JN: How long have you lived in the Catskills?
JB: About four years.
From where did you move?
New York City, but I’d been coming up here many years prior to that. I used to be a motorcyclist. [Laughs]
I used to come up here motorcycling and skiing. That was my other life, right?
So what brought you to New York City in the first instance?
That was back 26 years ago; I met someone who was American and wanted to go back home and I wanted to leave Denmark. I was in the mood to explore at the time, so we moved here.
Do you miss Denmark?
I don’t miss Denmark per se, but I really miss all the cool stuff going on with good food; the whole food and restaurant movement, if you could call it that, is something I would love to be more in. I miss Copenhagen, but it’s more Europe that I miss than Demark. The weather sucks, so there’s not that.
But it’s brutal here in the winter.
But it’s beautiful.
It’s always bright.
Back home, it’s always grey and miserable. When I go home to Denmark in the wintertime, it’s yucky cold, but here it’s a bright, crisp cold and you can add more layers. Back home, it’s this humid cold where you just never feel warm.
What did you do here? What have you been doing here for the last 26 years?
I was in the fashion industry. I helped fashion companies break into the market with both designing showrooms and stores, but also a branding approach. What should they look like if they want to communicate to the client in terms of how that person feels in the space? That was really my forte and my interest. Knowing that I was high-risk breast cancer, when I first moved here, I started studying Buddhism, health macrobiotics, energy healing and things like that. I also studied Feng Shui because of my design interest and background. So after both my parents died of cancer a year apart in 2000 and 2001, I decided to pull the plug on the fashion industry and help people get healthy. I wanted to help women be busy and successful but also be able to take care of themselves, not this either/or scenario.
How did you start doing that?
I went back to school to get a nutrition education. I also had a teacher who started teaching me about quantum physics. You know twenty-five years ago quantum physics wasn’t all the “bleep” it is now.
Nobody knew what I was even talking about, but it became like a foundation because it sits very well with studying Buddhism and meditation and mindfulness. Essentially those for me are two aspects of the same story. That’s what neuroscience has figured out today too.
I came up with the idea of creating a wellness center for cancer patients and that was before people were doing integrative therapy like acupuncture and meditation, and things like that, in a medical environment. [My idea was] not a medical program, but a complementary program for cancer patients during treatment and for prevention. While I was not able to get funding at the time, which potentially, whatever, was a good thing, I wanted to be a part of it. So for me to be a counselor, I had to go back to school, so that’s what I did.
When you came out of school, what did you do first?
I started counseling people. I basically started canvassing for getting clients. I built my practice to do one-on-one counseling with people, then all kinds of people showed up, not just prevention of cancer. My first client was a cancer patient and he was a man who had prostate cancer and he was getting ready for surgery and we got his numbers down to the point where he didn’t need surgery. That was so exciting for me. That was my first client. I sort of developed a way of working with people that was an integration of how our food is our medicine, based in Chinese medicine, and how our mind and our thoughts affect our physical health. That’s what mind/body medicine is all based on. So what showed up on my doorstep were people struggling with emotional eating. For the past ten years, that has really been the predominance of my work.
Do you consult up here in the Catskills or mostly in the city?
I do Skype and telephone calls with clients in the city when I’m up here, but mostly when I’m up here, I write or develop articles. I do recipes and blog. I wrote a book and I developed an online program that is the process that I go through with people when I work with them one-on-one.
Successful coaching is a really valuable skill. How do you get people to do things like simply eat their vegetables?
Part of it is my approach to nutrition, what I call food knowledge. It’s beyond nutrition in terms of saying that certain food is good for you. Saying to people, this is what you can expect from eating these foods in terms of how it makes them feel. I tell them to try [certain foods]. Then we talk about how it makes them feel. Then it becomes a no-brainer, so to speak, to start implementing that food into daily choices. Whereas if I were to say that you should eat this food because it’s good for you, you wouldn’t relate to it. You wouldn’t have a relationship with the food. The way we change is by relating to something.
Do you have clients come up to spend more time in nature?
Yes, that’s part of it, that sense of how to get out of town and reconnect with yourself. So, like how do you disconnect from the busy life and reconnect with yourself? Nature is such a great teacher for that because there is stillness. There are completely different sounds that we can listen to that help us. In the city, when we are so overwhelmed by sound, we can actually listen to the stillness in the city too. We can learn from some of the things that we practice in nature without getting overwhelmed when we get back into the city. The whole thing about stress is that we need to get out of the head and back into our bodies.
I totally believe in mind over matter. People don’t realize their own power.
Right, and I believe that we have power when we relate to something, not because we’re told what to do, and that’s where coaching is about finding our own path.
How do you encourage someone to find his or her path?
By guiding them in getting the experience, like: eat this and see how you feel. Then it becomes their choice.
Just try it once.
Right. Then it becomes about relating to something. There’s been research that certain people don’t save for retirement because they can’t imagine themselves being older. It’s hard for them. They’re so disconnected from their future self and that’s why we don’t get healthy, because we’re disconnected from the future self. And what we’re only feeling is who we are now. There are ways of getting a relationship with our future healthy selves.
Do you have a garden on your property?
Yes, we have land and then I have a vegetable garden and some herbs.
Your message is great and I’ve been reading your book, Eat to Feel Full and it’s really very simple. I’m pretty sure that mothers all across my generation were telling us to eat our vegetables. Why do you think people go away from that fresh kind of eating?
Part of it is that food has become inconvenience. We don’t give ourselves space and time to actually have a meal, which is the most simple way to connect with ourselves: by eating. It’s such a basic way that we can practice better self-care, but it’s the last thing we think about when we’re busy. We skip meals. Then we do these food bars. Probably the bane of my existence is these stupid food bars, where people think they’re getting food on the go, when really they’re getting a glamorized candy bar and it’s not food.
Snacking has destroyed the environment and us.
It’s bad for the environment because it’s mostly processed food. It’s packaged, individually wrapped, but has actually caused this whole disconnect with actually taking a break. A lot of people say, oh but we used to graze. Yes, but that was when we lived under survival stress and we had to take our food where we could get it. It wasn’t because it was so optimal. And when we got food, we would binge on it and that is what we do today. We graze all day. We’re under survival stress all day and then we sit down and binge at night at the dinner table and pass out like our ancestors.
Without any of the associated exercise.
Exactly, because our snacking on the go, is walking down the office isle to the candy machine. We’re not covering huge territory.
What inspires you most about the Catskills?
I like open space. I like mountains, trees and green. I like the lushness and I love views. I like watching the sky at night. It feels like its open space. I also love the community that’s up here. They are engaged in food and looking at community as a place of creating a support system. There’s that sense of being close to earth and finding a place in space and time for reflection and solitude that is really important to me. But I also want to be close to people and the Catskills seem to be like a way for me to have both, and choose when I want it.