Our nutrition goals should work for us. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to health and wellness. We all come from different cultures and different backgrounds. Which means we eat different foods and we need to find what works for us so we can eat what we like and not feel restricted.
Counting calories is not a realistic task for many people. It’s tedious, and can be counterproductive in building a healthy relationship with the food we eat. But, simply put, when on a journey to lose weight or maintain one’s weight, being mindful of energy intake and energy expenditure is key.
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 Aderet Dana Hoch.
Aderet Dana Hoch, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian based in New York. She graduated from NYU with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition & Dietetics and from Teachers College Columbia University with a Masters degree in Nutrition Education. She is the founder of Dining with Nature by Aderet, a general nutrition private practice that specializes in health & wellness and plant-based nutrition.
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 Westchester, New York, the third child in a family of six. We were raised in a Modern Orthodox Jewish home, observing many holidays and the weekly Shabbat. As with most holidays, these days were often centered around food.
I followed a pretty typical path for the world I grew up in. I went to a Jewish Day School in the Bronx from nursery through high school. I spent my summers in day camp and then later sleep-away camp. We took family trips to Israel to see extended family and vacations were mostly road trips. I had the privilege of taking a gap year between high school and college to live and attend school in Israel. And like most children who grew up in the ’90s, I had Barbies, board games, American Girl dolls, Tamagotchis, pogs, Skip-It, WB/CW Teen TV Dramas, and boy band music to keep my friends and me entertained.
I’d say my childhood ended the day my Dad, lovingly, in my freshman year of college, told me to get a job, open a bank account, said “Shabbat Shalom”, and hung up the phone.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Like a lot of teenagers I struggled with my weight and those pesky adolescent body changes. My doctor recommended that me and my older sister see a nutritionist. I remember being hesitant about the idea and questioned if it was necessary. My sister instantly agreed though and, being the younger and more impressionable sister, I agreed to go along.
When I look back on the experience I actually don’t think it immediately contributed to me eating healthier. I had no understanding or awareness when it came to health and nutrition and probably needed more than just weekly counseling for a couple of months. However, it launched an internal process of considering weight as something more than just what you see on the outside. As I also enjoyed science, education and food, my decision to study nutrition in college became an easy one.
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?
I’ve been lucky enough to have many people in my life who encouraged me to keep pursuing my goals through the many years of balancing full time work and school.
Ultimately though, I’d be nowhere without my family. Coming from a big family means a lot of chaos and a lot of opinions, but also a lot of love and people who genuinely care about you and your success. My parents specifically have given me incalculable amounts of help and encouragement.
While there are countless stories I could tell of my parents bending over backwards to support me on a daily basis, here’s one:
After I finished school, I knew that I wanted to open a private practice. My dad has run his own private law practice for as long as I can remember so I presented my seedling of a plan to him. He quickly jumped on board and together we fleshed it out into a viable business plan and started working through the technicalities of running a small business — finances, legal paperwork, taxes, insurance and more. Simultaneously my mom provided an invaluable sounding board as I articulated my mission and advised me on how to market my practice. She works in education and was also able to help me turn my ideas into actions, and network within her contacts to start getting my name out. Their support made this venture much less daunting and gave me the tools and confidence to jump into this new stage in my career.
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?
During my Freshman year of college, a nutrition & dietetics major, I was required to take a food science course that had a lab component. The lab was a basic cooking course. We started with herbs and spices, and ended the semester with dessert. When we got to the fish lesson, this was my first experience cooking a non-kosher ingredient. Fish like salmon and tuna is something I had worked with before, but not seafood like shellfish and shrimp. I already was cooking in this class without tasting anything I made, so to add the brand new ingredient to my required cooking was a challenge. I distinctly remember every step of cleaning, prepping and cooking the shrimp. It was an absolute disaster! I was a fish out of water. I remember thinking how this must be so easy for people who eat this food and it gave me insight into food familiarity. We tend to assume that the way we eat is the “norm” and everyone eats the same way. But in reality we are all shaped by our cultures when it comes to food and what may seem like a mainstream diet to us, is not to someone else. When working with people to adjust their eating habits in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle, it’s very important to me to understand their background, culture, likes and dislikes and build a program that works within their personal boundaries.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite life lesson quote is “mind over matter”. This applies to so many aspects of daily life where in the day-to-day it can be difficult to see the big picture. But being able to step back from a moment or a day will help in meeting your long-term goals. I had the goal of becoming a Dietitian since I was 16 years old and only now, at the age of 31 and fully immersed in my career, can I reflect back on the journey to get here. We don’t tend to see it when we’re in it but I see now how much patience and perseverance it required. The experiences I’ve had along the way have been invaluable learning opportunities and I would not change anything. For so long all I wanted was to reach this point and many times I felt like it was impossible. At times I even felt defeated. Pushing myself to step back and realize how much I had accomplished so far helped me envision the light at the end of the tunnel, and I was able to push through. It required a lot of mind over matter.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I have been working on two major, ongoing projects. One is content creation for social media and my website, and the other is a nutrition education curriculum for schools, workplaces, and other community organizations. The content is centered around the mission of my practice, bridging the gap between clinical nutrition and the world of food sustainability. The curriculum I am designing will allow anyone armed with this knowledge to be able to create meal plans for themselves that are healthy and environmentally sound, with the goal of preventing public health risks such as diabetes and heart disease, while also reconnecting people to the food they eat.
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 working and studying in the field of fitness, food, and nutrition for over 10 years. My first experiences working in the field were during college, I worked at the school fitness center part-time, interned for a nutrition private practice and the NYC Department of Health. I also volunteered as a patient nutrition educator at the NYU Medical Center.
After graduating NYU with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, I went on to work in the food service industry for several years. I managed a NYC-based café that was part of a wholesale food company. When I started graduate school, I began working full-time as a Program Manager for a non-profit, focusing on nutrition and fitness programming for underserved communities in NYC. I graduated from Teachers College Columbia University with a Masters of Science degree in Nutrition Education and went on to my Dietetic Internship program at Columbia. My Internship year included clinical rotations in long-term care and hospitals, and community rotations with private practice and non-profit. I obtained my credentials as a Registered Dietitian, and license as Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist in the State of NY and opened my private practice, Dining with Nature by Aderet.
I counsel clients, educate groups, and consult with food brands committed to sustainability. My extensive work experience, years of on-going education, and credentials as a Dietitian, all contribute to making me an authority on health and wellness.
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”?
Body weight refers to the total weight of bone, muscle, organs, body fluids, and fat tissue in our body. “Healthy” body weight is defined as a weight range for the individual person that is appropriate for their height, age, gender, body composition, and health status. Most importantly, a healthy body weight considers all the physiological and physical factors in addition to how a person feels, and whether they are happy and comfortable with themselves.
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”?
There are a few clinical methods of measurement for healthy body weight that are used and they are all used in combination with each other to obtain a full picture of the individual. This includes BMI (Body Mass Index), weight, height, ideal body weight range (based on gender and height), body composition, and biochemical analysis.
Although there is a trend right now to shift away from using BMI as a calculator for overweight and underweight, it is still widely accepted in clinical practices to discern “too overweight” or “too underweight”. At the end of the day, how you feel is going to matter more than any number. People know their own bodies better than anybody and it’s in their hands to discern how they feel.
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?
Both being under your healthy body weight or over your healthy body weight can carry long-term health consequences.
Healthy body weight maintenance is about long-term health. It’s about preventing and lowering your risk for certain diseases and health conditions that can be fatal or simply diminish your quality of life. This includes conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, osteoarthritis, breathing issues, and some cancers.
But it is not only limited to physical and physiological conditions, some people experience depression, anxiety, and other related mental health disorders. Additionally, both underweight and overweight individuals can experience micronutrient deficiencies (leading to such things as anemia or osteoporosis), weakened immune system, and fertility issues, if they are not receiving proper nutrition.
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?
Overall, maintaining a healthy body weight is often correlated with a greater life expectancy, assuming that it is accompanied by a generally healthy lifestyle. Meaning, you lower your risk of developing many chronic diseases and can potentially live a long and happy life.
By maintaining a healthy body weight you could improve your quality of sleep! A good night’s sleep is one of the most important elements of health and wellness. Not getting the rest our body’s need (7–9 hours a night) is not going to benefit us the next day and over time it takes a toll on our health.
Externally, a healthy body weight for many people means self-confidence. It means feeling comfortable in their own skin and willing to put themselves out there. I say to my clients that “comparison is the thief of joy”. We don’t benefit from comparing our bodies to others because every person is different and what we see on the outside is not always reflected on the inside. We should strive to find a healthy body weight that makes us feel good about ourselves and not worry about what others have to say or what they look like. Yes, this is easier said than done!
And lastly, achieving a healthy body weight can mean more energy for daily life tasks. Two major tasks that seem to weigh on people (pun intended!) are working out and what to have for dinner. I sympathize with both of these. They are daily tasks that take time and thought and our day-to-day lives do not typically have room for this level of self-care. But if you prioritize your health, you will create a lifestyle that does not feel burdensome, where dinner is planned or prepared and you don’t give one thought to your set fitness routine.
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. Our nutrition goals should work for us. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to health and wellness. We all come from different cultures and different backgrounds. Which means we eat different foods and we need to find what works for us so we can eat what we like and not feel restricted.
Counting calories is not a realistic task for many people. It’s tedious, and can be counterproductive in building a healthy relationship with the food we eat. But, simply put, when on a journey to lose weight or maintain one’s weight, being mindful of energy intake and energy expenditure is key.
How do we reconcile this? The first step is to keep your home stocked with all your favorite fruits and veggies so they are always there for you to snack on or add to your plate. Furthermore, when we plan our meals we should center them around the fruits and vegetables we have planned to eat, instead of the grain or protein. Using the plate as a measure we can fill one half of the plate with our favorite plants and the other half is split between grain and protein. In this way, it will allow you to eat the foods you like and control your portion sizes, without having to count calories.
Lastly, eat slow and enjoy your food!
As an example, I had a young adult client come to me with high cholesterol. It was not dangerously high but her doctor wanted her to make changes to her diet and come back in 3 months to have her blood drawn again. She was specifically advised to eat more fiber.
When she came to me I agreed that an increase in fiber would be the best course of action but that it was more than just simply adding fiber, that there was a general lifestyle change needed. She was hesitant at first about the changes, but we decided to take it slowly and analyze how she feels week-to-week. I showed her how to measure out her meals using the plate and finding the fruits and vegetables she’s willing to eat, even if it’s not that many. Not only was she able to lower her cholesterol but she lost some weight, and has evolved her taste preferences for whole grains, fruits and vegetables. She said to me, “I like salad now!”
2. Stay hydrated — “Drink more water” is one of the first things I will tell a client during our first session if they are looking to manage their weight. Drinking water comes with a wide range of benefits including relieving bloat, fatigue, dehydration, and skin issues. There is no downside to staying hydrated. Keep a water bottle on you and aim for 64 fluid ounces in a day.
While I was working as a volunteer program manager, I would run one-off projects for corporate volunteers mostly during the summer. Since I primarily managed children’s programming, I would lead groups of volunteers in public schools throughout NYC. The projects I typically ran for these groups were fitness-related and in the summer we would aim to hold these projects outside.
When I was new to the job I was instructed to order water bottles to distribute at lunch time. But as time went on, I noticed that in the summer heat not having water available for the kids and volunteers during a fitness project, and only after, did not make sense. I could see the fatigue in both the adults and kids. In addition, it did not seem fiscally responsible to buy individual water bottles for during and after the project — these projects could include upwards of 100 people. I began ordering those large jugs of water and cups, and distributed them throughout the project. I immediately noticed a difference in the quality of my projects. Having cold water readily available is a simple way to improve your day and your energy to complete your tasks.
3. Life is unpredictable — We can’t always know exactly how our day is going to go, even if we have our life planned out hour to hour. Sticking to a general outline of a routine is going to help with healthy weight maintenance. This includes meal planning or thinking ahead about your week, getting sleep, and some physical activity. Our lives are not the same day-to-day and flexibility and creativity are important.
When you find yourself indulging now and then in foods like pizza and cake, don’t punish yourself. Instead, acknowledge them and how you felt before and after. These foods exist in the world. Find a way to take control of the situation and allow yourself these moments — in moderation — without feeling guilty.
This summer is particularly challenging for my clients. As we slowly, cautiously reemerge now that many people are vaccinated and socializing more, we are excited to have a season that is known for hangouts and traveling. Clients will tell me about their experience at a BBQ or a wedding they recently attended where there were temptations to overindulge in refined carbohydrates, red meat, and alcohol, foods they are generally trying to eat less of. They might tell me beforehand how they are worried and ask what the best course of action is in these scenarios. I explain that the fact they are even recognizing that these are challenging situations shows that they are becoming conscious eaters and that in and of itself is an amazing step to take. I also explain that going into the scene prepared, whether that means not going to the event hungry or offering to bring their own food dish as a contribution to the meal will help ease any pressure they may feel in the moment. Afterwards, clients report that going in with this mindset helped them be able to relax and enjoy the event, as opposed to feeling guilty afterwards.
4. Listen to your body’s signals — We often don’t listen to what our body is trying to tell us, but even just recognizing when you are hungry and when you are full gives you more control. Listening to the signals from your body can come in the form of a tummy grumble, fatigue, lack of ability to concentrate, or being “hangry”.
While I was working as a manager at a café in SoHo Manhattan, I would often work 8–9 hour shifts on the floor and then tack on another 4–5 hours of administrative work. These long, busy days would leave me little time to eat and I could go hours “without feeling hungry.” Ironically, I was very attuned to whether my team members needed a break or something to eat, and was quick to make sure they got it. But when it came to myself, I would push beyond my limits almost daily.
As a result, I burned myself out and wasn’t performing to the best of my ability. I learned that even if I think I am “not hungry”, that does not mean I don’t need food. I needed to learn to listen to my body beyond the traditional signs of hunger and satiety in order to be motivated to pack snacks and take breaks in my day to sit and eat.
5. Exercise — Exercise does not require a gym membership. The goal is to not have a sedentary lifestyle. Our bodies are meant to move. Taking a daily 15–20 minute walk can really do wonders. If you’re looking for more, there are so many affordable options for staying physically active (without expensive gym memberships or equipment). Beyond running or biking there is yoga, dance, kickboxing, strength training, etc. Oftentimes, you can find classes for these online for free!
Exercise can increase our lean body mass (ratio of total body weight to body fat weight, meaning all components that contribute to our body weight, except fat) that will in turn add to our Resting Metabolic Rate (calories burned during rest) and the use of more of the energy we take in. Exercise can also improve our cardiovascular health, increase insulin sensitivity, and use energy (i.e. calories!). We are constantly learning from new research about the health benefits of exercise, and how they can improve both our physical and mental health, both during and after a workout.
A few years ago I was in between jobs and I started going to free yoga classes as a way to relieve stress and keep busy. I started doing this 3 times a week and it grew to a daily habit. I could not stand skipping even just one day. I learned that the key to consistently working out is finding something you enjoy. If you don’t like it, you won’t stick to it. Simple as that.
This may sound cheesy but yoga allowed me to connect with my body in a more positive way, and be less obsessed with what I saw in the mirror or in a photo. It made me appreciate my body’s capacity and abilities. Working out stopped being a burden and a chore but something I could physically feel was good for me and that I wanted to keep doing. I still practice yoga and I have now incorporated strength training, cardio, HIIT, and mobility into my routine with Le Sweat.
It took me years to build up to where I am now, a lot of trial and error, and a heaping tablespoon of patience. Now I can’t imagine life without daily fitness. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
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?
Once you have reached your desired, healthy body weight, you’re not done. Now it needs to become a lifestyle.
Weight maintenance requires patience. You may not see the results you want for 6 months, or you may see them after 3 weeks, but the point is that if you approach weight management as a journey to a healthier lifestyle, then you won’t fall into the trap of yo-yo dieting. Gradually, by making small changes you will discover that your lifestyle has evolved and it’s not the same as it was 2 years prior.
At the same time, be flexible and kind to yourself. Life is unpredictable, so allow yourself to change and adjust as necessary. Be okay with constantly reassessing and reevaluating your situation, and exploring new ideas. In the end, the goal is to build a positive relationship with your body and your food.
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?
It’s the extremist approach to eating, where you have to take drastic measures to lose weight. These are not sustainable, and you will inevitably gain the weight back, when you either fall off the wagon or believe you “completed” the diet. This “failure” makes people want to give up. Maintaining a healthy body weight is a lifelong habit, and there will be ups and downs. If you are committed to making a change that is not just a temporary fix but rather adopting a new and more positive relationship with your body and the food you eat, you will not only achieve the weight you want but you will also improve your quality of life.
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?
Yes, I agree that people generally have the right knowledge for making healthy decisions. In my opinion, what they lack is motivation, which means not knowing how to prioritize. Acknowledge that this will take effort.
Changing behavior does not happen overnight. There is temptation everywhere and we are busy. It’s so much easier to order take-out for dinner every night than it is to cook from scratch. Make time for yourself and for your health. Listen to your body and step back from the moment. The first step I tell my clients to take is to make a list of reasons why you are committed to making a change. This is for your eyes only. Keep it posted up in a private place or as a note in your phone. This active step alone is going to set you on a good path.
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?
- Part of taking control of your setting is taking the time to prepare your own meals. This is not a task many people feel comfortable with but it’s never too late to give it a go. Explore the cookbook section of your local bookshop. Find the one that you like and bookmark the recipes you want to try. There are so many great books out there these days that will even instruct you on how to set up your kitchen and what staples you should keep in your pantry. Following a recipe does not have to be complicated and that throws a lot of people off. You don’t have to be a professional or an “expert” to prepare a healthy meal.
- Get excited about the food you are going to eat! Grocery shopping is a chore and most of us would rather get a Fresh Direct order sent to us once a week and skip out on perusing the aisles. But if you can find the time to do your own shopping even just once or twice a month, it will be a game changer for how you approach your food. Consider including the whole family. Take a Saturday or Sunday trip to your local farmer’s market. Maybe even look into growing your own garden! (Start with one easy vegetable like tomatoes or a basil plant). Get to know your food providers and where your food comes from. This will benefit your health and our environment.
- Explore all the types of physical activity that seem even remotely interesting to you. Don’t box yourself into running or biking. There are so many forms of fitness that may be something you enjoy. Don’t worry too much about whether it’s cardio or if it’s intensive enough. It’s more important that you enjoy it, so that it won’t feel like a burden. Try starting with looking for free events in your city that may be going on. It’s summertime and it’s the season for fun outdoor activities!
- Take it one week or one day at a time. Set your long-term goals and then create short-term, week-to-week, goals that will get you where you want to go. At the end of each week evaluate and reflect on the week before, see where you need to adjust, what worked and what didn’t. By taking small steps to the larger goal, you will learn more about yourself and be able to make a sustainable achievement.
- Hold yourself accountable. There is generally the option of finding a family or friend who is also looking to take on a healthier lifestyle and you can work together to set realistic goals and check-in with each other. If not, there is the option of working with an expert like a Dietitian who can professionally guide you in building and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Find your support system.
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.
As a Dietitian, I think we have a responsibility to act as leaders in the sustainable food systems movement. We are healthcare providers who counsel people on what and how to eat, and stay active. We can counsel individuals and groups on how to better interact with their environment in a way that is both healthy for them and for the planet. After the last year of the pandemic, we are now constantly discussing two major issues — preventative healthcare and the climate crisis. But these are not separate issues, they overlap in many ways. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to motivate people to want to nurture themselves and their environment, through taking an active role in their personal health and the health of the planet.
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 🙂
It would be a great pleasure to meet Alice Waters. Alice Waters is the founder of the farm-to-table movement and creator of the edible schoolyard program, and has been a leader in reforming the national school lunch program and improving access to healthy food. As an influential female leader in the food and nutrition field, specifically pushing for access to healthy food, and wanting to reconnect people to the food they eat, she has had a great influence on my own work and my approach to health and wellness. I admire what she has done for the food movement and it would be an honor to have the opportunity to speak to her and learn from her.
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.