For a healthy start to 2015, Benicia chiropractor and nutritionist DeAnne Miller has a simple suggestion:
Set a goal, and be gentle with yourself when you stumble along the way.
“We’re so hard on ourselves,” she says. “If we talked to a friend the way we talk to ourselves, the relationship probably wouldn’t last.”
DeAnne helps her patients have better relationships with their bodies. She encourages clients to listen to their bodies and respond to those messages. While chiropractic care is the core of her practice, she spends almost half her time offering nutritional advice.  
DeAnne became a chiropractor in 2000, but her introduction to the profession dates back to her childhood in Iowa. Her grandparents relied on a chiropractor for most of their medical needs, and she turned to one for help when she hurt her back.
“I always was into health and healing, and when I hurt my back, I learned more about chiropractic care. Like a lot of people, I didn’t understand it. I thought it was all about the neck and back. When I learned it is about healing from the inside out, I realized it lined up with my values,” she says.

Her commitment to healthy living motivates her to take and teach classes, and she is a board member of Benicia Community Gardens. Her practice collaborated on the organization’s “What’s For Dinner” series last year, and she’s excited about the permaculture project that’s beginning in town.

DeAnne, 49, moved to the Bay Area to be near family after graduating from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Iowa. Her family members moved on, but she stayed and now lives in Vallejo.  She opened her Essence of Life Healing Studio in Benicia 10 years ago.

What suggestions do you have for those who want to set health goals for 2015? It depends on what the focus is, whether someone wants to de-stress or lose weight or whatever the health issue is. The main thing is to be gentle with ourselves. We start off thinking there has to be a certain way to reach our goal and when we don’t do it exactly that way, we think we’ve failed.

Lots of times we feel so bad after doing something, like eating something we shouldn’t, that we get off track. If we recognize stumbles as an opportunity to learn from the experience, there can be a softening of the relationship with ourselves.

No matter if the goal is better nutrition or decreasing stress, you can build a healing momentum. Get right back on track. The overall feeling should be one of health and healing.   

What strategies can be used to make healthy changes? Choose a goal that you want to focus on, then come up with three to five steps you want to do to reach that goal.

Perhaps you want to lose weight and you’re choosing the framework of eating proteins, vegetables and healthy fats to do this. Maybe one of the steps is to include protein in every meal, including breakfast. Focus on doing that one step for two weeks before adding another step.
How do nutrition and chiropractic care work together? It’s really about balancing from within. The nervous system is the life force of the body. With nutrition, you’re adding the life force from food and it can help heal the body.
It begins in the brain, which is the communications center for the body. Information from the brain travels through the nervous system. If the bones from the spine are out of balance, it’s like a cell phone call being muffled – the communication just isn’t complete.

What ailments bring patients to your practice? I see a lot of hormone imbalance, thyroid imbalance, digestion issues, fatigue. We’re bombarded by so much in today’s society. A lot of pain is caused by inflammation. A lot of inflammation is due to our foods, stress levels and the chemicals we’re exposed to.

What kinds of foods cause inflammation? Grains can cause inflammation — corn, oats, wheat, cereal, rice, pasta, all those carbohydrates that are quick and easy. And, of course, sugar and soy, and some dairy as well. Mostly pasteurized dairy can cause inflammation because it’s lacking the enzymes needed for digestion.

What types of foods do you recommend? We recommend a diet of proteins, vegetables, healthy fats and few grains. We emphasize vegetables more than fruit because fruit is very high in sugar, and vegetables have more nutritional density, more minerals.  …
The body needs healthy fats. They are critical for the nervous system. There are so many healing properties in healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, butter, avocados and grapeseed oil.  

This framework is low-grain and low-sugar. You’re looking for nutritional density, real nutrition that comes from the soil, and less processed foods.

What should people look for when they are shopping for food? I suggest buying locally grown food if possible, using CSAs (community-supported agriculture groups).  You can look for organic, but that label can be so loose that its meaning isn’t clear.

Buy green vegetables – the deep green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and chard. They absorb pesticides in the body. Also berries, especially strawberries, absorb pesticides. For fats, use coconut oil, butter or olive oil. The lipids will absorb pesticides.

For proteins, eat sustainable proteins, whether it’s chicken, beef or seafood. Get pastured eggs–not pasteurized–because they come from chickens that are allowed to be chickens.

How can people evaluate the latest super-food or diet craze? I get that question a lot. Typically what I say is I always go back to how nature functions. If the food comes from a box, it’s probably not close to its original, natural form. And ask yourself, is this something I can do long term?

Does stress play a role in the conditions you see in patients? I see it all the time. It’s just the world we live in, with most of us doing multiple things, on the go all the time.  

Stress has huge effects on the body’s ability to heal, the ability to bring joy into your life, on digestive issues, and causes decreases in sleep.

How can people relieve stress? Breathing is always good. When you’re driving, check in with your breath. Are you breathing from your chest, or from your belly?  When we’re relaxed, we’re breathing from the belly. Or do a check-in with your body:  Where do I feel tense?
I do plan a class beginning in January on stress reduction. We’ll be talking about breathing techniques, visualization techniques and other ways to decrease stress.

Can activity trackers like Fitbit help you hear your body’s messages? I think they can be used simultaneously with listening to your body. Something like Fitbit lets you know if you’ve been more or less active than you thought. Listening to your body tells you other things. If you feel fatigue after eating something in particular, knowing that can help you learn what is best for your body.

What do you do to take care of yourself? I try to start my day in a state of mindfulness, a quiet time, whether it’s meditation or prayer. I have activities that I like – walking, Pilates, yoga.  For food, I like supporting locally grown foods. The office is now a drop-off spot for Real Food Bay Area and Siren seafood.

What do you do to relax? I have my morning practices, and I like to walk. Nature is huge for me. I can decompress, reset and focus. I love to garden. I grow vegetables mostly, but I’m still learning.

When you were growing up in Iowa, what did you think you’d be doing at this stage of life? I think I probably thought I’d have a family and kids and everything, and instead this (practice) has become my child.