Americans’ relationship with food has become a major pain point created by the COVID-19 pandemic. We often joke about the weight we gained during the shutdown, brought on by bingeing on Netflix, Doritos and Pepsi all day. But the joke stops being funny when we realize that until there is a reliable vaccine or treatment, or enough of the population has developed herd immunity, our best defense against coronavirus or any other pathogen is our body’s own natural immune system. Eating junk food, sitting around all day and being depressed weakens our resistance at a time when we need to be boosting it.
“In the age of Covid, what I’m doing is leading by example, giving people a view of how I live my life, how I eat,” said Yalonda Naylor, author of “The Truth About Your Health” and co-owner of Transitional Health Inc.
Naylor is passionate about improving people’s lives through nutrition, activity and mindfulness. She is a certified fitness nutrition specialist and youth exercise specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and served as a medical specialist in the U.S. Army and Indiana Army National Guard.
She released her book right when the shutdown started. Plans for the launch party had been in the works for ages, scheduled for March 14, 2020 at Concept Seven Art Lounge in Fort Wayne. Two days earlier, though, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb implemented social distancing measures and other steps the state would take to reduce the spread of the virus. Those restrictions dampened turnout of the book launch, and ever since then, Holcomb’s Back on Track plan — a gradual reopening of the state’s economy — has limited the capacity of social gatherings.
But these restrictions have not stopped her from getting her message out, or from living her best life. An avid traveler and self-professed beach bum, Naylor has taken her message on the road, enjoying life and communicating through social media, Zoom and other virtual means.
“I just encourage people, to see the mobility in my life, to see the freedom in my life, the endurance, the longevity, everything that I have,” she said. “We’re visual creatures. It makes them think, ‘Huh! I would want to live a life like that.’ I like to travel. Traveling, though, it takes a lot of energy. To get to beautiful places, you have to walk. You have to have stamina. You have to have endurance. You have to be able to adapt and adjust to different types of climates and different types of environments. You can’t do that if you’re not mobile. If you have respiratory issues or chronic pain. My thing is to show you the travel and then show you the fruits and vegetables that make your body anti-inflammatory so you don’t have the pain or the extra weight, but you do have the mobility. I’m not just living, I’m thriving.”
She attributes this thriving to a whole foods/plant-based diet, an active lifestyle, plenty of rest, and a positive attitude. Sounds simple, but it’s actually a huge challenge in the United States.
“It’s not simple because they have learned how much money can be made off of food,” Naylor claims. She said the promotion of junk food goes all the way back to when tobacco companies had to stop promoting smoking and put warning labels on cigarettes.
“You’ll find, if you look back, the people who used to back the smoking industry, once they had to start saying ‘smoking does cause cancer,’ you will see where they gradually got away from smoking and started investing more into the food industry and processed foods because that was going to be the next money maker. ‘We got ‘em hooked on smoking but now they’re learning, so this whole smoking thing is going to go away or not be as popular as it was then, so what can we get into next to get people hooked and addicted?’ And that’s food.”
Naylor said that once companies learned that food could be profitable, they started adding sugar and other additives that tricked people’s brains into craving it more. People became addicted.
Companies could also make food more profitable by using preservatives to extend the food’s shelf life. Raw fruits and vegetables will rot and deteriorate quickly, making it unsellable.
“But once they learned they could package it and hold it until it’s sold,” she said, “that’s when the transition came as far as the level of the marketing of the additives and preservatives and the testing and making sure it’s stimulating our reward system, and making sure the texture and the appearance and all these things.”
This new industry required a marketing plan, and that’s when companies started advertising their food-like substances.
“You can’t go into the gas station anymore without being tempted by some kind of sweet food,” Naylor said. “You can’t go shopping at the mall. The kids in school, vending machines. The library has shops in it. It’s just absolutely everywhere. And once they learned how profitable it can be and how they can get away with making it addictive to people, and then turn around and sell you the antidote and make it into drugs — that’s why it’s called The Food and Drug industry. They’re going to taint you with the food, get the food in your system, then sell you the drug to try to make you better.”
Naylor’s goal is to go back to promoting healthy lifestyles — and that starts with healthy mindsets.
“We have to re-learn and teach ourselves the truth about what our bodies need and what they don’t need, and how food is made, all the toxins and preservatives,” she said. “And really just pay attention in life. Find out what your pivotal point is. What is the area in your life that really is going to give you the motivation to say, ‘Hey enough is enough. I’m tired of feeling like this. I’m tired of the extra weight. I’m tired of the headaches, the lower back pain, the fatigue.’”
Naylor’s pivotal point was not the loss of her father to complications of Type 1 diabetes, or her mother who went partially blind from Type 2 diabetes. Her pivotal point came when she looked at her four godchildren and realized she needed to set an example for them.
“It didn’t make any sense to put them through college and spend all this money and say I want them to go off and be happy and live a great life, but then sit here contracting preventable diseases,” she said. “How much freedom would they have if they’re worried about me at home, if I’m taking my insulin, or if I have dialysis or high blood pressure? That doesn’t relinquish that kind of emotional freedom to them. I tell my mom and anybody around me, ‘Don’t tell me you love me if you don’t take care of yourself because ultimately, you’re going to sabotage me.’”
Naylor is also devote in her faith and believes she has a spiritual responsibility to maintain her health.
“If I love my creator and love God and know that I’m here to serve a greater purpose on Earth,” she said, “he gives me one thing in order to do that — that’s my body and that’s my temple. So why would I want to destroy that? How am I going to serve, ultimately at a good level, if I’m all broken down?”
In 2016, she founded Transitional Health Inc. with Yolanda Walker to offer health and wellness consulting. The book, “The Truth About Your Health” came about as away to offer a sort-of
CliffsNotes for all the presentations they offered.
“The information isn’t anything that hasn’t already been out there,” Naylor admits. “But the problem is, the information isn’t in your face because when you’re telling the truth or giving that information, you don’t have the funding behind you. The food industries are not going to promote that and put it out there.”
Proper nutrition is also important for stress management and rest. When the body is under stress, it releases the hormone cortisol.
“It messes up the whole system of things, and extra weight, belly fat, those types of things,” she said. “That’s all connected. We are a ball of chemicals. When we don’t have certain things, we can self-sabotage by triggering some of the unhealthy chemicals in our body that will work against us.”
The solution, she says, lies in fruits and vegetables.
“That’s what the body needs to rebuild the cellular structure, in order to rebuild your immune system, rebuild tissue. So you’re eating for a purpose.”
Emotional wellbeing is still possible in the age of Covid.
“We can still do it,” she said. “We just have to be more creative. We can still take walks. We can still go on bike rides. We can still go hiking. We can still go boating. We can still go kayaking. We can still travel. And we can enjoy outside art. We can birdwatch. There are so many things. We need to get back out. We need to take in some sun.
“People are not thinking about those. We’re existing but we’re not thriving. I hope we don’t get back to that. We were so unhealthy.”
For more information on Yalonda Naylor or Transitional Health, visit https://yalondaspeaks.com/shop. The book, “The Truth About Your Health” is available for $15.
Cover photo courtesy of Yalonda Naylor.