Actually it was such a culture shock for me, often I felt like I was in the movie Alice in Wonderland.
Melanie von Gersdorff
Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food
Let me introduce you to Melanie von Gersdorff. Just like many women out there, she promotes a healthy lifestyle in body and spirit, but unlike many women Melanie is doing it professionally. She is a certified holistic health coach in Cologne. She was trained at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York, where she studied more than one hundred dietary theories and a variety of lifestyle coaching methods. Melanie sees her clients on one-to-one basis and in small groups and prepares personal programs to re-educate them how to eat healthier and improve their long-term health. “I am just passionate about nutrition, healthy eating and sharing my knowledge with other people. I just love it! It is a passion of mine,” laughingly says the holistic health coach.
From Philadelphia to Freiburg and Cologne
Melanie was born and raised in Philadelphia, USA with five brothers and sisters, who are her best friends even today. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in English and Literature in Philadelphia and soon moved to New York City to get a Master’s Degree in Education and Literature. While there, she met her soon-to-be German husband, who brought her to a different continent. “My husband was looking to come home and I was ready for a change,” says the American.
The young family moved to Freiburg, where they had their first son. “Actually it was such a culture shock for me, often I felt like I was in the movie Alice in Wonderland,” she confirms and continues: “Freiburg is a nice place to go for a week, but I lived there for four years. I am a big city person: the diversity, the interesting lives, the noise and the excitement and then…” After a few years, the family moved to Cologne. Melanie enjoys her life in Cologne much better. “Everything is relative in life. If I had moved from New York City to Cologne I would have said: “Oh my god, it is such a small city.” And then I had Freiburg in between, so that was good for me,” cheerfully describes Melanie.
The most difficult part for Melanie in Germany was the difference in how Germans and Americans express emotions. “I am very casual with people at the very beginning and it is not as common here,” confirms the American and goes on: “Here there is a distance at first, you have to take some time to warm up.” She also notices a difference in how you have a conversation in German, where you do not interrupt; instead you wait until the other person has finished speaking before you speak. “We don’t do that. Germans are often surprised when I just jump into a conversation,” says Melanie. The American also finds the conversations to be different: “The parties or social gathering I was used to going to in America were a bit more lively, but with more surface conversations and lots of joking and here people have more intense conversation, which can be very enjoyable but in a different way.”
When Melanie is homesick, she tries to go home more often and spend some time with her American family: “I like living in Europe, but I think everybody understands when you are living in a foreign country you always somehow a bit different. You do not necessarily fit in or aren’t fully integrated,” she opens up and comes to the conclusion:
It really helps when you have a child in a kindergarten or school so you feel more connected with other mothers. I think kids help to become more integrated because you get to meet other German parents.
What does a holistic coach do?
When Melanie moved to Germany she realised she did not want to teach Literature anymore. “I decided I wanted to find a new career path connected to my interest in cooking, health and nutrition,” says the American. So she started running her own business in Cologne. She practices a holistic approach, focusing on all areas of a human body, to health and well-being. Together with her clients she looks at how all parts of your life affect your health as a whole. Melanie teaches people how to cook nutritious foods, how to maintain your weight and how and what to look for on labels. She also looks at how to fit movement and exercise into your daily life and the patterns of behaviour that lead to health problems.
“You come home everyday, you may be stressed out because of your job and the first thing you may do is you open up your fridge and eat an ice-cream or a chocolate bar to deal with your stress,” tells the holistic health coach and goes on: “But if you’d walked into the door and said to your husband that you had a horrible day and need a big hug, and you go sit on the couch and talk…Would you have eaten that ice-cream or that chocolate bar?” The holistic health coach is sure that many things influence what, how and why we eat and that you need to look at the whole person and not just give them a list of what they should and shouldn’t be eating.
Melanie believes that the holistic health training can be transformational, but she insists: “People come when they are ready to make a change and that is already halfway.” She helps her clients with the knowledge that they need to make the right choices for them. “What you eat every single day, influences how you feel,” exclaims the holistic coach.
European vs. American eating habits
Melanie agrees that Europeans have a wonderful eating culture. In Europe people sit together more and eat. “In American people eat on the go, while in a car, on the couch, walking, sitting in front of a computer. It’s not that Germans don’t do that, but they do it less,” says the holistic health coach.
She admits as well that the portions are generally too big and sugar is added in almost every product in the United States, but unfortunately the same thing is happening in Europe now. “Portions are getting bigger, sugar showing up in the foods, people are cooking less,” sadly adds the holistic health coach.
There are also some German eating habits that Melanie thinks are not the best and healthiest choices to embrace. For example, the older generation prefers to have the same foods for breakfast and dinner: some bread with slices of cheese and lunchmeat. “For me it isn’t something I like to eat, I need something fresh. I also don’t necessarily think you are picking the most healthy or nutritious ingredients out of there,” she states. The American has not adopted the German way of eating, but respects that this works for others. Melanie herself is very experimental in her eating habits: “I see a new fruit or a new vegetable and I am not afraid to cook it. I love to check what’s good about it and what’s not.”
Your health is a gift
Melanie doesn’t prescribe one philosophy of eating to her clients: “I think every single person is different, I don’t do diets with people, I teach them how they can improve their long term health by eating healthy foods,” says the American health coach and explains further: “A Diet has a beginning and an end. And what do you do when it ends? I try to teach people that you can lose weight by making small adjustments to your diet: lowing your sugar, watching your portions, eating in balance, being mindful about what you eat.” Melanie does not have one single approach. She takes ideas and concepts from different theories and assures that they are backed up by hard-core science. “One needs to consider the individual, just because it is written in a book or it is a theory, doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone. It has to make you feel good and work for your body. Everybody is different,” adds the American.
The best part of her job is the satisfaction to work with people and to see their improvements. She also likes to think that her clients will pass on the knowledge and will perhaps teach their children how to eat healthily and be mindful about their health.
I feel like your health is a gift and that without your health you don’t have the energy to do things. It’s great to give people energy to do what they love and to be there for them.