Welcome to ON BEAUTY, a monthly feature highlighting creative, like-minded people who inspire us.
The world of modern nutrition often feels like more than we can (or want) to keep up with. Behind a million different opinions you’ll find a million different recommendations, restrictions, supplements, and treatments. The pure breadth of options, matched with lack of clarity or personalization, has taken us down the path of defeat (aka a Netflix + donut bender) more than once. But there’s something about Dana James that’s different. Perhaps it’s the fact that she’s super legit: triple certified as a nutritionist, functional medicine practitioner, and cognitive behavioral therapist. Maybe it’s her genuine warmth and realness. It might just be her determination to help you learn about your body, rather than applying a blanket approach to health. Whatever it is, it’s refreshing, which is why we were so excited to sit down and talk with her about her new book The Archetype Diet, how to reprogram childhood (because, let’s be honest, we all need some of that), and the power of scent in healing.
How did you end up in nutrition?
I graduated university with a degree in economics and a degree in finance. I pursued that career for six or seven years before I realized I had a calling beyond that. While I loved the strategy aspect of what I was involved in, there was just something more that I was really called towards, and I didn’t fully know what it was. I found myself in London one afternoon with these nutrition books (I surrounded myself with nutrition books) and that’s when I had my awakening moment. I went into nutrition because I was very interested in how food influences skin. I had struggled with hormonal acne for most of my 20s, as well as horrible PMS, and I wanted to clear up my skin.
Once I got into nutrition I was like, oh my god, this is super boring. Basically, let’s just eat a plant-heavy diet and some good fats and some nice protein—that’s simple, I’m going to be bored if I stay with that. I studied at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition—it was nutrition with functional medicine with therapy. It was a four-year program and the founding father was a psychologist and had a mental health outpatient facility. He was realizing then that food was really powerful in terms of changing the mood, which was very pioneering because there wasn’t a lot of scientific research at that point about how food could change the mind. And so, already, the Institute was weaving those three modalities together. I got into the food and mind perspective and was always intrigued by the body aspect, because weight loss—I struggled with it myself, in terms of just not knowing what to do. At the time the Atkins and South Beach and all those very high-protein diets were in vogue, and that was the cause behind my horrible hormonal acne—overeating the protein. It was also why I had really horrible PMS. It was just way too protein heavy.
I wrote it for the woman who is very knowledgeable about food but very confused.
And then I moved to New York. Nobody knew about functional medicine then—I didn’t even use that term because it was so foreign. I went, wow, I not only need to sell myself, I need to sell how food can influence the physical body. I’ve been in practice for 12 years, and when you are constantly working with people you are refining and refining and refining, until, in my case, a model came into play and that model was the archetype model. Seeing these physical body changes, whether they were constipation, thyroid, adrenal, hormonal issues, mind issues…the root of them came down to our childhood, came down to where we sourced our self-worth from. Our source of self-worth—not whether it was high or low, but the source of it—would dictate these behavioral patterns which would then influence the food and the food would influence the hormones, and that changes the body.
How did you identify the archetypes?
I identified them though my clients’ behaviors. So, if I had what I would call the Wonder Woman today (the typical A-type personality, very successful, very driven), she was the reward eater, she was having a glass of wine each night or dark chocolate and very much justifying it on its polyphenol content. To take that out of her diet was a tragedy for her. She was very resistant to it because it was her reward. And when I looked behind that, it was, oh wow! She sources her self-worth from her success and achievement, and anything that takes her off that pathway doesn’t give her that sense of reward. She is not putting in the more sensual aspects of life because she’s too busy, and therefore the chocolate and wine become the reward, and we simply can’t have that, right? She can still be a successful woman but needs to start to appreciate these more refined, sensual, textural qualities of life, like art and literature and scent and the beauty of life.
And then there’s the Nurturer, who tends to be a comfort eater because her sense of self-worth comes from giving to others. When you are rewarded by being there all the time, you are likely to prioritize other peoples’ needs over your own. And when you’re giving and giving without getting anything in return (because you start to create this relationship where you’re the giver and the other person is the receiver), you don’t get the nourishment and nurturing that you need, and therefore, where do you find the fulfillment? You find it in food. And comfort eating tends to be more carbohydrate-based foods. An example is a client who has kids and didn’t want to make a smoothie in the morning because her son didn’t like the noise of the blender. And, therefore, she suffers because she races out and gets a gluten-free muffin.
Our source of self-worth—not whether it was high or low, but the source of it—would dictate these behavioral patterns which would then influence the food and the food would influence the hormones, and that changes the body.
Then there’s the Femme Fatale who sources her sense of self-worth from her physical body. That’s the woman who’s constantly off and on a diet. She’s very restrictive and very good at following a plan. Then she will overly restrict and find herself overeating in a binge-like behavior because her body is undernourished. She can be thinking about food 80% of the time. And the belief that she is valuable because of her physical body is coming from childhood. It’s throwaway comments by a father, or a mother who had her own body image issues and passed them onto her children. I do find, however, that it’s often not the mother but the father who’s oblivious to the impact his comments about his own body have on his children—particularly his female children. Young girls. One client’s father would go binge on ice cream and then get on the scale and be excited that he was still at his college rowing weight. So, this little girl takes it as, I can’t get over my high school/college weight because that’s bad. That’s the interpretation. And that’s where the issue is—it’s not so much that the father did that, it’s the child’s interpretation that’s erroneous. And that’s what I work on in the book. These situations happen, but in the vast majority of situations, they’re misinterpreted because the child is viewing it through an emotional lens.
The Ethereal is very creative and intuitive and whimsical. She was often considered the weird girl at school and couldn’t really integrate, so she learned to do one of two things: retreat into her inner world (and in that sense she becomes very sensitive to her surroundings and is hyper-sensitive) or, because of the lack of integration, she takes on the mask of one of the other archetypes, particularly the Femme Fetale or the Wonder Woman because of what we value in society, which is physical appearance and success. When she does that, she becomes even more out of balance than her out-of-balance sisters. A true Ethereal is not particularly interested in the physical body, she’s much more interested in the energetic, so it’s very out of alignment for her. The success piece can actually be a little bit of balance for her, but she will appear like a very overwhelmed Wonder Woman because she doesn’t have the emotional resilience a true Wonder Woman has. And so, for the Ethereal, it’s about finding the truth within her, going back to her roots as a more free-spirited, whimsical woman.
Do most mothers fall into the nurturer category?
They don’t, actually, because it’s not a function of where you are in life today, it’s more where you source that self-worth from. Because a Wonder Woman mother will still prioritize herself first. She’ll go, oh screw that, I’m getting my smoothie—you’ll get over it, and send the kid out with her partner while she makes her smoothie. There’s a difference.
Do you think certain cities attract certain archetypes?
I’m between New York and LA but my principal practice is in New York. In New York, my practice is split almost evenly between Wonder Women and Nurturers. Now, in LA, those definitely still exist but there are more Femme Fatales and Ethereals. And that’s simply because those cities nurture those two archetypes more. New York is a meritocracy. If you’re a Wonder Woman you’ll thrive in that type of environment, because work hard and you’ll get rewarded. When you’re in LA, that’s actually not the case. They don’t care so much about the meritocracy, it’s much more creative, it’s much more fluid. So if you’re an Ethereal, you can really thrive in that type of environment. That’s not to say that a Wonder Woman won’t, it’s just that she sort of needs to develop a greater skill set. The same for a Femme Fatale, a Femme Fatale doesn’t thrive in New York because the culture demands that you’re not just a pretty woman. You have to bring more to the table. Whereas you can be a pretty woman in LA and actually thrive. And I think it’s wonderful that we have these different cities that support these different archetypes. All the archetypes will be found in all of these locations, but some just reward them a little more.
Once you figure out your archetype…are you stuck with it?
You can change. So, for me, I moved to New York in my very early 30s and I really loved the decade I was there, and then I no longer loved it once I hit my 40s, because I wanted something more. Because I’d also changed my Wonder Woman ways. Wonder Woman is my dominant archetype, but I was no longer vulnerable to the Wonder Woman negative attributes. I no longer felt that I needed to base my self-worth on my success and I wanted more of the Ethereal and Nurturer and Femme Fatale. So, LA became the more natural habitat for me because it was more about living a life versus just being successful.
What’s interesting is that, for the vast majority of women, they’re not too far off from the life they do want to be living, it’s just that they haven’t sat down to think about, well, how do I want to live, and where am I today, and what is it that’s missing that would feel really good to me?
How does your archetype affect your diet?
Each of these archetypes has a particular diet, because of the hormonal shifts in the body. So, the Wonder Woman’s dominant hormone is cortisol because she’s in that stressed response. The Nurturer’s dominant hormone is insulin and sometimes estrogen because she’s a comfort eater, and comfort food will stimulate insulin or, over time, change how her body regulates estrogen. For the Femme Fatale it’s a little different because she could be restricting, or she could be binging, so her body is going to take on a form based on the way she’s eating. But she could stress out her adrenals like a Wonder Woman because she’s just so upset about her particular body. And the Ethereal in her natural state is quite light and airy, so she needs to eat a diet that keeps her grounded. She tends to be low in estrogen so will have some mild depression and maybe infertility issues—definitely microbiome issues, also.
How do those who can’t see you in person figure out their program?
It’s very clear. This book was a 5-year process, which is not how most books are these days. It’s very readable while at the same time appreciating the intellect of the reader. It is not a beginner’s book—I’ll be clear on that—I did not write it for the beginner. The beginner is not my demographic. I wrote it for the woman who is very knowledgeable about food but very confused. I felt like there were not books out there that talk to this demographic. So, it’s very clear.
When I get into the dietary aspects, you have a 10-day food plan, but to me it’s more important to have a formula. So, I give you the guidelines for each archetype. If you’re a Wonder Woman like me…I don’t want a 10-day meal plan; I’m never going to be able to do that unless I have a chef. I just want the concept. I want to know how to apply it. So that’s very clearly laid out. There’s a quiz so that you know what archetype you are—you can go online and it takes like a minute. And I want you to choose the one that you’d really choose rather than the one you’d like to choose. Because I’ll find that there are people who want to choose the Ethereal, which is indicative of where we are today, like we’ve moved away from more of the intellectual model into this intuitive model where we’re evaluating more of the esoteric.
The book talks to you about childhood patterns and how they were created—the blind spots. And then it gets into the hormonal aspect of what’s happening, then there’s the dietary piece and diet to follow, and there’s a whole section on the fallacies of how erroneously we’re looking at it, so anyone who’s interested in food should read that section. The final piece is on the mind—ok, so how do you reprogram childhood? There’s a six-hour reprogramming process where you start to recognize those core memories from childhood—you are valuable because of your achievements, or because you did things around the house, or that you were pretty or that you were different. It looks at those childhood patterns and gives you a method for reinterpreting them and energetically releasing them. And then there’s a piece on how to change the habits, but once you’ve changed those core beliefs you no longer engage in those habits. If you’re a Wonder Woman, you no longer feel like you need to have a dark chocolate at the end of the day, you no longer feel like you need to have the red wine at the end of the day, because you start living a life that truly feels like you are rewarded.
So you’re making the food piece simple.
You don’t need another ten items to add to your to-do list. That’s why I give women the formula—it’s, like, do this, and then all you need to think about is: where do I get the food from? So ok, I need lots of protein and vegetables. Where do I get them from? How do I make sure that I have them for lunch and dinner today? It’s just easy. Like 5% of your thoughts should be about your food. Not 80%. And that’s often what can happen—it’s like what should I be eating, will this make me fat, does it make my stomach bloat…all of that that goes on in our minds, and it’s exhausting!
What is your advice for navigating all of the different dietary trends out there?
That’s very difficult because there’s so much noise out there. Don’t get caught up in the seduction of it all. Use your own wisdom here.
Can you share any health tips that apply to everyone?
We do want a plant-based diet. It doesn’t need to be a plant-exclusive diet, but a plant-based diet. At lunch and dinner, everyone should be eating at least a plate of colorful vegetables, not just the greens. The greens, reds, yellows, oranges. The plate should look pretty—that’s adding that very sensual aspect into life. That is the basis, and very few practitioners or scientists would actually dispute that. There are certain cases where that wouldn’t be case, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and, you know, somebody with a very delicate digestion system may not do well with that level of plant-based foods but those are very unique situations and hopefully very temporary situations.
I met my amazing partner while wearing the IF Vetiver Sambac perfume—it was like he couldn’t get enough.
Number two would be to fast for 12 hours and eat within a 12-hour period. And really, unless the goal is weight gain, don’t eat every two hours. My suggestion is that you keep your blood sugar levels very stable by having something to eat at the three or four-hour mark. And you’ll know whether you’re at the three-hour mark or the four-hour mark. My Nurturers are definitely at the three-hour mark. My Ethereals are probably at the four-hour mark. This is where it’s really about knowing your body.
The other thing I’d say is don’t fear fruit. Two pieces of fruit of day are wonderful, the concept of it being too high in sugar is archaic and incorrect. Fruit contains polyphenols that will support the DNA, change the gut microbiome, actually help to decrease yeast and candida—it’s a very supportive source of somebody’s health goals is to keep a small amount of fruit in the diet.
Switching gears—you talk about incorporating a more sensual side of life. Can you expand on that?
It’s what we as women have forgotten about. And it’s so important for us to add that back into our lives so that we don’t get into this complete state of overwhelm, of giving too much to our careers or giving too much to other people in our life. What I want the woman to do is to identify the holes—where do you not feel complete? What’s interesting is that, for the vast majority of women, they’re not too far off from the life they do want to be living, it’s just that they haven’t sat down to think about, well, how do I want to live, and where am I today, and what is it that’s missing that would feel really good to me?
How do you incorporate scent into your practice?
Scent, like sound, is a powerful modality in terms of changing an emotional state. It’s one of the senses that will immediately transport you back to a time and place. And we can use scent to alter a behavioral response. A repulsive scent is going to have us recoil. A scent that’s pleasant can be very calming, it can be very stimulating, it can be whatever we want it to be—it can be very sensual.
You can use scent in a way that Americans in particular haven’t been taught to use it. The Europeans, specifically the French, very much understand the power of scent in influencing emotional response. So just as we use teas to calm down and create a nurturing response, we can use scents in the same way.
What’s your favorite In Fiore product?
I’m completely and utterly in love with In Fiore body balms. They’re my favorite product. Vetivert is a very sensual scent. Bois de Rose is a very nurturing scent. When you put that on your body it feels like you’re being hugged by it. I own three body balms and I actually own three perfumes because I can’t be without them. I met my amazing partner while wearing the IF Vetiver Sambac perfume—it was like he couldn’t get enough. But what I really like is the calendula base. I like putting that on my body, it feels like it’s going to heal my skin.
What’s your favorite ritual?
Oh gosh, I have many. My favorite ritual is waking up in the morning, hugging my boyfriend, and then debating over who is going to make coffee. And then we really try to spend half an hour together, just having coffee in bed and talking about the day. When we miss that because we want to start work early, it doesn’t feel like my day is complete.
My second one is—as you know, I love the In Fiore body balms—every time I’m in the shower or the bath, I have to put that on. And I put it on when I’m in the shower. The scent stays, I can smell it all over my robe.
What is your favorite thing about winter?
Long beach walks on a grey day with the surf breaking grey and there’s just that little bit of wind that comes up… and no one else is on the beach so it feels like it’s just yours. And making nourishing soups—an amazing chicken and vegetable soup or roasting a chicken with blue potatoes and heirloom carrots and cauliflower.
Scent, like sound, is a powerful modality in terms of changing an emotional state.
What’s your favorite beauty food?
If I wanted to bring some radiance to my skin, it would be papaya, because papaya contains pro-vitamin A and vitamin A helps with skin renewal, so it’s the internal exfoliant. It helps to stimulate cell renewal. And at the same time, it’s giving you the carotenoids to help improve the mucus membrane layer so that you are not going to get a cold or a flu.
What’s your essential product for a long-haul flight?
Complexe de Fleur.
Do you have any charms or talismans?
In my New York office there’s a Russian physicist, and he works on the energetics through a scientific machine. When I had my last relationship breakup I was very disappointed and worried that I wouldn’t meet anyone. He gave me a jeweled elephant, and in there he put a bioenergetic charger. He said to me, every day, whatever it is that you want, I want you to project that into the elephant and the bioenergetic charger. And I did. And four months later I met the most amazing wonderful man who is my true match on an intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical level. I never could have dreamt that it was even possible to have this in a relationship. So that little elephant is my jewel.
On that point—far too many times we as women are told to compromise. You can’t expect all this from one partner. And I want to say, if you know there’s more out there for you, there is. You just have to be patient. I was 42 by the time I met him. A lot of women go, “I’m 36 and I haven’t met anyone.” So it’s ok!