Interview w/ Emily Field

As part of the 60 Day Challenge, I decided to interview the coaches at CrossFit Kingfield. They each play a key role in providing the help and support I need to achieve my goals, not only during this process but throughout the year.  I wanted to get to know them better, learn  some of their best practices when it comes to training and nutrition, and see what makes them tick. Recently I spoke with Emily Field, Registered Dietitian and nutrition coach, and learned about food systems and the “PFC ” framework she uses in her approach with clients. 

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MMG: Thanks for talking with me today. I figure let’s start at the beginning. What role did food play in your life growing up?

FIELD: You could say the understanding of nutrition and its relation to health was close to elementary level in my household growing up. While we weren’t allow Poptarts and Cookie Crisps for breakfast, it was a regular rotation of Hamburger Helper, Chef Boyardee and canned vegetables. I joke that I fueled my best years of highschool volleyball with Flaming Hot Cheetos and a breakfast burrito every day at lunch.

But at fifteen, I got my first job at Pretzelmaker in the mall and from then I was hooked on the food industry and started waiting tables through my teens and early twenties.

MMG: Was there a specific experience working in the food industry that changed your perspective?

FIELD: Yes, when I got a serving job at a restaurant that sourced almost exclusively from local farmers and businesses – and catered to the well-to-do. It’s at that job that I learned the meaning of “gluten allergy” and had to explain to tables why their “grass fed” meat might taste tougher than what they were used to.

Without a freezer and a kitchen the size of mine, they put a priority on using all parts of the animal and plant, minimizing waste. I became fascinated by the restaurant’s ability to serve healthy, delicious food that seemed to please all the key players – farmers, chefs, patrons, food shelters, local artisans, and servers.

MMG: What led you to pursuing a degree in Nutrition and Public Health?

FIELD: I believe because of my experience in serving, I became intrigued by big picture, macro-level nutrition. Don’t get me wrong, I nerd out for biochemistry and physiology, but the way in which food is grown, processed and distributed amongst a population is equally as interesting to me. How do aspects of a person’s social or physical environment affect their ability to access healthy food?

To me, nutrition represents one spoke in the wheel of health. A graduate degree in Nutrition and Public Health offered me the opportunity to explore how education, socioeconomics, geographical location, health care and public policy work together to create populations of healthy people – or unhealthy people. I loved it. I will continue to pull from that education into my work with clients.

MMG: How did your studies further evolve your thinking on food?

FIELD: I was fortunate to be able to study about food and nutrition in the context of sustainable agriculture and economy. I have learned to think very critically about our food system and it stems from the focus of my specific Dietetic program and from living in St. Louis, Missouri during my higher education.

I remember thinking how backwards it seemed that I was living in a neighborhood “food desert” not but 30 minutes from some of the richest, abundant farmland in America. Or that, when I taught nutrition education in inner-city St. Louis public schools I knew that 90% of the kids were going to receive highly processed free or reduced-cost meals made primarily from government subsidized crops. Not to mention that Monsanto funds many of the nutrition and farming related scholarship for young professionals and I may have utilized funds during my time there.

MMG: Now as a practicing Registered Dietitian and nutrition coach, how would you describe your personal philosophy or approach towards nutrition?

FIELD: At the core, I encourage an eating pattern that emphasizes real, nutrient-dense food most of the time. So novel, right? By doing so, you’ll eliminate garbage foods with “triggering” ingredients that can negatively affect metabolism, gut health and hormones which, I would argue, control everything about your body and brain.

It’s impossible to look at improving your health in a vacuum of just nutrition. I push my clients to examine other habits such their as stress management and coping mechanisms, sleep hygiene, and physical activity. It’s definitely a whole-person, whole-life approach.

I use a “PFC” framework in my approach – which stands for protein, fat and carbohydrates – primarily from fruits and vegetables over refined, processed grains. All three macronutrients function in unique ways in the body but by combining them together, we can better ensure well-regulated blood sugar. Well managed blood sugar is the key to great energy, feeling full and satisfied between meals, sleeping well, great athletic performance and balanced moods.

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The blood sugar rollercoaster. (Image c/o Dietitian Cassie®)

MMG: Do you see any commonality among your most successful clients?

FIELD: My most successful clients have made firm decisions about their life. They start to recognize certain habits, thoughts and beliefs are not serving them any more and they straight up ditch them. Changing how you view yourself – perhaps fat, lazy, boring, sluggish, a victim – is incredibly powerful, but that’s the root of changing longstanding behaviors. Once a person defines their “strong’ or whatever feeling they’re chasing, decides to ditch anything less than and act accordingly, there is a separation between who they were before and who they are now.

MMG: On the opposite side of the spectrum, what are some of the most reoccurring myths, mistakes or pitfalls that you find among your clients?

FIELD: By far, the most common belief that people “just have to eat less and move more” to lose weight is one of the most frustrating for both client and coach. The public messaging in this country does a great deal to perpetuate this belief and it permeates our entire food environment – from health education to marketing, advertising to food packaging. Similarly, many believe that weight is simply a product of calories in and calories out which ignores other factors that play huge roles in metabolism – stress, sleep, hormone balance, food sensitivities, gut health, etc.

MMG: What has been one of your personal highlight to date in your career?

FIELD: Helping a couple get pregnant with their first baby after several years of trying to conceive. Changing their nutrition habits not only changed their hormones, it changed their sleep, general mood and outlook, which improved their ability to manage stress and become more resilient. They are truly an amazing couple.

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Emily fishing in Ely, Minnesota.

MMG: Are there any books that you recommend on the subject of food?

FIELD: I have a stack that I readily recommend to my friends and peers who are also interested in real food nutrition and whole-person health: Practical Paleo, Eat the Yolks, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, NomNom Paleo: Food for Humans, Well Fed, The Paleo Cure. I find myself recommending books about behavior change and powerful decision making most often to clients: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Better Than Before, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

Really though, if you are an auditory learner or have more time listen instead of read I highly recommend listening to Podcasts for short, focused learning on similar subjects. I regularly listen to: The Model Health Show, Balanced Bites, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, The Chalene Show, Revolution Health Radio, Bulletproof Radio, Barbell Shrugged. Search for topics you like in your Podcast player search bar and get recommendations for episodes immediately.

MMG: Those are some great recommendations. In that vein, do you have any go-to websites for recipes?

FIELD: I use Pinterest almost exclusively to find recipes. I find Pinterest to be one of the most efficient ways to find what I am looking for because of the search bar feature and the ability to save what I find in organized ways. Pinterest allows you to be both “shallow” in your search – meaning, I can find dinner while waiting for my dog to finish her morning business – and allows you to take that “black hole internet dive”. I have found books, podcasts, blogs and health professionals from Pinterest searches.

Follow me @emilyfieldrd to see some of my public boards that are based in my real food, PFC balanced eating philosophy. Delicious meals and practical solutions to healthy eating are my specialty.

MMG: Do you use or recommend any apps for tracking or the like?

FIELD: I am still diving into this. MyFitnessPal seems to be one of the most detailed apps for tracking and I recommend it often. However, I am really interested in some healthy habit tracking apps that the user can tie money to (money goes to charity if you don’t keep your habits): 21 Habits, Go F#&cking Do It, stickK.

I just downloaded “Eating Clean” and “Food Tripper” and am exploring them. Using the barcode scanner, Eating Clean lets you know if a food contains potential allergens or ingredients you’d rather avoid. Food Tripper uses your location to point out healthy food options. I am still not quite sure, however, how they determine which restaurants end up as healthy suggestions. Links to the menu is often linked right from the map screen.

MMG: What’s your favorite food?

FIELD: A runny, golden yolk.

MMG: What is your take on the notion of “cheat days”?

FIELD: Eh. I support my clients in what they believe works for them and for some people, having an 80/20 rule – 80% of the time you eat very healthy, 20% of the time you eat unhealthy, usually manifesting in 1 cheat day per week – really works for them.

Most often, however, I end up challenging clients to “just try it my way” if they are not seeing the results they want – and my way does not involve “cheat days”. And not because I am a Food Nazi, but because I believe the only eating pattern that will keep you happy and thriving both mentally and physically is one that you can commit to for the rest of your life.

There are the obvious undesirable side effects of including “cheats”: cheat meals breed cheat days breed cheat weeks and all of a sudden your unhealthy habits become your normal habits. The notion of “cheats” can also breed stress, anxiety, guilt and shame which are feels that should never be associated with food.

MMG: You recently incorporated CrossFit into your weekly routine. How has it been going? What do you like about CrossFit so far as a form of exercise?

FIELD: Awesome. Simply put, Crossfit fits in my busy life – it’s incredibly efficient at producing the results I want.

In different times of my life other types of exercise or programs really worked for me but I’ve struggled to find IT as I’ve grown in adulthood and in my professional career. I use my brain a lot at work – thinking critically, multitasking, problems solving and strategizing as a coach – I need to not think sometimes. I used to plan a workout, get distracted, change my mind, end up on a treadmill after rationalizing myself out of a better workout. Garbage.

I never look at the WOD before going to class and it’s been the best decision I never knew I needed to make around exercise. I have been known to show up and ask one of the Kingfield coaches to “write me a workout” which ends up being both amazing and terrible, as I am sure you can imagine, but I never walk away feeling unsatisfied.

MMG: Do you do any other sports or classes during the week in addition to CrossFit?

FIELD: I enjoy yoga, particularly Bikram. When it’s warmer, I’ll add running and biking outside, swimming in Lake Harriet. I love running in the form of sprinting or Tabata. I have never thrived as a long distance, endurance athlete. I love to play court and sand volleyball. Pick me for your intramural team!

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MMG: Do you incorporate any daily habits into your routine to improve or maintain your mental and physical wellness?

FIELD: I have consciously decided not to complain about things I have the ability to change and I try not to surround myself with people that do. It’s so simple and I can honestly say I am happier and more satisfied since putting effort here. It has also made me make more rapid changes in my wellness habits because I am motivated to find creative ways out of my fog.

Everyday I try to spend at least one hour unplugged. This is new for me but ever since starting full-time coaching over the phone and seeing clients in person I experience massive energy management problems (and jaw issues from talking so much). Quiet time without stimulation is essential for me.

MMG: You are leading a 60-day nutrition challenge at CrossFit Kingfield. Can you provide a high-level summary of the challenge? What’s the purpose?

FIELD: The #KingfieldStrong Challenge is a nutrition and exercise program that paves the way for individuals to feel their best. While many might have signed up to push towards a leaner, stronger or more comfortable body weight, the components of the Challenge are encouraging better recovery from workouts, better sleep, and overall better time management and prioritization of healthy habits. Coaches and participants actively engage via a private Facebook group – providing insight and sharing experience. I’ve provided supporting resources for “Challenge Compliant” recipes including a private Pinterest board to help increase success. Participants are asked to commit to eliminate a few “trigger foods” from the diet for 60 days and engage in Crossfit workouts (at home and in the gym) at total for 5 times per week for best results. Simple, yet effective.

MMG: Often people, like myself, do these 21-day sugar detoxes or Whole30 challenges and then quickly fall back into bad habits when they are over. How do you sustain the success of this challenge throughout the year?

FIELD: It was intentional that we challenged participants for 60 days – 60 days is not sexy. It’s meant to breed real habit formation. It’s meant to span enough time for you to test multiple less-than-ideal conditions such as traveling and stress. My hope is that participants figure out how to not let what is important to them – feeling healthy, vibrant, strong, resilient, etc. – fall out of sight because they let less-than-ideal conditions overrule their life. In 60 days, I am hopeful participants can really look at their coping mechanisms, social support systems, and ability to push restart after failing.

Short cookie-cutter programs can work for shallow results but they don’t challenge people to examine the many moving pieces of life that you need to in order to make sustainable change.

MMG: There is wide-range of participants in terms of age, weight, goals, etc. What do you hope is the biggest takeaway for everyone who is participating?

FIELD: Whatever they are supposed to takeaway. I want participants to find what they are supposed to find.

I hope that everyone has at least one “a-ha” moment during the Challenge – for some it could be that they sleep better if they have a bedtime snack, for others it’s that they need to get to complete some sort of meal prep or eating healthy just isn’t going to happen. Some might be examining how alcohol or junky foods are utilized in their regular routine or how particular groups of people make them feel. I am inspired by the group and each participant is strong in their own way. I am confident they’re learning things about themselves that will serve them far into the future.

MMG: How do you define strong?

FIELD: To me, strong is resiliency. A strong person recovers quickly from difficult situations. Interpret that as you will. The “quick” part is where we can affect change and improve with intention and practice.

The waves of life won’t ever stop rolling in and I anticipate being faced with a heck of a lot more curveballs in my life, but I continue to develop strategies that make it easier for me to bounce back and recover well. And quickly.

MMG: In CrossFit, a “goat” is some movement or exercise that you suck at. What’s your goat?

FIELD: There is a herd of goats in my world. Probably the larger lifts that require a lot of coordination of limbs and things – cleaning and snatching. I feel super awkward.

For more information about Emily and her services, check out her website at emilyfieldrd.com.

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