Amanda Settle grew up as a ballet dancer, so eating healthy was part of her routine.
After her ballet career ended following high school, she continued to pursue her passion for health and wellness by earning a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences. She eventually went to work at the VA Medical Center in Marion.
Lindsey Purcell was an intern at the VA center when the two met. Purcell was in the graduate program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale studying nutrition. Purcell’s interest in nutrition further developed when she had to navigate through how food impacted her thyroid health.
“I developed Hashimoto’s thyroid issues and thyroid cancer and at that point I really needed to make some nutrition changes,” said Purcell.
Their shared passion for nutrition would eventually lead them to set up a private practice.
“Both of us and all of our friends were starting to have babies, have families,” said Settle.
Purcell, who lives in Teutopolis, admits that once she started having kids, it was a real struggle determining how to feed them the best way she could. The two busy moms soon discovered they weren’t alone.
“We just saw a lot of people struggling with the messages that were coming at us all the time about health and nutrition,” she said.
The registered dietitian nutritionists were getting questions like “how do I feed my picky toddler?” and “how do I lose my baby weight?”
“We just thought you know what wouldn’t it be great if we just started kind of our own safe space for us to educate and provide counseling. It just kind of grew from there,” said Settle, who now lives in Effingham.
The duo created Nutrition Wise and launched a website in November 2018. They help people set their nutrition goals and develop recipes to meet them. They do that through online group coaching for members and individual virtual or in-person coaching.
Their approach is one day or “meal” at a time.
“We really know that there’s a lot going on with our members outside of what is on their plate, so we try to meet them where they’re at and give them some tips that are going to be sustainable,” said Purcell.
March is National Nutrition Month and the nutrition experts offer some advice for getting on the right nutrition track while sharing the benefits you get from it.
Navigating away from convenience foods is a good start, according to Settle.
“We kind of become too dependent on some of those packaged foods and that’s where a lot of health problems are starting,” she said.
Settle and Purcell educate their members on easier ways to plan and prepare meals with simple recipes that work for the whole family.
“I have several friends that are trying to follow a meal plan and then they’re trying to feed their family separately and that just gets very cumbersome when you’re trying to make different meals for different family members. So, it’s just kind of reining it in and finding some simple recipes that suit the whole family basically,” said Settle.
Settle noted some people have special dietary needs, while others have likes or dislikes, therefore, they teach their members how to modify their recipes to meet anyone’s needs.
The two know personally the challenges of feeding a family with different tastes, especially children.
“I have one child that will eat everything, and one that will eat absolutely nothing,” said Purcell.
Another challenge people sometimes attribute to eating healthier is it costs more.
“A lot of it is about planning,” she said.
While the two promote leftovers as one way to save money, they realize that may not be a desirable option for everyone. Purcell said that doesn’t mean leftovers are not an option. It’s a matter of finding the reason why a person doesn’t like them and working around that.
“Is it a texture issue? Is it a taste or food combination issue?” she said. “If they say, ‘I don’t like salads or I don’t like leftovers,’ a lot of times if you just break down ‘So, what is it you don’t love about it?’”
For salads, Purcell said the reply may be they don’t like it when the lettuce wilts.
“When you start asking those different questions, then you can build a better salad for things that you do like in it that maybe are left over well or picking meals that are going to fit your needs,” she said.
Purcell admits she struggles with texture.
“I know, for me, certain types of food if it’s mushy the next day that’s not a good leftover food for me. So, I don’t meal prep that meal. But it’s very individualized,” she said.
Eating healthy has many benefits. The biggest is prevention of chronic illness, according to Settle.
“If we can prevent, that’s really the goal. Prevention is key,” she said.
However, Settle said a lot of people who seek their help one on one already have chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or autoimmune disease.
“Our goal there is to either try to maybe reverse the issue or, if it’s not necessarily reversible, just basically improve symptoms. Like with autoimmune disease, you can’t necessarily make the autoimmune disease disappear, however, you can definitely do some symptom management where they’re in less pain or getting better sleep or they’re digesting better. Things like that.
“Diet plays a huge role in any kind of acute or chronic illness,” she said.
Purcell and Settle note that while fad diets may work in the short term, they are just setting you up for failure in the long term.
“We notice if you do a lot of fad diets, there can be an unhealthy kinship with food that is developed. We are our kids’ example. They’re looking to us to see what our relationship with food is. If we are trying new things, doing our best and not eating constantly separately or restricting, they’re gonna see that as what the relationship with food should be. We have kids in mind when we are giving our recommendations because as you know as mothers ourselves we see that they’re looking to us for guidance,” said Purcell.
Settle said health is a journey and not a quick fix.
“We have to look at the reason behind why we are where we are. That is the nitty gritty of what we do is kind of tackling those issues. Is it a mealtime strategy? It is a dislike for certain foods? Is it time issue? Then trying to put someone on a journey where they’re actually going to see results and keep those results. We’re building skills that they can use in order to get to their most healthy self,” said Purcell.
Sometimes that journey can uncover another problem people who seek their help didn’t know they had.
“I would say a lot of people have some sort of gastrointestinal issue. It may not be the main reason they came to see us,” said Settle.
The two ask their clients a lot of questions, including what medications they’re taking and get a history.
“So we can kind of look at the whole picture and see what’s really going on,” said Settle. “Maybe they came to us because they wanted to lose weight. But maybe we find out that they have a thyroid issue or something like it, so it kind of evolves our treatment plan for them.”
Purcell said despite the misconception, eating healthy doesn’t have to be overwhelming and can be easily attainable for those on the go.
“One of our members when she joined our group coaching was like I wasn’t looking for another job — counting up everything. That’s just not what we do. Having another job of food was not something she was wanting to do. It’s not something as busy people we want to do either.”