Through Twitter and Facebook I have gotten to know Sumner Brooks, RD, MPH. I love her entire "not on a diet" philosophy and was thrilled to learn she would gladly be interviewed by me for Guiltless. Read on!
What exactly do you do Sumner? I listen to clients’ health and fitness goals and coach them through nutrition and behavior changes that will ultimately help them to reach their personal place of optimal health and wellness. As a registered dietitian (RD), I own a private nutrition consulting practice in Redondo Beach, CA called Not On A Diet, where I specialize in weight management, disordered eating, and sports nutrition. My approach encourages clients to learn Intuitive Eating techniques and I focus heavily on a foundation of building a healthy relationship with food and with your self. This often involves helping people transition from a dieting mentality to a self-care mentality.
How did you become certified to do this? Back in 2002 I took a basic human nutrition course at the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), where I was studying journalism. At the time I was struggling with dieting and disordered eating which went unrealized for many years, so naturally I was instantly was drawn to nutrition as a career opportunity. I pursued my BS in food and nutrition from San Diego State University in 2004. From there, I completed a dual masters and dietetic internship program in LA with the UCLA School of Public Health and the VA hospital in West LA. After two years as an RD, I’m proud to say I obtained the certification in sports nutrition (CSSD) last Summer and incorporate sports nutrition into my practice as well.
-Why doesn't dieting work? Dieting creates rules around food. We all know, just even by watching young children learn and grow, that when rules are set around something that should be intuitive, humans want to do just the opposite. I think eating should be an intuitive experience. Research and experience have shown me that dieting ultimately carries an underlying theme of being a “quick fix.” You never really hear people say they plan to do a diet for the rest of their life. That’s where the yo-yo weight fluctuations come in, and a person finds him or her self stuck in a cycle where the only solution becomes going on another diet. Dieting tends to involve not feeding the body what it physiologically needs, and ignoring natural preferences and desires. Subsequently, a dieter feels compelled to overcompensate, overeat, or to eat as a result of feeling deprived. The diet undoes itself and leaves you in a state of confusion and hopelessness.
How do you work with clients if you're not putting them on a diet? I guide my clients on the journey to a place where they can feel comfortable with their rate of progress, even if that means slow or no weight change at times. Working with me, clients become confident that they have the knowledge and the tools to listen to their body and respond in a way that promotes health. For example, I see a great deal of benefit in helping an individual to realize when they’re eating for hunger and when they’re eating as a response to an emotion. I teach people how to feed their body’s physiological needs, so they can clearly hear their body’s hunger and fullness messages. When you’re on a diet, all you can hear are the rules and “shoulds” which make it very difficult to listen to what your body is telling you. I focus on eating enough total energy to meet each unique person’s needs so they can learn to associate hunger as a good sign, to not fear fullness, and to see eating as a way to take care of oneself.
Why is our relationship with food so important in our lives? As someone who struggled for many years with an unhealthy relationship with food, I can now appreciate the value of being present every day in my life, rather than being constantly distracted by food and weight. Food is often closely associated with events, memories, and emotions. It can evoke joy, comfort and it can certainly be a special thing to share with someone because food can be so highly enjoyable for multiple sensory experiences like taste, sight, sell and even mouthfeel (touch). When a person has a destructive relationship with food, it takes away from that healthy enjoyment and pleasure of eating and experiencing food. I think having a healthy relationship with food is most important to have balance in daily life. A person’s mind, energy and emotions are free to experience all that life has to offer outside of body size, weight, and fear of food which can be all-consuming for so many people struggling with food battles.
What is your top tip for improving one's relationship with their body and food? Dive in to your emotions! My top tip is to practice not reacting to tough situations with food. A tough situation to me, as I learned from Evelyn Tribole, RD, is when you are vulnerable. Vulnerable may mean you’re stressed, anxious, exhausted, sad or worried. These are not pleasant feelings for anyone to have. If you can practice just sitting with those feelings in the moment, for 5-15 minutes, and just feel them without reacting or needing to experience temporary pleasure from food, you are well on your way to separating using food for emotions and using food for fuel. The tail end of this tip is to be at peace with yourself when you do overeat more than you planned. This is why I love Guiltless so much, it is an incredibly valuable place to be, Guiltless.
Why is guilt about our bodies or food choices toxic? Guilt feels incredibly heavy. I think it tears people down instead of building them stronger. Guilt fuels self-doubt. It reinforces to someone that they have failed before and they will fail again, even though that doesn’t have to be true. I’m not sure what the true opposite of guilt is, but to me, the opposite feeling of guilt is confidence. If one can believe they have what it takes to make gradual changes and evolve closer into their wellness vision, they will be successful with practice gradually over time. Instead of guilt, funnel that energy into being present and making the most of each moment. Learn from your behaviors and don’t judge yourself. Guilt is like throwing your paycheck in the trash - it does nothing for you! Most of all, enjoy what you eat no matter what it is!