Sharon Gray, MS (’06), LAc, is one of many Bastyr graduates whose own health journey inspired her to join a healing profession. Her interests led her first to nutrition, then to Chinese acupuncture, culminating in a combination of the two that she uses in her North Seattle practice. She's also creating a cookbook that draws on crowd-sourced variations of a single simple recipe. She stopped by campus to speak about her work.
How did you find your way to Bastyr?
Nutrition was already a big personal interest, because it was a major factor in my healing from a chronic illness. My perspective, though, was more in line with Chinese medicine. I don't believe anything should be standardized in nutrition, and Chinese medicine focuses more on each person's unique constitution. That was important to me.
I thought I needed a degree in Western nutrition to have the credentials to do what I wanted to do. But I also wanted to explore other modalities. I knew Bastyr was renowned for offering that possibility.
Your practice offers a unique combination of nutrition and acupuncture — how did that come about?
I came out here from Maine planning to pursue a master's in nutrition, which was my undergraduate major, and then complete the dietetic internship. I was taking classes on the side in tai chi and qigong, because those were my interests. During one of those classes, Dr Benjamin Apichai suggested that if I wanted to practice with a Chinese medicine focus, I would need to learn the foundations of Chinese medicine. That inspired me to change my direction and finish in the master's in acupuncture program..
The two fit together nicely. It's like a balancing from both the inside and the outside of the body.
What does that look like in your practice?
I do individual counseling and coaching and also classes with hands-on instruction in whole-food cooking. More than anything, I help people listen to their bodies and understand them. I tell clients all the time: “Don't listen to me. Your body will tell you, but you have to do some sorting out first.”
What do people find when they start listening to their bodies?
Sometimes they find that the foods they naturally crave are good for them, like root vegetables, sweet potatoes and squash. These are digestive tonics in Chinese medicine. So a lot of people with digestive issues are relieved to find out they can have these warm, earthy, starchy foods they thought were bad for them, as opposed to the cold salads they thought they were supposed to have.
And sometimes people find the foods they crave are not as good for them. Since I specialize in digestive issues, my clients often find that refined sugar, and even natural sugars in excess, weaken the digestive system and lead to more cravings, creating a vicious cycle. When they start exploring life without so much refined sugar, they find their bodies become recalibrated and the messages are more clear about what their body really needs.
What about this cookbook you're working on?
It's called Nourishment Made Simple. Five years ago I started teaching cooking classes for people who were really intimidated by cooking. Some of them didn't know what a squash was. The class wasn't based on recipes; I was trying to break cooking down to the most simple of elements. One of the dishes I taught was a staple in my life, a “one-pot” baked grain and vegetable dish that can be made in a variety of ways. I taught that as a framework and showed my students how to add their own ingredients to make it their own. They came back with such amazing concoctions, and they became really inspired and confident in the kitchen.
I want to take that project further. I'm building a website where people can see a video, read the guidelines and submit their version of this dish. I'll interview some of them and write the stories behind their recipe. I'm shooting for 100 different versions of this dish, along with illustrations and stories. It'll reflect the message that cooking doesn't have to be complex or expensive, and it doesn't have to be a certain way. I'm not writing a book that tells you what to eat, but rather inspires to you to explore what nourishes you.