“If you had told me that I would now do what I do —writing cookbooks and eating the things I do— if you had told me that when I was twenty, I would not have believed that it would ever be possible.” Cookbook author, dietician, and founder of The Full Helping Gena Hamshaw talks to Zibby about how her recipe development and private practice have grown out her desire to help others after recovering from her own eating disorder. The two talk about their love for learning new ways to create digital content as well as Gena’s path to veganism and why she believes there is no one best diet.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Gena. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight” to discuss Power Plates, Food52 Vegan, your cookbooks, and all of your exciting endeavors.

Gena Hamshaw: Thank you so much, Zibby. It’s really fun to be here.

Zibby: How did you get into doing all the things you’re doing? You became a nutritionist. You’ve written all of this. Take me back to the beginning of your whole journey. I know in your introduction you wrote about your own relationship with food and some hurdles you’ve overcome. If you don’t mind, let’s start at the beginning and then go from there.

Gena: A very good place to start. This was all sort of unintentional. I always had a really — at least, I grew up with a really complicated relationship with food. In many ways, food has been a big part of my life for a long time. It was never something I intended to do professionally. I was actually a book editor in my first career. I did that for almost six years. I loved it. It was really exciting. I don’t have the career change story where it’s like I had some soulless day job and I couldn’t wait to leave. I really liked what I did. I became vegan when I was in my mid-twenties. It really changed my life in a lot of ways. After that, I was inspired to start blogging because I had taught myself how to cook through vegan blogs. There were a couple of vegan cookbooks at the time. The blog community was very passionate. At the time, very few people were vegan. No one in my personal life was vegan, so I found a lot of a sense of belonging through food blogs and by reading them and teaching myself how to cook through them. That’s what made me want to write one. I began as a hobbyist blogger. As I was going through that journey, I was also just becoming more and more interested in nutrition and nutrition science and medicine in general.

At some point after I had been balancing my nine-to-five job with blogging at night, every night, on the weekends, basically up into the wee hours, I decided it was time to really make some sort of cohesive change. I actually, for a little while, thought I was going to go the medical route. I did a pre-med post-bacc. I was twenty-eight when I started that process. It was very uphill for me. I had never studied the sciences in my entire life. It really kicked my butt. It was very hard. I did not get into medical school. In some ways, that was a really good redirection because nutrition had always been the heartbeat of my interest in medicine and the body. I had already done a lot of the prerequisites I needed to become a dietician anyway. That’s when I pivoted, did my master’s in nutrition science, became a dietician. All the while, I was very lucky in that my blog just kept growing and growing and growing. I sold my first cookbook. Then I collaborated on my second cookbook with Food52. Things just kind of came together really nicely. Now my private practice as a dietician is one part of the puzzle. That’s the part of my life that allows me to help people and have interpersonal work. Then my life as a recipe developer and a writer is what keeps my creative engines going.

Zibby: That sounds perfect. It sounds like you totally solved this whole life puzzle of how to include all the aspects of your professional and intellectual and creative life into a career. That’s awesome.

Gena: It is awesome. It’s a ton of work, but it’s work that I really love. That’s a really good problem to have. You know this because you do digital creation too. Blogging changes so frequently. The learning curve is so high in that way. There’s always some new platform or technology to master. It really does keep me on my toes and engaged. What I’ve learned about myself is that I really need that, actually. As much as it can feel frustrating sometimes and I roll my eyes about it, that is part of what keeps me ticking professionally. It’s a good thing.

Zibby: It’s funny you say that because I’ve kind of been thinking that same thing about myself in the back of my head. I’m like, I must enjoy teaching myself Squarespace. I must be getting something out of these things that I try to figure out. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be trying to figure them out. I think, honestly, it’s learning. Obviously, you love to learn. You love school if you were just willing to try out medical school. That’s no joke.

Gena: No joke.

Zibby: I feel like all these platforms and even the different social media things and all of these tools are the way that people who used to love school have to learn these days, in a way, which is crazy.

Gena: It’s true. Anything with online creation involves a lot of teaching yourself things and googling tutorials and sitting down and just learning through doing. Again, it’s the sort of thing that I sometimes complain about. It can feel very overwhelming, but I know I stay in it for a reason. The fact that it engages me intellectually must be a big part of that.

Zibby: What is the latest platform or something you’ve figured out that’s been really helpful?

Gena: I’m getting more into video lately, which has been a journey. It’s a journey that I’m at the very start of. My content is not where I would like it to be. That is becoming really important for what I do. At the beginning, again, I rolled my eyes. I was like, ugh, I just spent all these years teaching myself food photography, which is not really my thing to begin with. That’s not where my talents are. It felt like it took me so long to even be semi-competent at that. Then all of a sudden, as soon as I felt like I was like, okay, I got this, video content has become really a huge, new, important thing to master. I am figuring out how to create food videos and edit food videos. It’s been uphill. What I’ve realized is that it’s also a fun challenge. It is a different creative muscle to flex, for sure.

Zibby: Do you take all the photos on your Instagram?

Gena: I don’t. I take some of them. Then the person who helps me is a wonderful photographer named Trina who’s in, actually, Denmark. She works with me on a lot of my photo development and is awesome. We’ve become collaborators. I think our styles are very consistent, which has been a good thing since we work together so closely.

Zibby: That’s great. I was watching Nailed It! with my kids last night. I was like, could we just google how to become a contestant? Every time we watch it, we’re like, would we rather be contestants or judges? Anyway, you have to put a whole video together of yourself cooking. Last night, I was literally thinking, if I were to do a video of myself cooking, what would that look like? Now here you are being like, this is what I’m currently mastering. Let’s go back, if you don’t mind, to your food journey. Not to totally delve into your personal life here, but I feel like I can say it because you put it in your book. Can you talk to me about overcoming an eating disorder and how that has changed your life and maybe some of your lowest points in that experience?

Gena: Of course. My eating disorder story is all over my blog, so it’s not super private in any way. I’m happy to share more about it because I think there was a lot of healing in the sharing sometimes. I had a really troubled relationship with food starting at a young age. I was eleven, twelve when my issues with food began and my restrictive tendencies began. They waxed and waned really all through middle school and high school. Then they got pretty acute when I was in college. Then I got a little bit better. Then they got acute again when I was in my early twenties.

Zibby: Wait, go back. What do you mean? What got acute? What exactly were the habits? What did it look like?

Gena: It looked like being really underweight, first of all, so just that presentation of everything. Also, extreme restriction, both not eating and eating very specifically and in very limited amounts and at really precise times. Lots of controlling stuff coming out too, just being very precise and controlled and measured in everything I chose. I would say that there were times where it also incorporated other self-destructive habits. I did some self-harming and just a lot of other self-destructive tendencies, self-isolation. It all kind of works together. Sometimes when you’re dealing with that struggle, what you find is that the inability to be kind to yourself is extending to lots of different areas of your life. That was definitely true of me. It was basically a restricting-type eating disorder. Especially when I was in my early twenties, it delved into what we call orthorexia now, which is the complete obsession with healthy eating. When I was unwell in college, it was very weight focused. I knew it was about weight. I could’ve admitted to that. When I was in my early twenties, it started becoming more about health and wellness. Looking back, it was still about the weight, but I think that’s not what my mind was telling me. My mind was saying, no, this is just about eating healthy. This is about making good choices for my body. It took me to the same place ultimately.

Zibby: So sorry. Keep going. You were in your twenties. Then what happened?

Gena: I was in my early twenties. I started doing the work of real lasting recovery, really did a deep dive in therapy.

Zibby: Were you ever inpatient?

Gena: I wasn’t inpatient or res. I was working basically with my therapist and physician overseeing. As I went through all of that, I started to get in touch with my own desire to live a recovered life, a bigger life, a richer life, which is ultimately what I think recovery is really about at the core. It’s about wanting a life that is richer and freer than the one that you have. I had been curious about veganism for a long time. I had stopped eating red meat when I was a kid, basically. Meat had never been a big part of my life. I had read Diet for a New America and a couple of books way back when that were talking about a plant-based diet. I was curious, but of course, I was also wondering if it was just my new food thing or a new manifestation of my eating disorder. I decided to give veganism a try. What I found was that I really loved it. I started to eat a lot of foods I had never tried before, ironically because you’re taking things out of your diet. It actually encouraged me to try things that I had not tried. I was a pretty picky eater apart from my food issues. It was a big deal for me to be trying things like tempeh and all these different whole grains and beans I had never eaten before.

What I also found was that being vegan connected me to a sense of my food choices having a greater meaning and a greater contribution to the world around me. It really reframed eating. Instead of it being all about me and my body, it suddenly became about, what impact do the choices I make on my plate have on the world around me? What does that mean? It allowed me to make peace with food in a new way, a way that was really helpful for me. It was also the reason I taught myself how to cook. It had a lot of wonderful benefits for me. I think that that was a real turning point in my recovery and has remained a real turning point in my recovery. That’s the thing that has given me now more than a decade of living in the recovered place and having a really great relationship with food, a relationship with food that I could not have ever imagined. If you had told me that I would now do what I do, writing cookbooks and eating the things I do, if you had told me that when I was twenty, I would not have believed that it would ever be possible.

Zibby: Wow. Now you’re helping all of these other people. Tell me also about your private practice and what you’ve been getting out of that.

Gena: It’s been great. It’s still new. Grad school took me forever. It literally me took me eleven years, almost. I actually finished my clinical internship not this past fall, but the fall before. My private practice is basically two years old. I’ve been doing some nutrition work for a long time. Actually, my full-time gig as a dietician is relatively new. It has been wonderful. It’s funny how the people who need to find you find you in many parts of life. Not surprisingly, a lot of people who find me as a dietician are people with disordered eating or eating disorders, not always full-blown eating disorders that require a higher level of care. As an outpatient dietician, I’m not able to give that level of support, but a lot of people whose eating disorders — they’ve already been through inpatient or they’ve been through more formal treatment and they’re now looking to create their relationship with food for the long haul or people who’ve had eating disorders in the past or they’ve always had disordered tendencies and they’re trying to just make a little bit of peace with that and find some lasting harmony for themselves. That is most of the people I work with. I also have a smattering of digestive health patients. I see a lot of people with IBS, IBD, and some people who are just trying to eat a more wholesome diet in a very generalized way, but it’s mostly eating disorders.

Zibby: I have some candidates. I have some people I’m going to refer, unfortunately.

Gena: I’m sorry to hear that, but I hope I can help.

Zibby: If there are people listening who have friends or loved ones or somebody who they feel like needs some help, how would people reach you?

Gena: They can reach me through my site. It’s There is a services page on my site where people can email me or fill out a contact form. I always tell people, DM me on Instagram. If that’s how you find me, just don’t wait. Shoot me a message, especially if you’re struggling. If you’re in pain, don’t wait to send an email. Just shoot me whatever message is easiest for you. I’m @TheFullHelping on all social media channels across the board, so Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. Although, my Twitter was recently hacked, so I now have to start from scratch and have like five followers. My email is You always shoot me a note, tell me what’s going on. We can talk about what support would look like for you.

Zibby: For the person out there who is just like, I’ve put on some weight, I can’t seem to refocus, I don’t feel good in my body, what would you tell that person?

Gena: As a dietician, my philosophy is always that my client is the person who knows what is best for them and their body. I take my cues from my client and what my client wants. I would say the only exception would be someone who has an eating disorder that’s so acute that it is really warping their sense of what’s best for them. In those cases, I think there’s sometimes a distinction between what the person thinks is in their best interest and what I think is in their best interest. For my clients who are not in that kind of place of their eating disorder being completely in the driver’s seat, it’s more just someone who isn’t feeling great in their body, I take my cues from them. I ask, how can I help? Where is it that you want to go? What do you sense is best for you? Right now in the nutrition world, it’s great that we’re having a conversation about diet culture. I think that’s so important. It’s so overdue. I think that we’re having a really important conversation about not commenting on people’s bodies, not associating weight with health. These are all really great things, but I think that an ancillary thing has happened.

I think you can sometimes get the message that it’s never okay to want to lose any weight at all. That’s not okay. That is inherently wrong, inherently bad. I don’t know that I completely align with that. I think for some people, it is an appropriate desire on their part to want to lose a little bit of weight or just want to look at their diet and make some changes that they believe will make them feel more energetic, happier, more content in their bodies. I don’t ever judge that. I see it as my job to listen and support. I do work with quite a lot of people on goals exactly like that. It’s always very person to person. What weight loss might look like for a person totally depends on their circumstances. Some people come to me and they want to lose more weight than I think is appropriate for them. I’m just always really honest. I can’t help you with that goal. I don’t think it’s a reasonable goal. For the people whose goals are reasonable, we sit down and take a look at how they’re eating and talk about what might serve that goal.

Zibby: Give me the one sentence — not one sentence, but the short version of why you think veganism is the greatest thing ever.

Gena: For me, it’s totally an animal rights thing. I do not think veganism is the healthiest diet. I don’t think there is a healthiest diet out there. Really, there are many ways to eat healthy. The right diet for any individual depends on their life. I think it can be a really wonderfully nutritious way to eat, but that is not what has kept me vegan for years and years and years. What’s kept me vegan is the ethics around it. Now it’s also, we know a lot more about the environmental benefits than we did when I first went vegan. That has now been incorporated into my own personal motivation for being vegan. It really is an ethics question. What I always tell people who are curious is you don’t need to become vegan in order to be healthy. Eating more plant foods is always great. I think everyone can benefit from incorporating more plant-based meals into their diets for health reasons and lots of other reasons. It’s not mandatory. If it is something you want because it speaks to you philosophically or spiritually or ethically, I can help you do it in a way that is healthy and sustainable for the long term.

Zibby: Okay, I get it. What’s coming next for you? You’re getting more into video. You have these cookbooks. You have your blog. Tell me, what does the next year or two look like for you?

Gena: I wish I had a clear plan. Getting into the video is important. I’m always trying to grow my blog. I’m always trying to reach more people. My blog, as much as I love it, it was a little bit on autopilot for a while because I was in grad school. I also went through a huge slump of depression in my mid-thirties. It was like seeing the world through a cloudy pane of glass. It was just so hard to create. It was so hard to connect. It was hard to do anything I wanted to do. I would wake up every day with the intention of doing something for my business, and it’s just so hard to accomplish anything. Now that I’m sort of out of that, there’s a lot I would like to do just in terms of resources on my blog. I’d love to maybe create some e-courses or just things people can do; people who can’t work with me in a private practice setting or don’t want to, still give them robust information and resources and encouragement. I would love to create things like that. I think that would be fun. Then I’m working on my next cookbook. Thanks to COVID, I have extended my deadline now three times, which is kind of embarrassing, but it is what it is. I’m working on it now. It has not been as easy to write as Power Plates was just because the circumstances of the last year have been so kooky. I’m hoping that with spring and with things changing a little bit in the world around me I’ll be more able to shake off the writer’s block or the recipe developer’s block and get into it.

Zibby: If you need any taste testers across the park, I’m right over here. Everything in here looks so good and healthy and enticing and delicious. I started dogearing different pages. I was like, ooh, I better try that. Keep going. I would love to read more of these.

Gena: Careful what you wish for. I will take you up on the recipe testing offer.

Zibby: I wasn’t kidding. I’m not kidding at all. How great if this was my plate for breakfast instead of the pancake that I ate, honestly, off my kid’s plate? Anyway, Gena, thank you. It was so nice to talk to you. I am so inspired by the fact that you took something that for you was so difficult and instead turned it around, learned everything you could about it, and used your knowledge to now help other people. That is a true gift. It’s a beautiful thing that you’ve done for so many people who I’m sure you will help. I’m sorry that some of these demons have worked against you, and the depression and all the things that have been stumbling blocks. Despite all that, you’re so productive and such a good person. Just not giving up, its amazing. It’s true. It’s really awesome. Not to sound condescending in some way, but I hope you’re proud of what you’re doing and what you’ve been able to work through. It’s really a lot. You should feel really good about it.

Gena: Thank you. I think I’m really lucky. From a mental health perspective, there have been some things in my life that I carry around that are hard. It will continue. Things like depression come and go in life. It is what it is. I have had the opportunity to connect with a lot of people through talking about struggle. That is incredibly beautiful. It heals me too. The work I do trying to support other people, it continues to give back and heal me in a really profound way. I’m just lucky that it’s possible. Thank you.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight” and for sharing your story. I hope we’ll stay in touch and I can eat all your great stuff.

Gena: I was just going to say, now that we know that we’re practically neighbors, let’s stay in touch. We’ll have an opportunity to sit down and snack on something or have a wonderful meal together.

Zibby: That sounds awesome. I can’t wait. Take care.

Gena: Thank you so much. Have a great day. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Power Plates: 100 Nutritionally Balanced, One-Dish Vegan Meals

By Gena Hamshaw

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