Lisa Rutledge: Young registered dietitian and Huffington Post author talks healthy eating, even with wheat, and the importance of individualized wellness plans

Ermahgerd, the new year is right around the corner and everyone’s freaking out about how they’ll lose weight next and how they plan to omit all carbohydrates from their diets in three…two…one…

Lisa Rutledge, registered dietitian, writer and health advocate.
Lisa Rutledge, registered dietitian, writer and health advocate.

Before we all lose it because we ate one too many Ferrero Rochers this holiday season, wait a minute and read what Lisa Rutledge, a 33-year-old registered dietitian, has to say.

Lisa is the founder of the Custom Nutrition blog, online health and nutrition group and author on the Huffington Post Canada. I came across one of Lisa’s articles called, “The Health Benefits Of Not Going Wheat Free,” while aimlessly scrolling on Facebook one day and was so intrigued, I clicked on the link to read the full piece.

Though a doctor has never told me I can’t eat gluten, I tend to feel sluggish and over-exhausted after consuming certain types of carbohydrates. Still, I try to incorporate whole grains into my diet – spelt, barley, wheat berries – on a regular basis, as I know that despite popular belief, carbohydrates don’t have to be the enemy and are actually GOOD FOR YOU and your balanced diet.

I clicked on Lisa’s article because I wanted to know more about the anti-wheat argument and what I should do to improve my diet and overall health. I was so inspired (and I learned a TON) after reading Lisa’s piece linked above that I reached out to her to chat about what she does and what we need to know about eating healthy and living well.

I was even more intrigued by Lisa after I found her on Twitter, where I read her bio. In that bio is this AMAZING sentence: “A healthy lifestyle is NOT about self-denial.” I have been through my own struggle with accepting my love of food and my body shape (I go deeper in an article i wrote in September 2014). In what I call the “advanced stages of overcoming a fear of my body,” Lisa’s Twitter bio spoke to me. I needed to know more.

Read our full interview below.

1. Tell me about your company, Custom Nutrition.

I technically started Custom Nutrition in 2008, however I have been working as a private practice dietitian since 2005. For the moment, the company is quite small – only me and occasionally I get help from amazing nutrition interns! It started out as a name for me to use to look professional when providing one on one counselling, presentations and workshops. Since 2008, and especially over the last three years, I have tried to ramp up media consulting and social media presence with blogging, tweeting and hooking up with other online health and nutrition groups.

2. How old were you when you established Custom Nutrition? How old are you now?

I was 26 when I officially started Custom Nutrition and I am now 33.

3. On Custom Nutrition’s “About” page, you talk about how you help clients by giving advice and guidelines for eating based on personal needs vs. a cookie cutter approach. Why is this so important?

Too many of my clients come to me confused, frustrated and upset about not being able to follow advice they have been given. Often, this frustration stems from the fact that their lifestyle or eating personality just does not fit with the advice they were given. A cookie-cutter approach is often used by pseudo-professionals who make people feel bad about not being able to follow sometimes crazy advice.

Also, my job is to listen to my client’s needs and use my experience to help them find solutions that could work for them – not dole out boring, outdated and sometimes irrelevant advice. Each client is unique and so advice has to be tailored to what they want to change and what they are ready to change. Every client has a story and a history with health and nutrition. Ignoring those leads to a lack of understanding and connection with my client. So for example, if my client asks for weight loss advice that is centred around dieting, and I know (or suspect) that they have not had any success with managing their weight in this way, my job is to dig deeper to find a solution that will bring them success – not blame them for the lack of success using ideas that have never worked for them. I use a weight loss example because that is the topic that non-professionals seem to always get wrong.

4. Do you find majority of your clients identify as female? Or male? Why do you think this is the case?

The majority of my clients identify as female. However, I am seeing an upward trend with the number of men and people identifying as male calling for consultations. This could be partly because one of my specialties is eating disorders and a great number of women tend to suffer from an ED.

I also feel that some male clients believe that they should not have to seek help from a professional who will only tell them what they “already know” and perhaps they feel they don’t need or shouldn’t need the support.

5. Why did you decide to pursue a career in the health industry? How long have you been a registered dietitian?

I have always been drawn to a “helping” career and sciences, like biology, nutrition and psychology, have always fascinated me. I found that becoming a registered dietitian included all of these things. It also helped that one of the closest universities had a dietetics program (making it affordable on so many levels) and is considered one of the most reputable in Canada. Also, the idea that you can graduate with a Bachelor of Science and be fully registered to start working was appealing. My mother is a nurse and my dad is a research scientist, so I think that influenced my admiration for a science and health based career. I have been a registered dietitian for 10 years.


6. There are so many fad eating habits and diets, one being choosing wheat-free based foods over wheat. Why do you think it so easy to be persuaded to eat a certain way, without fully knowing why?

I think there is a lot of psychology that plays a part in following crazy diets. The want or need to fit with a special group of people – especially one that knows of a special “secret to success” plays a major role. I also think that it is human nature to want easy, quick solutions to problems – no matter how complex they are. “If I just follow this one diet, I won’t have to think for myself and it will guarantee weight loss/health/longevity!”

Unfortunately, we are humans, not robots, so our own likes and dislikes for food can’t go ignored and we can’t follow food rules forever. Usually, when a diet rule is broken we blame ourselves and either go back to the diet in full force (expecting a different result following the same advice) or abandon healthy eating all together – forgetting that there are more moderate ways of eating that have been proven by science to bring you more happiness and health.

Moderation just doesn’t have the same ring to it as: “The secret to being skinny is this….”

7. In a recent Huffington Post article, you debunked the wheat-free myth, confirming that our bodies experience reactions to how wheat is processed as opposed to wheat itself (in short). How can the average person take charge of their own eating habits and prevent falling for myths about food?

Remembering that there is no secret to health and that no one food is inherently good or evil, will help avoid falling for myths. Food is neutral and can either help keep us physically and mentally healthy or not. It depends on the dose and how often we eat something. The number of trends that exists is a testament at how none of them really work. If we had all the answer to eternal health, they would not be a secret or come from a non-scientists who bases his beliefs on one experiment.

Another way to prevent falling for myths is to listen to your body – not external factors like diet gurus or books. If you listen to your body’s cues for hunger, fullness and taste preference we tend to eat in a balanced and moderate way. Whereas, if we use our emotions or diets to dictate what we eat, it gets harder to listen to your own body.

Unfortunately, “listening to your body” is also a catchy trend right now and some people are led to believe they have to cut out gluten or sugar or whatever to “feel better.” However, if you don’t truly feel physically or mentally better after cutting out a food, go back to eating it. Sometimes, non-professionals are consulted to do unscientifically based food intolerance tests and then convince you to cut something out of your diet. Feeling bad eating a food because someone has demonized it is NOT listening to your body.

8. Myths about food are somewhat “trendy.” They come and they go. What is one of the most shocking myths about food you’ve ever heard? 

Unfortunately, nothing is shocking to me anymore. I think the biggest shock is how the media and people who push these trends don’t feel bad selling snake oil and actually reach out and attack the science and public interest defenders.

9. The last part of your Twitter bio reads, “A healthy lifestyle is NOT about self-denial!” What does this mean and what is its significance to you? 

Too often, people put a great emphasis on the need to restrict certain foods to be a good person or to be a healthy person. For some people, it can feel that if they are not constantly trying to ignore their hunger signals or taste preferences, they would be out of control. This is just untrue. Diets and restrictive eating is what pushes people in the direction of emotional eating and skewed (i.e. disordered) relationships with food.

Also, a healthy lifestyle does not equal one that is void of good, tasty food and rules by exercise regimes. The idea that healthy living is too hard to achieve (or that one must be perfect to be healthy) I think puts people off trying to improve their lifestyle. Little changes or tweaks to what you eat or how you move and sleep and deal with stress is usually all that is needed to improve your health.

10. What would you say is the most dangerous part about body trends like the thigh gap? What could excessive weight loss to achieve a body trend do to a person’s psyche and overall health?

Trends like the thigh gap have no basis in science or health. Looking slimmer or smaller does not, in any way, dictate one’s level of healthiness. There is plenty of science that connects disordered eating patterns with excessive weight loss. One’s mental health suffers greatly with excessive weight loss for a number of reasons. Malnutrition does not allow the body to function normally nor does it allow the brain to process things accurately. One’s own outlook on life and of their own body is horribly skewed when lots of weight is lost. This is why returning to normal eating patterns and weight regain is so important for recovery from an eating disorder.

The world and your take of it changes when the brain and muscles are adequately nourished. Of course, there are major physical consequences to under-eating as well- muscle wasting – the body cannot control its temperature properly, hair growth is stopped, the digestive tract cannot function properly, our ability to concentrate is greatly decreased, we can even lose brain matter and muscle from the heart. Luckily, a lot of this is reversible when normal eating patterns are returned to.

11. Do you have any advice for people hoping to become registered dietitians themselves?

If you are interested in the weight management and eating disorder fields, I would highly suggest you consider perusing a degree in psychology after the dietetics degree. Why we eat, how we eat, what we eat are all influenced heavily by psychology so having an in-depth understanding of it is extremely useful. Also, honing your counselling skills by taking courses in Motivational interviewing or even counselling psychology courses at school is useful no matter what your specialty is.

The job of an registered dietitian had evolved from someone who provides advice to someone who can motivate and support clients in their journey to change. So if you are someone who like to help people figure out puzzles (like why aren’t they eating three fruits a day like they intend to) versus someone who like to only preach that is it important to eat fruit, then this job is for you! They days of telling people how to eat are over (thank goodness). Our clients know their bodies and minds the best and we are there to help them make the changes they are ready, willing and able to make. Not decide what is best for them.

12. If you could give any piece of advice to anyone about nutrition and eating right for their bodies, what would it be? 

Aim for a balanced approach to food. This means including fruit, vegetable, grain products, milk and alternatives and meat and alternatives every day. This also means leaving room for fun foods like cookies, cake and ice cream and enjoying them without feeling guilty. How often you eat these fun foods depends on your physical and mental needs.

Want to learn more about Lisa? Read her articles on the Huffington Post (linked earlier) and follow her on Twitter!

A huge thank you to Lisa for answering my long list of questions and for spreading the word about body positivity, everywhere.


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