from Black woman health and wellness experts, giving the approachable advice you need to help you feel your best. Let's dive in.

Thank you so much for tuning into this week's episode of Balanced Black Girl podcast. I am your host Les and Balanced Black Girl is a space dedicated to conversations about Black health, joy, vitality, and wellbeing from the perspectives of Black women. And I am so happy to have you here. So first and foremost, can we just all take a collective breath in big inhale and exhale? How is your heart today? If you're not driving, take a moment to put your hand over your heart and just send some love and energy to your heart center because we all need it. Stress has been high. Everyone is doing the best they can to continue pressing on. And if that's you, I see you. I hear you. A few months ago, we released an episode on stress management, featuring Nadine Joseph, of Peak and Valley.

And it has actually become one of our most popular episodes to date, which is not surprising because it was released back in March of 2020, right as COVID-19 was really picking up steam here in the States. And in that episode, we talked about the science of stress and how adaptogens can help our bodies adapt to stressful situations. At the time that we recorded that podcast, we did not know how stressful the coming months would be. However, I'm so glad that we have that conversation because it has also been incredibly helpful for me. And for so many of you who have been listening, Peak and Valley blends are a huge part of my daily self care routine. The Balance My Stress Blend helps me keep my nerves in check and the Brain Blend helps me stay focused and sharp. So I definitely recommend checking out that episode.

If you're interested in learning more about the science behind stress and heading to the show notes, to get our special coupon code for peak and Valley. However, in addition to using adaptogens, I found that stress management really takes daily action, as well as a lot of mindset work. Those are two things that I'm incredibly passionate about because those practices have really changed my life. They've changed how I react to daily stressors and a lot of the stressful situations we're feeling as a collective, which is why I am so excited to announce our first Balanced Black Girl virtual masterclass, all about stress management. So this masterclass is called Self-Care for Stress Management. And I will be your guide leading the session. I'm going to be teaching you practical, tangible steps you can take to reduce stress and create more space for self care. It's going to be a virtual masterclass diving into stress management techniques, mindset work that will unlock calm and help you feel more centered.

The class is going to be 90 minutes long. The session is going to be held on Saturday, September 26th at 12 noon Pacific time. And you can sign up at www.balancedblackgirl.com/class. It will be completely virtual and don't worry you don't have to be on audio or video. That will just be me on audio and video teaching you. And those who sign up will receive a replay after. So even if you can't make it live, that's okay. You will be receiving a replay as well as all of the resources you need to create your own stress management and self care plan. I have been wanting to do this for so long. It's been a labor of love, really putting these materials together. And I'm so excited to share them with you because I want you healthy. I want you calm. I want you vibrant and I would be honored to teach you how to do that.

So again, go to www.balancedblackgirl.com/class to sign up for our stress management for self-care virtual masterclass. All right, so now let's get into the interview today. We're talking to Dr. Akua Woolbright about nourishing our bodies and making healthy eating equitable. Dr. Woolbright is an expert in plant based nutrition who specializes in teaching people how to harness the healing power of foods to prevent, manage, and reverse disease, have more energy, feel great, look younger and live longer. 

In 2009, Dr. Woolbright joined Whole Foods Market to help create and implement the company's signature, healthy eating program, blending science and evidence based recommendations with a back to basics approach. Y'all have this conversation with dr. Woolbright was so lovely. She was so much fun to talk to, and it's just such a wealth of knowledge. She knows so much, and she shares it in such a beautiful, accessible, easy to understand way. And I know that you will enjoy this conversation with dr. Woolbright as much as I did. So let's jump into the interview.

Les (00:05:58): I am joined today by Dr. Akua. Woolbright. I am so excited to have you here. Welcome to the show.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:06:06): Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here today.

Les (00:06:09): Me too. I mean, we're gonna talk about some topics that are so important. Talking about nutrition and nutrition, education, food equity, all topics that I'm incredibly passionate about and am excited to learn from you about. But first I would love to learn more about your background and what brought you to the work you do.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:06:31): Okay. So I grew up on a small farm in East Texas in a little town called Lovelady, population, 600 people. We had cows and hogs in the yearbook. I literally lived down a dirt road that turned down another dark road. So it was country living. I was raised by my maternal grandparents, my grandmother, you know, stay at home and cook those full meals from food. She harvested off the land. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist pastor. So that combination of growing up, eating fresh produce, that you can go outside and just pick right off the tree. And watching my grandfather have a lifetime of service where he was so committed and so sincere in his effort to help other people just shaped me into who I am. And, you know, I later went on to study sociology and African American studies and all those things and start to learn the difference between rural poverty and urban poverty.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:07:38): We grew up, we were poor. We didn't have much, it was my great grandmother lived next door and she was still cooling water alcohol. Well, she didn't have a telephone. She still used an outhouse. This was in the sixties, seventies going into the eighties, but you didn't feel poor on the farm because you were surrounded by all your friends and family and a lot of nature's bounty. No, you weren't hungry because you had varying vines, pear trees, a garden animals for people who ate meat. And so the party was different. And I grew up having a very great childhood, a very happy childhood and just loving the taste of produce straight off the vine. So I think that kind of shaped me to be a plant based nutritionist today. It's just part of my story.

Les (00:08:30): That's a beautiful story. And I so appreciate you touching on explaining the differences between rural poverty and urban poverty, because those are two different things that I don't think, I think people are either kind of well versed in one or the other, and don't understand, you know, kind of what that can look like from the other perspective. So for those who may be as familiar with maybe a rural setting, I do have a lot of listeners who tend to live in big cities around the U S but they're not familiar with rural living. Can you give us a little bit of insight as to what that's like?

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:09:09): Yeah, sure. So I will say that my mother lived in Houston, Texas in the urban setting, and she raised my younger brother and their lifestyle was very different from mine. We would go visit them. They lived in the projects, she was on public assistance. She struggled by herself trying to make sure that he, you know, didn't succumb to the streets that he had the things that he needed, but I just watched her suffer to the point that it broke her. Honestly, it broke her because I think urban poverty is a form of violence. It's an assault when every day you're having to, you know, take several buses from one side to another, to try to get to the services and institutions that you need to try to raise a son on your own. And you're fighting the streets for his life. I just watched a heartbreak over the years.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:10:12): On the other hand, I was running up and down a dirt road and my cousins who lived next door were catching fireflies at night and putting them in jars with holes in the lid so we can watch them light up. We would go sneak into my grandfather's garden, you know, burst  open watermelons and eat them when we’re not supposed to. We would ride our bikes into the woods and just explore acres and acres of land, a freedom that you have when you have miles of fields to play in. At the same time, we're still struggling with poverty. You don't notice it as much because your bellies are still full and you're not having to compete with some of the urban conditions that I saw my mother and my brother go through. You know, we, like I said before, could eat off the land, but you had to really conserve the food that you have because it had to last you throughout the winter, you know, we would slaughter a hog and a cow once a year, usually happens around November at the first cold snap.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:11:25): And that's when you slaughter animals. And it would have to last the entire year for our household and my great grandmother's household. And a lot of my cousins lived with her. And so we ate meat, but it wasn't a whole full steak at every meal. My grandmother had to stretch that meat. So it became chicken and dumplings. It became, you know, chili or a stew. So we stretched meat so that we could eat off the land and be full and be satisfied and not feel like you're living in poverty. It just was really amazing. I look back on it at how creative we are and how resourceful our people have always been, you know, and you didn't get to go to the grocery store often because we live so far into the woods and it would take you 30, 40 minutes to get to town. So we did that once a week.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:12:17): It was Friday. So you would go do your weekly shopping. So whatever you bought on Friday lasts you for the week. There was no “Oh, let me run to the corner store, let me run to the fast food restaurant.”  There was none of that. We ate home cooked meals from scratch on the occasion that we ate out, and this would have been once every several months, we may have gone to a Dairy Queen, but there was no Subway or Taco Bell or McDonald's. All those powerful places that people are so familiar with today we didn't have, so you were forced to cook and to really eat food that nature provided. And that's really what my message now is with the students that I teach. Just really turning back to those foods that nature provides. It's a simple way of eating. Yeah.

Les (00:13:07): Oh my goodness. I love that. Well, I so appreciate you sharing both of those perspectives because I think that they're both so important to understand, and I especially loved what you said about our people, our community being so resourceful, because this spirit of resourcefulness that Black people have. It's unfortunate, the circumstances that that resourcefulness came from, however, it's beautiful and you appreciate it when you see it.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:13:37): Yes, yes. I always appreciate it. And I look back at some of the things that we experienced that you as a child and really understand. But I remember after I completed college, I went back home to visit my grandparents one weekend. I just thank them for all they did to shield me from some of it. And to make sure that I got an education that left the farm and was able to go on with my life. And that's something else. I think that people and cities don't always understand now being in Detroit, you have a lot of urban farmers and that's growing in popularity. As people want to be more in control of their food choices and just be the house and stuff for termination around what we eat and that whole delivery system from farm to table. But growing up on a farm, it was quite the opposite.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:14:33): It was get out, leave and go get an education so you can have a better life. So even with that, you see some people who live in urban settings, people who grew up in rural settings they'll have a different experience, a different perspective when it comes to farming, you see a lot of urban farmers now, especially those who study urban farming, really big of being able to shine a spotlight on the resistance and farming and the resilience and farming and how that's part of our activism. But when I grew up on a farm, it was hard. It was Texas and August 110 degrees, and you're outside doing manual labor. And because we didn't have as much control over our circumstances. So it felt more like oppression than empowerment. And I'm really enjoying watching the younger generation and this, even in urban settings, redefining the farming can be and reclaiming the power of that as something that is ours, and that can be beneficial to our people and our communities. So I just love watching all of the transitions that we go through as a demonstration of our resilience.

Les (00:15:47): Oh gosh, that is so beautiful. Especially over the past few years, I mean, with access to so much information and so much interconnectedness, we have seen a lot of people wanting to simplify and wanting to pair down and wanting to have more space and think that there's space for both, both perspectives are really beautiful, but I agree. It has been, it has been really interesting to see that shift.

Les (00:16:22): So I would love to also talk to you about your work with the Whole Cities Foundation. You are the national nutrition director at the Whole Cities Foundation, which for those who are not familiar is the nonprofit arm of whole foods markets. As we talked about before the interview, I'm a former team member. So I am familiar with the foundation, but for those who aren't, can you tell us a bit more about what the Whole Cities Foundation does and who it serves?

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:16:50): Absolutely. So the mission of Whole Cities Foundation is really to increase access to fresh, healthy foods and mainly communities of color and an increase in access to sound nutrition education. So the first part of that increase in access to fresh healthy foods really happens through our grant programs. And so we have a variety of ways that we offer grants to small organizations and meetings around the country that are looking to improve the services that they deliver to the people that they've served. So it may be that we're giving grant money to a farm, a food stand, a food truck, or some other operation that needs a little bit more money to make improvements to their delivery system or to the way that they are able to serve their community. The nutrition education part is really the part that I am so happy to be able to direct and to lead the less talk food program.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:17:58): And we have programs in communities around the country. And I go out and talk to people about the benefits of a plant based diet. And it's been really encouraging to me is that people of color especially get excited about plant based foods and taking their health into their own hands, that empowerment around wanting to have more control of what we eat and our own health outcomes has been really amazing to see. I think people are getting frustrated with their doctors, not being able to spend as much time with them as they would like. And they're looking for ways, as one of my colleagues likes to say, to “become their own doctors.” And so when we offer these nutrition education programs, I'm really amazed that people are asking very advanced questions. They are challenging me around healthy eating because they're looking for that next level of information that can help them prevent and reverse disease.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:19:04): So that's really the basis of our work. We are helping people to use plant based foods to come off medications, to lower their cholesterol, their blood pressure, their blood sugar, and to feel better in their bodies. And we have so many testimonials from people saying, “I was told I needed a biopsy, and I was really concerned that it could be cancer, but after I completed the 28 day elimination diet, the comps were completely gone. The biopsy wasn't needed.” You have people who have been on insulin for years start seeing their numbers drop after just a week or so of a clean plant based lifestyle. You see people who had really chronic joint pain, almost immobile returning to the class saying “Oh my goodness, do you see, mewalk in here without my walker or without my cane?” Those are the stories that make me really excited.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:20:04): And it's frustrating that we can't get this information out to more people because there's so much power in the food that we eat. There, there are people who are suffering and I just want them to know, but there's some good news and there's some hope out there that we get the field, right. We have the ability to take control of our health and feel better in our bodies and just to live longer, more vibrant lives. So that's what we're doing at Whole Cities Foundation. And I'm always excited to talk about it because I see the results that people are having. And I want more people to have those results.

Les (00:20:38): Absolutely. I mean, I'm sure for you, as an educator, seeing people apply what you teach them to their lives and such incredible outcomes has to be rewarding.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:20:50): It really is. You know, I just believe that we deserve it. When I first started doing this work and joy, it was the first city that spent an extended amount of time in the other cities prior to the chore, I was moving around a lot spline and from city to city, I moved to Detroit in 2013 and I had public health workers. Other nutritionists medical doctors tell me that a plant based program would not work in Detroit and other communities of color. I was sat down and really spoken to firmly to let me know that this program and this approach would not be effective. And I was told that that was the case because people of color would not be able to adopt a plant based lifestyle. And the professionals know that to be true because we are not able to be compliant with our pill regimen regular doctor's appointments or annual exams.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:21:59): I was told this at medical conferences, I was told this at a nutrition conference. I was told this by public workers. And I always pushed back to that by saying, maybe that's true, maybe it isn't. As any health professional, it's not our job to judge it. It is our job to deliver the same information that we will give any other community and then allow people to make the choice for themselves about how much of that they're able to adopt. The other thing I said is if people are not able to make the change, perhaps we should look more at ourselves and our approach rather than putting the full responsibility on the community may be, if we shift how we can interact with communities of color and approach any more culturally relevant, and relatable approach, people would be able to make those changes. And so I have really crafted a program that is based on not just information.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:23:02): And we do use evidence, space, scientific information to structure all of our classes. We go beyond that to also offer inspiration and ongoing support. So as what about going a step further, going a little bit deeper, maybe people where they are without judgment and then helping them along the way to make the changes they choose for themselves. And wherever they start is fine with me because we celebrate all changes, all successes, largest, small alongs, the person is feeling more empowered and they have more information and to live a healthier, longer life. So our program's a little bit different than what you see in the public health field, because it's really based upon an empowerment model that everyone has the right to the same information and has the ability to make the change. Because as we said earlier, our people are resilient. We've done great things throughout society, throughout history. We know how to live off the land. We know how to make food work, and we just gotta remind people of that brilliance and help them tap into it.

Les (00:24:24): There's so much that I appreciate about what you just said. And then also so many things that when you were talking about information that you received at conferences, comments of your peers are so disheartening. And I always question, you know, if someone makes a blanket statement about a population of Black people, don't take their medicine or don't go to the doctors or don't keep up with X, Y, Z, that the initial response is to shame the behavior and to not look at what the reasons are behind it is. So one sided and disheartening and happens all the time.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:25:08): Absolutely. You know, I was at one conference and a colleague actually said that we were talking about goal setting. And how do you help students, clients, patients goal set around a lifestyle change and healthy eating and healthy habits. And one of my colleagues said, “Well, I don't think my patients even know what goals are. I don't think they even know what their goals would be or how to even set them.” And see if you're starting from that place, that's a huge assumption. And if you're just starting there, then that directly impacts the type of services you're going to structure and offer your population. And so I immediately, you know, get in trouble in all these spaces about that. And just challenge that thinking, you know, again, maybe we put the responsibility on us. Maybe we're not asking the right questions. Maybe we don't know how to pull the information out of them.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:26:06): Maybe they don't feel comfortable speaking with you. Maybe they don't feel safe with you. Maybe they don't believe that you really care. Maybe they can see that you're judging them through a lens of stereotypes. So if we can just, as healthcare professionals strip some of the biases away, let down some of the assumptions and just really go deeper and ask our own selves, “What can I do differently to really support the people that have trusted me with their lives.”  In a very similar way that we look at school teachers. I love those school teachers who go the extra mile, the extra step to make sure their students are learning to make math fun, keep their students engaged because it's the same thing with adult education. So I just want to just challenge my colleagues to see people as strong, brilliant, and resilient, and to meet them there.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:27:04): So, well, a lot of my programming, I keep my standards high and my students reach that standard. And then they challenged me even further. We start with a watered down message to eat more fruits and vegetables know walking is more fresh air. People have heard that already. Okay. What else can we tell them? Can we get into, how do you really read a label? How do you construct and help you play? What do you do for maximum weight loss? How do you really construct a diet for maximum, you know, blood sugar, regulation and maintenance? Can we go a little bit deeper in our recommendations?

So that's the other part. I like to challenge my colleagues around, you know, can we say more than eat everything and moderation? Can we say more than portion control? We've already said moderation and portion control enough times. I think people are really ready for a more advanced message that can help them actually get their health under control. And that's really the challenge I want to put out there to those who are listening, who may be working in these fields. People are able to do more, but we have to just lean in a little bit harder, a little bit farther and help them get there.

Les (00:28:23): So important. I'm so glad that you shared that and challenged folks to that because it's so important and it's so needed, especially right now, just with everything that we're dealing with as a community it's so needed. And I so appreciate you sharing that.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:28:41): Thank you. I’ll take all the encouragement I can get.

Les (00:28:48): That empowerment approach. I also think is so important. And if so, it's so needed in so many other areas, like the way you described, how you use it with your nutrition programming. So important. I have a fitness background. I mean the fitness industry is horrible about shaming behaviors and is not largely empowering at all. I mean, so many different areas of this industry could really benefit from adopting more empowering messaging.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:29:18): And imagine how you feel if you go to a personal trainer or nutritionist, and they're talking down to you and making you feel the same, you may never go back again, opportunity. You just lost someone. So we can just be patient with people's process and allowing them to be where they are and just meeting them there. I think we can have a larger impact. It may be a impact. Well, we can have an impact. No one of my students came back to me. She was so excited. She's a hardworking single mother, completely single mother. She had an amazing three of her kids by herself. So they were very, very small. And she was so excited that I took the chips out of their lunch. And now I'm putting bananas in. That was her big change. And now I'm like half five, and yes, they'll go for it. You've got to do it. And so excited for her on just taking the chips out and putting the banana in it. That's all you can do this month, this quarter, this year, that's what we're going to start. That's what we're going to celebrate, you know, and knowing means, and I've had some personal trainers buy, so I'm like, I'm going back a lot. They're not hear me. They're not listening.

Les (00:30:34): Yeah, absolutely. And I want to segue a little bit, but it does connect to what we're talking about, which is so much of the patterns we're seeing. I think in the wellness space, be it with nutrition, fitness mindset, whatever are so often attributed to just personal decisions. And well, if you don't have the willpower to do XYZ, or if everything is just about the individual's decision. So if you don't make this healthy choice in this moment, it is a personal failure. And I would love to talk about some of the barriers that people have to making those choices especially around food equity and accessibility is something that is so incredibly important to understand. So I would love to talk a little bit more about food insecurity what it means for folks who are food insecure and how nutrition education can be are relevant and meaningful for those people who have greater barriers to access for fresh, healthy food.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:31:43): There are so many variables, right? There's so many factors. So we know that in many communities, people are space with so many social economic barriers and it could be in the form of an adequate transportation to even get to a grocery store or a doctor's appointment. So many of those are reasons why people were not compliant with some of those things. There could be inaccurate access to medical care housing. We think about something as simple as taking a walk, some communities are not safe to walk. We don't have walkable communities. And if you live in a cold climate like Michigan, you know, you may not be able to walk around. There's only a few months out of the year when you can walk on it in state. So there's all of these barriers of around social economic limitations, geography, where you live, what resources are available to you, what you're in, all those things is sometimes we don't think about then you have food deserts.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:32:46): So these are communities where there's a major supermarket, large grocery retailer in a few miles of walking distance. So people would have to have a car to go grocery shopping. And when you have food deserts, people may have to rely on small convenience retailers, whether it's a dollar store, a gas station, a convenience store, or fast food restaurants for their daily meals. In addition to food deserts, we also have food swamps. This is where you have a larger number of fast food restaurants and other junk foods. Then you do fresh, healthy produce other nourishing foods, food choices. So when you have a food desert in combination with a food swamp, because in many urban areas, you have both simultaneously, people are really relying on. Those are high in sugar, salt, and fat, or their daily meals. And when you're eating foods that are just filled with empty calories, no vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients lack, but check this from Crohn's disease and build up a healthy immune systems to ward off other serious conditions.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:34:07): You have people who are often sick and susceptible to more illnesses. In addition to that, when you're living off of foods that are high in salt, sugar, fat, you develop a taste for those foods. So one of the things we really focus on in my work is to your point, not as blaming the person for the choice that they're making, looking at that context of their socioeconomic status and their environment, but also looking at their cravings. There's some biological mechanisms behind why you crave certain foods and willpower is not enough to turn those cravings off. So I have a class that I teach that's titled stop dieting and start eating willpower will never work, right? So then we get into how those cravings are developed over time and specific steps that we can take to start turning those payments off. It's a gradual process, but if people follow those steps all the way through, as I got my students to do, and the Whole Cities Foundation classes that we teach around the country, you can see those cravings start to turn the halfway, Mark the three, four smart, and finally all the way off, we can reset our palette and our taste buds to appreciate just the taste of a or some blueberries and an Apple.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:35:40): But that's the work. It's not just enough to wag our fingers at people and say, stop eating that way, which is what they get. Sometimes when they only have a 10 minute doctor's appointment, people might say that them really go change your diet, but there was no support for them to actually do that successfully. So I think we have to have education in place to help people really know how to take those steps to making those lifestyle changes. There's some research that came out that really showed that even food access is not enough, is really important to increase access wow. Offering nutrition, education classes. So people have the resources and the information together to make those changes.

Les (00:36:27): So important. You really can't have success with just one or the other. It needs to be both. Absolutely. And I love what you shared about understanding people's cravings and, and understanding how to train their palette. Because I think that that is something that a lot of people struggle with. I mean, I remember when I started becoming more interested in health and wellness and started changing my diet and kind of that process and, and how long it took me to to appreciate those things. Because it is a process that can be very discouraging for people. And I love that you teach that in an approachable, phased way because that's so important for longevity.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:37:05): Yes. So all of our programs really start from this place of eating more whole plant foods. Now I want people to eat from the earth. So one of the ways I like to say that is those made by nature, not by man. So getting the food manufacturing companies away from your dinner table, as much as possible and skipping some of those convenience boxed, processed foods, and thinking about our great grandmothers and thinking about the farm I grew up on and ask yourself what I see this food on this farm somewhere flying, swimming, walking, or growing. So that's the first test. Isn't a real food from nature. Your great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother could go outside and find it in her natural environment and bring it back into her kitchen and prepare dinner. The next thing we really like to ask people to do is to make sure their foods are plant-based.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:38:06): We're not saying that people should be big in a vegetarian necessarily. That's a personal choice, but we want people to really flood their bodies systems, organs, cells, and DNA, with green and colorful vegetables, a vibrant array of fruits, lagoons, whole grains, not just whole wheat, but other whole grains. And there's a few nuts and seeds for our healthy fats. And we, again go back to first mantra of whole foods. One are nuts and seeds to be unroasted and unsalted. So I don't mean, you know, this snack. Can we see, I want to eat nuts out the shell, you know? And so you can keep it at a minimum. So they're, they're still high in calories. But if we can do this consistently where you're really eating whole foods from the earth and mainly plants, a colorful rainbow of plant based foods, your food becomes micronutrient dense.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:39:06): That means that your foods will naturally be high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and vital nutrients and low in saturated, fat cholesterol and calories. So just by focusing on whole plant foods, you're getting more, what you need and less what you've done. And that's where your food becomes medicine. That's the foundation, whichever dietary path you choose beyond that because people have their different preferences. If that is your solid foundation. And you're consistent with that, that is the beginning for weight loss for combating chronic disease or reducing medications and turning those cravings off. But fill in the blank. We all have our thing, whether it's more of the chocolate family, sweet or savory, we all have our guilty pleasures that make us happy. If you want to turn that off and get more control. That whole plant based message is the starting place. That's when you begin.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:40:15): And then if you go further into that, it starts every day out that way. But for me, one of the biggest steps people can make is changing breakfast and getting all those traditional breakfast foods off the table, the bacon eggs, the size of the pancake, the biscuits, and switch that out for your micronutrients are your food medicines. First thing in the morning, your greens smoothies, a large jumbo salad, your leftover lentil chili. And people sometimes think that sounds crazy, but people who eat beans for breakfast are better able to regulate their blood sugar for the remainder of the day. And beans are inexpensive and shelf stable and contain more antioxidants than berries and several fruits. So that is just the beginning of how we teach people our Whole Cities Foundation classes to get in the driver's seat and feel more in control.

Les (00:41:13): I love that example because when I first started paying more attention to nutrition and what I was eating and nourishing my body in different ways, one of the best unlearning things that I had was that certain food gets eaten at certain time of the day, that breakfast to look like sweet and sugary and in a bowl, or it has to look like X, Y, Z, and realizing that my body didn't really care what time it was. I was hungry. I wanted to eat something that I liked. So that could be savory. That could be leftovers. It could be beans. I do that a lot. Purely being told, we need to eat certain foods or certain types of foods at certain times of the day is rooted in marketing and has nothing to do with what our bodies actually want. And I love that. You said that

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:42:02): I love that you get it because you go to other countries. I lived in Ghana, West Africa for a while. People are just eating food. There's no breakfast food or lunch. The food people are just eating that in their natural environment, but that's one great place to start. It's rethinking the category that we put food in. And instead of thinking about the nutrients, okay, I need some purple and blue foods. What about my ovaries? What about my prostate? What about my nervous system? You know, what about my bones? If we think about nutrients instead of food categories, meal categories, then we start being more mindful around our eating choices. There's a mindfulness and awareness that comes into those choices.

Les (00:42:49): I love that. You said that because also I think one of the greatest learnings and I'm drawing a lot just from my own experiences, becoming interested in wellness as a young woman, also learning how to associate just how I'm feeling. If I'm feeling off. If I feel like, you know, your body needs X, Y, Z. I think learning how to listen to your body, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. Learning how to listen to your body. If getting rid of food. Marketing is a great unlearning. Learning how to listen to your body is kind of the great learning. And I think for a lot of folks, we don't know how to listen to our bodies. We're deconditioned from it. Our, our bodies and our minds are disconnected. Do you have any advice for folks who are learning how to better understand how to nourish their bodies through figuring out how, what they eat impacts, how they feel?

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:43:42): This might not answer your question directly, but I want to go back to the food cravings conversation. I talk about listening to our bodies a lot when I teach that class, because sometimes we think we're listening to our body, but we don't speak ancient DNA. So we're misinterpreting what we think we hear. And I say ancient DNA because our DNA really hasn't changed a lot over the thousands of years.


Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:46:33): So we are still looking for foods that would be in our national environment. So one of the stories I'd like to tell is imagine there's a caveman or ancient human who somehow got buried in the eyes in Chicago or New York and has survived all of this time. And then we dug them out and he would look around. And instead of seeing freshly grown produce in his new urban setting, he would stay in a stream of fast food restaurants. That’s a joke I tell in class, I have all these images to go with that. But the point I'm making, when I tell that story is we are the ancient man. We still have our same DNA that we've had for centuries. But what has changed is our food landscape, the food environment has so we're meant to crave sugar because in our national environment that would have reminded us of those.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:47:37): That would be high in calories that can give us the biggest bang for our bike. The sugar to our ancient ancestors would have meant honey ripe fruit when they've been cookies, pies, and cakes. So when you're craving foods, part of listening to your bodies, also holding out the awareness that you may think you're craving a piece of cake. You may think you're craving a cookie, but it should be there. Your body is sending your brain and signal to eat because you have not consumed either enough calories or the right quality of calories. So think about that for a minute. If you've skipped breakfast and lunch, because you're starting your day out fast and you're just running from one meeting to the next, you hit two o'clock and now you want everything in sight. You want to tear open the vending machine because now your body is sending alarm signals to the brain telling your brain that you're starving.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:48:40): So you're going to try to make up all these calories at one sitting. So part of it is just asking yourself, how about eating today? Maybe I'm just hungry. If that's the case, let me ignore the craving for the cake and just grab a lentil chili or my leftover salad. And let me just finish that first and then see what happens. The other thing to ask yourself is how about gum? The right quality of calories in today? Because we started out the day with a breakfast that was made up of a cup of coffee and a donut. You ate some calories, but those calories do not include enough nutrients to turn the hunger switch off. So the craving could be from magnesium or calcium. If you take a nutritional biochemistry class, it's so much fun. All these mechanisms are happening throughout the body and there's class and time during the day that your body needs the calcium, but in order for the counselor to be transported and these phosphorus and magnesium, or maybe there's some iron, some non-heme iron from plant based foods, but it needs some vitamin C to be better absorbed into the bloodstream and into the cells.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:49:50): If you're missing those nutrients, you will receive those signal to eat more food, but we may misinterpret that and think we want a bag of chips. So it's just really being still enough and to move slowly enough to ask ourselves questions. Before we grabbed the food we’re eating today, did I get enough quality of calories today? So sometimes starting there is enough to slow down some of those cravings and to bring that mindfulness to our eating. Does that make sense? Is that helpful? 

Les (00:50:28): It does. I think it is helpful. I think being able to ask questions, whether we're asking ourselves questions, whether we're getting nutrition, education and asking questions, I think is the key to adopting new behaviors. If that's what we want to do. And I think learning to listen to your body, asking yourself questions and trying different things, trying to eat the meal first and seeing what happens is so important.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:50:50): Yeah, and be honest for how you feel. You know, mine always jokes. Every time he goes to a particular fast food restaurant, he has gastrointestinal issues afterwards. Why are you doing that? And then he never really made the connection. Like, you know, I like it, the body doesn't like it, those foods that we love, you know, but do those foods love you back? Are those healthy relationships? Those schools love us back. And I'm always encouraging people to think about the relationships we have with food.

Les (00:51:30): So important. I would love to for just a moment, circle back a little bit. I know we have talked a bit about food access and the different kind of levels and different ways that food access can manifest. And I would love to talk a little bit more about kind of the intersection of that and what we were just talking about. So maybe for those folks who either have limited food options or are in an urban setting where maybe they have a very long commute and, you know, take public transportation or work a few jobs, have a family, whatever it is, and may not necessarily have the constant time or access to things like fresh produce, fresh ingredients. What does that look like? And where can they start implementing some of the things that we were just talking about from where they're at?

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:52:24): That's actually a really great question. Sometimes when people are making a transition to a healthier lifestyle they're excited in the beginning. I know I was, and I was experimenting with all kinds of gourmet and elegant meals and got very elaborate with my cooking. I don't have time for that. I am a single mother. It's been my son and me since he was three. He's now 16 and we've been completely solo for the past 13 years. And I'm working in communities around the country. I don't have time for all that elaborate cooking. And then you have the added barrier, or maybe not having access to grocery stores or a large income that could be even more challenging for people. So I just like to encourage people to think about food very simply. So for instance, I can construct a meal that will last a family of four two or three days.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:53:28): For under $15, I will go get a large bag of dried Pinto beans. I'll go get two or three sweet potatoes, maybe some frozen broccoli, if you like meat, some high quality meat, but you're going to eat smaller portions because we're eating more produce than anything else. Now, if you don't consume meat, maybe you're getting tempeh and I'm going to cook enough food to last me for a few days on very little. One of our favorite meals is just opening a can of chickpeas, right? I make sure it's high quality chickpeas, organic non GMO, non aluminum can. No salt added all of that, but rinse those chickpeas really well. And we'll put a little bit of curry powder, onions and garlic and a skillet with some avocado oil. Bring that to nice heat. I'm gonna add my chickpeas, spread them all around the curry powder that I'm making, let them simmer for about 15 minutes, all done and almost ready to eat.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:54:28): I'm going to top it with some greens, maybe some spinach or some kale, maybe some tomato, but that lid back on it. But then on top of some millet or some brown rice, I am happy, but that's a meal for me. And so part of this is being able to eat more simple things and really stretching those dollars. So things like bulk foods, your dry beans, your hearty produce, like your sweet potato, then you can just kind of crack open and you could put black beans and sweet potato with some kale on top. Put a little bit of cilantro dressing on top of that. I'm happy, with my stuffed sweet potato –  a girlfriend of mine in Detroit introduced me to that. Thinking about those dried grains, dried beans, those hearty vegetables that would last on the counter or in a cool basement, even for a couple of weeks.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:55:20): So when we can go shopping, you can stock up and it can last you for a longer period of time. So I see people who have those challenges who come to my class, taking those recommendations. So they may do a ride share, or they may combine their shots coming in. They're going to church on a Sunday. They may figure out the grocery store is near there and they may do their shopping at that time. And they're stocking up for several weeks. And the other thing we can do is when you see produce on sale, we can buy it then, and then we can freeze it. Things like berries, you can freeze just raw. Some other vegetables may want to cook first and then freeze them. So I'm just asking people to think outside the box and to find ways to get to a meaningful and impactful solution.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:56:10): Any exercise I do in class is to list all those challenges on a piece of paper, just to list the obstacles and let's look at it, let's just face it. And then on the other side of this sheet of paper, we're writing down our solutions. We don't want to stay stuck and stagnant. We want to find a way to move forward. So that survived here. If that's you have to use Uber, you have to do all your shopping for the month. At one time, if you're eating more of those dried beans and grains and making meals more simple, then those are all things we can do to start taking more control of our health. The final thing I'll say about that, we also introduce people to other options. Co-Ops CSA, those ethics stores that maybe in your community that you don't think to go in because it's a Korean store or is a Mexican market, but there's oftentimes, you know, fresh produce and other amazing choices there as well.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:57:08): Maybe you participate in a community garden, you start your own garden, you learn how to can. So we're asking people to do as much or as little as they want to. For me, I'm simple. I can't take on much more than I'm already doing. So for me, I can open a can of beans. Give me a bag of broccoli, some Brown rice, that's a meal. I'm happy. I'm golden. So it just really up to you of how far you want to go with it. But we always look for solutions so that we still are able to live long, healthy lives.

Les (00:57:42): Hmm. Thank you so much for that. I love the exercise of listing out what those barriers are and coming up with solutions that can apply to each one and, and just doing what you can when you can. Right. That's, that's all there is to it. And I love the simple meals too.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:57:59): Yes and no, no judgment, no pressure. Yep. You know, I have this bounce, my students, we wanted to look at our lives, honestly. You know, I ask you to look in your cupboards, look in your refrigerator and look around your kitchen and do an honest assessment. Do you see more fresh and natural and more packaged and processed, but we're going to do that loving thing and gently, and we're going to make the choice. There are within our reach to make just each of us have a different reach. So make the choices that are within your reach to make and leave the rest until another day, another time. And then when that moment comes the next step and then the next step, and that's what a healthy eating journey looks like.

Les (00:58:47): Hmm. That's so beautiful. Thank you for that. Love that advice. So I would love to learn a little bit more about what your self care looks like, how you pour into yourself. I mean, as you said, you, you know, educating people all around the country, you're a single mom. How do you take care of yourself, important to yourself?

Dr. Akua Woolbright (00:59:12): Mm mm mm. You know, that has really shifted in response to COVID-19 and the quarantine was happening in our world with that and the killing and lynching of Black people with the protest. There's so much happening in a world right now, but it has also been an opportunity for me to have permission, to be still not, to be, not have to be any place. And so for me, I made a decision that I was going to use it as a positive opportunity. So then when I come out of this stay home order and I'm still keep myself at home the outcome better than I went in. So I've been doing fun things like, okay, I'm old, I'm old school, I'm over 50. So I'm gonna tell each my examples. I broke out the DVDs, love it. The all workout DVDs reminded me from some time gone by that.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (01:00:21): I like her. Like, I like spending time with her on DVD. We can do on different formats, but there's somebody who's like. So I've been doing that a lot. And for people who think about any type of workout, it doesn't have to be an hour long CrossFit competition, 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, 45 minutes and another time it all adds up. I've been going a mile long walks. I love walking. I have this mantra. I say, when I walk, I say, movement is medication. Movement is medicine. Movement is meditation. And I just keep recycling on those over and over my head. If I walk like moving this medicine, moving this medicine, moving this meditation. And I use it as an opportunity to think, to pray. I do my gratitude prayers while I'm walking. I think about how my body feels much better when I'm done walking.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (01:01:22): And so by saying those mantras sometimes out loud, so people can actually hear me has felt really good to me. It's such a reminder, something as simple as walking can be so healing and so nourishing to the mind, body and spirit. Sometimes from walking, I play my Bob Marley out loud because I can hear, and my neighbors actually always kind of yell out “We appreciate you doing that. That makes us so happy!” You know? Cause they’re hearing this positive music, especially when we were first saw under quarantine when people were so uncertain, walked in there, put the music blasting, just trying to bring the energy up and bring a little bit of joy to the people around me. I've been making also a lot of healthy beverages. There’s one of them make is I used to rooibos tea which is out of South Africa and I add some sliced turmeric, sliced ginger, sliced lemon, just let it come to a boil for about two or three minutes.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (01:02:33): Then I let it steep for maybe 15, 20 minutes asd some more lemon. And I'm done. I have several like that. So I just imagine them drinking these beverages and they're healing my body. They're nourishing myself. They're boosting my immune system. So I've been doing a lot of bad stuff. So I have all of these little potions and remedies. I'm making an immune boosting slushy down, make this a citrus and make that one. So that one's just a whole grapefruit, one orange, two lemons and a blender. And then I add a little bit of ginger turmeric and garlic. Sometimes I add onion. I want to get real strong and I just blend it. It becomes like a slushie. Eat it just a few tablespoons at a time. Yeah. Because the cravings, but I feel like I'm really doing something great for my immune system. Right.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (01:03:36): I think that's the same recipe I just gave you with the citrus slushie is on the stove, bring it to a boil and do the steam, my head over the pot and hail it all in. So I'm inhaling the citrus, the turmeric, the ginger garlic and onion. So I've been just playing with all of these things, because what we know is we can follow all the protocols and try not to contract COVID-19 or any other disease or condition that we may face. But if we do get sick, the goal then becomes to beat it and rebound quickly. And so I've been just trying to put those things into practice as part of my self care.

Les (01:04:21): Oh my goodness. I love all of those practices. That's just also beautiful. And I do think that, you know, this time we've had this stay at home orders for a while now. And you know, some things are starting to open back up some aren't and we'll see how that goes or how long that lasts. But I do think this time has really challenged us to look at how we take care of ourselves and trying to be as well as possible. And, and having that be kind of our best defense against anything. It really made me look at my baseline health and realized I was out of a lot of habits that used to be really important to me. And so it's been a good thing to do.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (01:05:01): Sometimes, you know, you hear people when they get a really scary diagnosis, there's some you can be diagnosed with that are very scary. And I have a lot of clients who come to me during those times wanting a solution and a fix. They're ready now to make the change. It's really hard to make a major lifestyle overhaul when you're started. Yeah. Kind of reacting. It's a lot to put on yourself to do all that at once. So this is a moment in time when we have been given a little bit more breathing room and how we're being scheduled and what some of the expectations are for us to be proactive. And some of those changes. So I've been really encouraging people to think about, you know, what can you come out of this experience with? How can life look better? How can it be different?

Dr. Akua Woolbright (01:05:55): So it's important to love on ourselves. We give so much to everybody else, especially as women, we give so much away, we give so much blame. Yeah. But I love those questions. I think those are really beautiful to reflect on. Thank you for those dr. Wilbert. I have loved this conversation. I've just loved talking to you and have loved and learning from you. Before we go, can you tell us what being a Balanced Black Girl means to you? Oh, I love that. I love that this is the name for this podcast. For me, it really being a Balanced Black Girl means to know who I am to truly truly know who I am and to know what my standards are, to know what my boundaries are and to honor those and to bring the fullness of who I am and to all of my spaces.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (01:06:59): So the world can benefit from my cultural perspective, from my wisdom, my experiences have been balanced to me. It's just being so centered in your own skin. It's a comfortability and your scandal of who you are, how you flow and allowing that to shine through everything that you do. And when you have that kind of balance and awareness, then hopefully the gifts of that also turn back inward so that you are then taking care of your mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing as well. So that's what it means to me. And I'm excited to be able to talk with you and just want to congratulate you on all of your successes, all the recognition that you're getting for your work. This is some one platform that you have here is a beautiful space that you've created. And thank you for that. And just keep shining so beautifully and so bright you're needed. So I'm excited. I had a chance to come talk with you today. Thank you. Well, I appreciate, I appreciate that more than, you know, I so appreciate that because that's all that I'd, it would be.

Les (01:08:16): And a lot of the things that we're experiencing right now between COVID-19 and the increased amplification of Black lives matter, I hate that those things are happening and that that's where we're at. However, it has really reminded me why I do what I do and has really helped re-inspire me to really double down on the importance of this space. So I appreciate it, I just appreciate your kind words there.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (01:08:45): You're so very welcome, mean it, and I, I just hope to keep seeing you soar.

Les (01:08:51): Oh, thank you. And I have to say your definition of what being a Balanced Black Girl means to you. I have chills, as you were saying it I'm like, I need to transcribe that and put that on my wall because I want to aspire to be that I loved it. Dr. Woolbright before we go, if folks wanted to continue learning from you, if folks wanted to keep in touch with you, where can we follow your work?

Dr. Akua Woolbright (01:09:22): So we have some things that we're planning in response to us being home more. There's some things coming down the pike, but for people right now, so that's ready. They can either go to the host cities foundations website, or they can just email me. I'm one of those people you can email me. I will most likely answer because I love talking to people and sharing the inspiration. So my email address is akua.woolbright@wholefoods.com.

Les (01:10:11): Amazing. Thank you. And we will make sure that we have your contact info as well as the Whole Cities Foundation website linked in the show notes too, to make it easy. If someone's listening while they're driving or out and about easy to reference so that they can stay in touch with you.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (01:10:27): Thank you for that. And I want people to just keep it open because there's more calming, so you can access us from wherever they live. So statement.

Les (01:10:38): Oh, love it. Well, I'm very excited to see what's coming up and thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Akua Woolbright (01:10:45): Thank you so much. Have a good evening. Thank you.

Les (01:10:53): Thank you for tuning into this episode of bounced Black girl podcast. I hope this conversation helped inspire you on your own personal self care and wellness journey to continue the conversation. Make sure you check out our website at balancedblackgirl.com, where you can find show notes and more information about each of our episodes and can stay in touch with us @balancedblackgirlpodcast on Instagram at Balanced Black Girl on Facebook. And if you haven't done so already, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts. It really, really helps the show. Thanks again for tuning in and keep taking care.

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