So those of you who have never seen me in person probably don't know this but I used to be a fatter kind of gal, but fortunately a few years ago I started going to a wellness center that hooked me up with some great experts. Now, I'm four (or five, depending on how anal I've been) sizes smaller thanks to the help of people like today's interviewee. I'm totally obsessed with her not just because she helped me get skinnier. In addition to being a registered dietitian, she teaches cooking, is a freelance writer and is frequently cited as an expert in many articles, makes plenty of TV appearances, is a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, and soon will be publishing her book called The Flexitarian Diet. Most importantly to me she's lots of fun and loves food: you can tell by the photo on her website.
I know this may sound silly or even new-age alternative but I was born (in March which is National Nutrition Month by the way) with a loud internal truth or message playing over and over inside of me: "eating right is the most important thing you can do for yourself." I have always passionately believed that healthy food has the power to heal and make us feel and look our best.
In college I heard this advice: Pursue a career based on what you do in your spare time. I spent all of my free time reading crunchy granola hippy cookbooks and hanging out in "Strawberry Fields" the one health food store in my college town. So, I asked a counselor what field I could go into that helped people eat health foods. That is the first time I heard the word "dietitian." The real clincher was when the counselor told me I would be able to sign my name with fancy credentials - "R.D." From there I never looked back...we all are put on this earth to contribute something special to one another--my purpose is to excite and motivate people to eat more plants.
If you were overweight, who do you think you'd prefer, a thin dietitian or an overweight one?
Thin. I know losing weight is not just about knowing what to do but actually being able to do it. I think the thin dietitian could help me realistically apply information to everyday life from his/her own experience.
Why is it so hard for people to eat healthy? Like what are the biggest main reasons?
Two T's: Taste and Time. There is a misperception out there that healthy food doesn't taste good and that it is inconvenient/time consuming. My job is to encourage people to try delicious healthy foods in easy and realistic ways. Other issues are environmental triggers (it is hard to not order a muffin at the coffee shop when it is staring at your from the pastry case) and habits (it is hard to not order-in Chinese when you are used to doing it night after night.)
What are your favorite sources for new recipes?
I don't ever really follow a recipe but I get recipe inspiration from everywhere: patients, restaurants, family, friends, magazines such as Vegetarian Times, Gourmet, Bon Appetite, Everyday Food. I keep a cooking binder of all the recipes I want to recreate so whenever I am in the mood or am in a food rut - I flip through the binder for ideas.
What are the newest diet fads that people should be wary of? '
Detox diets are probably the plans that I am most concerned with. Detox diets are typically 3-7 days in length and encourage people to drink water, fruit & vegetable juices and/or special blends of things such as honey-cayenne-lemon. These plans offer false hope that 3 days of not eating will miraculously improve your health and well-being. It isn't about what you don't eat those 3 days but rather what you do eat the 362 other days!
What's the hardest part about teaching cooking classes?
The hardest part is asking for feedback. In every class I ask participants to rate the recipes on taste, ease of preparation and how much they learned about nutrition. I know everyone has different taste buds but I still want everyone to enjoy my food. When I have a recipe that doesn't score close to perfect marks in all three categories it eats me alive!
What have been some of the most unusual questions or problems posed to you by clients and what were your solutions?
I am shocked that people don't have unusual questions or problems. Counseling patients has taught me that we are all very much the same. Even if we come from different backgrounds, up-bringings, life stages, careers, etc. most people have very similar issues. We all need strategies to make healthy eating convenient and delicious whether it is a person traveling for work, a stay-at-home mom or college student. In addition to problem solving food issues, to be successful with patients I have to discuss non-food issues such as stress management, self-esteem and confidence building and motivational techniques.
When you work on couples nutrition counseling do you ever feel like you're also being partially a couples counselor?
Yes. Food is tied with so many emotions - love, jealously, comfort, happiness, anger, coping, etc. Whether I am working with individuals or couples those issue come out. We have to find alternate, non-food ways to show and deal with emotions. I help people explore other ways to spend time together, show love, celebrate, etc. without the primary focus being food.
So what does someone like you, whose job it basically is to be healthy, do on those days where you feel like poop and really don't want to go to the gym and really really are craving a brownie?
I don't go to the gym and I do eat a brownie (although it is more likely that I would be craving a red velvet cupcake with butter cream frosting.) Taking a break from the gym and sensible splurges are what help keep me on track the rest of the time. I feel so much better when I am exercising and eating right it is a no-brainer that's the life I want to live. I don't jog and eat my veggies because it is the "right" thing to do...I do it because it FEELS GOOD.
What foods/dishes are you obsessed with now?
- I am obsessed with oatmeal. I eat it every morning because it is the only thing that makes me full in the morning. I love to experiment with different toppings - I am into blueberries and almonds right now.
- Ezekiel bread is a new favorite of mine - a hearty, whole grain bread I like to use for hummus, avocado and sprout sandwiches or even just a quick spread of sunflower seed butter.
- Lately I love GREEN apples (cut right down the middle and I eat the seeds, core and all) for a snack.
- Canned black beans - Black bean burgers, Black bean taco salad, zucchini & black bean enchiladas (with a new sauce I started making), black bean chili, black bean & corn pancakes...I can go on.
- And as much as I want to drink green tea - I pour myself 16 ounces of black coffee everyday.
Tell us about the book you're working on. The Flexitarian Diet.
Flexitarian = Flexible + Vegetarian. I was a closet meat eater. I called myself a vegetarian but found myself in so many social occasions that I wanted to enjoy meat like a hotdog at a CUBS game, Brat at the WI annual Brat fest or turkey on Thanksgiving. I want to be a vegetarian. I want to eat some meat when the occasion lends itself. So I decided I was a flexitarian.
I started talking about this eating style and realized that many people like to eat like this. There currently is no guidebook on how to be a healthy flexitarian...until now!
What does one learn during media training?
Three main things:
Media is the gateway to get your message out to the public. The goal in any media interview is to get 3-4 positive messages out. Media training basically boosts your confidence for interviews by giving you three tools to take charge of the interview:
Bridging - transition smoothly from an off-topic question back to your messages. First you answer the interviewer's question briefly and then convey your message.
Flagging - call extreme attention to your key messages since this helps the audience take home what you want them to remember.
Hooking - set up a question that you want to be asked by leading the interviewer in the direction you want to go.
Is it difficult, when you're writing as the dietitian expert for an article or website, to advise a big group of people as opposed to one client?
I think in "BIG PICTURE" terms. I don't like to get too caught up in details and the technicalities of eating (how many grams of X or Y you need each day.) Big Picture thinking actually makes it easier for me to advise large groups of people rather than one individual client. I enjoy advising big groups but learn the most about myself and about how to help others when I am just sitting down and listening to one client.
Being on the "Fitness" magazine advisory board and writing for other related publications, does it add stress to you to maintain a certain weight?
Absolutely. Not only body weight but appearance in general. I am in a business where people can immediately see if you practice what you preach. From how healthy your hair and skin look to how toned your legs are. Although the profession I am in makes me extremely appearance conscious - I just remind myself that I am in this business to feel good and help others feel good too - looks are a side effect.
You do TV cooking/nutrition segments as well. Have you ever had a disastrous Julia-Child-turkey-on-the-floor moment?
My very first television interview (before countless hours of formal media training and practice.) It was on NBC 5 Chicago. HOG WILD. HOG WILD. HOG WILD. I actually said the words HOG WILD three times in a 3 minute interview.
Is this an appropriate phrase when talking about health and weight loss? Is it appropriate when you are trying to be taken seriously as a food and nutrition expert? Is it appropriate in any situation? I THINK NOT!
So obviously I admire all the projects that you do and am confident that you'll be a household name within a few years. But aside from my plans for you, what do you hope to be doing career wise in 5-10 years?
I appreciate that vote of confidence. I am on a mission to get people excited about the power of healthy food. I think the best way to do that is staying actively involved with media - print, tv and internet. I would love a regular magazine and television gig so every week or month I can share a new message. Trends do seem to be pointing to the internet as the key place to share health information - so I love the idea of having a wildly popular on-line series of shopping, cooking, Q+A and health tip videos - each like a 5-minute health quickie.
Is there anything that you like as a treat that you can't eat 'light,' that you have to have the full-fat, full-sugar version of?
Cheese and Peanut Butter. Real cheese has great mouth feel and real peanut butter actually tastes like peanuts. I won't accept imitations!
What did you buy at your last trip to the grocery store?
My last trip was for some recipes I am testing. Corn Pancakes, Tofu Ruben, Indian Lentil Wrap, Thai Green Curry Veggies with Soba Noodles, Red Chili Sauce, Mexican Hot Chocolate and Popcorn "Krispie" Dessert. So far - I have had 50/50 luck with my recipes this round. Some are hits and some are misses.
How does it feel to be the 192nd person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
One word, special. There are some big-wig, talented people interviewed on Zulkey.com. To be included among them is an honor.
More interviews here!