This review was written for my college class "Psychology of Eating," 2016.
Elizabeth Parker, MS, RD
About the author
Dr. Brian Wansink, who has been called the “Sherlock Homes of eating behavior,”1 founded the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University in 1997. He was born in Iowa in 1960, and at the time of publication of this book (2007), he has created and lead over 250 studies in consumer behavior. Wansink has a PhD in Consumer Behavior from Stanford University, and has since taught marketing and consumer behavior at both Dartmouth and Cornell Universities. He is the recipient of numerous accolades including, “Humorous Ig Nobel Prize”, and was named “ABC World News Person of the Week” in January 20081. Current work includes, Executive Director of the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, promoter of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, professor of Consumer Behavior at Cornell University, and most notably author of “Mindless Eating,” and Slim By Design.”1
Mindless Eating aims to share with the American population exactly what is influencing our food choices and eating habits through explaining research on consumer behavior. Dr. Wansink and his team of researchers have completed hundreds of studies on why people eat what they eat, and what influences how much we eat. Using easy-to-read, and entertaining anecdotes of his studies, Wansink share tips and strategies for “mindlessly” changing our food environment to promote better health and weight loss, without deprivation.
Chapter-By-Chapter Synopsis and Main Messages of Mindless Eating2
Chapter 1, The Mindless Margin: Wansink’s studies showed that we have a “mindless margin”2 of approximately 100 Calories more or less from our calorie needs that we do not really notice, and can lead to weight loss or gain. To make this easier, Wansink suggests serving yourself 20% less of most foods (food that you want to cut back on), and 20% more fruits and veggies than you normally would have.
Chapter 2, The Forgotten Food: Seeing evidence of how much you are eating in real time (for instance, leaving the bones from chicken wings you have eaten on your plate, or wrappers from candies in front of you) you are far more likely to eat less than if there was no evidence of what you ate. Since we eat with our eyes first, having large volumes of food (regardless of calorie density) works. Our stomach really has only three settings: starving/ could eat more/ stuffed; so we use external cues to stop eating instead of relying on hunger.
Chapter 3, Surveying the Tablescape: The size of food packages (how we buy or store food) has a direct influence on how much people eat. The larger the container the larger the serving size. This directly impacts the waistline. We drink more from short, wide, beverage glasses, and eat more from larger diameter plates or bowls, and more from larger serving scoops. This chapter also discusses why restriction-diets, such as Atkins and grapefruit diets, work through limiting variety of food options, making dieting “mindless” through “sensory specific satiety.” More options = more consumption.
Chapter 4, The Hidden Persuaders Around Us: We tend to eat more of what we premeditate or see before eating. If we know a food is there, we will think about it and be more likely to eat a larger amount than if we just happen upon the food. This can be helpful for choosing more healthy foods. Wansink suggests setting a bowl of fruit out where it is easily seen, and you will eat more fruit. Proximity to food is another trap for eating more. If food is easy to get to we will eat more than if the food is farther away/ harder to get to. Chapter 4 explains why bulk shopping causes weight gain - having more of the same food at your disposal means you eat more to get to “the right number”2 of items in the pantry. We can counteract this by “hiding the extras” of multi-packs in an opaque container, another room, or adding any level of difficulty. Some other tips from this chapter: Make a shopping list, and eat before you shop.
Chapter 5, Mindless Eating Scripts: We have “scripts” or habits when it comes to how and when we eat. These can be situational (like eating by the time on the clock), or influenced by others (taking more food until everyone at the table has finished). Watch how much and how fast your dining companions eat - we are easily swayed by them! Multitasking while eating (say, watching TV, reading, or driving) distracts us from our food and will lead to more mindless munching than if we were not multi-tasking. The longer the “distraction,” the more we eat. Another influencer in how fast we eat is ambiance. Lighting, music, sound level and other mood-settings influence our pace and consumption of food. Similarly, the scent of food can draw us in to purchase/eat food that we had not planned on eating. Temperature and time of year also influence our eating habits. When it is getting colder/is cold, we eat and drink more to stay warm. When it is warm we move more and drink more water to stay cool.
Chapter 6, The Name Game: We taste what we expect - based on visual cues such as colors and descriptions, how appetizing the food looks (or does not), presentation (including what it is served on), as well as our other senses. We also associate brand name with superiority.
Chapter 7, In The Mood For Comfort Food: A study done in favorite “comfort foods” showed a marked difference in male and female choices. Males choose more “hot meal” foods (like pasta) that evoked feeling of being taken care of, and females choose more “snacklike foods”2 like chocolate, not because they do not like the food the men mentioned, but because those foods made them think of the work of making the meal. Comfort foods tend to be associated with specific happy memories or traditions that supply positive emotions. In the same way, negative associations can cause dislike for foods. We also choose foods based on personality, as this chapter explains. Competition for food (knowing whether or not it will still be there later) influences our decision to “eat the best first, or save the best for last.”2 Youngest children or those from large families, thus set themselves up to eat the more calorically dense parts of the meal first (as opposed to veggies/ salad) and are more likely to gain weight.
Chapter 8, Nutritional Gatekeepers: Nutritional gatekeepers are the person(s) in the household that makes and buys most of the food - and they have the most influence over what we eat. Most often, those with “good cooks” in the house ate, and liked, more vegetables. This is due to veggies taking more work to prepare, and thus need a “cook.” Parents and caretakers influence children’s food preferences from very early on. Children are able to recognize facial expressions of love and disgust, and notice what the person making the face is eating. They use these associations to decide how they will feel about the food when offered it, and future behaviors around foods. Additionally, using creative names and associations for commonly disliked foods, increased children’s consumption when labeled “dinosaur trees,” as opposed to “broccoli.”
Chapter 9, Fast Food Fever: We are designed to seek out “safe foods” that have salt, sugar, and/or fat. It is no coincidence that restaurants, food companies, and even home chefs add these ingredients to food when they want diners to eat. Much of this chapter focuses on marketing and packaging done by food companies. Restaurants also use “health halos” to make us believe that, because they advertise healthy options, that all of their menu items are lower-calorie. By doing this the average diner is likely to add on sides, drinks, or dessert, because they thought they had eaten a “healthier” main dish. Low-fat options also have this health halo effect, and cause many to eat more calories than if they had been told it was the regular fat version. Another factor in how much we eat is the “serving” we are eating from. Where is the natural stopping point- with a single-serve package, or one “sleeve” of cookies? We are influenced by where there are built-in stopping points.
Chapter 10, Mindlessly Eating Better: Fighting an obesogenic culture is not about making huge changes, but eating “better” with do-able “mindless” strategies, laid out in chapter 10. Here Wansink gives strategies including, “food trade-offs,” “food policies,” and “the power of three [behavior changes].”2 These strategies are explained to help us break habits and, in an achievable way, mindlessly eat a little better.
Appendix A: Description, advantages, and disadvantages of popular diets (including this book).
Appendix B: Quick tips for “dieting danger zones”2.
Frequently Asked Questions.
The intended audience for this book is anyone who eats. We make hundreds of food options every day, so there is no one who would not find at least a small tidbit of helpful knowledge from this book. The main aim of book is to educate consumers on simple ways to make eating smarter easier.
Commentary & Evaluation
I enjoyed reading the quick, to-the-point, research abstracts throughout the book. The use of psychology in the explanations of study findings was especially informative, for example, how males and females chose different types of comfort foods based on what made them feel “pampered”2. Each chapter made specific points and ended with strategies, influenced by the studies discussed, for the reader to use; this dispelled the myth that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” or an adult new eating habits.
Overall the strengths of the book included: easy to read format; promotion of slow, steady weight loss by changing just 100 Calories per day or ~10 lbs per year; simple tips to be more mindful of what you are eating and potential for weight loss; and solid research that is referenced in other periodicals, including Rowland and Splane’s Psychology of Eating.3 One example is the description of “sensory specific satiety” 2,3 referenced in both books, as well as our idea of what a portion size is, based on what is placed in front of us.3
Weaknesses of the book included: 3,500 Calories = 1 lb. Other research proves this is not necessarily true. Authors Herrin and Larkin make a specific point to show that “3,500 Calories = 1 pound myth”4. These eating disorder experts explain that mathematically 3,500 Calories seems correct, but taking into account body processes for making muscle, bone, and other tissues, 3,500 Calories is only an approximation, and not a hard rule of weight loss or gain.
I would recommend this book for most people. Wansink’s tips are easy to follow, and his research study descriptions are eye-opening. As a Registered Dietitian, I have shared verbal synopsis of some of his research with clients I am counseling (for weight loss), that make them re-evaluate how they are choosing their food. Several clients have bought the book, themselves, and reported finding it fascinating and helpful in restructuring how they store and plate food. The only people I might not recommend this book to those suffering from anorexia nervosa. This is because the book is structured more for weight loss and maintenance, and eating more “healthy” foods, which could trigger someone who is restricting intake.
By: Lauren Goette
Lauren Goette received her B.S. in Psychology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo June 2017, and plans to become a licensed professional counselor in the future. Having personally struggled with anorexia, Lauren has become an advocate for mental health, working as a Peer Health Educator at Cal Poly and speaking out against the stigma surrounding mental illness. This was a paper she wrote her senior year (published with permission).
The deadliest mental disorder in existence, Anorexia Nervosa (AN) threatens the lives of millions of US citizens each year. According to Arcelus, Mitchell, Wales, and Nielsen (2011), anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. In fact, it has been estimated that anywhere from five to twenty percent of individuals with AN will die from the disorder (“Anorexia Nervosa,” n.d.). This exceptionally high mortality rate is largely the result of anorexics’ self-induced starvation, which can be achieved through methods such as calorie restriction and excessive exercise (“Feeding and Eating Disorders,” 2013). As a result of these behaviors, anorexia can lead to serious physical problems, such as slow heart rate, low blood pressure, reduced bone density, severe dehydration, fatigue, hair loss, and a plethora of other physiological issues (“Health Consequences of Eating Disorders,” n.d.). And while there are numerous physical complications that result from this disorder, a significant amount of damage is also inflicted on the cognitive level. A variety of studies conducted in the past two decades have shed light on the devastating cognitive impacts of anorexia, as well as the promising positive effects of refeeding. Current evidence shows, as a result of semi starvation, individuals struggling with anorexia can experience drastic structural brain changes, inhibited cognitive abilities, and memory impairments, which may be improved with weight restoration.
Structural Brain Changes
One of the most severe physical and psychological costs of anorexia is structural brain changes, which can cause significant harm to the cognitive functioning and overall mental health of anorexia sufferers. In the short term, a diet deficient in calories and nutrients, often coupled with excessive exercising, can lead to loss of both white and gray matter (Sidiropoulos, 2007). Prolonged caloric restriction promotes “abnormal reward responses to food and a deviation from a healthy feeling/perception of the body when eating.” These structural changes may, in part, explain why anorexics continually avoid food consumption, as the act itself appears to elicit a negative perception and/or sensation of the body. Additionally, this reduction of gray matter in may also contribute to the disturbance of the brain’s typical reward responses which encourage food consumption.
Often the direct result of structural brain changes, AN sufferers can experience a wide range of cognitive difficulties. Higgs (2009) explored the impact of interference from diet-related thoughts on anorexics’ cognitive abilities. On a cognitive task, restrained eaters’ reaction times when imagining eating cake were significantly slower compared to when they imagined drinking water. On the other hand, unrestrained eaters' reaction times did not significantly differ between the cake or the water conditions. Higgs maintained that the cognitive impairments displayed by restrained eaters were the direct result of a “reduction in processing capacity due to interference from diet-related thoughts.” With this reduction in processing capacity, dieters’ ability to perform basic cognitive tasks was drastically diminished, highlighting how impactful caloric restriction can be on AN individual's thoughts and on their execution of simple cognitive tasks.
In addition to these milder cognitive issues, AN sufferers can also develop chronic cognitive deficits. Specifically, Gillberg et al. (2010) found, eighteen years after AN onset, anorexics had more attention, executive function, and mentalizing problems. Anorexia was found to be associated with “a range of neuropsychological problems that are present long after the eating disorder… is no longer an important feature.” Even after starvation has ceased, weight-restored anorexia survivors can experience lingering cognitive issues. Gillberg et al. suggested that this is the result of severe structural damage which can leave important cognitive facilities critically damaged. Moreover, Fowler et al. (2006) found that even “relatively severe” neurocognitive impairments have the potential to adversely affect AN sufferers’ daily social and occupational functioning in the long term. These impairments can have a substantially negative effect on recovered individuals’ quality of life, making typically simple cognitive tasks exceptionally difficult to accomplish.
Along with cognitive difficulties, AN can also cause notable memory impairment. Kemps, Tiggeman, Wade, Ben-Tovim, and Breyer (2006) found that anorexic individuals’ frequent obsessive eating-disordered thoughts actively prevent their working memory from operating effectively, which can lead to various issues with basic memory functions such as recall. Chan et al. (2013) also found anorexic’s impairment in memory functions to be positively correlated with BMI. In other words, the lower an AN sufferer’s BMI, the worse their memory functions were, and vice versa. Kingston, Szmukler, Andrewes, Tress, and Desmond (1996) also discovered an association between anorexics’ lower weight and poorer performance on memory tasks. Kingston et al. maintained that this poor performance was directly related to anorexics’ degree of weight loss, concluding that anorexics’ memory performance declines with their decrease in weight. Chan et al. proposed that this correlation between BMI and memory impairment indicates that anorexics’ memory deficits may, in part, be associated with malnutrition, however current research remains inconclusive.
Having focused largely on the starvation-induced structural, cognitive, and memory impairments of AN, it is also imperative to recognize the simplest yet most effective treatment for such damage: weight restoration. Though not a “cure-all,” weight restoration, accomplished through the refeeding of the anorexic patient, has the potential to reverse much of the structural and cognitive damage caused by the disorder. In terms of brain matter recovery, Sidiropoulos (2007) demonstrated how weight restoration resulted in the return of white matter to premorbid levels. Simply by increasing caloric intake, anorexic patients were able to recover all of the white matter they had lost throughout the course of their disorder. Similarly, Wagner et al. (2006) found that weight restoration in long-term recovered anorexic individuals resulted in the reversal of structural brain abnormalities. These results imply that weight restoration has the power to reverse structural brain damage, and restore any and all white matter lost to anorexia.
Focusing on the psychological implications of structural brain recovery, Bernardoni et al. (2016) found a strong association between partial weight restoration and improvements in affect and eating disorder symptoms. With even minor increases in weight, recovering anorexics experienced significant improvements to their psychological wellbeing. On the cognitive side, Hatch et al. (2009) discovered that weight-restored individuals were notably faster on cognitive tasks, and exhibited superior verbal fluency and working memory. Hatch et al. concluded that, with refeeding and weight gain, cognitive impairments in weight-restored AN sufferers appeared to normalize.
Despite the existing support for weight restoration, it has noteworthy limitations. First and foremost, complete structural brain repair is not entirely possible through weight restoration While Sidiropoulos (2007) did find significant improvements in the quantity of white matter recovered in weight-restored individuals, in truth, some gray matter loss persisted. In spite of the recovery of white matter to premorbid levels, previously anorexic individuals sustained irreversible gray matter loss, which remained unaffected by their increased weight. Secondly, weight restoration fails to improve distorted cognitions about body image. Even after weight restoration, Bernardoni et al. (2016) revealed that patients remained dissatisfied with their bodies. Lastly, weight restoration fails to recover weight-restored individuals’ memory abilities. Nikendei et al. (2010), discovered that deficits in immediate and delayed story recall in currently ill AN patients persisted even after these patients were weight-restored. Nikendei et al. suggested that this was the result of a so-called “scar effect” on the brain caused by chronic starvation. They maintained that this scar effect may play an important role in the etiology and/or persistence of AN, and might also explain why memory impairments sustained during AN are seemingly irreparable.
The vast body of anorexia research available today highlights both the extensive damage AN can cause to anorexics’ brain structure, cognitive abilities, and memory, in addition to the reparative power of weight restoration. Tragically, for individuals struggling with AN, the damage sustained throughout the course of the disorder can inhibit their brains’ basic cognitive functions. The structural brain changes caused by AN can lead to an irreversible loss of brain matter, as well as serious complications with cognitive and memory functioning. Anorexia nervosa can make simple cognitive and memory tasks, such as attention and recall, exceedingly difficult to accomplish. These cognitive and memory impairments, which can be caused by both structural brain damage and cognitive interference, can make everyday functioning a challenge. Not to mention, the irreversible nature of some of this damage can cause long-term impairment, even in weight-restored individuals. Despite the seemingly endless list of structural, cognitive, and memory complications caused by AN, weight restoration may hold the key to the recovery of both brain matter and cognitive abilities. In spite of its shortcomings, weight restoration has the ability to effectively repair the structural brain damage and cognitive impairment caused by anorexia nervosa.
As a RD, I have gotten so many questions about the fad diet du jour: the "Keto" or "Ketogenic" diet. I finally decided to just write down the research in a reader-friendly version. Additional video on the history and use of the ketogenic diet at the bottom of this post. Here you go-
The ketogenic (or “keto”) diet is just another fad diet.
The Keto diet is an amped-up Atkin’s diet (that we all know now was/is terrible for your cardiovascular system, and not a sustainable way to keep weight off) where the majority of what you eat comes from fat, and carbohydrates are extremely limited (In contrast, a healthy diet should be a much more balanced macronutrient distribution of 20-35% protein, 45-65% carbohydrate, and only 10-35% fat). This skewed macronutrient distribution is actually very dangerous for the human body for several reasons -
#1, We use carbohydrate as fuel for our brain. Glucose is needed for cognitive function, and many people on the Ketogenic diet experience brain fog and difficulty focusing. Ketone bodies (specifically: beta-hydroxybutyrate (built up in blood serum), acetoacetate (found in urine), and acetone (responsible for that bad breath)), which are created when carbohydrates are not present, are not as effective (or healthy) for our brain. This may also cause metabolic acidosis which is characterized by a reduced pCO2 and/or lower pH (we need to stay in balance!).
#2, On a ketogenic diet, your intake of fruits and vegetables is extremely limited (if eaten at all) and we all know how important the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds in fruits/veggies are. On that note…
#3, The keto diet is extremely low in fiber! Fiber is not only protective against many gastrointestinal cancers, it is also a big factor in fullness and weight loss. Furthermore, constipation is very common on low-fiber diets like the Keto diet.
#4, Ketosis/ketoacidosis is what is happening in the body/brain on a chemical level – this is the body making fat into something the brain can use when carbohydrates are not available. It's a lot of work for the the body to produce, not as efficient as carbohydrate, and can be incredibly dangerous for diabetics. Additionally, we have some cells with few-to-no mitochondria. These cells are carbohydrate-dependant and must be fueled by glucose. These cells include certain cells with no mitochondria in our blood (erythrocytes), eyes (cornea, lens, and retina); cells with few mitochondria include renal medulla, testis, and leukocytes. (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11883-003-0038-6)
#5, “Keto breath.” Halitosis (bad breath) from (acetone) ketone bodies makes for an acetone-like smell on your breath that no amount of brushing/mouthwash can fix. Medical professionals look for (smell for?) this in malnourished patients.
#6, High blood lipids/cholesterol/blood pressure. It’s a high fat diet- you didn’t see this coming? The body can only break nutrients down at a certain rate, and high levels of fat in the diet may lead to high levels of blood lipids are responsible for blockages (atherosclerosis), and other cardiovascular complications up to death. While you can reverse the numbers, the plaque buildup in arteries is almost impossible to reverse. Not worth it! (note: some people do see lowered blood lipid profiles on this diet).
#7, Following this diet is often a form of disordered eating or may lead to an eating disorder (just as with any restrictive diet). Cutting out whole food groups is not healthy. We need all 3 macronutrients in appropriate proportions (majority coming from carbohydrates) to have a healthy body. Our body needs a variety of foods for best health. The reason this diet “works” for weight loss is that it restricts the types of foods that people tend to over-do-it-on like chips, candy, pastries, etc. Any diet that cuts out your favorite foods will cause weight loss, but at what cost (physically and mentally?)
#8, Not all fats are created equal. Most people starting a Keto diet are not differentiating between saturated (solid at room temp, and not something we want in large quantities) and unsaturated fats (liquid at room temp, and “healthier”). Getting this wrong also increases complications from the diet. Additionally, many people who followed a diet high in medium-chain-triglycerides (MCT) experienced undesirable digestive issues.
#9, It may mess with your thyroid and other hormones – lowering your metabolism (isn’t the point of this diet weight loss? That’s counter-intuitive…), energy, and fertility. Every time we lower our metabolism through dieting it lowers the “set-point” of our metabolism, making it harder and harder to lose weight. This is an adaptive response for mammals in famine, but not what the average person wants nowadays.
Who it the Keto diet appropriate for?
The only population that the ketogenic diet is scientifically proven to be beneficial (and safe) for is a select group of people with epilepsy (seizure disorders). This is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The Keto diet especially sucks for athletes (and people working out to lose weight)
Since our preferred fuel source is glucose (carbohydrate) from either blood glucose or glycogen (fancy term for carbohydrate stores in the liver and muscle cells), running exclusively on fat slows athletic performance as the body works much harder to break down fat (dietary and adipose storage).
Additionally, the lower protein intake and change in hormones in the body with a keto diet lower the ability to build and maintain muscle mass. If “mirror muscles” like biceps are not motivating enough to keep you off it- remember that our organs like the heart are also muscle tissue that would be broken down by this diet, causing organ damage or failure.
It’ll get you, mentally and emotionally
Ketogenic diets cause headaches, brain fog, and often irritability and obsession with food. This type of diet will very likely make you think about food an unnecessarily large amount of time, and make it difficult to be social (not being able to eat at the same places as your friends; oh, and that bad breath!).
You may feel more depressed (especially if you are already prone to depression and/or taking antidepressants) as serotonin (the “happy” neurochemical) is produced from carbohydrates. If you take an SSRI know that this class of medications work directly on serotonin that is present, and the diet requires a minimum about of carbohydrate (as we learned from the works of Ancel Keys in his starvation study) to allow the SSRI medication to work.
So, what’s the verdict?
In case you didn’t get it from the above – the Keto diet sucks. Not only is it a fad-diet (aka – not suitable for long-term weight loss/lifestyle), it can be very dangerous.
If you need help figuring out what to eat, contact a Registered Dietitian. In the meantime, if you do need some structure, balanced eating like the Mediterranean diet or DASH diet is a better way to go.
For a YouTube video with more information on this diet: click the image below
Don’t give up the foods you love. There is room for all foods in a healthy diet. We just need to keep proportions and variety in mind to fuel our body optimally.
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I am so excited, because an idea I have had rolling around in my brain for months has finally come to fruition!
Yesterday, January 8th, I opened for enrollment my course for performers,
"Whole Health for Performers!" This course is "A scientifically-based mind-body approach to get the most out of yourself, so you can focus on creating the performance of a lifetime."
This class is aimed at non-pro level actors, dancers, singers, musicians, directors, drama teachers, and techies who get their heart rate up on (or back) stage.
We cover: Physical fitness, Eating healthy, even when you are busy, Avoiding digestive issues on stage, Hydration, Vocal health, Mental health in the theatre, Better coping skills, and more, with step-by-step "homework" with each module so you actually TAKE ACTION on your goals!
It is being offered at a low cost of $97 for beta testing. This means you get to be a voice in the creation of this course! I will be tweaking the course based on your suggestions, and will be offering free live Q & A sessions to overcome personal barriers in a private facebook group for those who sign up. I normally charge $125/hour for individual counseling, so this is a steal!
Keep your eyes peeled for more educational courses coming later this year! I have some free education available on the online education page under "services" - check them out too
(I admit they are my first online creation, and not the prettiest!).
If you are in the performing arts, and want to take better care of your body on and off stage, what are you waiting for? Go to the course now!
Don't just take my word for it, a wonderful article about this course was written by the creator of OnStage Blog. Here it is for more info:
(A lot of people ask me how I started my business, and why I got into the field of eating disorders. While I do usually tell whomever asks, I have put-off writing this for a while. Maybe because I haven't felt that I have really "made-it" yet, maybe because I don't want to get that personal. Anyway, here's how I came to be "Not Your Average Nutritionist."
When I first passed my Registered Dietitian exam, I was about to get married, and was looking for a local job in my field.
That was going to be a lot harder than I first realized.
I spent about a year and a half (!!!) applying for, interviewing (several rounds), and networking for various jobs in any position as a dietitian. Unfortunately, there was always someone with 10 years of experience, or bilingual speaking, that would swoop in and get the job. (Eventually I did end up with a temp job with County Public Health after that year and a half).
While I was looking for my first "real job," an email had come through our local dietetic association from a young woman who was starting college locally, and was relapsing into anorexia nervosa (for which she had previously had some outpatient treatment). She was looking for a female, Christian, dietitian to work with her. I sent an email back asking if she wanted to give me a try (being new and all).
Now to give a little more background on the eating disorder part of this, in school/internship we spend very little time on eating disorders as undergraduate nutrition majors. Of course we had to learn some about it, but it just does not go very deep at that level of education (which is also why I went back for my Master's). So why did I think I could do it?
#1, I was desperate; and #2, I had struggled with restrictive eating during my early college years, and understood her mindset. She agreed, and I met with her and her mom to see if we would be a good fit. This was the start of my entrepreneurial journey.
Fast forward a few months and I had read countless books on eating disorders and sought out a mentor in (who I didn't realize at the time was a founding expert in the field, and whom many others call "a rock-star!") a local RD, Francie White, who allowed me to come watch her work, and help with the IOP/PHP treatment center in Santa Barbara, CA. Since I (still) didn't have another job (other than teaching some group fitness classes), I set my mind towards making a legal business.
With the help of a local non-profit organization, SCORE, I figured out what I needed to do to get a business license, and set up bank accounts. My first business name was "Libby's Fit Nutrition." I thought I would focus more on helping stay-at-home moms with weight loss and fitness. I did have a handful of those clients (whom I met in their homes), but pretty quickly I was finding that a lot of people who desired "weight loss" really had disordered eating or bad dieting practices, and I found myself doing more education around that. The more I worked with these clients and learned about EDs, the more passionate I became. I took some more psychology classes through community college, and contemplated what to get a Master's degree in.
Fast forward another 2 years or so, I was working as a teacher (Allan Hancock College) and in Corporate Wellness (Provant/PG&E). My online presence had generated a lot of interest from college students who were having issues with disordered eating. I was seeing so many students from Cal Poly (the local college), that I was talking on the phone almost every week with one of the school's nurse practitioners (the amazing, June Stanley) about shared clients. One night as we were talking about how many students she was seeing with eating disorders, she (I thought, jokingly) said "we should just have you on campus." Little did I know that conversation would lead to BIG things for me.
A few months later, I turned on my phone to see a voice mail from Dr. David Harris, Cal Poly's Executive Director of Campus Health and Well-Being. His message asked me to call back and set up a time to meet. He heard I was THE person to go to for eating disorders, and wanted to hire me to be on campus to work with the students at no cost to them. (Fun fact: when I walked into that first meeting after saying hello, his first words were, "when can you start?")
I started working at Cal Poly in Spring of 2016, as the first Registered Dietitian (as far as we know) to be specifically hired at a CSU to work with students with eating disorders!
I love my job! It is so nice to have co-workers who respect me and my opinion, since starting we have developed a multi-disciplinary treatment team, getting involved with athletic trainers and coaches for more open communication about the college athletes health and eating disorders, and I have been able to provide some in-service trainings to the medical staff.
This past year I changed my business name to "Not Your Average Nutritionist," to better represent what I was doing (not many RDs are competent in the area of eating disorders, and even less seem to focus more on the person and coping skills than the food piece), and I was no longer focusing on the fitness aspect. I also changed the legal structure from a sole-proprietorship to a LLC, for more legal support and the ability to hire staff in the future. I have a lot of lofty goals for my business in the next 10 years or so, but for right now I want to slow-down and savor the process.
So, where am I with my business now?
- Still working part-time at Cal Poly (over-booked, but feeling competent)
- Seeing some private clients.
- Almost done with my M.S. in Nutrition Science (emphasis in EDs).
- Working with a supervisor (Cynthia Saffell, MS, RD, LCSW, CEDS) for an advanced credential in EDs (IAEDP - CEDRD).
- Teaching at Allan Hancock
- Feeling better about my own body image than ever.
- ...and getting ready to launch a new phase of my business in 2018! Stay tuned for online nutrition courses!
Moral of the story:
Do great work.
The rest will fall into place.
You got this!
Libby is a non-diet Registered Dietitian focusing on eating disorder treatment and prevention. She approaches health from the inclusive standpoint that any "body" can focus on health regardless of size. She is a ally in diversity.
Not Your Average Nutritionist, LLC
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Disclaimer: This website is for educational & informational purposes only,
it is not a substitute for medical or mental health advice or treatment.