Donell Barlow: Native Ottawa/Yurok Health Coach, Yogi, Mommy, Author, Public Speaker

Donell Barlow is a Native Ottawa/Yurok health and wellness practitioner, author, mommy and more! When working with clients, “she incorporates some of her ancestral food into her recipes, sharing her culture and incorporating yours into creative and healing food. This is not a quick fix, but a lifestyle change that is designed to enhance quality of life and take control of your own health.”

She offered a Q&A interview for the forum with perspectives on food as ancestral healing, the importance of food sovereignty and more. Check out her services offered and find out more about Donell on her website and find her on Instagram @nativefox17 and enjoy her healing wisdom from the interview below in this 3 part question series.

Q: Can you please describe what you have found to be helpful in restoring health and sustainability when you have worked with clients struggling with disordered eating?

Donell: I wanted to know what their parent's relationship was to food and how that shaped the core foundation of what food meant to them. Often times food was partnered with shame, guilt and sometimes fear, so we would go deeper into the plant medicine and I could offer a different perspective they didn't have before. If food was a reward or comfort then we had to find other forms of self-care like yoga, hiking, and journaling to add balance and channel in on what emotions are coming up when craving certain foods. Some of my clients began growing their own food which dramatically changed their entire way of being and made these choices a life change, not a temporary fix.

Q: What do you think is important for people to know about the connection between loss of land sovereignty/food sovereignty and dis-ease stemming from food-related illness?

Donell: The loss of land and the right to no longer be able to gather our traditional foods almost completely severed our relationship to food and how we understood the entire process. Our ancestors put intention into every step of the plant medicine and the plants spoke to us and told us what to use them for. We lived in harmony with Mother Nature and the change of seasons which kept us strong both physically and spiritually. The introduction of processed food was an act of inter-generational genocide that continues to plague our people. This new way of being changed our relationship to food and is passed down just as intergenerational trauma.

When we are eating locally and utilizing food sovereignty it makes a big impact on our carbon imprint. Many of the foods that are deemed as “super foods”, come from Indigenous populations where they have less resources in order for their economy to provide these foods for us. We have to understand that some of these decisions can affect our Indigenous relatives in other countries, so it is important to get educated about where exactly your food comes and how it is processed. When we are living within the guidelines of food sovereignty and growing our own foo, we have that knowledge at our fingertips.

Q; What is the cultural importance of food therapy for individuals - and in particular, for individuals who are recovering from eating disorders?

Donell: What we eat influences our emotions and when it comes from places that are using bad practices, we absorb that energy as well. Our ancestors knew this, and the animals we hunt live as they should and when they are to become a food source the proper offerings are made. The more we can eat as our ancestors did the better off we will be and no longer depend on a system that was never designed for our benefit. The food pyramid does not make sense for Indigenous people. Most of us do not have the digestive enzymes to properly break down dairy and we are more sensitive to sugar. So, it's no surprise why alcohol would have a bigger impact as it's broken down into sugar through digestion.

Our DNA recognizes the traditional foods and calls for it, it's a deep-seated healing that goes into our nervous system. When we get back to the foods of our ancestors it heals us from within. If we get back to where our food comes and gather, grow or support local farmers it becomes something much more. The intention changes when we can remove these negative feelings associated with food previously and get back to "using food as medicine". This work will change the physical body but it's the spiritual work that really influences the outcome. I don't weigh my clients or focus on a number. It's about understanding what your body is telling you and honoring that. Our stomach has its' own central working nervous system that acts as a second brain. Chemical messages are being sent to us consistently throughout the day. We ignore these messages by overuse of over the counter aids and just continue to increase inflammation in the body. This inflammation can create travel into the joints and show up like arthritis, in the gut they call it IBS, or to our brains which is called "Type 3 Diabetes".

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