Women In Wellness: “Engage in Practical Acts of Mindfulness” With Dana Rizer of FEAST

Authority Magazine
Sep 7 · 9 min read
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Engage in Practical Acts of Mindfulness — For many of us, finding time to sit in silence for even five minutes a day can feel daunting. But there’s no reason why all of us can’t experience the benefits of mindfulness, including increased ease, relaxation, and presence. When you’re washing the dishes, eating a snack, or folding the laundry, try to fully focus on that task for a few minutes. Use your senses to notice the colors, sounds, and sensations arising in the experience. In the same way, just observe whatever thoughts and feelings you may be having. Try to notice whatever is really going on in that moment with curiosity and interest. Relax your body. Breathe deeply. Then get on with your day.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Rizer.

Dana is the Executive Director at FEAST, a non-profit dedicated to promoting wellness and enriching lives through the power of healthy foods and human connection. Dana has a master’s degree in Food Studies and Food Systems, a nutrition-focused professional culinary certification from the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, and is an Advanced Registered Yoga Teacher.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Shortly before the end of high school, I was introduced to yoga by our school’s biology teacher, who had a passion for the practice and generously offered the class as an alternative to traditional P.E. It was the first time in my life, as a developing young woman, that I began to forge a relationship with my body that was based on something besides its outer appearance.

Over a short time, I came to experience that my body had incredible strength and capacity and that it also had a lot of information and wisdom to share with me, if I just paid attention to it and the signals and sensations it was sending me.

I continued to practice yoga throughout college, and the more I did, the more I began to notice that my eating habits were shifting. Without consciously thinking that I needed to make a change, I started to crave things like leafy green vegetables. I noticed that when I ate foods like that, I just felt good — more energized and light — which made me want to eat more foods that helped me feel that way.

This experience informed me as I began to study food more formally both in grad school where I focused on Food Systems and in culinary school where I focused on holistic nutrition. It taught me that no matter what I read in a book, or whatever the prevailing theories about healthy eating might have been at the time, I always needed to check back with the teacher of my own body to see what really worked for me.

Forming a trusting relationship with myself that was based on listening and curiosity, and believing in that connection as the seed of real personal transformation is what led me to design the wellness curriculum I first used with my clients and yoga students, and later to the model we use at FEAST.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In the early years, I experienced a lot of self-doubt and second-guessing about the path that I was on, not because I thought I was on the wrong path personally (I felt deeply aligned and purposeful about my direction), but because I wasn’t sure where that path would lead, or if it would matter to anyone else but me.

Around the time I turned thirty, suddenly it was like the puzzle pieces began to click into place.

All of the work I had been doing teaching yoga and mindfulness, and providing food education and cooking, suddenly found a single home-base in the curriculum I was asked to design for a newly formed nonprofit organization, now called FEAST. In my role as the Program Director, I was able to call upon years of seemingly disparate experiences that suddenly provided the exact skills I needed to design and grow a program that would ensure that all individuals had equal access to the ingredients that create health and wellness.

Once again, the message was clear: trust yourself. Believe in your interests and the things that make you feel alive. Don’t worry about where they lead; just give yourself permission to explore them fully. Either way, you’ll enjoy the ride.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It’s impossible not to start by acknowledging the matriarchs in my family — my grandma and my mom. They are both fiercely loving, unapologetic, and entirely unafraid to speak their minds. They have nourished every part of me, challenged me, and pushed me, and they are as essential as the air I’ve breathed and the food they fed me in terms of my overall growth and development.

I am also grateful for Don and Amba Stapleton, the founders of the Nosara Yoga Institute, who taught me how to teach and showed me that listening and communicating are sacred practices.

And to Renske Lynn, long-time food advocate and co-founder of Food System 6, who served as a champion and mentor to me as I took on new levels of leadership and responsibility in my career, who reflected back to me what I was capable of, and believed in me, unwaveringly.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

My work and the work we do at FEAST is based on a holistic model of health and wellness, in which everything — from our inner emotional states to our external living environments — is understood to be interconnected. So, when we talk about changing our food habits, for example, we don’t just talk about the strategies someone can use to incorporate more whole foods into their diet. We look at what internal and external experiences, social and cultural practices, ideas, and messages contributed to the formation of our current habits in the first place. We also look at what our current habits can tell us about ourselves and our unique needs.

My vision is to live in a world where all people are able to live nourishing lives — lives where they feel physically healthy, emotionally supported, socially connected, and spiritually fulfilled.

Interestingly, by exploring our relationship with food, and more loosely, the experience of our hunger and cravings, we can learn a lot about these core needs. We can start to decipher, for example, when a craving for chocolate cake is really a longing to feel connected to the comfort a loved one provided, or see how aa longing for purpose and meaning can lead to a temporary emptiness we try to fill with food (or satisfying relationships, social media, or shoes).

When we start to understand what we’re really hungry for, we can begin to make choices that help us feel deeply fed.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

Do Less — Often, when we’re thinking about making a big life change, we look to the things we can add in — a new workout, meal plan, or personal practice — that can help us grow or enhance our lives in some way.

In my experience, many of us are living lives that are over-full and over-committed, and yet despite all the business, we still feel unsatisfied and unfilled in some way. While you may ultimately decide to add in something new, first take inventory of what currently occupies your time. Is there something you can do less of, or omit entirely, that may actually increase your peace, joy or satisfaction? Start there… then, consider the following:

Engage in Practical Acts of Mindfulness — For many of us, finding time to sit in silence for even five minutes a day can feel daunting. But there’s no reason why all of us can’t experience the benefits of mindfulness, including increased ease, relaxation, and presence. When you’re washing the dishes, eating a snack, or folding the laundry, try to fully focus on that task for a few minutes. Use your senses to notice the colors, sounds, and sensations arising in the experience. In the same way, just observe whatever thoughts and feelings you may be having. Try to notice whatever is really going on in that moment with curiosity and interest. Relax your body. Breathe deeply. Then get on with your day.

Make One Nourishing Choice a Day — No matter how hard I try, I still don’t have it all together. Instead of trying to do it all, try committing to a single nourishing action each day. It can be as simple as eating a piece of fruit or going for a walk. Don’t overthink it. Keep it simple.

Bonus points: when you do, acknowledge or celebrate that you made a nourishing choice for yourself.

Listen, Deeply — Close, human connection is an essential nutrient, yet it’s easy to tune out or take those close to us for granted. The next time someone dear to you is speaking, commit yourself to really listening. Before chiming in with your own story or experience, let them know you heard what they said by reflecting back some part of their message (ie. “It sounds like you are really inspired.” Or, “I hear how stressful that experience was.”) See what happens.

Practice Gratitude — Since I was 15, I have kept a journal, not of the things that happened that day, but of the things I am grateful for. During a particularly challenging time in my life, leading up to a divorce, I found that I was writing the words, but that they seemed empty. I didn’t really feel grateful for the things I was writing, but I wrote them anyway. One day, a year into that seemingly inauthentic practice, I was picking herbs in a garden, and an overwhelming wave of gratitude rushed over me. I was so grateful for my life, it made me weep. My authentic gratitude was renewed. I realized then, that all of those days of empty thanks-giving was really like planting a seed deep in the ground and providing it with food and water regularly. Although I couldn’t see it, it was growing. And, when I least expected it, it bloomed.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would institute a National Bureau of Wellness as a part of our Department of Labor, tasked with ensuring the health and wellbeing of all individuals in any workplace. Policies would include at least 16-weeks of paid family leave, mandated paid vacation, health coverage for preventative care, and incentives that supported healthy habits like exercise and mental health.

I would also change the structure of subsidies allocated in our Farm Bill to support farmers that grow “specialty crops” (aka. fruits and vegetables) instead of “commodity crops” (aka. Industrial corn/soy/wheat) so those whole foods become more affordable than ultra-processed foods for consumers.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Lead with joy — Prioritizing joy seems like the most obvious thing in the world (who doesn’t want more joy?). Yet, I hadn’t really considered it as a guiding principle until recently.
  2. Trust the path and the process — If I had known that earlier, I would have enjoyed the ride more.
  3. Even “experts” are still learning — No one has all the answers, few of us really know what we’re doing. And yet, we still have value to bring to the table.
  4. Advocate for yourself — Because no one else will do it for you.
  5. Give yourself permission to make mistakes — Because learning is interesting and perfection is stifling.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Growing up on a vineyard in Northern California, I learned early on that nature is medicinal and magical. The natural world is our most profound and important resource, and the opportunities to innovate in order to protect it are endless. It’s crucial that we move beyond the debate of what is causing the earth to deteriorate and instead harness the incredible capacity of human ingenuity to find solutions that will lead to sustainable prosperity while advancing the natural world.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

IG: @feast_for_all
@Iamnourished
and
www.danarizer.com and www feastforall.org

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Authority Magazine

Written by

www.authoritymag.co

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Authority Magazine

Written by

www.authoritymag.co

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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