Under the Covers with Nikki Ostrower
Nikki Ostrower is an integrative nutritionist, wellness lifestyle expert, and the founder of NAO Wellness — a company that coaches individuals and teams toward transformative, lasting health. After overcoming a years-long battle with a debilitating eating disorder, Nikki devoted her life to helping others find balance, peace, and empowerment around their health.
How did your passion for mental health & wellness begin?
My struggle and story with food addiction began at a very young age, when my parents’ divorce and pressures of fitting in led me to seek solace in food. By nine years old, I developed an acute preoccupation with my body. As years passed, preoccupation turned to obsession and my entire self concept was wrapped up in my weight.
I believed that gaining control over my weight and appearance would give me control over my external circumstances and emotions. I dabbled in diets, diet pills, laxatives, and eventually binging and purging. It was my “dirty little secret” and the vicious cycle continued through high school and college. But as the disease progressed, so did its toll on my body. I suffered terrible migraines, acid reflux, constipation, and as a result, depression. Simple daily tasks seemed impossible.
I did everything to avoid responsibility, but as my hair thinned and my bones protruded, friends and family took notice. I finally realized I was out of control. This way of living wasn’t truly living at all. I desperately needed help, and no amount of discipline or willpower was enough to face it alone. So I surrendered. It was one of the most freeing moments of my life.
In my early 20s, I left a dead-end corporate job selling copiers door-to-door and admitted myself to a treatment center for an eating disorder. The decision saved my life. Since seeking treatment for ED, my healing journey around cooking, my body, and my relationship with food, and being in recovery, I was inspired to go back to school, earning my second degree from The Academy of Healing Nutrition.
I've made it my mission to bring healing to others struggling with food addiction and ED. I've been a Nutritionist for over a decade now, helping thousands of clients with their health. Speaking from a place of loving truth and walking the talk, I rely on behavior-based coaching to deliver life-changing "straight talk" to my clients so they get the results they want.
In your opinion, what role does sleep play in your health?
Sleep is vital to my health. It’s something I can’t live without and something we preach at NAO to all of our clients. Sleep is the first step towards rejuvenating the body, setting yourself up for a day of calm, productivity, and resilience in the face of stress. Without it, we will cave under pressures in our work and personal life, feel exhausted and reach for more and more caffeine, crave sugar, not have as powerful a workout (or possibly feel too tired to work out at all), and our hormones ghrelin (hunger) and leptin (satiety) are completely thrown off. All of the above can then further impact a good night’s sleep! It’s a vicious cycle, but also amazing to note how much a great night’s sleep can cause the opposite in all of those areas, creating a positive ripple effect for the entire day.
Self-care has become a buzzword. How do you define self-care as a wellness expert?
It has, and yet it’s still extremely important. Words are powerful and make a difference in how we approach our relationship to ourselves, others, the food we eat, our career, our children, etc. So think of it this way - I liken self-care to responsibility. When you take 100% responsibility for your health, your happiness, your career, your habits and behavioral choices, etc. you are in the driver’s seat. It’s one of the most empowering shifts in consciousness we can have. Some might shy away from “self-care” because it seems “self-ish”. They might be caretakers and desire to put their time and energy into supporting everyone around them. But in truth, we cannot show up our best and truest selves without first taking the best care of ourselves possible. And by doing so, we can show up for ourselves and everyone around us more vibrantly and powerfully than we could expending all of our energy on things outside of ourselves first. Just like they tell us on planes “put the emergency oxygen mask on yourself first before helping a loved one next to you”, the same goes for self-care. We must “recharge our own battery” first to then be of greatest service to the world and those we love.
When you take 100% responsibility for your health, your happiness, your career, your habits and behavioral choices, etc. you are in the driver’s seat. It’s one of the most empowering shifts in consciousness we can have.
What are some self-care practices that anyone can incorporate into their daily lives?
There are so many beautiful ways we can perform self-care. My new favorite way is through Auriculotherapy which is a fancy name for Ear Seeding Therapy. This self-care modality transformed my stress levels in the face of Pandemic. I had to close my brick and mortar and was incredibly anxious and fearful of what was to come. But the minute I peeled and pressed these gorgeous little seeds on my ears, I felt instant relief and a sense of much needed calm. It allowed me to be more present, to handle the adversity with grace, and take action in new and exciting ways. It then led me to creating NAO Wellness Ear Seed Kits so that everyone can take advantage of this self-care mechanism and be their own healer in 5 minutes at home!
Above and beyond Ear Seeds, I treasure my time with my daughter Emma and my husband Matt. I treat the time I pick her up from school as sacred time for us to spend together. I make sure to have date nights with my husband. Eating healthy delicious whole foods, hydrating, moving my body daily, and ‘treating myself’ to healing, loving practices are also all self-care modalities I treasure. I think it’s also important to indulge in things we love just for the fun of it - like getting a massage, doing Infrared Sauna (also a game-changer), getting a natural facial, and getting my nails done. That being said, there are so many ways to practice self-care that require no money and very little time- a gratitude journal, getting some sunshine first thing in the morning, walking in nature, and meditation to name a few. I’m so grateful there are so many ways to take care of oneself in our busy, tech-heavy world.
When people approach their own health and happiness from a place of responsibility and integrity, nothing stands in their way.
In your opinion, what do you think is the key to improving our health and happiness?
The key to improving your health and happiness is living in Integrity with yourself. Integrity is another very powerful word. It’s actually synonymous with “wholeness”. In today’s chaotic world, one of the most damaging things we can do against our own health and happiness is to say what we want deep down, or think it, but choose the opposite in our daily lives and suppress our personal best.
Living in integrity means your conscious and unconscious mind are in harmony with one another. It means your actions and your words are congruent. In fact, I love the book “The Four Agreements” for this very reason. The very first rule is “Be Impeccable with your word.” Take responsibility for your actions and remain without judgment against yourself and others. Rather than pointing the finger of judgment or blame on others in any given situation, it’s saying “How did I contribute to this situation? How can I show up for myself better? What do I have control over? What do I need to do to change for the better?”
The reason this is so powerful is that it shifts the focus from what we can’t control, to what we CAN control, and that is where real change takes place. When people approach their own health and happiness from a place of responsibility and integrity, nothing stands in their way. It’s a practice one must come back to daily. It doesn’t happen overnight. But I do believe that it has the power to transform one's own health and happiness for the better, with time, loving patience, and practice, more than anything else. It’s transformed my own life and continues to do so.
Do you have any simple practices throughout the day for recentering yourself?
Yes. I take breaks and go for a walk, or do some simple box breathing in my space. Walking my dog Kirby also brings me groundedness.
How have you been finding balance & mindfulness in your life after almost two years of so much uncertainty?
Truly, Ear Seeds carried me through so much stress and struggle during the height of the pandemic. Not only did my brick and mortar close, but I was sued unjustly in the process. I needed so much support to keep me on track. The ear seeds quieted the stress within my nervous system enough that I could think creatively in the face of all the challenges that were taking place. And in the process, using that creativity to create the kits made me feel empowered and was a healing experience in and of itself. Creative projects bring such joy, and when we know they benefit others, it gets us right back on track with our “mission” in life. I had to become a warrior and not worry my business into the ground. I needed to show up every single day and pivot quickly so I could continue providing life-changing nutrition, wellness guidance, and needed services to our community. Now I’m doing that in a whole new way that brings me joy through Corporate Wellness, Ear Seeds, and continued Nutrition Coaching with clients all online. I love that I can now support people across the country who are also struggling to find balance with any challenges that come their way.