September-October 2021 | Health

Eat your vegetables

A nutrition and wellness coach talks about the link between the food we eat and the way we feel

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Photo by Lindsey Max

Linda Petursdottir’s approach to healthy living often starts in the kitchen. “You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet,” she says. “You’re not going to be able to make the progress that you need to make if you’re not putting in the right fuel.”

Petursdottir, 46, works with clients to better manage their nutrition, fitness, sleep habits and stress levels. The Bethesda resident learned about the value of eating right at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City, which she attended from 2004-2005. After graduating in 2005, she launched her business, Simple Well Being, offering individual coaching, cooking classes, wellness workshops and short-term group reboot programs. Last year, Petursdottir became certified as a functional medicine coach and began to take a deeper look at the health of her clients, who are typically women in their 40s.

Through a four-page intake form, she gathers information about their daily routines, medical histories and prior lab results to address problems ranging from digestive issues to headaches and high blood pressure. Petursdottir says that getting to the root of someone’s individual health challenges and working together to craft a plan is like piecing together a puzzle.

“Symptoms can be a gift,” she says. “It’s important to be really observant about what your body’s trying to tell you, to get curious and use that as a way of revealing maybe some underlying imbalances.”

A recent client told Petursdottir that she felt stuck with her nutrition routine and couldn’t kick her sugar cravings. When Petursdottir realized the woman was sensitive to dairy products, suffered from seasonal allergies and also had trouble sleeping, she helped her set goals that included lifestyle changes and adding interesting, healthy foods to her diet. Those changes led to weight loss as a side effect, Petursdottir says.

Petursdottir’s 21-day reboot program, conducted online during the pandemic, helps clients recognize the link between what they are eating and how they are feeling. Her overall emphasis isn’t about deprivation, but rather on introducing tasty recipes that leave little room for eating unhealthy foods and encourage clients to develop eating routines they can maintain for the long term. “It’s about making realistic upgrades and additions,” Petursdottir says. “It’s a mindset of abundance.”

It took time for Petursdottir to find her own healthy balance. She grew up in the small town of Hafnarfjörður, Iceland, and was the country’s national champion in gymnastics from 1987 through 1989, competing until she was 19. After moving to South Carolina at age 20 to study psychology at Coastal Carolina University, she indulged in fast food, gained weight and wasn’t motivated by gym workouts. While dating her future husband, Mark Sincevich, she turned the corner by taking cooking classes together and getting into yoga and meditation. She also discovered the fun of exercising outdoors with him, including hiking, biking, running, skiing, golfing and tennis. Their two teenage sons sometimes join them on their outings.

As people emerge from the pandemic, Petursdottir says she’s seeing a growing interest in wellness from those who want to adopt healthy habits to stave off chronic illnesses that could put them at greater risk for COVID-19—or whatever the next pandemic might be. “People are ready to hit the reset button and start taking their nutrition really seriously,” she says.

In her own words…

Putting in the work

“So much of our environment is default unhealthy. It’s default convenience. There are remote controls for everything. You don’t have to walk, you can do the drive-thru. …And if you have a pain, here’s a painkiller. So it takes being a deviant to be healthy. It takes being educated and assertive, a little bit of swimming upstream to be healthy. My job is to empower people to be healthy deviants. It’s going to be hard, but you know what? It’s going to pay off.”

The right fit

“I remember coming to nutrition school thinking that I really knew a lot about healthy eating. Then I realized that I didn’t. There is a whole big world of different dietary theories. Our homework would be to follow a certain kind of dietary approach for a given amount of time and explore what that looks like for us—[such as] a high-protein diet or vegan diet. Everybody would have different experiences. The point of the whole thing was that there’s no one single diet that’s best for everyone.”

Quick fix

“I have clients who don’t cook. I show them how to assemble, where there is no recipe involved. Let’s say a grain bowl. You can buy frozen cooked quinoa, brown rice, or cauliflower rice that you just thaw or heat. Then add in greens, some vegetables and a sauce. Knowing you’re not going to be cooking, let’s create some lifelines: there’s that assembled meal, there’s a Crock-Pot meal, and there’s a healthy takeout. And then there’s three days of healthy meal delivery. Of course, it takes a little bit of creativity and sometimes a little money.”

Her healthy smoothie

“Typically, one-third is liquid that’s not juice; one-third is fruit; and then one-third is vegetables—spinach, yellow squash, cabbage, avocados. Then add a protein boost that could be protein powder, chia seeds, flaxseeds, or hempseeds. It’s more macronutrient balanced by having a combination of healthy fats and protein along with fiber. A smoothie with juice, strawberries and yogurt is like a big load of carbohydrates. You’re going to spike your blood sugar, and it’s going to crash and you can be looking for food a half hour later.”