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Credit: Leela Cyd
The Way We Eat

The Doula and Entrepreneur Who Eats Differently Based on Her Cycle

updated Jan 21, 2020
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Name:  Erica Chidi Cohen
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Number of people in household: 2 (my husband and myself).
Avoidances? I’m allergic to peanuts, so that’s a no-go for me.

Erica Chidi Cohen  is the CEO and co-founder of LOOM, an amazing health education company that teaches and empowers people about periods, sex, pregnancy and parenting. She also a doula and author. Erica talked to us about the way she eats, from the snacks she packs to fuel her late-night doula work, to how she balances the work of a new startup with the time needed to cook.

Credit: Leela Cyd

As a doula, you often have to be ready to go be with a laboring mom at a moment’s notice. What last-minute snacks do you keep in your bag to fuel you at a birth?
When I am working as a doula it’s hard to feel hungry because there’s so much adrenaline during a birth, but I do like to pack honey sticks, Medjool dates, and some nut butter — like cashew butter. And I sometimes pack biltong, which is an African form of jerky.

It’s so interesting to me that, before you began your doula and health education work, you earned a culinary degree. How do you feel that education relates to what you do now?
Yeah! I did a one year culinary intensive program in one year at Christina Martin School of Food and Wine in South Africa. It was structured so that you would complete three years of training in one-year, which meant I went class 345 days in row. I think I had 20 days off that year. We learned everything from mise en place, to knife skills, to patisserie. All the things.

You learn a lot of very transferable life skills in a kitchen environment. Pace, organization, repetition — and I think that really worked well when it came to my doula work. Doula work is long hours; it has a lot of unknowns, and you have to be very present and anticipate needs.

And outside of the actual birth experience, there’s a big need for help with nutrition. People are either trying to change what they eat or improve it, or they’re trying to get the right things for their baby, so once I completed my doula training it was really easy to fold in that nutritional piece. When I started working as a doula years ago, that nutritional piece was a niche that wasn’t really being filled.

Credit: Leela Cyd

So you’ve worked in food, and as a doula, and then you started LOOM. A lot of the work and advocacy you do in this space is really about helping women and non-binary people become body literate. How does food intersect with that literacy?
It’s a couple of things. I think learning how your body works helps you tap into your intuition. And it’s a similar thing with food — knowing the ingredients in your food, or the best seasonal produce to pick up at the grocery store, will help you feel more integrated.

So many people have disordered eating habits where food can be a trigger, and cooking can be a trigger — and I think there’s an interesting link there with the body. People don’t understand how their periods work and that can create a lot of fear. Understanding your cycle or understanding the process of birth can allow you to feel more organized and less fearful around your period. And the same goes for food. Learning how to boil an egg, or learning how to pick a good piece of fruit or vegetable, gives you confidence and breaks down that barrier and intensity around that experience.

Credit: Leela Cyd

What are your biggest struggles in feeding yourself?
LOOM is a startup, and we’re getting ready to really expand the business, so the days are long and there’s not a lot of time for me to shop and cook — so I eat out a lot.

I’m shifting my time away from doula work right now, but when I was regularly on-call as a doula, you just never know how your days are going to go. It was a lot easier for me to just get something to-go so I could get an extra hour or two of sleep or take a longer bath. Having helped with births now for almost 10 years, I always prefer to get more sleep than to cook. But as my time begins to shift, I have a little more space for cooking.

Right now I’m trying to commit to just one cooking day a week where I set myself up for a couple of days with leftovers. It helps me organize my brain and relax.

On that one day you do cook, what are you making?
I love an oxtail ragu, a simple dal, a cast iron rib-eye, and a nice tuna Niçoise.

Credit: Leela Cyd

Do you eat differently based on where you’re at in your cycle?
I don’t eat prescriptively phase to phase. But I will say that pre-ovulatory, my digestion is going to be a lot more fluid, so I’m able to eat in a less-specified way; I can metabolize things a lot better. I can have a burger, and I can have one, two, or even three glasses of wine and my body can kind of manage that.

Post-ovulatory, your digestion slows — you can feel more sluggish or lethargic, so the same meal I might have been eating three weeks ago when I was pre-ovulatory might not digest and metabolize in the same way. When I’m post-ovulatory I typically eat softer foods like soups, curries, porridges, liquids, milks. So basically, less restriction pre-ovulatory, more restriction post-ovulatory.

On your Instagram you talk a lot about the importance of language as it relates to sex, menstruation, and birth (“PMS” versus “luteal”). Are there food words you wish we would reevaluate too?
I think the term “superfood” should go away. That “super” term categorizes food as better than others — and while that can be true sometimes, I think we should really just focus on getting people excited about food and eating in general. Like, in Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, there’s nothing super food-y about that book — it’s just good food.

Credit: Leela Cyd

And what’s the last thing you cooked that you really loved?
I did a really fun sheet-pan fennel apple chicken recipe from Melissa Clark. My husband and I love her; it’s kind of our thing. I call her the “red witch” — like Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz. I like a sheet-pan anything — it’s such a nice, easy recipe for when you have people over.

Having helped with births now for almost 10 years, I always prefer to get more sleep than to cook.

Credit: Leela Cyd

Your parents are Nigerian immigrants. What did they teach you about cooking?
My mom taught me a lot about cooking — there was always an open invitation to cook with her. She never used packaged foods and she always wanted everything to be cooked, and I definitely got a lot of my particular discernment from that.

My dad really loved seafood and food from other cultures. Especially as a black child of immigrants growing up in the States, having a dad that liked oysters and raw bars was great. He always encouraged me to eat escargot and duck and lobster. He encouraged me to push outside what was normal. I would never eat a kid’s meal; I would always just eat food.

Credit: Leela Cyd

Thank you, Erica! Follow Erica Chidi Cohen on Instagram and visit Loom.

Editorial Advisor: Leela Cyd

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.

We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.