Women In Wellness: Emily Van Eck On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

Women In Wellness: Emily Van Eck On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing


Focus on community. Working in solo private practice means lots of freedom, but it is also isolating. Staying in community with the people in my city and area of practice is huge.

Today, more than ever, wellness is at the forefront of societal discussions. From mental health to physical well-being, women are making significant strides in bringing about change, introducing innovative solutions, and setting new standards. Despite facing unique challenges, they break barriers, inspire communities, and are reshaping the very definition of health and wellness. In this series called women in wellness we are talking to women doctors, nurses, nutritionists, therapists, fitness trainers, researchers, health experts, coaches, and other wellness professionals to share their stories and insights. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Van Eck.

Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN helps women find authentic wellness by listening to their bodies instead of patriarchal and capitalistic expectations of perfection. As a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counselor, Emily helps her clients heal from years of dieting, rigidity, anxiety with food, and body dissatisfaction so they can nourish themselves effectively, confidently, and pleasurably. In her private practice, Emily serves people in all types of bodies with individualized nutrition counseling, group coaching inside the Love Food Again Program, and has a self-paced course coming out early 2024. Emily believes a pleasure-centered life is a pathway to health and it is only our obsession with thinness and youth that keeps women locked in restriction and distrust of themselves.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Like most women, I was taught at a young age that the size and shape of my body was just as, if not way more, important than how I felt or what I thought. But I was lucky, I had a naturally thin body and didn’t need to do anything to keep it that way. I noticed many of my friends and classmates experience something very different.

When I started gaining weight in high school, I became acutely aware that this was a problem. Being a ‘girly girl’, and into the dance team, it was clear that my body changing was at odds with the sport I had chosen. When I realized other people noticed my weight gain, I was devastated. This started a 10 year period of restricting my food to the bare minimum, and then binging on candy and fast food. Such a roller coaster.

This is how disordered eating and body hatred starts for most women.

It took a while, but over time I realized that this way of related to food was making me miserable. Plus, I knew I was way more interesting than this. I also realized that the story women are told, that we must look a certain way, act a certain way, get a good job, get married, have babies, etc. and in that order, felt completely impossible and inauthentic for me.

But even knowing this, I agonized over why my life wasn’t turning out the way I had been told it was supposed to.

Meanwhile, I was falling in love with delicious and nutritious food. I worked in restaurants in NYC for most of my 20s and through talking to chefs, wine experts, and foodie friends, and learning about Ayurveda on the side, I figured out that healthy food and delicious food could be one in the same. So I learned to cook.

I also noticed that the mainstream dialogue about healthy food and healthy bodies was damaging people, especially women. I went back to school to study nutrition and become a dietitian. I knew that I wanted to help people find a balance between flavor and health — not drive doggedly toward one or the other.

There is a huge misconception that we need to ‘kill it, nail it’ with the way we take care of ourselves. I just don’t think that works for most women, not really.

In time, all of this personal and professional learning morphed into the practice I have today, where I mostly work with women and femmes to divest from the thin ideal and oppressive beauty standards, heal their relationships with food and their body, and find a manner of eating and exercising that feels aligned with the way they want to live. It is very much pro-health, but not in the way that social media may lead you to believe.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

A pivotal moment happened for me after Covid hit. I was doing a few different types of work with clients. I was specializing in digestive and functional health on the one hand, which typically includes elimination diets and me telling people exactly what to do with food. It can feel like a very top-down approach. And while fundamentally, I believe that healing root cause is still the best solution we have to help people with most health issues, there was something missing.

On the other hand, I had become a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and was helping people heal body image distress and chaotic, stressful, and disordered eating. This is a much more client-centered, social-justice centered, holistic and therapeutic approach.

These two approaches felt at odds. I was struggling to reconcile how I felt about doing both.

With the time and space that first part of covid offered, I was able to see clearly what I needed to do. It just became clear one day. A major problem was our society’s view about bodies and health. Stressing out about eating perfectly was causing the digestive distress. Being told that any ‘extra weight’ was a problem was harming folks. It all came together for me. Our relationship with food and our bodies is key to peace and health.

I tell this story all the time because I think it speaks to a couple important lessons.

  1. I can trust my inner wisdom. When a path it clear that I need to take, it will present itself and all I have to do is listen.
  2. Slowing down creates the space needed for real insight to come through.

These two truths are essential with my client work as well as with myself. In my group program, The Love Food Again Program, we start out with 4 weeks of slowing down and listening to ourselves and our intuition. In our culture, feminine wisdom (our inner knowing) gets ignored in favor of logic, reason, and external guidance, like calories, pounds, macros, and steps.

But I am shown again and again, both in my own life and in my clients lives, that we have a ton of wisdom in our bodies. Diet culture has silenced it and put a veil over it, but it’s there if you know where to look and pause to hear it. In this same way, we can learn to trust our bodies and our appetites, too.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Like I was saying, I think the patriarchal, capitalist influence led me to try and focus on the “Dr. Nutrition’ side of things. I thought that if I had all the information, all the science, that I could be the smartest person in the room and tell people how to eat and cure their auto-immune disease! If they just stuck to this diet for 3 months they would be all better.

But that was so wrong. That is not what people need, at least not from me. No amount of perfecting your diet will heal your childhood trauma around your body size. No elimination diet will cure anxiety-belly. So a big lesson on this path has been learning to slow down and be with people and their difficulty making healthy choices in their life.

We are told that willpower is all we need to ‘be healthy’, but it’s just so not true. I believe that people are doing the best they can with what they have. But people have so much mis-information when it comes to weight and health and disease.

On a weekly basis, I have to remember that I may be the expert on nutrition, but I am not the expert on this person or their body. They are. So I am here to help them understand the way they take care of themselves more fully. Then I can steer them toward making decisions that honor their health. They won’t do it perfectly, but that’s a good thing. That’s human. That’s the way to lasting change.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

Girls are given two very confusing and conflicting messages as we become women.

One, our body is the most important thing about us and we should try to be as close to the thin, white, sporty, able-bodied, cis-gendered ideal as possible. We’re given the subliminal message through the media that doing this will make it more likely we’ll be accepted, praised, loved, successful, and feel a sense of belonging.

We also get the message that our bodies are dangerous and they better not be ‘too sexy’ or our reputation, or worse — our safety — is at risk.

For many, this means trying to shrink their body by eating less. But because restriction backfires, most folks end up binging in one form or another, gaining weight, and then feeling even worse about their body. They may go on diet after diet, gaining weight in between and feeling worse about themselves and their body. And bonus, it’s all so shameful to talk about so women become competitive and jealous.

I believe this message is hard on all people of all bodies sizes and genders, but is particularly disorienting for women+ who do not fit that ideal. Any body above the arbitrary ‘normal weight’ on the BMI scale is treated like a problem to be solved. I see first hand, every day, the lifelong damage this does to a women’s self-worth and her relationship with food and exercise. If changing your body shape and size is the main goal of eating well and exercising, and that doesn’t work, then what is the point of taking care of yourself?

The work I do is to help people, at whatever intersection they find themselves at, have a space to look at the ways these conflicting messages have splintered the way they think about themselves and in response, the behaviors they engage with. I help people reconnect with their bodies and eat in nourishing, liberating ways.

Unpacking the self-sabotaging thoughts that stem from diet culture allows one to stop trying to be something they are not. My clients learn how to listen to hunger and fullness, eat foods that genuinely satisfy them and are culturally relevant to them. They get more sleep, engage in joyful movement, and learn what good nutrition means for their body’s needs.

Many people I work with are unhappy with the way their body looks or acts. But this is something we’ve been conditioned to feel. So we work on shifting the way they feel and treat their body, rather than forcing it into a smaller mold. I help people explore what is underneath their unrelenting desire to manage their body, and to learn self-compassion and self-care habits that go way beyond the way they look.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?

1 . Stop dieting.

Especially if you experience stress and anxiety about your body, or about eating, letting go of rigidity and the idea there is some ‘miracle cure’ out there is the first major step in finding authentic peace and wellbeing with food and your body. This may not help you get to your high school weight or into those pants from 10 years ago, but it can eventually lead you to your set-point weight, which will be easy to maintain and help you feel much better about yourself. Then you can go get some new pants that you feel amazing in.

2 . Eat a balanced breakfast.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, but try and get some protein, carbs, and fat in for breakfast every day. Oatmeal with walnuts and fruit, toast with peanut butter and banana, eggs with toast and fruit, full fat yogurt with nuts and fruit, avocado toast sprinkled with sesame seeds and olive oil, and even a regular boxed cereal with milk. Waiting too long to eat during the day is not great for your metabolism or your hormones, especially for women with PCOS or any insulin or blood sugar issues.

3 . Check your perfectionistic tendencies with food, movement, and self-care.

Women are held to impossibly high standards (not to mention double standards). The pressure to be ‘a good person’ a ‘good mom’, have a ‘good body”, and also to ‘be good’ with food, exercise, and all-things-self-care and wellness — is INTENSE.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that we have to be doing things perfectly in order to keep up. Unrealistic or rigid expectations for yourself, your body, or your wellness habits can show up as stress, overwhelm, rebound eating, damaged body image, binge eating, procrastination, self-blame, fear of taking a day off, and weight gain.

Try and be compassionate with yourself. If there is something you want to get better at, you can totally do it. Just remember that you are a human and that progress is messy and not linear. And that’s actually a good thing.

4 . Move toward pleasurable, joyful movement instead of punishment and pain.

Moving your body on a regular basis is excellent for health. Research is quite clear on this one. But there is so much variety and room for nuance in the ways that one moves their body. If you have a hard time sticking with an exercise routine, look into that a little instead of blaming yourself for being lazy.

Consider exploring movement that you inherently enjoy and demand pleasure. You don’t need to get the right amount of steps or sweat or be in pain in order for exercise to pay off. Ask yourself — have I only been exercising in order to lose weight or for aesthetic purposes? If the answer is yes and you are currently not exercising at all, this could be why.

People stick with movement that they enjoy. Period.

5 . If you’re waiting until you lose weight to do things that you want in your life, make a list of them and starting doing them now.

Often, folks who have struggled with their weight and body image assume that life will be easier once they get to a certain point or a certain size pants. I think this is one of the most harmful things that diet culture and our weight-centric healthcare system does to folks. If you are in a larger body, there could be some real, systemic issues that make this difficult. Airplane seats, restaurant booths, doctors visits can all be really challenging. I recognize that.

But there are also probably things, no matter what your size, that you could do now. Go on the trip, buy the new bathing suit, jump in the water, get on the dating app. Your life is happening now and waiting until you look ‘the right way’ to live it is a waste of time.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Well, I wouldn’t be starting the movement. The movement is already in full swing. The weight-neutral healthcare movement is important and so health-promoting, but is often misconstrued or misattributed.

We are all harmed when a thin body is held up as an attainable goal. The research is clear — body size is largely genetic, with systemic factors and social determinants of health influencing body size way more than individual diet and lifestyle choices.

And importantly, even if weight loss was the answer for health problems, weight loss attempts fail 98% of the time. More than 2/3 of people who lose a significant amount of weight gain more back than they lost, and are often worse off than before. Weight cycling (yo-yo dieting) can cause blood sugar and cholesterol abnormalities, disordered eating, body image damage, and loss of lean body mass, which slows metabolism.

Intuitive Eating is the framework I use when helping people improve their relationship with food. People end up eating more variety, more fruits and vegetables, have more consistency and balance in their life. It is a true healing framework, not a set of rules to tell you what to eat.

If we, as a society, could see mental health as just as important to physical health, perhaps the emphasis could move from body size to overall well-being. I believe this would benefit women significantly.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. To follow the path that my gut told me to and not to waste time trying to follow someone else’s path.
  2. That I needed help understanding how to run a business! I took exactly zero business classes in school, so the steps needed to get started running a business were all things I had to figure out on my own.
  3. That while working for myself would be super rewarding, it would also be really hard. I think I did hear this, but I didn’t really get it.
  4. Ask for help with personal and professional issues. I continue to be amazed at how getting perspective from experts changes me.
  5. Focus on community. Working in solo private practice means lots of freedom, but it is also isolating. Staying in community with the people in my city and area of practice is huge.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

I feel passionate about many of these topics, but mental health is the one I deal with the most in my practice and with my clients.

When we believe thinness is important at all costs, the negative consequences of strict diets and trying to lose weight get brushed aside as insignificant. Becoming preoccupied with food, obsessing about ingredients and how ‘fattening’ something is, weight regain, depression and anxiety. These are all common outcomes from dieting and significantly effect quality of life.

Yes, eating disorders are common and very under-diagnosed, especially in non-thin and non-white people of all genders. But disordered eating, reluctance to engage with healthy food and exercise, avoidance of medical care, and low self-worth are all common outcomes of trying to lose weight and it not working.

A lot of the people I work with have had some kind of traumatic experience in their body. Either they’ve tried every diet under the sun, so have put their body into starvation mode a dozen times, they’ve over-exercised to exhaustion, or they are terrified of eating the wrong thing. These are not happy and healthy ways to live, but again — our obsession with thinness makes these behaviors seem like the right choice. And I think prioritizing physical health over mental health is a big contributor.

What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?

My favorite way to connect with people is through my newsletter, Lunch & Liberation. It’s a biweekly letter devoted to pleasure, joy, and liberation with food and our bodies. I share a recipe, something I’m currently eating and loving, or maybe it’s a little meal planning hack I like. I also love to uplift and share stories of other women in the food, body, and health space doing cool things. Sign up at my website.

Follow me on instagram at @emily.nutrition and over at my website and blog — emilyvaneck.com

Thank you for these fantastic insights! We wish you continued success and good health.

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at CrunchyMamaBox.com .

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