Nutrition: Food as Medicine

Cape Coral's Lisa Brown healed herself through food—now she shares tools to optimize your life with nutrition and mindfulness via her wellness business Free Flowing Health.

BY June 29, 2023
Healthy foods
(Courtesy Free Flowing Health/Meagan McGregor)
Lisa Brown Free Flowig Health
(Courtesy Free Flowing Health/Meagan McGregor)

Lisa Brown was burnt out. As an EMT. As a competitive powerlifter. As a student earning her master’s in forensic psychology. She found herself getting sick with hormonal imbalances, insomnia and cysts. She turned to medication without paying attention to how diet and lifestyle affected her health. That made things worse.

In time, she shifted to holistic health practices, accumulating tiny change after tiny change that snowballed into a sea of change for her health. She became certified as a yoga teacher, went fully vegan and completed a year-long apprenticeship at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City.

Now, Lisa shares the healing lessons with her clients as a private chef and yoga teacher. She tailors programs for people living with certain conditions, like cancer or kidney disease, to help them use food as medicine. Every client relationship starts with a free consultation to develop a tailored, full-service approach, including grocery shopping, meal planning and prep, and mindfulness and yoga instruction. “I want to teach people practical tools that they can apply on a daily basis and share with other people, so that they can be successful without me on their journey,” Lisa says.

Running Free Flowing Health is a full-circle moment for Lisa: Her mother had stage 4 lung cancer that metastasized and ultimately took her life, and her father had stage 4 bladder cancer that severely diminished his quality of life. “One of the hugest motivating factors is watching not only [my parents] but other family members and people suffer needlessly,” Lisa says, noting that lifestyle adjustments can greatly reduce someone’s pain. She lives what she preaches, showing up for herself first every day so she can be there for others.



What’s on your plate can be the best medicine—Lisa shares how to make the most of every bite. 


The Nutritional Effect
How you eat affects how you feel in more ways than you’d expect.

Holistic health practitioner Ann Wigmore once said: “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” The notion guides Lisa’s ethos. She points out that on the most basic level, we are what we eat: Food is energy and impacts how we feel emotionally and physically. When we eat poorly—foods that are heavily processed or that we’re allergic to—our mental acuity suffers and our bodies grow riddled with inflammation and fatigue in a sort of feedback loop that can be difficult to break.

On the flip side, foods can help combat illness. Lisa might work with clients who have heart disease to load up on nitrate-rich leafy greens and veggies that decrease blood pressure. For a person with diabetes, she’ll develop a fiber-rich plan to slow the absorption of carbs and sugar and control blood-sugar levels. When consulting with cancer patients, Lisa focuses on protein-laden meals to help build and maintain muscle mass, which is easily lost during treatment, and adding plenty of whole grains.

Lisa often reaches for antioxidant-rich root vegetables, like purple sweet potatoes, and colorful berries loaded with inflammation-quelling compounds. She recommends reading nutritional labels. If you can’t read or understand an ingredient, she says it’s probably a good indicator that you should opt for a whole, unprocessed alternative. And, don’t forget that you can always take it easy. “Let it be an intuitive process,” she says.


Flora Forward
Veganism is praised for delivering health boons, but you don’t have to go all-in on the plant-based gospel to reap the benefits.

Plenty of studies tout the health perks of eating a vegan diet. And though nutritional plans aren’t one-size-fits-all (you may do better with some meat in your system), there’s no doubt that it’s healthy to lean heavily on greens.

The biggest pitfall Lisa sees with folks looking to eat more veggies is they get overwhelmed and give up.  Make it work for you, she suggests. Don’t buy a bunch of ingredients that you know you hate just to power through it for a week and get burnt out. Rather, start with the ingredients you love and explore ways to transform them. Lisa’s vegan mac-and-cheese incorporates cashews for the sauce, for instance. Then, expand your repertoire one ingredient at a time. “Maybe involve your partner or your children or wherever you’re at in your life, and begin to create even once-a-week meals at home so you have full control over the ingredients,” she says.

Pro Tip

Take the word ‘diet’ out of your vocabulary. The core word is “die,” Lisa says. Avoid the fad-forward ideas around veganism, trendy ingredients and supplements, which are often overmarketed to the masses instead of catering to your specific needs. Shift your thinking by noticing how you feel instead of how you look. “It doesn’t all have to happen in one shot,” she adds.


The connection between your food, your mind and your mood runs deep.


Food for Thought
Your brain and stomach talk to each other—help them say good things.

Ever felt butterflies in your stomach? That’s thanks to the enteric nervous system (ENS), which regulates your gut. Known as your second brain, the ENS comprises two layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract. According to Johns Hopkins University, scientists long thought anxiety and depression contributed to digestive distress. New research shows the relationship flows in the opposite direction, too: the ENS  may send signals to the central nervous system that trigger mood changes. Food’s impact extends past our emotions to the very way we perceive our experience through our mental acuity. Loading up on sugar, carbohydrates and caffeine might give you a quick jolt of energy, but it’s an inefficient use of valued resources. Fatigued brains can’t fully use all that energy or crash when the resources run out. “All of this can lead to foggy brain and confusion,” Lisa says.

OK, so we’re tired and upset and can’t turn toward the crutches we’ve grown to rely on as long-term solutions. What do we do? Take care of our gut. It may not lead to instant relief but pays off long-term. A growing field of study demonstrates communication between the stomach and brain via the vagus nerve (the main part of the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for digestion, heart rate and immune system function). We can calm the vagus nerve through deep breathing techniques and exercise—and with what we eat. More specifically, by eating a variety of foods that contribute to a healthy gut microbiome,  the community of trillions of bacteria in the belly that work in harmony to aid in digestion and fuel the immune system, most of which is in your gut.

The key here is diversity—a diverse microbiome is a healthy one. Eat a range of fiber-rich veggies and other foods, and incorporate fermented foods, such as kombucha, kimchi and kefir. “[You want to] ensure that there is a variety of different superbugs in there to help proliferate the healthier gut flora,” she says.


Bite-sized Bliss
Spiritual and mindful practices can bring awareness when we eat.

As a yoga instructor, Lisa sees a distinct connection between her practice and food. “Yoga teaches us to come back to ourselves and feel fully embodied in our physical vessel,” she says. “It helps to open up those sensitive parts of ourselves to make us more intuitive and pay more careful attention to nourishing mind, body and spirit.”

Eating intuitively sometimes looks like trusting your gut. That means that even if everyone is telling you that a certain food is healthful and tasty, if it makes you feel bad, that’s your body telling you to stop and eat something else. “Tune into yourself,” Lisa says. With time, you’ll notice positive habits building momentum.


>> Get Lisa’s tips for optimizing your pantry here.

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