It’s hard to believe that this January 2020 marks my 20th year as a Holistic Nutrition Counselor! In some ways I feel like I have been doing this work forever, so that makes sense. But in other ways, 20-years simply seems impossible—and I have literally calculated the years again and again to be sure I wasn’t mistaken!

I have reflected on this milestone a lot and I decided to write some of the observations I’ve made over the 20-year span of my career. Some of my reflections are thoughtful, others are just silly. I really enjoyed writing this post and I hope that you enjoy reading it as well.

I want to express my deepest, heartfelt thanks to all of my clients—those near and far—who have inspired me, challenged me, and trusted me. You have helped me grow into the practitioner that I am today and you are the reason that I love what I do.

1. Food is important but it’s not everything. A varied diet of whole, unprocessed foods can profoundly improve one’s state of health. I see this every week. But sometimes a person can have a “perfect” diet and not see the improvements in their health that they desire until another aspect of their life is addressed (career, relationships, trauma, etc.). As I said, food is very important. But it’s not the only thing that is.

2. As I have evolved, my work has evolved. Changing my diet during my struggle with serious digestive issues in college lead me to switch gears from pursuing my PhD in psychology to attending school for nutrition. In the early days, my practice focused mainly on food, since that was the key to my own recovery from Crohn’s Disease.

However, after my daughter was born and I experienced my second healing journey with Hashimoto’s, it quickly became evident that I had to dig deeper. My first healing journey was about waking up to how I ate and what I put into my body. My second healing journey was truly about waking up, spiritually and emotionally. This journey has guided my work in new and beautiful ways for the past nine years.  

3. People are much more confused in 2020 about what they should eat than they were in 2000. I believe that having access to so much information and so many opinions has made sorting through the truth and the hype significantly more difficult. There are many more “experts” now than there were 20-years ago, so check your source of information and check-in with what resonates with you. 

4. You can’t “Type A” your way to health. As a self-professed “Type A”, I seem to attract that personality type in my work as well. Although there is clearly something beneficial to working with clients who are ambitious, determined and are motivated to change, I also recognize the stress that “perfectionism” imposes, and the toll it takes on one’s health.

In my observation, the clients who are most concerned about doing everything perfectly and micromanaging every detail seem to add an extra burden of stress that inhibits (rather than aids) healing.

5. It’s helpful to share more of “me”. When I started my practice, I was 22 years old—and looked even younger (as you can see from the head shot above)! It felt important to come across as professional, put together, and knowledgeable. Over the years, I’ve become more comfortable sharing my own struggles and imperfections. I am more relaxed being authentic and my true self—bruises, scrapes and all. I believe my clients deserve that more than anything.

6. The same dietary recommendation can create very different results, depending on the way someone feels about making that change. For example, I have seen a gluten-free diet inspire some people to feel motivated, empowered, and hopeful. Conversely, I have also seen it create feelings of deprivation, misery and isolation in others. That has been interesting to observe—and this difference certainly contributes to the efficacy of the treatment as well.

7. Less is more. In so many ways! I find that after 20-years in practice, the “fundamentals” are still most important. To me, these include a healthful diet, adequate hydration, addressing nutrient deficiencies & imbalances, managing stress and cultivating more joy. This often requires less testing. Less supplements. Less avoidance of things.  

8. I have always thought that the gut is the “seat of our health”, but I now believe that the brain is the driver.  Research in neuroscience over the last 20+ years is demonstrating that the brain is the control center for our health. If our brains get stuck in a “fight or flight” sympathetic state, all digestive processes will take the back burner. You can treat and treat the gut, however, if the gut has difficulty healing, I now look to the brain and the nervous system.

9. Chronic and difficult-to-treat health problems are now diagnosed by Functional Medicine practitioners as often as Western Medical Doctors. When I first started my practice, I had many clients seeking holistic and alternative care because they had been told by their Western Medical doctors that they had a chronic, life long, incurable illness that would not improve. (This is sometimes referred to as medical hexing and I certainly experienced it at 18 years old when I was told that my Crohn’s would likely progress until I’d have my bowel removed.) Back then, natural and holistic practitioners focused on the big picture and offered a paradigm that understood the body’s natural capacity for self-healing when given the proper conditions and support. 

It’s been interesting (and somewhat saddening for me) to see that as Alternative & Functional practitioners have begun to use a more Westernized approach of testing and heavy-handed treatment protocols, they have also (to some degree) increased their own medical hexing. Many of my clients are now informed of their “genetic weakness” and told that their condition (from Leaky Gut to SIBO to Lyme) is incredibly difficult to treat or is likely to recur.

It seems that an approach that first supports the fundamental principles of optimal health (which I wrote about in #7) is emphasized less these days.

10. People are becoming more afraid of food. To some degree, certain foods have always been “vilified”. When I started my career, the focus was on saturated fats and animal proteins. Then it moved to sugar and refined carbohydrates. Then gluten. Then all grains. And now we’ve progressed to a fear of fruits & vegetables—from FODMAPs to phytates to lectins to night shades.

Yes, there are cases where these foods are best avoided, but the fear and confusion (and resulting stress) we place on the food can sometimes be more damaging than the food itself.

11. I believe in the goodness of people. With everything that circulates in the news and on social media these days, it’s sometimes hard to remember that most people are good. Over the last 20-years, I have been closely involved with hundreds of people’s lives. And with the opportunity to really connect, I see such immense goodness in people. 

12. I can feel deeply connected to clients I’ve never met or even seen a picture of. When I started offering phone sessions, I questioned if something would be lost in a relationship that wasn’t face-to-face. The opposite has been true. Maybe a guard is let down or a pressure to “perform” is removed. I am not sure. But some of my deepest connections over the years have been with clients that I wouldn’t recognize if I stood in a line next to them.

13. I may be the only person who still purchases carbon paper! As many of you know, when my clients get “Consultation Recommendations,” I keep records of our session notes with a carbon paper copy.  I welcomed the move from a paper & pencil planner to a palm pilot…and then to our scheduling software. But for some reason, I still resist moving to Electronic Medical Records or even typed recommendations (although I do plan to learn how to type in 2020, so we’ll see!).

For now, I will remain the woman responsible for keeping the carbon paper industry in business 🙂

14. My clients are my community. My clients are the people that I “report to” each week. They often will hear about things such as the struggles with our new puppy or the cold we’ve been passing around our house before I have time to connect with friends or family. Furthermore, many of my clients have seen me through relationships starting and ending, pregnancies, motherhood, and health challenges—and I have seen many of them through the same over the years.

My clients are my community, my extended family—and I am so immensely grateful for the connections we have forged.  

15. I have learned more from speaking with dozens of people each month than from any schooling or course I have taken. I love researching things and I can even “geek-out” on doing so at times, but nothing compares to real hands-on, personal experience.

I have tried promising treatments that simply have not panned out with my clients in the same way that research suggests. My clients have also educated and guided me through their experiences (both positive and negative) over the years. I am constantly learning from these discussions….

16. I am no longer a “purple unicorn”! When I graduated from nutrition school in NYC in 2000, there were about 30 people in my graduating class. Within a few years, the program moved to an online platform and had hundreds (then thousands) of graduates each year. Talk of nutrition and dietary theories is now mainstream. It is beautiful to see how many people are committed to bettering their health and improving the lives of others.  

17. Don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20. In other words, every successful business begins with its very first client, first talk and first blog post.

I was too hard on myself when I started out and something didn’t succeed. I can now look back and laugh at many of these “mistakes.” My favorite was promoting a winter cooking class with the title: “Blood-Cleansing Foods for Winter Immunity”. Not a single person signed up. I learned very quickly that the word “blood” and food don’t mix!

Looking back, each “mess up” taught me something valuable that helped me get to the next chapter.

18. I have been practicing long enough to work with many generations in the same family. It moves me deeply that I have been practicing long enough that some of my first clients not only bring their children to see me, but those “children” are now young adults themselves! I am humbled at the thought that someday I may be in practice long enough to support their children’s children as well.

I often have clients refer their mothers, fathers, in-laws and siblings (even identical twin!) to me. I love when my work becomes all-in-the-family!

19. I am the size of the average 12 year old in our practice!  When I met Roy, I would joke that I was the size of a 14-year old. But after joining a pediatric practice and having my own kids, I now know that I was wrong. I am officially the size of the average 12-year-old at our office!

20. I can do anything, but I don’t need to do everything at once. I always aspired to have a fulfilling career and I feel so fortunate that I started mine at such a young age.  I smile knowing that the career decision I made right out of college continues to bring me joy.

From an early age, I also dreamed of being a mom and having a family. No matter how many women told me that having a healthy work-life balance was their biggest challenge, I had no idea how challenging it would actually be.

I have learned that I can have a fulfilling career and I can be a great mom, but I work daily to find the healthy balance between the two— whether that means not attending every field trip and class party, or saying no to another big work project or talk.

There will be the right time for everything to fall into place, so for now I try to embrace these years with my family while also appreciating my career.

A Note From Dr. Roy: Please Help Me Congratulate Debbie on 20 Years! See my blog post and click below to sign our card. 

About Debbie Steinbock, HHC

After years of being told that she had an "incurable" chronic health condition, Debbie turned to her diet to help her understand her disease, restore her body, and regain control of her health. Her personal journey has given her the knowledge and compassion necessary to help her clients take an active role in their own healing. Since starting her practice in 2000, Debbie has successfully helped hundreds of people across the country to improve their diet, enhance their current state of health, and eliminate a variety of health conditions.

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