December 2017 | Sofia Simeonidou
Joyce wants to make people aware of everything nutrition and good living. She talks about gut health and the effect that good food has on your every-day life. She talks about the connection between food and mental health. She talks about prevention and reaching out for professional advice. A nutritional therapist, educator, and food producer who loves a challenge. A motivator.
Who is Joyce Bergsma?
I’m Canadian. I was born near Toronto. I’ve travelled a lot and ended up in the UK where I lived for 11 years. I studied nutrition and started practicing there for a while but then I moved to Amsterdam. I’ve been working here ever since.
You are particularly interested in mental health and nutrition. What’s the connection?
I always wanted to do something with mental health because I believe there’s a link between how you feel every day and the food you eat. I worked in a clinic in the UK where people were flying in from around the world just to get help with mental health issues and nutrition. So I really want to get to people before it gets serious, rather than coming to me already sick.
But what is it about food that affects us mentally?
Two of the biggest areas that affect mental health are digestion and the HPA axis. When we think about nutrition and the body, we look at all the systems in the body because they are all interrelated. When you look at mental health you don't just look at the brain and the neurotransmitters. You examine everything else like sleep patterns, stress, and digestion. One of the main areas that I look at is the digestion. For instance, 95% of our serotonin is made and stored in the gut. So if our gut isn't working well then we can’t understand if our serotonin is low as well. Have you heard of the microbiome? We know so much more about the microbiome now than 10 years ago. And we still know nothing. Our gut bacteria have such an influence on the way we feel. It’s possible that our bacteria affects mental health more than our DNA. They produce B vitamins, influence neurotransmitters, help with so many other interactions in our body and help us create energy. They can prevent bad bacteria, they help prevent toxins building up and help us digest our food. So you understand that in the long run a lot of these things have an effect on mental health. The HPA axis is how our body deals with stress. Our adrenal glands use a lot of nutrients in order to function well. If the body is in a nutrient deficit from a poor diet, then it makes it difficult to deal with stress. We lose concentration, suffer anxiety and may be close to tears or feel frequently overwhelmed. Depression and burnout are common results when left untreated.
What do you think about sugar?
Sugar gets a very bad name now and there’s a good reason for that. My concern is that it is being vilified like fat was vilified before. We should use whole foods, cook for ourselves and know where our food is coming from. A little bit of sugar is not going to affect our health if that’s the case.
People say they have no time to cook. What do you say?
It’s not about not having the time, it's about what we make time for. Do you want to spend time on Facebook or cook well for yourself? When in our 30s and 40s we start to notice the effects of not eating well our whole lives. We have to change our lifestyle. It’s a shame when a serious health problem forces us to do so. Instead, we should gradually change our diet so that our lifestyle shifts gradually. I have clients that now see me once in 6 months, like going to a dentist. Why don't we do that with our health as well?
What do you have for breakfast?
It varies daily; this morning I had a savoury muffin with courgette that I made last night and some mango and banana in yoghurt with seeds sprinkled on top. I also had kombucha that I make myself and a cup of herbal tea.
What time do you start working in the morning?
7.30 or 8.00am
What time do you wake-up?
Now I get up at 6 am. Going to bed early makes a difference. We need to take care of our sleeping patterns. Because that has a huge effect on mental health as well. When you're under too much stress, you don't sleep well, you reach for sugary things to boost your mood, and you eat the wrong things.
The Happiness Hub. What is it about?
At the moment it exists on my blog; a space to find therapists and hear how they help in the area of dealing with stress. There's also a Meetup group. Eventually, I’d like it to become a physical place, a location that people can come and find all kinds of therapies that are focused on mental health; physical therapies, talking therapies, nutritional therapies. In the meantime I want it to be a virtual place where people from all over the world can get together and discuss and exchange experiences.
Why did you move to Amsterdam?
I really moved because I wanted to learn another language. I’ve lived in Austria, Germany, Australia, Scotland, and England. I felt I was getting a bit too comfortable in the UK so I just wanted to do something different. I always want to challenge myself. And I thought about moving to Paris but I didn't want life to be difficult. Challenging yes, difficult no. I knew Amsterdam, I loved it and I don't regret moving here at all.
Why did you choose to have your own business?
I always knew I wanted to have my own business. For the first few months here I focused on trying learning Dutch and then I got a part-time job while I was setting up my company. So I’ve always had the company, sometimes more part-time than full-time.
Were you ever an employee?
In my previous job, I was working as a project manager for a healthcare company in the UK.
Where do you start if you want to build a network?
I didn't know anyone here so I was looking both for friends and building a business network at the same time. There were a lot of online networking groups starting up at the time, and co-working spaces. I got involved with a co-working space and I joined several Meetup groups. You need to just constantly move around and adapt. You can’t just stay in one group, or network or your network gets a bit small with time. I’m an extrovert so I need to be around people to get my energy. I have to admit I have difficulties in social situations sometimes, but in general, I love talking to people, meeting new people.
How does it work with time-management?
I think you always feel you could be doing more, but that’s what running your own business is. You must spend half of your time doing your admin and the other half doing the work you love. I’ve tried different things over the years. What I do at the moment and works very well for me is bullet journaling. I use it daily and to varying degrees of success. Having that list and writing things down every day, helps me keep track of what I need to focus on. This is part of my stress reduction technique.
At the moment I’m running an offer for a person to win a whole year of nutrition consultations. It’s a business challenge for me because I’m going to try and make more videos. I also want to offer an online programme on how to change your diet habits. It’ll be officially out by middle next year. And I’m working on building the Happiness Hub network with other mental health specialists.