Healthy Insights on Nutrition: An Interview with Gina Ryan

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.


If You’re On A Diet, You MUST Read This!

To be more precise: You must read this sitting down.

What I’m about to say might come as a shock to you.

I know because I was shocked, too. I couldn’t believe it at first. It went against everything I believed in about diets.

Are you sitting down?


The shocking fact you need to know about diets is this:

Food is good for you!

I hope you didn’t fall off your chair reading that!

When I go on diets, I usually try to cut out as much food as I can. Sometimes I try to skip meals. Sometimes I eat small portions of food that aren’t enough to feed a goldfish!

Why? Because I see food as the enemy. The main culprit behind my excessive weight (where else am I piling on the fat from?).

But the truth of the matter is: food is good for us, and we shouldn’t try to fight against it.

So what is the problem? Why are we gaining weight? And what’s the right approach to losing weight?

Food Is Good

Before we even attempt to go on a diet, it’s important to have the right understanding of food and the role it plays in our lives. We must accept that food is necessary for us. We can’t survive for long without it. Our body needs food to keep it functional.

Therefore, food is good. We love food. It’s one of our best friends.

However, we usually don’t eat in order to supply our body with the nutrients it needs. That’s why most of what we eat isn’t actually good for us (it’s called JUNK food for a reason!), and the amount of food we eat isn’t appropriate to our needs (too much of a good thing is bad for you!). When we don’t eat the right food and in the right amount, our body tries it do the best it can to keep us alive and functioning…

Our Body’s Survival Mechanisms

Although we might hate ourselves for getting fat, but piling on the fat is a beautiful thing. I don’t mean that you should be happy being over-weight, but that you should appreciate what your body is trying to do when it stores fat.

Our body is designed to keep us alive. In many cases, it tries to correct the mistakes that we do. When we don’t take proper care of our body – by making the wrong decisions in what we eat and how much we eat – our body stores the excess as fat (energy storage) for future use. It builds an energy reserve we can use if we need it later. Of course, there’s a thin line between healthy fat storage and unhealthy fat storage.

I said the body was designed to keep us alive. I didn’t say it was very smart in doing it! That’s why it’s up to us to make the right decisions about what we eat.

But it’s important to understand how the body works in order to know what sorts of diet work with our bodies. Eating extra will lead our bodies to store the food as fat (for survival), and eating too little (which is the common approach to dieting, and when we see food as the enemy) will lead our body to retain that extra fat (for survival also!). This reaction to low food-intake is usually referred to as starvation mode: your body assumes that you’re starving (you don’t have enough food to consume), and so it reduces the amount of fat it burns so it can have enough to survive for as long as possible.

This is important to bear in mind, because your dieting can actually force your body to retain fat, rather than burn it!

How to Diet

Given what we’ve mentioned about food and our body’s reaction to it, the best approach to dieting is as follows:

Eat nutritious food: We should only eat in order to feed our body with the nutrients it needs. Eating food because it tastes nice, or because we’re feeling bad (and want food to alter our feelings) isn’t the right approach to take. Ever.

Don’t eat too much: If you’re gaining weight, it means you’re eating more than what your body actually needs. Cutting down on the amount you eat is sensible here, because you’re adjusting to your body’s needs.

Don’t eat too little: Don’t give your body the impression that you don’t have food to eat. Otherwise it’ll cling to whatever fat you have stored for dear life! Therefore, you should never skip meals or reduce the amount of food you eat to the point where you aren’t supplying your body with enough nutrients, and it might suspect that you’re struggling to survive and it ends up entering starvation mode! Create a slightcalorie deficit” (i.e. consume less calories than you burn) so that your body ends up burning the fat you’ve stored and not simply using the food you’ve eaten during the day.

Stay active: Your arms and legs aren’t there for aesthetic reasons. They’re there to be used! Food is meant to supply your body not so you can remain breathing, but so you can remain active! Our default approach in life is to reduce effort as much as possible. Although it’s sensible to be efficient, but we should always try to be active. This includes walking more and being active around the house. Don’t avoid movement because it involves effort.

Weight-loss involves a lot more than what I’ve mentioned, but the key point is to not see food as an enemy, but to consume it in the right way, so that your body makes use of it in a way that supports your life and well-being.


Eat Slowly for Greater Joy and Better Health

Diets tend to focus on what to eat and what to avoid. But an essential part of healthy living is how to eat.

I have personally found that eating slowly allows me to enjoy my food, as well as control my appetite, leading to greater joy and better health!

Eating the Foods You Love

When you control how you eat, you can continue to eat the foods you love. You will simply adjust how you eat them. This helps you advance your health in a way that doesn’t strain your willpower. In fact, by eating slowly, you get to enjoy your food more! Remember, your taste buds are in your mouth, not your stomach! So make the most out of the food you eat while it’s still in your mouth.

Health Benefits of Slower Eating

Besides being more enjoyable, there are a number of health benefits to slower eating. I’m not a health expert, but these are the benefits I know about:

1- Helps Digestion: By breaking down the foods you eat, you help your digestive system handle the food better, down the road. This allows your body to absorb more nutrients from the foods you eat. Some foods are only broken down with enzymes that exist in your mouth. So if you don’t chew your food properly, the rest of your body won’t be able to deal with these kinds of food.

2- Eating Less: When you take your time eating, your focus turns towards enjoying the taste of the food, and not the amount you eat. Whenever we see food we like, we think that we need to eat a lot of it to enjoy it! But that’s not true at all. If we eat it slowly, quantity is no longer the issue. We can eat less, but enjoy the food more.

3- Knowing When You’re Full: When we eat very quickly, we don’t have the time to check with our bodies on whether we are full or not. We end up over-eating, which makes us feel uncomfortable, unhealthy and less joyful. Eating slowly helps us recognize when we’re full before it’s too late!

Adjusting to Slower Eating

This might sound strange (and if you’ve tried eating slowly before, it’s not that strange!), but eating slowly can be very difficult! You might feel that you don’t have the patience to slow yourself down, especially when you’re really hungry! These are my suggestions on some ways you can use to help yourself adjust to slower eating.

1- Don’t starve yourself: If you can’t slow yourself down, chances are you’re starving yourself before you eat. When you’re starving, it can be quite difficult to tame yourself. Therefore, try not to starve yourself before you eat. Have a healthy snack, drink some water or try to have your meal at an earlier time.

2- Chew more: Eating slowly and chewing more aren’t the same thing. You can slow down your chewing and you can chew your food more before you swallow it. Do both. But if you find that you can’t control your pace, then chewing more might be right for you. You can even have a minimum number of chews before you swallow. 30 to 40 is recommended, but that might be a high range to aim for from the beginning, especially if you’re not used to chewing at all!

3- Put the knife (and fork) down: When you’re armed with your knife and fork, it can be difficult not to make use of them to prepare your next bite, which makes you feel compelled to swallow the food currently in your mouth! Put the knife and fork down while eating, so you can focus on what you’re eating and not the next bite you will be eating.

4- Enjoy the food in your mouth: Some of the joy we derive from eating is the anticipation of the next bite coming. Don’t think about that. And don’t think about clearing your plate. Think about the food currently in your mouth. Enjoy the taste. Let your taste buds have their moment. Give them the attention they are craving. After all, if you don’t give them your attention, you won’t enjoy your food as much as you can!

Try eating your next meal slowly, and you’ll realize the joy you can get from eating, without compromising your health!