Personal battle forged crusade for kids to eat healthy
Joy Feldman’s hat and story about hair being turned into sugary donuts has become a sensation at schools across the state.
The hat has been worn by mayors, state officials, principals, teachers and of course, Feldman, as part of a statewide reading event that promotes healthy eating. About 75,000 Rhode Island students have been read her book, “Is Your Hair Made of Donuts?”
To bring it all together, Feldman had the help of Karen Dalton, executive director of the RI Family Practice Association and she reached out to everyone she thought could help, including the governor. Last Tuesday, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, accompanied by Mayor Scott Avedisian, Eva Marie Mancuso, chair of the RI Board of Education, and Rep. Frank Ferri read her book to the entire John Wickes School student body.
“It was so exciting to me that we could come together as a community to support our young people. I hope that it keeps growing. My hope is to get it out to the nation,” said Feldman.
Feldman isn’t kidding. She wants her message to go nationwide.
That’s not how Feldman started out.
She discovered her passion for nutrition and teaching people about the benefits of a healthy diet after suffering her own serious health crisis.
Before studying nutrition, Feldman worked as a lawyer in mergers and acquisitions in St. Louis, Mo.
After she gave birth to a son in 1991, her serious health problems began.
“A couple of months after delivery, all my joints were increasingly inflamed until I had to crawl into my son’s room and use the crib bars to pull myself up to reach him.
Doctors did all kinds of tests on me,” said Feldman.
The doctors thought she had an autoimmune illness called lupus. So she took steroids to control the inflammation, but the pharmaceutical approach didn’t work.
“I was so exhausted that I couldn’t focus or think because of the fatigue. I just learned to live with the pain. I had to hire full- time help to take care of my son because I couldn’t do it,” she recalled.
In 1992, the family moved to Arizona, which Feldman calls “my healing state.”
“I looked at my husband and said ‘I’m not living like this anymore. I’m done. I’ve got to find a way to get well,’” she said.
A teacher at an Arizona massage school recommended Feldman consult Lawrence Wilson, M.D., whose practice is based on nutrition.
Wilson cut off a bit of her hair and did hair-mineral analysis, which showed Feldman had excessive toxic metals and was mineral deficient.
“I had been a vegetarian while I was sick. Dr. Wilson told me to stop that and to eat small amounts of lean protein like eggs, turkey, chicken, lamb and tons of vegetables. And no processed foods or sugar at all, no wheat or nightshade vegetables,” said Feldman.
She also began to take numerous supplements based on her biochemistry. Wilson also suggested meditation and relaxation methods to Feldman.
“Within a month, I started to regain more energy, and I was excited about that. After about two months on the diet, all my blood work came back normal,” said Feldman.
Altogether, it took about a year for Feldman to fully recover.
She knew she had to learn to live differently.
She had to change her lawyerly lifestyle of working between 80 and 90 hours a week. Always stressed, she never ate well and was exhausted from her work. She had become nutritionally deficient: consuming chocolate and diet sodas to keep herself going.
“My diet was a huge, major contributor to my collapse, and stress was the final straw,” Feldman said.
“My illness changed my life so dramatically that I left law and started studying nutrition,” she said.
Feldman went back to school, with Dr. Wilson as her mentor, and trained in holistic nutrition.
Today she is a lifestyle nutritional consultant who teaches the Nutritional Balancing Science, which Dr. Wilson practices, to six health practitioners, including chiropractors, nurses and acupuncturists.
The family relocated to Rhode Island in 1993 so that her husband, Michael Feldman, M.D., could take a job at the Orthopedic Group in Providence, where he specializes in sports medicine.
The Feldmans, who have been married 26 years, and their two children, live in East Greenwich.
Feldman volunteers her time to visit schools to read to children. Over the past year she has visited more than 60 schools to teach healthy eating.
When she began as a school volunteer, she noticed, “the kids were starving. A lot of them had not eaten breakfast and couldn’t concentrate on lessons. I would bring food with me: hard-boiled eggs, cheese and carrots to eat before we could do the schoolwork. I always knew how important food was to the body, but now I was seeing it firsthand.”
When Feldman reads her book, “Is Your Hair Made of Donuts?” to students, she often wears a 10-pound, 2-foot-tall donut hat, made by Everett Hoag, a Pawtucket milliner. Hoag attached real-looking donuts mixed with blond curls into the hat.
The book’s title occurred to her when she once witnessed children eating donuts and candy for breakfast at an airport.
“The kids were falling apart 20 minutes later with stomachaches and headaches, rolling around on the floor,” she said.
Feldman hopes to expand the statewide reading event, first to Connecticut and Massachusetts – and then nationwide.
“My hope is to make this statewide reading event a model in the smallest state and eventually take it nationally. The littlest state in the country will show everybody we have the biggest heart. We must educate children about childhood obesity. We have a major epidemic on our hands. Kids are chronically sick these days with asthma, allergies, chronic infections, depression and anxiety. Most of it is the result of an improper diet,” said Feldman.
Change is never easy, but Feldman is encouraged by the reaction she has observed in her work.
“One kid stood up and said, ‘What we eat now will affect us when we grow up.’
“These kids get it. They understand and think about changing the way they eat. Sometimes it is the kids who will be the catalyst for change in their families,” said Feldman.
It is important that children lay a good foundation of dietary principles that will last a lifetime.
“It is heartbreaking to me to see how sick our kids are today. If our children are healthy, we will have a good future. It’s all about the kids. It’s work from my heart,” said Feldman.
For a healthy diet, Feldman recommends no processed foods, no sugar, no soda, no fruit juice, and no wheat. She suggests adding a tremendous amount of cooked vegetables, healthy proteins, healthy fats and limited whole grains.
“People have to have a fair amount of discipline and self-love to make the dietary changes. The way we live today as a culture is insane because of the amount of responsibilities, tasks and jobs we must do before 10 a.m. We have to slow down and relax. Everyone is tethered to text messages and phones,” said Feldman.
Many people under stress will opt for quick, convenient meals of processed, chemical-laden foods.
“There seems to be a tremendous disconnect between what we eat and how it affects our health. We are disconnected from the land. We’re stressed beyond belief. People are not making health a priority, and we’re seeing a lot of illness,” said Feldman.
Feldman observes that paying for junk food is ultimately more expensive than investing in a good diet. She suggests buying frozen vegetables and purchasing beans and rice in bulk.
“These foods are just pennies per pound. You will save money. Invest now in your health and you will have a better future, a healthier future. You don’t have to shop at high-end supermarkets to be healthy,” said Feldman.
Years ago, as she experienced her fatigue and pain disappear as she changed her diet, Feldman called it a miracle.
“Fear was a big motivator for me. I never wanted to be sick again. I would have done anything they told me to do to get healthy,” she said.