GREAT BARRINGTON — The coronavirus isn’t the only thing in the world that’s contagious.

So is feeling good.

Spend a few minutes with Kristie Miller, the new wellness specialist at Berkshire Food Co-op in Great Barrington, and you’ll soon be on your way to healthier living.

For her, wellness and good health is about having a strong body, and a calm and aware mind, but it also extends beyond the personal, she says.

“If we take care of ourselves, we’re also taking care of our planet,” says Miller, who’s wrapping up her first month at the cooperative store at 34 Bridge St.

A good example of what Miller is talking about are organic foods; not only are these good for your immediate health, but their production is also better for the planet, because of the absence of harmful chemicals.

Health and wellness her priority

Recently returned to the area after living for a time in Oregon, Miller says she’s been studying health and wellness more and more intensely for the past few years.

What is wellness, you ask?

“To me, it means well being and that sense of feeling safe and complete in your body and in that moment,” says Miller, who challenges herself when not at work with rock climbing and training her rescue pup, Sol.

Much of a person’s health and wellness — and ability to stave off disease — can be guided, bolstered and rebuilt with food and by eating properly, says Miller.

As a personal chef, Miller has been incorporating food-as-medicine theory into what she serves her clients, and her recommendations to Co-op Owners and shoppers comes from experience.

“Food is the best, and first, armor that we get to wear. Eating foods that complement us based on our seasons helps. Now, we’re eating pumpkin and squash, foods that store minerals that last over the winter and help us store some healthy fats.”

She says it’s important to look to the local environment for foods to sustain your body, especially over long winters.

‘Mindfully eat’

Moreover, Miller says, “It’s important to mindfully eat.” This means to be consciously eating, chewing and taking notice of the entire experience, from the seemingly involuntary movement of the throat to the release of digestive enzymes in the mouth.

When you chew your food more thoroughly, it takes less to fill you up, and you digest it better. Americans love giant portions, but that’s not necessary to maintain a state of wellness, says Miller.

“Having just enough is OK. We have exactly what we need, we are sustainable, and we don’t have to strive for a sense of fulfilment,” says Miller.

That’s of paramount importance to remember as we head into the holidays.

“It takes a lot of energy to perform, to show up at our families’ homes, to battle through the cold. With these challenges, it’s important to give ourselves support. It’s impossible to pour from an empty cup,” says Miller.

Go with your gut

Many Berkshire Food Co-op Owners (“members” are actual shareholders) these days are focused on their gut health.

Without a healthy digestive system, the body can’t get nutrients delivered to its cells. Harvard Medical School notes how the brain influences the gut, and vice versa, such as when a nervous performer experiences stomach discomfort before going on stage.

“Your gut is like another brain. It’s something we should all listen to and keep clear,” says Miller. “I think all humans are capable of ignoring their guts. The brain will say, ‘Pizza sounds so much better than celery right now.’ We become hungry and gravitate to things that we think will satiate us, but our bodies might just be craving water.”

Probiotic supplements are one way that people can help balance the beneficial flora in their digestive tracts.

When Owners come into the co-op for a diet change, whether they’re coming off antibiotics (which can be devastating for beneficial gut bacteria) or are having digestion problems, Miller first directs people to address their gut health.

“Any fermented foods can do that for you: sauerkraut, kim chee, yogurt. Check for not too much added sugar. There are even some dairy-free alternatives,” says Miller.

Staying hydrated, moving

Clean water, and drinking plenty of it, is another health and wellness basic that we all can pay attention to, says Miller.

“Moving away from BPA (a chemical compound in plastic bottles), I do believe in carrying around a metal water bottle to refill. If you drink when you’re feeling thirsty, it’s going to help with every function that the body has,” says Miller.

Likewise, with so much screen time taking place for kids and adults during the pandemic, it’s important to take regular water breaks. “It’s been a tough transition, but Americans are focusing on their health as a priority now,” says Miller.

She’s seeing more walkers, more interest in yoga and tai chi, and other everyday exercise practices that employ “gentle body movements they can do at home.”

People deserve rest

Modern stress levels are high, with or without a pandemic, notes Miller.

“People are feeling anxious, restless. Being able to rest is a basic human right,” says Miller.

Before recommending a sleep supplement like melatonin, Miller asks shoppers if they are able to come home from work at a decent time and stay off their phone before bed to get time to relax.

“It can be too much for their body. They deserve to let that go and be with themselves for the evening,” says Miller.

That’s why nightly routines are great for kids, she says, such as with a bath and reading time. It reduces anxiety and lets the body rest for the next day.

“There’s also fun ways to take our vitamins and supplements,” says Miller, who will sometimes use concentrated tart cherry syrup on a sundae before bed; the syrup has a natural form of melatonin, a hormone that helps control our waking and sleeping cycle.

CBD, or cannabidiol, an active compound in hemp, is another supplement used to aid in relaxation and reducing inflammation.

‘Heal by joining conversations’

When the pandemic hit, Miller boosted her study of wellness, particularly in the fundamentals of traditional Chinese and naturopathic medicine. She connected with others through a “mutual-aid herbalist’s online community,” learning about health woes and their remedies.

“Suffering is optional. We can all heal by joining conversations and putting in the work to focus on the foundation of health, questioning the options we have and allowing the paradigm shift to move us away from acute and chronic illness,” says Miller.

To speak with Miller or other store staff, call 413-528-9697 or visit berkshire.coop.