Maria Cross

I’m a nutritionist. My career began in 1994, when I gained a diploma in nutritional therapy; a few years later, I gained an MSc in Public Health Food & Nutrition. Today, I’m a nutritional therapist and a writer. My writing style ranges from academic (Nutrition in Institutions, 2009) to popular (I Wish I Hadn’t Eaten That, 2011). Along the way, I’ve also been a university lecturer and tutor, helping set up the first BSc nutritional therapy teaching clinic in the UK.

When I first began to study nutrition, I had no idea how much there was to learn, or how much I would come to love the subject. Food and nutrition are fundamental to who we are and how we function. Understanding human nutrition is about understanding how we as a species evolved, and how nutrition changed our bodies – from the size of our guts to the size of our brains.

The value of food cannot be overstated: your body is built from what you give it. It’s what keeps you breathing, moving, thinking. It’s also what can make you ill.

I specialise in mental health and diet. This is the area of nutrition that I find most fascinating, though in reality, nutrition and the brain cannot be separated from nutrition and any other part or system of the body. To understand diet and mental health is to understand diet and the gut; to understand the gut is to understand the immune system. You can’t separate the immune system from the hormonal system, or metabolism from muscle. The body works as a complete ecosystem, and the whole is always greater than the sum of its individual parts.

I learned all that not just from studying, and from seeing clients, but from personal experience. I wasn’t always into nutrition, and I wasn’t always healthy.

I grew up in London, with absolutely no interest in either diet or health. I originally studied modern languages and after graduation headed off to Italy, where I spent a few good years absorbing the culture and way of life and eating the most fantastic food that until then I never knew existed.

Food – good, fresh, well-prepared food – played a significant role in my re-education. I even learned to cook it half decently. Returning to the UK, I brought with me an appreciation of the value of eating well, something that was to evolve into a love of both good food and good health. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the two were joyfully compatible.

So I began to study nutrition. Straight away I knew that this was to be my passion in life. It was also what put paid to years of intestinal misery. I had the irritable bowel from hell. For nigh-on 15 years I had lived with almost daily, often excruciating abdominal pain, accompanied by some extraordinary bloating and gas. I could have put up with all that. But as a sensitive young adult, I could have done without the spots. And the brain that didn’t work properly: poor memory and a persistent fog. At times, I just couldn’t focus.

In my early, pre-nutrition student days, I lurched from one bad lead to another in my quest to resolve all these issues. I saw a succession of doctors and therapists who turned out to be as clueless as I was. At the time, I was a nutrition philistine, and had no idea that all my problems were connected. Studying nutrition, it turned out, was my salvation. I was able to fit the pieces together and recalibrate mind and body. Today, I continue to enjoy excellent health. But first, I had to understand the root cause of all my health issues and see how they were connected. It’s obvious really, when you see it work. And it’s an approach I use with my clients, and in my writing.

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