27 : Nutritionist Alina Islam
I still remember my first visit to the St Lawrence Market in 2010. I was captivated with the use and effect of lighting in different areas of the market: blue light illuminated the fish section shifting to bright reds in the meat section and neutral whites in the produce. Since that visit I've been photographing markets around the world in the style of street photography. In large part I'm intrigued by the interactions between vendor (often a farmer) and consumer (often an entrenched city-dweller), an intimacy that is lost in our modern food distribution model.
I caught up with Alina, a nutritionist, at the Saint Lawrence Market, an icon for Toronto foodies. The plan was to stop by the market for the fruits and veggies she would use in our shoot. Of course, I couldn't resist capturing her as she walked through the market carefully selecting avocados, picking up giant bundles of fresh kale, and hiding behind pints of cherry tomatoes.
As we walked and photographed, I slowly heard about more about Alina's journey towards nutrition. Intrigued by her story, I asked her to share more through a Q&A. I'll leave the rest to her.
Q: Tell us your name, what you do, and how long you've been doing this.
A: My name is Alina and I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based out of Toronto, Canada. I coach people on how to create optimal health using real food, natural supplements and by making lifestyle changes. I've been doing this for just under two years now.
Q: What did you do before becoming a nutritionist? What inspired you to make the change?
A: Ironically, I was working as an Advertising Account Executive for processed food giants such as Kellogg’s and ConAgra. The inspiration to leave was two-fold; I knew I didn't want to climb up a corporate ladder and that I wanted to be in charge of my own schedule, and I also wanted to spend my time contributing to something that was genuinely helpful to the world. I was exploring a bunch of different areas of interest, and happened to fall in love with Holistic Nutrition the moment I set foot in the classroom.
Q: What was one of your biggest struggles getting started? How did you overcome it?
A: One of the biggest struggles was quite frankly, money. It's not easy giving up a stable paycheck each month. While some people thrive on having to make it work since day one, I found that it gave me too much anxiety. Personally, what works well for me is growing my business slowly, while freelancing or working part-time elsewhere. I currently provide content consultation for a health and wellness media company three days a week, which leaves me with enough time to grow my business on the side.
Q: Can you share your epiphany moment about healthy eating?
A: I wish I had an answer that sounded more sophisticated than what I'm about to say, but it was while reading the book, Skinny Bitch. There was an entire chapter in that book exposing the truth about dairy propaganda, how we simply don't need it and how it damages our health. I used to love drinking milk, but out of curiosity I started cutting out milk, cream and cheese. It was ridiculous how much better I felt within just weeks. My energy soared, I dropped weight, my skin began to improve and I no longer experienced as much gas or bloating as I used to.
Q: What are you favourite ingredients to cook with right now? Why are these your favourites, and what do they add to your diet?
A: At the moment I'm obsessing over ghee, full-fat coconut milk and arugula. I use ghee as my primary cooking oil, and I can't get over how delicious it smells and how fantastic it is for our health, especially for hormonal balance. Full-fat coconut milk is perfect for adding more creaminess to smoothies and curries, and it helps make meals more satiating. And lastly, I've just become bored with kale and spinach for salads, so the peppery flavour of arugula keeps me eating more greens!
Q: You're famous for your smoothies. Tell us about the key ingredients to use in every smoothie.
A: The key ingredients to a healthy smoothie are a liquid (non-dairy), a handful of veggies (for fibre and nutrients), a small portion of fruit (to sweeten), some good fat (to keep you full), and ideally some protein (to keep blood sugar levels balanced). The mistake most people make with smoothies is only using fruit which leaves you starving an hour later!
You can read all about how to make the perfect smoothie here.
Q: When it comes to healthy eating, what's one of the biggest struggles you see amongst your clients?
A: I think what is most damaging for clients is having unrealistic expectations. You cannot change a lifetime of habits nor drop a few dress sizes in a matter of a few weeks, in a way that is going to be sustainable in the long run. We live in a "quick fix" society, and if people don't see the results they want fast, they'll turn to a juice fast or overexercising. And then just as quickly, when they don't find it's working, they'll turn to pizza and binge eating.
With nearly every client I've had, I've had to remind them that real, lasting change takes time, and it's all about building one small habit after the other. Of course, once they start seeing (and feeling) the results, they see merit in this approach. I also encourage clients not to have an "all or nothing" mentality. If you're feeling upset, restricted, deprived or be fighting a battle with your willpower each day, the approach needs to change.
Q: What's something that you find most people don't know about food?
A: That flavoured products are full of sugar! For example, multiple clients of mine used to eat vanilla or blueberry Greek yogurt single-serve containers as a "healthy snack". That is until, I pointed out there's around three or four teaspoons worth of sugar added into each one!
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
A: Living a healthy life is not out of your reach, I promise. And it's not a race, it's a journey. Heck, I used to eat Nutella out of a jar most days, have Cheerios for breakfast and had a deep-seated fear of the gym!
Alina and I connected for this shoot through the swapping website Swapsity. We arranged a direct swap of my photography skills in exchange for her advice and counsel as a nutritionist. For more about Business to Business swapping, feel free to contact Marta Nowinska.
Location: Saint Lawrence Market and Alina’s apartment, Toronto, ON
Date: February 1, 2016
Equipment: Canon 5diii, Canon 50mm, Canon 85mm
Next week I’ll share photos from my recent engagement session with Jessa and Justin.
This article about environmental portraiture was written by Montreal photographer Selena Phillips-Boyle.