Get Up and Dance. Dancing is not only great physical exercise it generates feelings of well-being, and best of all, according to research, it contributes greatly to improved mental acuity.
So many of us have tried dieting. All too often though, many of us lose 10–20 pounds, but we end up gaining it back. Not only is yo-yo dieting unhealthy, it is also demoralizing and makes us feel like giving up. What exactly do we have to do to achieve a healthy body weight and to stick with it forever?
In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve A Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently” we are interviewing health and wellness professionals who can share lessons from their research and experience about how to do this.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Trish McDonald.
Trish McDonald, according to her DNA profile, is 86% Irish. For a nutrition professional, this “blarney” heritage comes in handy when writing about personal struggles with weight loss. A retired supermarket nutritionist and education writer, McDonald’s credits include Family Circle President’s Award for the Eat Hearty Program, along with family and consumer sciences academic journal articles. McDonald’s debut novel, Paper Bags, will be published on 10//5/2021 @Woodhall Press.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My parents were both college-educated, married later in life, and had five children. I was the second-born and would wait nine more years before I have a baby sister. So, I was raised with three brothers, learned how to fight, and never threw a ball like a girl. Later when my mom went back to work, I started preparing meals and cleaning up after my brothers. It was the beginning of my home economics career.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My mother was the first home economist I ever knew. She began her career teaching with a class titled “Household Physics.” She used to tell me, “You can never go wrong with a job in home economics.” It was the 1950’s!
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
It’s 1995, I’ve been laid off from my job as a supermarket nutritionist, and I’m writing a book on women’s needs and fulfillment. Initially, I get interest from publishers, but I’m unable to sell them on the project. On a whim, I attend a meeting of home economics teachers and the keynote speaker is Roberta Brown, state supervisor in the vo-tech program in Pennsylvania.
Rob’s vision of the new field of family and consumer sciences is much more than a name change. She believes the teachers in the room will be laying the tracks, even forging the steel for the educational standards movement on the horizon.
I’m impressed by her message and her presentation, so I stay after, introduce myself, and volunteer to help her build the model. Later I find out her brother is a powerful congressman and I begin to understand her charismatic gift.
It will be the first time in my life my out-of-the-box thinking will be valued. Together with Rob and a team of teacher trainers, we will go on to be a part of the content standards and our teachers will become leaders in their home districts. Some will go on to become administrators, curriculum directors, even school superintendents.
I will gain a new-found sense of worth, become a consultant, and help school districts across the state as they move to create standards in their districts.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Call me Betty, as in Betty Crocker. I have a degree in home economics with a foods and nutrition focus, it’s early 1980s, and I’m working as a supermarket nutritionist with an office in the grocery store. I’m sure my job could have value, but no one really knows what to do with me. So, I connect with the local hospital and together we create the Eat Hearty Program.
I develop a shelf tag system denoting heart healthy foods and begin the laborious job of reading labels and affixing tiny heart stickers on the shelves. I’m a Virgo, so I’m methodical and a perfectionist. With thousands of foods in the grocery aisles, I have a system and I go about my evaluations diligently.
After months of deciphering labels, I arrive at the store, go to the area where I left off, glance down the row looking for my little hearts, and they’re gone. Not a red heart anywhere. My pulse is racing, and I spin around and head to the manager’s office. I barge right in and declare, “Someone has removed all my hearts from the shelf tags.”
He barely acknowledges my presence, “What? Oh that. We got new shelf tags throughout the store last night. Guess you’ll have to start over.”
I’m dismissed. All my work gone. I’m of no value to management. There is someone, however, who is irate — the customers who actually use those little hearts to choose healthier foods.
There’s a lesson here for me, but I struggle to see it because it’s a pattern that underlies all the decisions I make in my life. The pattern is based on basic beliefs I have about myself that are false. Unless I can change those beliefs, I’ll never be able to change the actions I take or the decisions I make.
At the time, I didn’t understand how systems worked. Later, I’ll study about structures and patterns and begin to make the kind of changes I need to create the life of my dreams. That day in the grocery store, while I hid the tears, I packed away this lesson — “I’m the only one who determines my worth.”
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
There’s a Richard Branson quote I love, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small.” I say, “Dream big — there’s no expiration on dreams.” By the way, I’ll be seventy-seven when my lifetime dream of publishing a novel comes true.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Currently, I’m gearing up for the publication of my first novel, Paper Bags, on October 5, 2021 @Woodhall Press. In the opening scene, a seventy-seven-year-old woman is remembering a long-ago love:
I keep my fears in a ledger, tucked away in a paper bag. My plan is to have someone burn these journals when I die — someone I can trust to torch them, not read them first. There are secrets I don’t want anyone to know. My fingers tremble as I reach for the match, to destroy the journals. I stop when I hear a distant refrain, a voice, wavering but clear, “My dearest — a story wants to be told. A love to be known. A secret to be set free.”
My hope is my story may help people understand love is the most important thing we can give to one another. Everything else pales in the face of a great love.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field?
Over my career I’ve seen changes in information about nutrition come and go, eat this, don’t eat that. At this point, everyone knows 1) to avoid sugar, 2) drink lots of water, 3) exercise, and 4) get 7–8 hours of sleep a night. Most people don’t even do one of the four. They get distracted by quick weight loss claims and they’re off on another diet.
After decades in the nutrition realm, I have the luxury of the long view. It’s clear to me the narrative needs to be about health, not losing weight. If we start to measure how much healthier we’re getting through lowering blood pressure, blood sugar and triglycerides, and we compute the data to show how many more years we’re going to live a vital life, now that’s motivation for anyone.
As a nutritionist and a systems thinker, my perspective allows me to look at the issues surrounding weight loss and overall health objectively. How can you assess how you’re doing health-wise if you only see your doctor once or twice a year? The missing link in the whole process of health span is a feedback system.
This critical piece may be a “biological clock” built on algorithms and data that support the healthy changes you’re making. A landmark study published April 12, 2021 (Fitzgerald, et al) in the journal Aging, is believed to be the first of its kind to document biological age reversal (a decrease of 3.2 years) with diet and lifestyle interventions. “The 8-week program included diet, sleep, exercise and relaxation guidance, and supplemental probiotics and phytonutrients. The control group received no intervention.”
This is not science-fiction. Three years can be added to your life by modifying your lifestyle. You won’t have to wait for your annual physical. The future is here and your health span will be the better for it.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about achieving a healthy body weight. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Healthy Body Weight”?
A “healthy body weight” combines two critical pieces: healthy and weight. To me the more important part is “healthy.” To determine health, you have to look at the markers: blood pressure, triglycerides, blood sugar. The weight is trickier, but I would be inclined to look at waist to hip ratio as more important than something like BMI.
How can an individual learn what is a healthy body weight for them? How can we discern what is “too overweight” or what is “too underweight”?
As an older person, I rely heavily on the markers currently used for the term “health” i.e. blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglycerides.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Can you please share a few reasons why being over your healthy body weight, or under your healthy body weight, can be harmful to your health?
It’s well-known that high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high triglycerides are harmful to your health and may in fact portend an early death.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few examples of how a person who achieves and maintains a healthy body weight will feel better and perform better in many areas of life?
Not only will you feel better and perform better but new research shows you can actually live longer. (Aging reference below.)
Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve a Healthy Body Weight And Keep It Permanently?”. If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
#1 — Feed Your Microbiome
“You can’t gain weight if you’re eliminating”
In 2016, I started teaching The Gut Class in my community. Probiotics and prebiotics are the magic duo. The premise is: You can’t gain weight if you’re voiding. Feeding the gut means eating prebiotic high fiber foods like onions, garlic, plant fibers, and seeds to fertilize the probiotics (kefir, yogurt, kombucha) resulting in a balanced microbiome. My cocktail is two tablespoons of hemp seeds and one tablespoon of ground flaxseed in 2–3 oz. of kefir every morning.
The best part of a balanced microbiome is the elimination. If bowel movements are consistent and often, you won’t gain weight or put weight back on. When your biome is in sync, those little critters do all the work. I look over my shoulder and down into the bowl, no need for anyone else’s applause. “Atta girl,” I say as I high five myself.
#2 — Get Up and Dance
“Try line dancing — you don’t need a partner”
Dancing is not only great physical exercise it generates feelings of well-being, and best of all, according to research, it contributes greatly to improved mental acuity.
#3 — Lift Some Weights
“Don’t have hand weights, grab a couple of soup cans”
The benefits you get from hefting a few cans, stay with you all day. Plus, weightlifting is especially helpful with posture and balance, all critical as we age.
#4 — Take Charge of Your Health
“Be proactive when you meet with your doctor”
I teach my doctor about kefir and kombucha — I even bring her starters.
Ask to have the results of your bloodwork emailed to you or set up a portal so you can view your labs before you see your doctor. If that is not possible, set up your own account with Quest or whatever lab your doctor uses. You will get your lab report when the doctor does. If you have trouble reading the results, just look for the colors: green means you’re where you need to be, red says you need to be concerned. Ask questions and find out what you can do to get healthier.
#5 — Believe in Your Dreams
When an agent commented to me, “Everything has an expiration date,” I bristled and decided to focus my book and my work on “No Expiration on Dreams.”
I believe it was my balanced microbiome encouraging me to be gutsy, and with that newfound courage, I wrote the novel — Paper Bags — a journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and sexual awakening.
Coming full circle, my gut gave my brain permission to be brave. Believing there is no expiration on dreams keeps me focused on keeping the weight off, staying healthy, active, and vital, while I’m marching to the tune “76 Trombones” — soon to be 77!
The emphasis of this series is how to maintain an ideal weight for the long term, and how to avoid yo-yo dieting. Specifically, how does a person who loses weight maintain that permanently and sustainably?
You have to change your lifestyle, start moving, and have a purpose.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to lose weight? What errors cause people to just snap back to their old unhealthy selves? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
Fad dieting is the biggest mistake most people make. It doesn’t work and it doesn’t last.
How do we take all this information and integrate it into our actual lives? The truth is that we all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
Basically, we don’t want to change. Even when we know the odds, either we don’t believe the odds, or we think we’ll beat the odds.
On the flip side, how can we prevent these ideas from just being trapped in a rarified, theoretical ideal that never gets put into practice? What specific habits can we develop to take these intellectual ideas and integrate them into our normal routine?
The best way to develop a habit is to start small and build on it. Simply adding a prebiotic and probiotic to your daily routine is an easy way to get started and your gut will thank you.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d work to create a feedback system that is so sorely missing in the whole health arena. I like the idea of the “biological clock” which could inform us all day long how we’re doing.”
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
My dream lunch date would be Michael Lewis (Money Ball, The Undoing Project) because he writes about the kinds of things that interest and fascinate me. Picking his brain about getting people to make changes in lifestyle could be crucial to the overall health of all Americans.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.