Healthy Insights on Nutrition: An Interview with Gina Ryan

by Haider on May 17, 2010 · 8 comments

in Physical

Out of all the life areas, the one I have a stressful relationship with is my Physical life area, and nutrition, in particular.

I often find myself overwhelmed by all the information out there, and confused by the conflicting advice I come across. Steve Pavlina swears by a vegan diet while Mark Sisson is hunting for his next meal.*


Gina Ryan, Nutritionist

To shed some light on the subject, I turned to my Twitter buddy Gina Ryan for some advice. Gina’s been immersed in the nutrition business for over 25 years, and appreciates the scientific method to verifying nutritional advice, rather than regurgitating conventional beliefs about nutrition.

I am especially fond of her holistic attitude towards physical health, and her awareness of how psychology plays a huge part in how we approach nutrition.

Without further ado, here are the questions I asked Gina, and her illuminating answers!

1- What information do you need to know about someone before offering any nutritional advice?

In order to have information make sense to them I like to know a little about their needs, concerns and what they have done for their health up to the present. If they tried and failed by using pills and potions or if they are relatively new to the world of health and self care it is good information for me.

I can state things in a manner that may be better suited for their lifestyle and temperament. We have all had plenty of fabulous information fall on deaf ears simply because we were on different pages emotionally.

2- I consider myself a layman when it comes to nutrition. How can I navigate my way through all the literature on health and nutrition?

You are navigating quite well by simply asking that question!

The best thing anyone can do is ask questions. Check out the source: what do they have to gain by telling you something? Are they affiliated to a company that sells something? Is the information based on science or simply conventional wisdom (this is definitely to be questioned as there is no reason to keep doing something simply because we have been doing it for years) or perhaps the latest fad.

Listen to your gut! Yes the brain in your belly (enteric nervous system). There is a reason you “feel” things in your gut. Pay attention, do some research and see how it all feels.

3- What 7 facts about the human body do we need to know to make more informed decisions about what we eat?

  1. The body needs time to register satiety in the brain
  2. Properly functioning, a body can eat 3 meals a day or more or less depending on activity levels. Check the belly not the clock
  3. Diet contributes to 80% of weight control
  4. Dietary intake of cholesterol does not correlate to blood cholesterol
  5. Carbohydrate of any kind is converted to sugar in the body
  6. Saturated fat does not cause heart disease
  7. Eating fat does not make the body fat

4- What diet do you recommend to your clients, and why have you concluded that it’s the right one to live by?

I will have to change your term “diet” to “way of eating” because I have worked with eating disordered clients who live for the next “diet” and really all we want to do is learn the best “way of eating” for our body and lifestyle. Another term would be “way of life”.

Personally, I have seen so many systems and diets come and go with few of them offering anything but a quick fix and long term damage.

What really works for health and well being is very old fashioned and not at all flashy, but very nutritionally sound. Animal protein, veggies and fruit, along with the fats from animal (lard and butter) and fruit (olive and avocado) or nut sources (coconut). No processed vegetable oils, as they cause a great disruption in the omega 6:3 ratio.

For people in my age group, that is pretty much how we were raised.

5- What are your thoughts on the Atkins diet? It’s a fairly popular diet here in Kuwait.

Dr Atkins did an amazing service in the world of nutrition. His peers did not share his enthusiasm and we are all the more healthy because he still came forward with his findings.

Atkins himself did not discover anything new, but was bold enough to state his findings from previous research that was being ignored. To this day, his diet is misunderstood and misrepresented, yet it is sound and an amazing way for the obese, type 2 diabetic and those with metabolic syndrome to begin their healing.

The Atkins diet is not a diet without veggies or fruit as so many like to say. It is very low carbohydrate for induction, adding in more and more veggies and some fruits as you progress to maintenance. It is also not a diet of huge quantities of bacon and cheese. Obviously if you are in awareness and eat to satiety you will not be able eat much of such high fat foods at all!

6- If you were to distill your philosophy on healthy living into 7 principles, what would they be?

  1. Not all food is created equal: Try to eat organic, pasture raised and local, when possible
  2. Substituting natural pills and potions for the allopathic ones is foolish and a waste of money. Natural is not a magic wand
  3. There is no perfect diet only a healthy “way of eating” or “way of life” which gives freedom to choose from many options
  4. The body, if listened to, has answers to many questions we tend to look for outside of ourselves. Awareness is the key here
  5. Dietary conventional wisdom must be questioned and researched. Our health depends on us asking for ourselves if this or that is appropriate
  6. Emotions and triggers have much to do with our dietary choices and ultimate health. Take time to make the mind-body connection
  7. Stress affects our digestion and needs to be addressed in any healing way of life plan

7- What does a day of healthy living look and feel like?

The best way to rise in the am is with the sun. If you have gone to bed early enough to get 8 or so hours of sleep, the sun may actually wake you feeling refreshed and ready to rise.

If the body is ready to eat or is feeling hungry breakfast would consist of perhaps a few eggs, some fish or meat and veggies or a handful of berries. Lunch and dinner can be held to the same light and the body will be the guide as to when to eat and how much (Conventional Wisdom was wrong on this issue, as not everyone needs breakfast every day).

This is very difficult for many people to grasp, yet the body not the clock needs to be consulted for meals. We all do have to conform to schedules and the body will adjust accordingly. Just give it the chance to be heard.

The moments of meal preparation and eating can be an important part of the digestive process, so let your body begin to savor the aromas while cooking and let the mind relax and let go for the mealtime ritual. If you don’t properly digest your meals, it matters little how nutritious they are. Mindfulness at mealtime can go a long way aiding digestion and relieving stress.

Movement throughout the day is an integral part of healthy living. I dislike the word exercise as most people tend to tune out the idea of it or go totally overboard with it.

The middle road is what is needed to keep the body healthy. Stretching, resistance work, daily walking and occasional all out effort make for great health, and it is just what the body craves. What is even more wonderful is when this physical part of our lives can actually be a part of our lives, such as walking to work, walking the dog or playing ball with the kids. Even taking the stairs when there is an option and parking as far away in every parking lot, just to add naturally some movement back to our days.

Over training is very stressful to the body and must also be avoided.

Think fit, fun and functional.

I like to add in mental stimulation and turning off the TV as a part of healthy living. Reading, puzzles, games of strategy, and communication are wonderful ways to wind down the day. Watching TV at night, especially the news, is not relaxing nor is it useful to the mind.

Prior to sleep, it is a wonderful practice to recall the many things you are grateful for, even the roughest of days have a silver lining somewhere, and this is the time to remember it.

Sleep would optimally be in a darkened room that is cool and quiet. Going to bed before 10pm ensures enough sleep before the sun rises and makes for a more natural rising. This may also be the place and time for touch. As humans, we need to be touched and we tend to touch and hold our children and lovers easily and often. But if you live alone and do not get enough touch be sure to find a place to receive massage.

I notice the more people are going for massage the lower the prices are getting (even check with your health insurance, as many will cover part of the cost). Your body and mind will thank you.

8- What 5 tips can you offer someone transitioning into a new diet?

  1. Know why you are making a change
  2. Pick your “way of eating” and stick with that plan of action
  3. Find support either in person or online friend or professional. We all need a hand now and then
  4. Keep a journal of your thoughts and experiences. I often tell clients to “take it to the paper” when they are feeling frustrated
  5. Be gentle with yourself. Change takes time, and is often challenging. Give yourself credit for being up for it and if you fall off track, just begin again remembering it is progress not perfection that will happen

9- One of the challenges I often face when changing diet is not knowing what to snack on. What would you recommend me stocking up on in case hunger strikes unexpectedly?

Oh yes, I love this question!

I hear this so often. The funny thing is, there is really no limit to what you can snack on. As long as you can eat it for a meal, you can have it for a snack.

You may be a person who fits into an eating often way of life and have something every few hours. That is fine.

Have a hard boiled egg, a deviled egg, celery stuffed with cashew butter, a chicken leg, a salad with tuna, a lettuce leaf with chicken salad wrapped up in it, a few nuts, a bite of cheese.

Now, I can tell you people want things already made hence the over reliance on boxed foods, so the answer is to simply keep some food ready to go in the refrigerator from the previous meals. I know that for many, the need to eat so often or to snack can disappear completely when they begin to eat fewer carbohydrates so this may be only a temporary thing for you also.

10- What are some of the most common unhealthy attitudes towards health do you come across, and how do you respond to them?

That health is in a product or service:

While many services and products are fine and even necessary to rebuild health, the reliance on the new supplement and the latest body treatment is out of control.

For instance, where I live, it is all the rage to go for cleansing and colonics for 10 days at a time. I will not suggest this may not have its place for some health issues, yet for many it has become the latest fad. There have been and always will be fads and promises. They are usually expensive, and without real, honest lifestyle changes, it won’t matter how many times you get cleaned out.

That vegetarian diets (or vegan) are superior:

I have been in this industry long enough to see what really happens over time to this population health-wise, and it is not all that pretty. I understand there are many reasons for choosing this lifestyle. Vibrant health is not supported by this choice.

Calories-in-minus-calories-out way of losing weight (or another twist on the same theme: a calorie is a calorie):

Our bodies are not machines, and we do not work this way. If it were really all that simple, we would not have the 40+ billion dollar diet industry making more each year.

11- What 3 major replacements would you recommend take place in every kitchen?

  1. Remove all grains (yes, that means whole grains too). Eat vegetables and fruits
  2. Remove all vegetable oils (this is one of the major causes for the omega 6:3 ratio to be so out of whack). Use olive and avocado oils (they are fruits) and coconut oil
  3. Remove all boxed foods (they all contain altered vegetable oils for shelf life). Eat fresh real food and you will never go back

12- I know that you recommend listening to the body for cues on when it’s hungry, when it’s full, etc. My body isn’t usually cooperative. It lets me know my stomach is full a tad late and I often can’t tell whether I’m feeling hungry or want comfort food. How can I teach my body to communicate more effectively, and to express its true needs?

First, have patience with yourself, this is not uncommon. Many people report they have not felt true hunger in many years.

It will be nothing more than practice for a while, so again, don’t be hard on yourself.

With emotional eating vs true hunger you will want to stop and really check in with your belly area.

If you are still not sure, check in on the rest of the body, like energy level (we usually get sluggish with true hunger) or are you light headed, and so on.

Also, see if a 4- 6 oz glass of water cures the craving. Often hunger and thirst are confused.

As for the over full experience, the key is to slow down. A wonderful practice is to put your fork or spoon down in between each bite and chew and swallow before you pick up the utensil again. This will slow the process, so your brain gets the satiety message prior to you overeating.

13- I have cravings for the unholiest of foods and develop intense hate for healthy food (I literally feel like beating fruits up in a dark alley!). How can I start a loving relationship with healthy food, and break up with unhealthy food?

You make me laugh!

Lucky for you, fruit is not an issue. So many folks overeat fruit in the name of health and find it a hard habit to break. I have a feeling you could replace some of the foods you crave with healthy alternatives.

Often the craving thing is happening in a low fat diet as fat is something that truly satisfies. With a Paleo or low carb diet you can have a lot more fat and enjoy a lot more foods than trying to eat low fat.

For instance, if you crave ice cream, you may want to enjoy fresh whipped cream with a few berries or some cacao powder tossed in. If you crave salty things, you may try some beef or bison or salmon jerky to soothe the snack urge.

Just a thought: you may also want to journal your thoughts and feelings as you have these cravings, as they may not be for food. Writing our thoughts can let us see some interesting connections we may not have otherwise made.

14- I have the suspicion that my poor eating habits are often a form of punishment I inflict on myself for shortcomings in other life areas. When I’m productive at work, I tend to experience more willpower when it comes to eating. What’s the connection between how we see ourselves and what we eat, and how can we develop a healthier attitude towards ourselves?

It is all a feedback loop and we need to just see what we are doing before we can make any lasting changes.

Your awareness will help in discovering why and, as I stated above, writing down the feelings or thoughts as these issues of self control or lack of arise can lead to discoveries we may have never made otherwise.

Another valuable practice is to talk to your food, ask it what is it you think you will get out of it (like a bag of chips), perhaps if it is a place to put your anger. Crunching and munching, rather than talking to your coworker who drives you nuts. Who knows.

Just the act of stopping and putting some space between you and the bag of chips for a moment can make a shift. Again, you will have to do this over and over. That is why we call it practice :)

15- I am sometimes struck by an intense desire to transform my eating habits, while at other times don’t find the motivation to make any changes. How can I ease myself into healthy living when motivation is low or non-existent?

You can remember why it is you wanted to make changes when you were feeling motivated.

The power of the word, whether on a 3×5 card or in a journal or on your computer will remind you what it feels like to feel lousy or sick or scared, or you won’t live to see your kids get married. Whatever your motivation, put it where you can read it often.

Nothing like feeling good to have the cookie craving rear it’s sweet little head!

16- What books and resources would you recommend people check out for healthier living?

On the web, I suggest:

Books, I suggest:

17- What are the first 5 questions I should be asking myself before making a change in my lifestyle?

  1. Why do I want to change my lifestyle? You can refer back to this in moments of weakness
  2. What do I expect to get out of these changes? having a list of clear and definable goals is very motivating
  3. How long am I willing to stick with these particular changes? Be realistic, if you cannot desire to do this for life you are looking at a diet (quick fix style) not a way of life.
  4. What will I do if i fall off the path? Having a plan and knowing ahead of time these things happen takes the sting out of relapse and gives a sure fire way to get going yet again.
  5. Who can offer me support along the way? As I mentioned earlier having a support group or friend or professional is very helpful and having someone in your corner can dramatically increase your chances of success. Reaching out for help is a sign of maturity and desire to stick with the changes.

You can check out Gina’s blog at Nourishing by Heart and follow her on Twitter at @starlightlife.

For the love of good food and all things healthy, check out Gina’s blog post series on Good Calories, Bad Calories.

The book is quite hefty and information dense. Gina’s posts have plucked out the most important findings from the book. I can’t recommend them enough, especially given all the misinformation surrounding nutrition.

If you have any questions for Gina, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments section. We can all benefit from the answers. :)

* I’m not entirely sure whether Mark does any hunting or not, but I think it sounds funny, given the fact that Grok is his role model.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bloggylife May 19, 2010 at 3:37 pm

You know I was planning to write about my own struggle :P Bas I’ll share it here.

Are you reeeeaaadddy :P

LOL, this post is funny, informative and quite surprising facts, “Not all of us need breakfast” 0_0

I feel the same way, sometimes I crave junk food :P and “I literally feel like beating fruits up in a dark alley!”

My experience so far: I’ve come to realise that the environment helps in staying healthy:
1- Weather, nice weather encourages outdoor activities and you get to walk everywhere.
2- People, I eat more fruits here, because it is everywhere and everybody snacks that way.
3- People, you can see people exercising all around, running, walking, cycling. That encourages you to be part of a group in an indirect way.
4- Lack of people, since I’m alone, I have more control over what comes into the kitchen or the tiny fridge in my case.
5- Lack of people, I make my own meals and not pressured into eating what is available.
6- Awareness, healthy food is widely available here! It is a way of life. Go to any supermarket and you are surrounded by them. It is easy to support a healthy life style.
7- When you need to go out, unlike back home there are other options than restaurants :P

Best of luck with your journey ;)
Bloggylife´s last blog ..Prayer Times My ComLuv Profile

2 Haider May 19, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Wohoo! I get a Bloggy post on my blog! :D

Will this be called a bloggyment? :P

Yes, Gina did surprise me with a few facts. The funniest is when I spent a few days trying to muster the courage to tell her that I don’t like fruits all the time, to which she replied: “Why does that bother you?”

What? It’s not a sin to hate fruits sometimes?!? :o

I agree with all your observations. People expect me to make exceptions… on a daily basis!

It’s both funny and fattening…

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. And do feel free to share your comment on your own blog, too! ;)

3 beth May 19, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Some pretty flaky fad recommendations for someone claiming to be a scientist. I would never take nutritional advice from someone so illinformed (much less overweight herself).

4 Gina
Twitter: starlightlife
May 20, 2010 at 8:37 am

Aloha Bloggylife!
I must say your take on the environment is spot on! People, Places and Things around us can have such a negative or positive impact on us, another place to put our awareness. Thanks for commenting!
Much Aloha, Gina

5 Gina
Twitter: starlightlife
May 20, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Aloha Beth!

This interview was done with a light heart, the feel of chatting with Haider and it was a very enjoyable process I might add.

Although Haider did say I am someone who “appreciates the scientific method to verifying nutritional advice, rather than regurgitating conventional beliefs about nutrition”, I do not consider my self a scientist! I myself am forever looking to the science researchers and science journalists for what conventional wisdom may be missing or more often for what has changed. CW has forgotten the body as a whole and that is not flaky or faddish.

Conventional wisdom is a term coined by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith in his 1958 book The Affluent Society, second edition (New York: Houghton & Mifflin, 1958). It’s used to describe ideas and explanations that have become generally accepted as true and continuously repeated. This wisdom may actually be either true or false. Which means the CW or belief could be based on outmoded facts, wrong premises, or prejudice and therefore questioning, although usually not popular, is in order in my opinion.

I appreciate the fact that you may feel disinterest in my wisdom due perhaps to my philosophy, credentials or years of service. Yet I find your comment about my weight (or that of another) a sign of ignorance. Weight and health both have a wide spectrum, are unique to the individual and are not necessarily based on each other.

Eating disordered clients constitute 90% of my client base and your comment points directly to the fear my clients live in day in and day out. “What will others think about my weight!” No matter how thin they get, they fear they will appear fat. No matter how diseased they are they want to be thinner, it’s about how they will look and what others will think, not about where their health is heading or how they are caring for their bodies, minds and spirits.

Why do people feel they have any idea as to an others health and well being by what the body looks like? If you had a clue as to how many buff and thin women (and increasing numbers of men) live in constant denial of nourishment, self care and joy due to the fear of what others will think of their weight, you would be shocked. This is a very lonely and unhealthy place for these people and often, even a husband does not know his wife-with her fabulous body-is throwing up 3x a day in an attempt to stay that way. These women live in fear, panic and utter loneliness…but they look great.

On the flip side, the obese are forever fighting the stereo type of being lazy gluttons when what many have is a metabolic problem (one that is in part the cause of the current obesity epidemic in America) that needs a lot of work and education. If they have become metabolically compromised they will never change their health with out addressing this disease no matter how hard they run, or how few calories a day they eat (a good read on this is Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes).

We have no knowledge of a persons physical well-being, health history, genetic propensity, or healing issues by simply looking at them. Presuming so, in my opinion, is a prejudice and feeds the anorexia-bulimia-orthorexia (an obsession with healthy or righteous eating)-binge eating-machine. In the United States, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Millions more are struggling with binge eating disorder (NEDA website ; Crowther et al., 1992; Fairburn et al., 1993; Gordon, 1990; Hoek, 1995; Shisslak et al.,1995).

It is my desire to be part of the solution, to teach progress not perfection and to consider all beings with compassion and as individuals. Thank you for commenting!

With Much Aloha, Gina

6 Haider May 20, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Hi Beth,

I’d be interested to know why you consider them “fad” recommendations.

From what I’m seeing, there’s a decent amount of research that supports the idea that carbohydrates help retain fats and cause some other health problems. From personal experience – going on Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint – I’ve lost about 5 kilos in a month and feel my energy levels being much more stable.

7 Mil June 11, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Hi Gina,

How do I meet my family’s fiber & carbohydrate needs efficiently and conscientiously?

I am an African-American. For short time I had almost totally elilminated any grains from our lives: husband, daughter, and son. This decision primarily because family histories of diabetes w/ both my mom and her family and my mother-in-law and her family.

Before he passed, my mom’s first cousin had several amputations (toes, foot, leg up to knee). Everyone else in my family and husband’s manages the disease with diet.

I re-introduced grain as a regular part of our meals together (primarily dinner only ) because of the following:

1) my 16-year old son plays high school basketball. An ACC article said more than any other type athlete, basketball players require great amounts of carbs for energy, especially if they play alot. The article said the intensity and speed of the game depletes energy quickly. I understand that.

2) I was concerned I was depriving my family of much needed fiber. Realistically speaking, my family do not seek/request 100% whole grain breads when eating out.

Will you tell me if I’m accurate in re-introducing grains in family meals or suggest alternatives.

We have greatly decreased sugar/honey usage in our home and we are legume eaters. Still I want to accurately transform our attitudes and food selections.

8 Gina
Twitter: starlightlife
June 11, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Aloha Mil!
You asked “How do I meet my family’s fiber & carbohydrate needs efficiently and conscientiously?” and the quick answer is with vegetables and some fruits (less sweet) nuts and seeds.
Look to vegetables like broccoli (for example: one cup cooked broccoli=5gm fiber vs one slice multi-grain bread =1.9 gm) The vegetables have so much more going for them in the way of antioxidants, and other micro nutrients-they should be first choice over grains which carry a heavy load of anti-nutrients .

The grains are not necessary to meet the fiber requirement.
People differ in the amount of fiber they require for good bowel transit (one to two bowel movements per day) and their diet should increase in fiber (and water as much constipation is not about lack of fiber but dehydration) until they reach this level of one to two BM per day.
You are very wise and right in track with the changes you are making considering the family history of diabetes. I will assume you are speaking of type II as you mention they control it with diet.

The beauty of being an athlete is your son probably can consume more carbohydrate that his sedentary peers yet this is not a license to over consume carbs in the form of grains or simple sugars. His energy levels and performance will be a good indicator of his needs. This is a perfect time for him to be aware if his diet/exercise levels and how his body feels- that awareness and the information it contains will serve him for life.
Enjoying a piece of bread or roll when eating out occasionally is probably less of a concern than a daily over-consumption of sugar which can be more difficult to find and remove. Sugar in all forms would be the first priority in my counseling clients. So look for the sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, molasses and any new fangled one the food industry comes up with to keep people addicted to their foods!
Eliminate the simple added sugars and you are well on your way.

What a beautiful gift you give to your family with your well planned and nutritious meals!
Be Well~ Gina

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