Grace Clark-Hibbs of Nutrition with Grace On The 5 Things You Need To Do To Achieve a Healthy Body Weight, And Keep It Permanently
Eat enough calories: I know this sounds counterintuitive but eating too few calories can put your body into starvation mode to conserve energy for essential functions like your heart, lungs, and brain. This means your metabolism slows down and your body starts to store fat to reserve energy. Therefore, people who cut their calories too much usually reach a plateau with their weight loss, which can be very frustrating. It is also next to impossible to sustain this level of cutting calories long-term.
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 Grace Clark-Hibbs.
Grace is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Portland, Oregon. She’s worked in school nutrition since the start of her career 5 years ago and recently launched a gut health nutrition blog, Nutrition with Grace. Stemming from personal experience, her focus here is to answer common gut health questions by sorting through current published research and presenting the information in a simple, easy to “digest” form, so women can stop treating the symptoms and finally get to the bottom of their digestive ailments.
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?
I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico with my parents, younger brother and an assortment of cats. Despite his being five years younger than I, my brother and I have always been close. Our personalities couldn’t be more different, but we are there for each other. I love looking back at old home videos, seeing how much fun we had growing up together. I must admit I was a very bossy big sister, but he was such a good sport. He let me dress him up, do his makeup, curl his hair, and drive him around in a stroller pretending I was his mom. We even choreographed a dance together that we were going to perform for the school talent show, but thankfully we never got around to it.
I was a shy child, so my parents put me in theater classes at a young age. This is where I developed a passion for performing. I loved it so much that I continued to participate in the same children’s theater program throughout my entire childhood and even became one of the teachers when I was old enough. I dabbled in on-camera acting as well. At the time, New Mexico was just starting to become a film hub and known for shows like Breaking Bad. To this day, I continue to love taking acting classes and dream of having my “big break”.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Not knowing what I wanted to do as an adult, I naturally started my college journey majoring in theater. However, something wasn’t clicking, and I realized I needed to find a new path. It was around this time that I also started to experience chronic digestive issues. There were always a few things wrong here and there, but now debilitating stomach cramps and problems going to the bathroom were part of my everyday life. Having no luck finding answers or relief from the doctors I was seeing, I decided to try to figure it out on my own and take my first nutrition class. What did I have to lose?
I like to say that the rest is history because this is where I learned I could major in nutrition science and have a career as a nutrition professional. My mind was truly blown. Not to say there weren’t a few bumps along the road (I remember thinking, “What did I get myself into??” when I found out that I had to complete a competitive internship and pass a credentialing exam to become an RDN), but I had finally found my second passion and desired career.
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?
Not to sound cliché, but my parents will forever be my biggest fans. They have always made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted to do and be whoever I wanted to be, even when my plan was to become a famous actress. My mom drove me to auditions and acting classes, stayed up late printing headshots and resumes, and was sincerely excited to tell everyone she knew that her daughter was an actress. My dad was always just as supportive. And lucky for me, he’s also a photographer and took all my headshots. To this day, I am excited to share every accomplishment and achievement with them because I know they are genuinely proud of me.
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?
I don’t have one specific story that comes to mind, but I have learned not to take myself too seriously, especially when managing others. I like to poke a little fun at myself to show that I am only human and am not perfect. It’s important to find a balance between demonstrating authority and expertise while also being relatable and approachable.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Listen from a place of openness, not oppose from a place of ego.”
I heard this quote while completing a Daily Calm meditation on the Calm app, and it has stuck with me ever since. I write it in my journal every morning and have even set it to pop up daily on my computer. I do this because sometimes I need a reminder to be as empathetic to those closest to me as I am to strangers. Throughout my career and my own gut health journey, I have learned that stress and anxiety are two of the most common causes of an unhappy gut, and having strained or unhealthy relationships can cause a lot of stress. Healthy relationships take work, and a huge part of that work is learning how to put your ego aside and listen openly.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
The most exciting project I am working on right now is building my new online business, Nutrition with Grace LLC. I started working on this in October of 2020, and it’s been slowly building ever since. The initial goals are to assist women in identifying why they are struggling with gut issues and then help them navigate what to do about it by creating a reliable, science-based resource. The ultimate goal is to build a large supportive community of fellow “digestively challenged” women that can confidently say they healed their guts. Unfortunately, there is an infinite amount of misleading, or even false, gut health information on the internet, so my dream is for Nutrition with Grace to become a worthy opponent of those inaccurate sites and people.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field?
I have been a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for five years and have a Master’s in Dietetic Administration. To become an RDN, I completed 1,200 hours of supervised practice through an accredited dietetic internship and passed a national credentialing exam. I also complete 75 hours of continuing education every five years to stay abreast of the current nutrition research and maintain my RDN credential.
In addition to my academic and professional qualifications, I have a very personal gut health journey that allows me to empathize, speak from experience, and relate on a human level to the people I work with.
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”?
This is a great question because it is so often misunderstood. A healthy body weight is going to be different for everyone and will change depending on their stage of life. The main thing to remember is that your body knows what weight is normal for you, and it will stabilize itself once you can focus on having a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and yourself. So much of reaching a healthy body weight is about shifting your mindset and learning to treat yourself with respect.
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”?
Our bodies actually have an ideal weight range versus a single number. This means that our weight is supposed to fluctuate from one day or week to the next, or even throughout a single day. This is normal. The only way you’re going to truly identify your own healthy weight is by getting back in touch with your body. Our bodies are amazing systems that are excellent at self-regulating. It’s when we override those internal systems that we run into issues. I will talk more about this in a minute, but re-learning how to eat intuitively is how your body will find its weight equilibrium.
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?
There is countless research to show that being overweight or obese is detrimental to your health. It puts your body in a constant state of inflammation and can put you at higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. It can also impact your digestion, your hormone levels, and your mental health. Besides the physical implications, having excess body weight can make everyday life more challenging as well. Fat-phobia, weight stigma, and isolation are actual challenges people in bigger bodies face daily.
Being underweight can be just as detrimental to your health as being overweight, but it gets far less attention. Being underweight leads to malnourishment, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormone imbalances, fatigue, poor immune function, and slow or impaired growth in children and young adults. And the long-term implications are severe. These include soft or brittle bones, an increased risk of osteoporosis, irregular or no periods in women, and infertility.
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?
So much of our self-worth and confidence is rooted in how we look (or think we look) to others. In my opinion, the biggest benefit of reaching a healthy body weight is the increase in self-confidence. Being in a place where you genuinely love and respect yourself will make you want to continue to take care of yourself. By not spending so much time and energy focusing on your weight, you will finally have the mental capacity to focus on what’s important. Like your friends, your family, your career, and of course, having fun.
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.
- Mindset shift: I’ve talked a lot about mindset in this interview; that’s because it is the primary thing that is standing in the way of your reaching your healthy weight goals. So much of what we think healthy looks like is influenced by traditional and social media, advertising and marketing campaigns, and outdated schools of thought. We are told by diet culture that we are unhealthy unless we look a certain way and the only path to look that way is to try the next fad diet. The fact of the matter is the vast majority of diets don’t work. Decades of research have shown that at least 80% of people who have lost a significant portion of their body weight will regain it (and sometimes more) within 12 months. We are set-up for failure. This is the foundation of the Intuitive Eating model, which was developed by two registered dietitians in 1995 and now has over 25 years of research to support its success. It teaches you how to stop relying on external cues to tell you what, when, and how much to eat and re-learn how to trust your internal cues. It goes against everything we were taught for generations, but it actually works.
- Eat enough calories: I know this sounds counterintuitive but eating too few calories can put your body into starvation mode to conserve energy for essential functions like your heart, lungs, and brain. This means your metabolism slows down and your body starts to store fat to reserve energy. Therefore, people who cut their calories too much usually reach a plateau with their weight loss, which can be very frustrating. It is also next to impossible to sustain this level of cutting calories long-term. Typically, the person will become too hungry and go into a binging mode, which ultimately leads to weight gain and overall feelings of failure. The damage being caused to other aspects of health includes hair loss, brittle fingernails, anemia, brittle bones, and poor digestion. Again, it is about shifting your mindset and understanding that calories are not the enemy.
- Ditch the scale: Recent research has shown that weighing yourself daily actually promotes future weight gain instead of loss. There is also a high chance of developing disordered eating habits, such as binge eating and compensatory behaviors (i.e., any behavior intended to relieve the guilt of eating). Fixating on an external characteristic (like a number on the scale) will take you out of your body and leave you out of touch with how you actually feel. You have to make the conscious decision that you will no longer focus on reaching a specific number and instead focus on your energy levels, your ability to do the activities you want to do, your enjoyment of the food you eat, and how healthy you feel.
- Gut check: Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) have been shown to make it challenging for many individuals to manage their weight. One reason being, these conditions upset the balance of weight regulating hormones produced by the gut, which leads to a slower metabolism, eventually leading to unintended weight gain. However, IBS and SIBO also make it challenging for some bodies to absorb energy and nutrients, leading to unintended weight loss. A second reason is that these conditions often lead to people changing their diets. Many people start eating less fiber-containing foods, such as fruits and vegetables, to avoid uncomfortable symptoms, resulting in a limited diet high in refined grains and low in fresh produce, making it harder to lose weight. Others will avoid eating altogether because they’re afraid of having a gut reaction, which ends up causing weight loss because they’re not getting enough energy. Lastly, IBS is also frequently linked with mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and overall high-stress levels, resulting in emotional eating patterns that lead to either excess energy intake and weight gain or not enough energy intake and weight loss. If you’re struggling to manage your weight, looking into the health of your digestive system may be the answer you’re looking for.
- Build a support system: The bottom line is, you don’t have to do this alone, nor should you do this alone. Your support system should include family, friends, physical and mental health professionals, coworkers, and whoever else makes sense to you. Surround yourself with those who will hold you accountable, will encourage you as you work towards your health goals, and will support you no matter what. I promise it will make all the difference.
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?
The key is to make intentional and sustainable lifestyle changes. Remember, “quick fixes” are always going to result in the yo-yo effect. You need to start with a solid foundation, which includes adjusting the way you think about yourself, your weight, and your food. Without this mindset shift, it is highly unlikely you will be able to maintain a consistent weight long-term.
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?
Some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen include obsessing over every calorie consumed, restricting certain foods because they are deemed “unhealthy,” and focusing on the number on the scale. Weight loss and weight management are more complicated than calories in vs. calories out. And, as I mentioned above, you may be making your weight loss goals more difficult to reach by eating too little. In addition, research shows that restricting foods based on their perceived healthfulness leads to feelings of scarcity, then to cravings, then to bingeing, and ultimately to feelings of shame. This cycle puts you right back where you started and nowhere closer to being the happy, healthy person you want to be. The goal is to get back in touch with your internal cues. This involves listening to what, when, and how much your body needs to eat instead of what, when and how much society says you need to eat. Don’t get me wrong, this mindset shift isn’t easy, and it will take some time, but the reward is worth it.
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?
Creating new habits is hard, especially if you’re trying to make multiple changes at one time. The key to successful long-term lifestyle change is to pick something small, something that you know is achievable, and to give yourself a deadline. When that deadline comes around, check-in with yourself and decide whether you need to continue working on that goal or if it’s time to make a new one. Focusing on the small, achievable goals will prevent you from getting overwhelmed, feeling like a failure, and giving up. And before you know it, you have started a new daily habit you can stick to!
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?
If you’ve been struggling to reach your healthy body weight for a long time, the best thing you can do is work with a trusted healthcare provider (like a dietitian) specializing in behavior change. Not all healthcare providers are created equal, so make sure you find one who you connect with and who you know has your best interests in mind. Like I mentioned earlier, you do not need to do this alone.
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 would love to inspire the masses to stop focusing on reaching unrealistic beauty and body ideals and instead focus on physical and mental health. The weight-loss messages we are bombarded with from the media, celebrities, influencers, and even many health professionals are reaching our children as young as six years old. It’s heartbreaking to hear a child talk about how they don’t like what they see in the mirror because they don’t look like someone else. As a society, we should be supporting our next generation, not making them feel less-than because they don’t have a “thigh gap.”
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 :-)
I would LOVE to get a meal with Reese Witherspoon. First of all, she is an amazing actress, and I look up to how she chooses to use her platform. Second, before her death, I grew close to the casting director who cast Reese in her first movie, Man In The Moon (if you haven’t seen this movie, see it now!). I would love a chance to remember Sharie Rhodes with someone who also knew her well. Lastly, I admire her as bad a** businesswoman! There is a lot to look up to.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Join me at my nutrition and gut health focused blog at www.nutritionwithgracerdn.com. If you like what you read or want to learn about something specific, let me know. I’m here to serve!
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Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.