Pregnancy, a time when many women mindlessly satisfy food cravings, awakened Heidi Merker's health consciousness.

Pregnancy, a time when many women mindlessly satisfy food cravings, awakened Heidi Merker's health consciousness.

Impending motherhood proved the ultimate instigator for Merker to nourish not only herself, but also her unborn son. Years later, her healthy lifestyle spawned an Ashland business, and Merker was certified last year as a health coach.

"Whenever we have a good motivation, it's a good reason to change things."

Yet many people can't seem to shake their compulsive-eating habits, a trend that Merker, 59, first noticed decades ago in her native Germany. She trained and practiced as a naturopath in Germany for several years before specializing in nutrition and doing dietary-supplement consultations.

"I saw the link from our emotional woundings in childhood and how they affect our food choices," she says. "All the struggle we have as adults is because we didn't create healthy habits."

When a person's diet lacks essential nutrients, the body feels an urge to eat something, says Merker. Filling that void with the wrong foods — over and over again — leads to weight gain and poor health, she explains.

"It all leads back to childhood conditioning and cultural conditioning," she says, adding that "sweets are being used as rewards."

Others in Merker's field have made the same observations. But rather than complicate the issue, Merker says she tries to simplify the concept of food for her clients. Appropriately, her business is named Heidi's Real Nutrition.

"If it's too complicated, people don't do it."

The first thing she asks clients to do is add healthful foods — greens, for example — to their meals before they take anything away, which "automatically shuts most of us down."

Enjoying one's food, preferably with family or friends, is an exercise in mindfulness, she says. When eating alone, she adds, make every effort to eat slowly to truly experience the food.

"I encourage pleasurable eating."

The concept is a component of a free lecture, titled "Breaking Free of Compulsive Eating," that Merker has presented around the valley several times in the past year. Clients usually work with Merker for three or six months, depending on their goals. Keeping a food journal keeps them accountable and mindful. Merker furnishes healthful recipes, some of which can be found on her website,, and in a monthly newsletter.

Clients' requests for group sessions engendered Merker's first workshop series locally, planned for February. Although she initially thought the subject of one's weight was too intimate to explore in mixed company, Merker acknowledged that her clients do share similar stories and backgrounds, and many have tried other group weight-loss programs.

"If everybody feels shame around it, then it's not so shameful anymore."

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email