Jill Tanis with Dr. Barb
Jill Tanis, co-founder of The Nourish to Flourish Society, studied exercise science and psychology at Hope College. She worked as a corporate wellness education coordinator for five years before returning to study at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. She is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, studied under Marc David at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, and is certified at the Mastery level of the Transformational Coaching Method, which focuses on deep change work using neuro-linguistic programming. She has been coaching private clients and group programs for the past 11 years.
Barb: Jill Tanis is a health and lifestyle coach and the co-founder of the Nourish to Flourish Society. Through that partnership and on her own, Jill works with individuals and groups through designed programs or one-on-one, to help others toward a life that’s nourishing, energizing and joyful. I’ve referred patients from my practice to Jill to help in addressing nutrition, weight management, and seek dietary guidance. I’m excited to have some time to talk with you directly this morning, Jill.
Jill: Thanks for having me, Barb!
Barb: I read on your website that you came into this field through your own struggles with healthy eating, and I’m wondering if you’re willing to share some of your journey that led you to your current work.
Jill: Yes, I’m happy to. In fact, I would say this is one of the most important stories that has brought me to what I am doing today, because a lot of what I teach is birthed out of this healing journey.
When I was about 19 – I’m 41 now so this is about 21 years ago – I went off to college as you typically can do. And I was experiencing some depression, anxiety, fear. Right? What am I going to do with my life? This is pretty normal. The comfort and stability of my home life is gone, as it was in grade school. I had a wonderful childhood, but as I left for college all of a sudden things started shifting. Friendships were shifting; I broke up with my boyfriend after a few years. I actually had to study really hard to get good grades that usually came easy to me, and things started feeling really challenging, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. And I learned later in life, Barb, that I often make life more challenging than it really needs to be [laughs], and I realized at the time how much I just was not asking for help. I had this mindset of, “I can do things myself.” And a lot of things were feeling like they were spinning out of control.
I remember my spring semester of my freshman year thinking, “Well, I can’t control things happening around me, but I can control how I take care of myself.” So I started walking regularly, eating what I thought at the time was healthy. What started out as a positive intention spiraled into – quickly – an intense obsessive-compulsive, very unhealthy ritualistic, mind-consuming, and life-threatening eating disorder.
Barb: Wow. So, were you observing that kind of behavior around you in other students? Or was this something that you came into just through your own journey?
Jill: No one was really talking about this stuff at the time.
Jill: I think back then we just didn’t really have the language to talk about it. I didn’t have it at least. And I’ll share a little bit in a minute about when I did find that, it was a life changer for me. Within that year I lost thirty pounds, and at my lowest moment – I didn’t need to lose any weight – so at my lowest moment, I was 87 pounds, and I was skin and bones. I was drinking hot water out of my water bottle, because I was cold all the time. I would layer two or three pairs of pants, several layers of shirts, just to keep me warm. And it was painful to sit on wooden chairs and benches, because there just was nothing insulating me. I had downy hair all over my face and body, which was my body’s way of protecting me, right? But at the time, I didn’t know… I wasn’t in a place to really sit with it, and deal with the emotional things that I was going through, you know?
I knew later, as I came down – like spiraled down into this, my blood glucose levels were so low. I knew this because my friend, who’s a diabetic, was doing her blood glucose levels and I was like, “Oh can I do that?” She saw my numbers, and she said, “Are you okay?” She was from the South and she said, “Y'all should be passed out on the floor right now.” And at that moment I was like, “I feel like this all the time.” But when I really paid attention I had a nagging headache, and I was in a brain fog. I was dealing with a lot of depressive thoughts. I remember calling my mom – because I was out of state at the time – and I remember calling her with this, she was a nurse, and she was, I could tell she was alarmed by that. My heart was beating at like 23 beats a minute, my BP was 80/50, I was working out every day. I was a shell of a person. When I looked at myself though, I didn’t see that.
Eventually I hit rock bottom. And you know, from the outside, people could obviously tell that I wasn’t well, but in my own experience at the time, I just had a terrible fear of gaining weight. All of a sudden this became very compulsive. I made up all these rules with food. You know, I was counting calories. I ate zero fat grams. I was working out every morning at 5 a.m., and I became so ritualistic. I was eating the same foods, doing the same workout routines, because it felt safe, right? It felt controlled.
I remember getting out of the shower, and I would measure how I was doing by whether or not my thighs could touch. I could see the blue veins running down my legs, and I didn’t even realize just how bad it was, my lens was so skewed.
So, a lot of people – in retrospect – a lot of people would take me out for tea or coffee and ask, “How are you doing?” And I would be like, “I’m great! How are you?” I was so good at taking care of other people it around and saying, “Well, how are you?” Because I was so good at helping and taking care of other people, and I knew that would help me go into a protective mode, I wouldn’t get close with anybody, wouldn’t have to talk about this.
I baked food all the time for other people. I cared for other people. But inside, I was living a completely different inner life in the shadows. And eventually, I didn’t want to eat with anyone. I hid so much of myself from people. But, on the outside you know I was bubbly and silly and funny to my peers. Inside it was just chaotic, and messy, and dark, and isolated, and lonely.
I have my journal entries from back then, Barb. If you read them, they are prayers. They are straight-up prayers in every way to God. I was hurting. I was scared. I was confused. I was screaming for help, right? And at the time, I didn’t know where to turn or what to do. I remember those journal entries, I was just like, “God help me, heal me, scoop me up, restore me from this dark depressive place, I don't know what to do. I am ready. I am ready. I am ready.” Just all that. And when I started saying, “I’m ready,” all of a sudden, I remember saying, “Surprise me. I’m at the end of my rope.”
Barb: Wow! You know it’s so interesting to think now about our college campuses and what’s going on there. I think that it’s such a vulnerable time for each individual who makes that step toward independence and self-discovery. And I’m just hearing about the needs, on especially campuses, for this time in people's lives to try to get them to flourish, using your word. So, it’s so interesting that you found yourself in such a place
Jill: And I would say this relates to a lot of the women now that I work with who are in the demographic that you serve, in a sense of saying like, no matter where you are, there are women who are going through this in their 50s, and 60s that come into my office, that have been dealing with this for decades. And you know, sometimes I say, you know, just like a functioning alcoholic, where you’re functioning, but inside, you know what you are doing – you look on the outside like things are going well, but on the inside, they’re really not.
There’s so much of that with emotional eating and obsessive-compulsive issues with food – not loving your body, punishing your body, restricting yourself, obsessing. And that’s when you know. For me when I got to that point and said, “God surprise me, open me up. I’m at the end of my rope.” That’s when all the doors started opening. That’s when I could see opportunities to get better, to have support, to receive. And I see that also in the work that I do with women, you know, when they open themselves up to that.
So, what happened to me was when I said that, all of a sudden an older, trusted mentor spoke up to a group of us about her journey with, in this sense, spousal abuse, which was completely horrific and devastating. But what I took from her conversation was first, her beautiful vulnerability to share. Like wow! You know, you are opening up yourself to us. And also that she shared just in two sentences prior that she was experiencing when she was younger, a dysfunctional, emotional eating disorder. And I thought, “Wow! Somebody else might be able to relate to me?” And I reached out to her afterwards, and we scheduled a time to chat a couple days later.
And no kidding, the very next day, a peer came into my room one night. She said, “Hey, Jill, I see a lot of things in you. This might not pertain to you. But here’s my story.” And she shared her story that totally paralleled mine. And I thought, “I’m not alone here.” And then it happened again with another college friend. And what I realized was, I allowed myself to be vulnerable because of other people’s vulnerability; their storytelling, allowed me to start telling my story and I felt like I could be understood. At that moment I was like, “You know what? I’m struggling with an eating disorder, and I need help.” And this trusted mentor put me in touch with a therapist, and that started my journey of really opening up, owning my story, admitting and owning my pain and vulnerabilities, because others did that for me too.
Barb: And I think that is the model that works well for women, generally speaking. The support and understanding that someone else has walked in this, walked this path as well. So thank you for sharing, because I’m sure there are listeners who can absolutely relate to that. And I think food is such an interesting part of our culture, and our lives, our individuality, our families. I’m just curious as to how it is you were led to really have a career around food and nutrition then.
Jill: Yeah, well, it was birthed out of this healing journey where I realized, first of all, that emotional eating is a symptom to something deeper. That it’s really not about the food. My eating disorder was really not about the – it became about the food. My eating disorder was really not about the food. It became about the food – when you’re 87 pounds, and you are depressed, and your body can’t function, it becomes about the food, too. But at the roots of it, it wasn’t about that. So when I started going through this discovery, I started asking myself different questions. Not “how many calories is this?” “how many fat grams is this?” But, “is this a nourishing food for me?” And not, instead of bantering my body, but, “Does this thought nourish me?” “Does this relationship nourish me?” “Does this food nourish me?”
I started a garden in the back of my home, and I started tending to it, and I began this whole different relationship with the origin of where my nourishment from a food piece comes from, instead of in a package in the freezer that you throw in the microwave to eat out of a container. It is just – the whole process just started unraveling for me it seemed – as a whole – like we’re all connected. Everything is connected. It’s not just food.
So I have this way of talking about it with women which is just primary food and secondary food, secondary food being things that actually come on your plate and that feed you, on that physiological, you know, biochemical level. But then there’s the primary food piece. And I say primary food are non-food things that primarily feed me. And it’s relationships. It’s the meaningful connections I have every day. The way I move my body. Am I moving my body in a way that’s really stressful and I feel like I need to do this to burn calories and lose weight? Or am I doing this because I’m like, “Yes! I love to move my body this way. Move this way. It makes me feel alive! This nourishes me.” My primary food include my job, my career, the things I do – my hobbies, my connection to my kids. And I feel like the spirit – spiritual life is all-encompassing within both of these.
Barb: So the name of your business, Nourish to Flourish, I think pretty much says it all. I think it communicates to people the healthy role of nutrition, but also something beyond that. That it’s something you’ve just alluded to: sort of the emotional, spiritual part of health. So when individuals seek your expertise, is it your journey with them to start with their food, their secondary food as you said? How do you take individuals through that journey that they’re seeking to improve?
Jill: Well it’s different. Based on the Nourish to Flourish Society and my one-on-one coaching, in some ways very different. This is why I love the Nourish to Flourish Society 14-Day Reset. It gives a wonderful – like I’m so proud of it – it gives a wonderful foundational education around food, but equally addresses the need and the attention around self-care in the emotional body. So the 14-day program is like this anchor experience. We know we can’t just give somebody a 14-day food program, although maybe that’s where they need to start, and we honor that for them. But, we also know that there’s these other bigger pieces that are involved that allow you to continue down that path of nourishing yourself with wonderfully awesome food.
Barb: Yeah, well, I’m really curious of how you bring someone through this process. As an example, I’ll send a patient to you who more often their relation with food has to do with weight, and being overweight, and understanding how they choose diet and nutrition. I’m curious how you help them understand better how to successfully move forward.
Jill: So what I love about this primary food/secondary food model, is helping women see that you are nourished in both of these ways. And yes, we do address the secondary food, and that’s why I love the 14-day reset. We do this foundational education around the secondary food piece. It’s important. Quality is important. At the cellular level, your body recognizes foods as information into your body. And that’s important. And we talk about that. Equally, though, if we don’t start talking about the primary food piece from the beginning, in my perspective, if that is not something that we talk about, a lot of times when we have wounds and voids, and certain ways of talking about things in the primary food piece, food comes in and fills the gaps and fills the voids in our primary foods sphere.
So then it becomes like that’s where the emotional eating piece comes in. Right? That is where we use food to numb, fill a void, procrastinate, all these things. So that’s why it’s important for women, and that’s why I love coming at it from this perspective, is saying, “Hey, let’s work together and look at this from both pieces.” So if I could share that model with women from the get go, they are like, “Yep. Yep. I have stress.” “Yep, my relationships are here.”
So in my education I have moved from just working with women around nutrition. Over time, what I do with women in my own office now is the deep, deep change work – on an emotional level – and I don’t do the food piece in my one-on-one practice anymore. That’s why we have this 14-day reset.
Barb: Okay, well, that makes sense, that yeah at first understanding our motivation of why we do what we do is obviously a core piece of this. But, I think societally, we are so wired for convenience and quickness and in-and-out and grab-and-go, and you know, working women and you walk in the door and there’s your hungry family and this idea of planning and preparing, I think in the world we’ve created for ourselves, it’s really a huge challenge. I’m just wondering how you help women understand that they can do that successfully and be a working mom and still meet the nutritional needs for themselves and their families.
Jill: That’s one of my favorite things to do [laughs]. I’m in this demographic too; I have three kids, life is full, I’m at the baseball field every night of the week. And so, it would be easy to and it is challenging during these busy seasons to get those meals, those nourishing meals on the table, to grocery shop. But for me, it’s a bottom line. And Angelle, my business partner and co-founder of the Nourish to Flourish Society, she speaks so beautifully about bottom lines. She says these things in our life are non-negotiables, I call them non-negotiables in my work. So for me in my life, I grocery shop every week, right? And this is a non-negotiable thing for me. I realize that for women it has to come first by making a decision that okay, we’ll help you with those tools, but first and foremost, them deciding for themselves that they’re going to make the time to do this. Because we all make time for the things that are important to us. It’s inevitable. And I think it’s a decision, and I truly cannot help somebody who is not ready for that.
And I honor that part of our journey, but if someone comes to me and says, “I am ready, show me how to do this,” it’s important then, that we give them the tools. And I think that’s where the 14-day reset is a wonderful jump start to that. Does that answer your question?
Barb: Yes, and I think individuals really underestimate the connection between food and how they feel and function. And I, when you talk to people about the basics of health and wellness including sleep and stress and nutrition, I think individuals discount the importance of food into how they feel and function. And it’s so frustrating as a practitioner to try to help individuals understand that that’s really a core basic. As you said, “it’s non-negotiable.” But I don’t know if you have a good way to communicate that to individuals. I think that probably individuals who reach out to you have probably realized that they need to do something different in order to survive. But, for example, I saw this patient yesterday, she’s frustrated with her weight, but she’s tired and she’s stressed and you know, I don’t think there’s a pill for that, frankly. But how do you help them understand the importance of stepping back and getting back to that basics of nutrition? I feel like I can’t communicate that effectively much of the time.
Jill: Yeah, and then you go back to that part of the story that we were just talking about, with the women in my life who were like, “This is what was happening to me,” and then you can relate to them. This is why we have created so many testimonials on our website, all these stories of women. I can’t tell you how many women decide to come and do this and invest in themselves, because they are reading the stories of women just like them and it inspires them. I love our society. Our Nourish to Flourish Society of women is amazing. They are so inspiring and encouraging, and and their sharing this is creating a ripple effect. And I think that this ripple effect is contagious.
And when someone sees a woman who’s been through the reset, because most of our women that continue to come are through referrals from these past resets, because they are seeing their skin glow and they are more calm around their kids, around their schedules, and they’re like, “I want that.” And they’re talking about how this is doable, these are practical, manageable steps, and so when we are telling our story about how this is working for us, it is encouraging other women to do the same. Angelle and I laugh all the time, because like, if you hear from us all the time, we want you to be able to hear from other women who are making these changes.
Barb: So, at this point, would you share with the listeners how to find out more about your Nourish to Flourish?
Jill: Yeah, they can find us at NourishtoFlourishSociety.com. We’re also on Facebook and Instagram and we have a weekly blog that we do, and we run our resets seasonally – winter spring and fall – twice. We have two sessions each season, so our next one will be in the fall.
Barb: Okay, great! Thanks. You also talk about breath in your book, and that’s another topic that I have come across in speaking with other individuals in the podcast, and so I’m interested in how you incorporate that with your clients or how you speak about that.
Jill: I’m taking a deep breath as you’re talking. Slowing down is key, right? When women are stressed, what naturally happens is this idea of shallow breathing, right? Because it’s just this automatic response, and it leads to what I would call metabolism. And so I create the why around this for women. First of all, the practical step behind this that we talk about is before you sit down to eat your meal, take five to ten slow deep breaths. This is a practical step, right?
When I had a client who came into my office, she was in survival mode all the time. She would run in, she was always late, and she would just start talking, talking, talking. And what I would say to her first was, all right, before we get into that, let’s stop for a moment and take thirty seconds to breathe slow deep breaths, and I would breathe with her. Within thirty seconds it was like I was talking to a different person. And so part of this is the experience behind it, but also the why?
Why breathing? I like to say that breathing and eating slowly could be your royal road to weight loss, and then women start listening. I think about it like fire, like your metabolism is like fire. Like, if I’m out at a bonfire, and a gust of wind comes and it stokes the fire, it breathes heat, it gets hotter. And this idea for women that unless you’re breathing into this eating experience, your digestive fire is going to burn dimly. And the calories you’re eating are going to be stored as fat instead of burned off as energy. So when we’re breathing, it’s such a much bigger experience for women, from a food piece, from a metabolic piece. There’s some research out there that talks about how food, plus your breathing, plus your oxygen, is 95 percent of your energy. And so, just breathing this digestive, making it burn brighter with deep breathing, just stokes that fire in me. It enhances your digestion and allows fat burning to be possible. It allows your food to be assimilated, more properly digested, and used. And also, what I love about breathing is it moves you from this fight-or-flight, to a rest-and-digest mode. And what we’re learning in science is that your body goes into a healing response on all levels when we are in this rest and digest mode.
Barb: I think that’s a great image to share; it’s interesting the words you used just now to describe that. In my yoga practice this morning, the instructor had us do a unique breathing exercise, and then she talked about the natural resolution of a stressful event and how many minutes it takes to sort of resolve that. But, if you can incorporate some intentional breathing around it, how much quicker your body can re-adjust post-stress event. And again, the importance of intentionality around breathing, and it’s one of those tools we have at our fingertips at anytime we want to access it.
So I think it’s great for you to remind women about some of those what seem like crazy simple approaches, but we just don’t take the time and intention. And I think the other thing about focusing on breathing is, to some extent, it requires a bit of quieting even for moments or minutes, which many of us don’t take the time to do. So, I’m thankful that you can encourage women to again, do something that doesn’t require a membership, it doesn’t require time out the door, it just requires intention and mindfulness around and incorporating it.
Jill: I agree, my number one message has been and continues to be this slowing down. I find that the breathing piece is so key to slowing down. I like to say to my clients, “How I do one thing is how I do everything.” Am I rushing around, eating food fast, driving fast, talking fast? I’m probably talking fast you know? How can we slow it all down? That really does and can start with our breath. I’m not in a rush here. There is no threat. The stressor will handle itself. It really puts you into a different place. You’re actually able to, I think, have better tools to handle what’s going on around you. You know?
Barb: Yeah, well thank you so much for your words and wisdom today, Jill. I’d like you to once again to share how individuals could find you and your Society.
Barb: And as we conclude our time together, I’m wondering if you could share with listeners where you find fullness at this stage in your life.
Jill: Yes, so when I was thinking about this, I was thinking about, over the last couple of years, my commitment to Sundays, honoring a sabbath in my life. I read an amazing book a couple of years ago called Sabbath, by Wayne Muller. I highly recommend it. Really encouraging me to, in some ways, be very unproductive for a day. I shut off my computer. I turn off my phone for 24 hours – it’s usually from a Saturday night to a Sunday night. It was hard at first, because I usually feel like I needed to be doing something. But now, I look forward to that every week.
It helps me recalibrate after a busy week. It helps me talking about slowing down. I breathe differently on those days.
I tune out the noise, I get inward. I press pause on my to-do list. I’m not running errands. I’m not getting groceries. I’m not cleaning the house. I’m not checking email. I’m not catching up. I just turn that off. Instead, I reconnect with people and things that are most important to me. I get into nature. I take a nap. I go outside. And that for me allows…. That’s one very important piece to me. When it doesn’t happen (because it doesn’t sometimes; I need to work on a Saturday for the Nourish to Flourish Society like six times a year, or for other reasons), it strengthens my intention around that, and it’s something that I encourage women to experiment with as well.
And then the other small piece I am really digging into with the fullness in this stage of life, one thing that we didn’t talk about with me, is that I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease a couple years ago and my energy levels are low. And I’m working and healing through that journey right now. And one thing that I’ve taken in the midst of times that feel very stretched and tiring and just challenging, is being present to the gifts around me all the time. If I choose to look up and see something I can be grateful for, it’s always there, and I find fullness in really taking in, coming, bringing in all my senses into that and savoring moments that get me through those really full times that aren’t so fun. [laughs] That’s what I would say.
Barb: Well, yes. Thank you so much for sharing and for making it personal and being vulnerable. I think other women can really learn and do some introspection, and I think you’ve just been a huge encouragement for self-care, which I think so many women need to think about to feel better and just feel more fulfilled in meeting the needs of their family and those around them. So thanks for your words of encouragement.
Jill: It’s great to be with you today.
Barb: Bye, Jill.
Jill: Thanks for having me.