You need to know how to enjoy your favorite foods without guilt. People tend to think they aren’t successful with weight loss because they are out of control around certain foods they love. Individuals tend to think if they can stop eating that food, everything will be okay. This is not true. This backfires because once you’re inevitably around that food again, you overindulge and the shame ensues. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and clients that learn how to enjoy foods they love free of guilt, find more success in losing weight and maintaining it. They realize it’s not the food, it’s how they perceive the food as off-limits. Naturally, we’re drawn to things we can’t have, so if you’re allowed to have the food, it no longer has such an appeal.
We had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Laura Gaston.
Laura Gaston is a Registered Dietitian and the Founder of Busy Gal Nutrition, a comprehensive service designed for busy women who are ready to ditch diet culture and replace it with proven tactics that garner lasting health results. Laura’s belief is that women shouldn’t have to choose between loving their food and having the body, confidence, energy, and health goals that they want and need. Her qualifications include earning her Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Samford University, her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics, her Certificate of Training in Integrative and Functional Nutrition from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the completion of the Maternal and Child Health Nutrition Traineeship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Pediatric Pulmonary Center.
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 was raised by two incredible, yet super busy parents who had full-time careers in Washington D.C. As a result, much of my childhood was spent in afterschool programs and daycare. That sense of independence is likely what fueled my desire to become an entrepreneur as an adult. Over the last decade, I observed my parents in their go-getter environments and learned from their habits and routines that healthy nutritional practices have huge impacts on our energy, stamina, and general well being. Now, I get to help busy women — just like my mom — learn how to live healthier, happier lives all while on the go!
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
One theme that was persistent throughout my childhood was diet culture and struggles with weight and health. Several of my family members had diabetes, were continuously on and off diets, and some ended up braving weight loss surgery. I noticed that regardless of what approach my family members took, they felt they had to give up the foods they loved to lose weight and be healthy. This view made it difficult for them to make any long-term changes.
As a child, I was always a very picky eater, and I had poor eating habits until high school when I had unbearable acne that I could not get rid of. It really negatively impacted my confidence and I was desperate to do anything to make it better. I was ultimately inspired to eat healthier foods and change my eating habits when I read in magazines that higher quality nutrition could help with my skin. It took several years for me to clear up my skin, but I instantly felt better once I adjusted my nutritional habits. I started feeling more comfortable in my body and clothes and began to enjoy the healthier foods I was eating. That was when my passion for nutrition began.
When I began college, I was a pre-pharmacy major. During my studies, I had to drop a math class that I was enrolled in. Before I went to drop the class, I was looking through my University’s course catalog and realized that nutrition and dietetics was a major. That day, I switched to nutrition and made plans to become a dietitian.
Instagram was the inspiration for my career today. In school I learned all about the clinical jobs I could have in a hospital, but none of them felt personal enough to me. I wanted to build close connections to the people I worked with, and I wanted to know that I was truly making a difference in their lives. I saw people on Instagram posting recipes, sharing nutrition education, and talking about the clients they worked with, and I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do with my 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?
I was fortunate that my family empowered me from a young age to do what I was passionate about. I’ve also had really great teachers that contributed to my self-confidence by encouraging me to pursue new opportunities. The two people that have had the biggest impact on my career are my long-term boyfriend and my business mentor. My boyfriend, who is also an entrepreneur, encouraged me to start my business long before I thought I was ready. He has opened my eyes to possibilities I hadn’t thought of, and has always supported my dreams. Since he is a software engineer, he helped my dreams become a reality by helping me build my website and social media.
I also made an early decision to invest in a business mentor that has taught me the business skills that I hadn’t had the opportunity to learn in college. My mentor guided me to pursue opportunities that would have normally been out of my comfort zone, resulting in actions that have led to the biggest growth in my career.
Now I get to be that source of confidence and support for the women I work with. My job is making my clients know they’re capable of anything when they start to doubt themselves or think about giving up. Throughout my career, I’ve learned that you must seek discomfort in order to grow. I have discovered that stalling on a decision, or putting off your goals until you are “ready” does not lead to future success. Although it is not an easy skill to master, learning how to make decisions outside of your comfort zone is how I have observed the most progress professionally and personally.
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’ve learned countless times that every time I speak publicly I’m not as prepared as I think I am! However, I’ve learned to think on my feet, and I have confidence in myself as an expert. I know how to deliver value while having fun and being myself. I think that being authentic is always better than being perfectly organized.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Progress over perfection”- this quote is true in business and in the work I do with my clients. People want everything they do to be perfect, and believe it’s not worth doing if it isn’t. But, if you aim for perfection, you’ll never get anything done! I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be perfect to be influential. When you’re building a business, you just have to start and build things along the way. When you’re starting a health and fitness journey, you just have to start and learn/adjust along the way. You’ll get much further if you focus on making progress instead of being perfect.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m expanding my business by hiring and training additional dietitians to help more clients! I’ve found that the best way I can help my clients is through getting to know them, helping them with highly personalized solutions, and talking through their concerns at length. However, this is time-consuming and limits my ability to help a larger client base. Hiring more dietitians is giving me the opportunity to give that one-on-one support to more people, while simultaneously giving another dietitian the dream job I wish had existed for me.
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 my Undergraduate Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, a Master’s in Nutrition Science, and I have completed a highly competitive dietetic internship. Post-graduation, I completed a Maternal and Child Health sponsored Pediatric Pulmonary Center nutrition traineeship program where I was trained in leadership, patient care, and solving rare and complex health problems. Aside from my formal education, I’m a lifelong learner. Keeping up with the latest nutrition research is important because nutrition research is relatively new and rapidly changing. I feel what really makes me an authority in my field is my extensive real-life experience. Everyday, I am having conversations with women, and seeing what benefits them in real life outside of controlled research. I’ve helped hundreds of women, and through my partnership with my clients, I’m continually learning about better ways to help each of them reach their goals.
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 is a long-term weight range you can maintain with healthy habits while also having balanced digestion, energy, and normal stress levels that do not sacrifice mental health. Healthy body weight is not a specific number, but rather a range because our weight fluctuates about 5 lbs depending on hormones and fluid retention. I stress with my clients that it’s okay to have a goal weight in mind, but the most important aspect to healthy weight is weight maintenance. For example, if a lower weight is not sustainable to you and you tend to yo-yo up and down, research shows that this is not good for your heart health, bone density, or hormone balance to have a goal weight. It’s important to note that body composition is an influential factor when it comes to true health. Depending where you are in your journey, the healthiest body weight for you may mean gaining a few pounds in muscle or body fat to have healthier hormones. But, a healthy body weight does not require giving up your favorite foods, or letting other biofeedback like energy, stress and digestion decline.
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”?
It’s important to look at several things when determining weight goals for women: genetics, underlying conditions, blood work, body composition, diet history, and hormone balance. Dietitians also use information from a nutrition-focused physical exam. This information includes: their skin health, hair health, grip strength, muscle to fat ratio, and levels of pain/inflammation in their joints. For an individual, I would encourage them to look beyond BMI and instead think about how they feel in their body. It’s important to start with how you feel, and then get bloodwork done to determine what’s healthy for you.
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?
A woman that is too underweight will have disturbances in her energy, digestion, sleep, skin and hair health, and menstrual cycle due to lack of body fat. She could also have abnormal blood work and brittle bones. A woman that is too overweight may have similar symptoms due to increased visceral fat. We now know that people can have fantastic health in a range of sizes, but being too overweight or underweight for your body can pose risks to your quality of life and longevity. We also know that the way body fat is distributed is important as well: higher visceral fat (the fat around your midsection) can be dangerous to heart health and make it difficult for your organs to communicate for vital bodily processes to continue as normal.
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?
Someone who is maintaining a healthy body weight will sleep well, enjoy an active lifestyle, have regular digestion, think clearly, have stronger immune function, and have strong bones. When you feel well, you perform better at work and in your activities of daily living- you lift more at the gym, you enjoy your children more, and you accomplish more at home. When the women I work with achieve their goals, they feel more confident. This is not necessarily because their body is smaller, but it is because they no longer worry about their food choices or what’s going on in their body like they used to. This frees up so much more mental space and energy.
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.
First, you need to understand calories and your specific calorie needs, as eating “healthy” foods does not necessarily mean you’re eating well for your body’s needs. I’ve had clients see weight loss success simply by becoming familiar with their portion sizes of healthy foods. I’ve also had clients that were drastically undereating calories without their knowledge. Calories are not the full story, but a basic awareness of your calorie intake and how that compares to your needs can go a long way.
Second, you must manage stress and sleep. Stress and sleep play a huge role in your body’s ability to achieve a healthy body weight and influence how you make your food decisions and lifestyle habits that will affect your body weight. Many of my clients initially believe that they have a food issue, when in reality, they have a stress issue! Stress and lack of sleep affect hormone levels in the body, which can cause us to crave foods that are quick and dense with energy (calories). These types of food slow down important processes like digestion and maintaining or building lean mass. The issue with choosing foods due to stress is that it can become chronic, and it may not be recognized until it has already caused harm. I once had a client that had so much work and family stress that she lost 10 lbs by simply going on vacation; there were no changes to her diet or exercise, all she did was sleep well and distance herself from her stressors.
Third, you have to build your balanced plate with emphasis on protein and fiber. Most of the time, people have a hard time losing or maintaining a healthy weight simply because their food isn’t truly filling them up or energizing them. Protein and fiber help you feel fuller for longer by balancing your blood sugar, which can naturally decrease your caloric intake and help you feel much more energized throughout the day. The key is to focus on what you can add to your plate at every meal and snack, and to incorporate foods that you enjoy that are rich in protein and fiber. Most clients are getting very little fiber when we start working together, not because they don’t like high fiber foods, but because they didn’t realize they weren’t getting enough!
Fourth, you need to know how to enjoy your favorite foods without guilt. People tend to think they aren’t successful with weight loss because they are out of control around certain foods they love. Individuals tend to think if they can stop eating that food, everything will be okay. This is not true. This backfires because once you’re inevitably around that food again, you overindulge and the shame ensues. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and clients that learn how to enjoy foods they love free of guilt, find more success in losing weight and maintaining it. They realize it’s not the food, it’s how they perceive the food as off-limits. Naturally, we’re drawn to things we can’t have, so if you’re allowed to have the food, it no longer has such an appeal.
Fifth, you need to learn how to eat intuitively. Being able to eat in any situation is important for long-term success. You must learn your body’s cues and how it looks and feels to eat for your body’s needs. Non-judgmental awareness of your food choices and how food makes your body feel will help with long-term weight and overall health maintenance. Eating birthday cake without guilt or going on vacation without overindulging are examples of this!
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 will maintain the weight the same way you lost the weight, so it’s important to think about maintenance before you start losing weight. It’s important to have a healthy relationship with food for weight maintenance, so knowing how to have your favorite foods without overindulging helps. In order for weight maintenance, calorie needs are higher than weight loss needs, so it’s important for long-term metabolic health that you have a plan for slightly increasing your energy intake to maintain your weight. For my clients, we always make sure they have a weight maintenance phase where they go over the habit changes they need to focus on, increase their intake according to their maintenance needs, and eat intuitively without relying on tracking. It’s also important to make sure that you have an exercise regimen you love because exercise helps with weight maintenance, especially if it includes strength training.
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?
Cutting out food groups or restricting their favorite foods is a common mistake. You have to make sure you feel comfortable having a variety of foods and know how to eat your favorite foods in moderation as part of your routine. Don’t let anyone tell you that “x” food causes weight gain. No specific food causes weight gain or inhibits weight loss!
Making too many changes at once is another mistake. If you focus on doing it all, you’ll get overwhelmed and burned out. Instead, focus on 1–2 things at a time and master those before adding in another habit change. It will feel much easier and attainable this way.
Trying to be perfect is another mistake. Attempting to have a perfect approach leads to negative self-talk and ultimately self-sabotage. Start your journey knowing it won’t be perfect, but you’ll be successful if you continue on anyway.
Having “cheat” meals or “cheat” days can be a mistake. This practice fuels the all-or-nothing mentality and makes you feel as if you need permission to eat foods. It also labels foods as “good” or “bad” and attaches negative emotions to enjoying food. Rather, try to mix your favorites into your meals throughout the week instead of saving them for the weekend or one special occasion.
Ignoring the basics like sleep, stress, and hydration can hinder progress. It’s easy to overlook the basics in a world that pushes teas, detoxes, and other complex weight loss solutions. Sleep, stress management, and hydration are the only detox you’ll ever need. If you actively manage these, everything else will feel much easier.
Never compare yourself to other people. Your body, your nutrient needs, lifestyle, and tastes are different from other people. Your cultural background, life experiences, and goals are unique to you. Comparing your journey, your results, or your approach to others will always pull you further away from what you truly want. Instead, get very clear on what makes you unique and what you need to succeed. Write it down in case you need a reminder!
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?
Viewing new healthy habits as a chore can prevent us from integrating them into our lives. So many of my clients tell me that they know they need to make changes for their health, but they don’t want to give up the foods they love or eat foods they hate. This is exactly the mentality that inspired my career! You don’t have to do it this way! Just like anything new and difficult in life, it’s all about how you decide to view it. In my experience, if you treat it as something fun and enjoyable, it’s going to go very well. It also helps to have a coach that will help you do it gradually without overwhelming you. So often people think they have to do it all at once, and most of the time I tell people to slow down to be successful.
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?
Set “SMART” goals! Specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. Start with one or two SMART goals for the week and check them off daily that you did them. Measuring your progress, even on a really small scale, is powerful. Try integrating the new habit into something you already do. Trying to eat more vegetables? Mix them into your favorite food, like mac and cheese with a little bit of broccoli. Trying to exercise more? Start with taking a few extra steps around your office on the way back to your desk from the bathroom.
Trying to drink more water? See how many ounces you can get down while your morning coffee brews. It sounds silly, but these things add up over time and make a difference, and the changes it makes to your mindset are the most important part.
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 am an avid supporter of implementing European-style lunch breaks in the United States. One of the biggest problems I see is people skipping lunch during work and going all day long with no break. This leads to stomach aches, back aches, and stress-eating when they finish their work day. I would love to start a movement of one solid hour in the middle of the day, screen-free, with at least 30 minutes to eat, and a walk outside in fresh air. It sounds simple, but it does a ton for productivity, focus, digestive health, stress, happiness, and your posture! As Americans, we need to stop chaining ourselves to our desks and instead take breaks while enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
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 sit down with Reese Witherspoon and learn more about how she’s accomplished so much in such a short amount of time while being a mother, an advocate, a creator, a writer, and an entrepreneur! Aside from being a remarkable role model to women everywhere, she’s also an incredible actress! Legally Blonde will always go down as one of my all-time favorite movies.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Most of my work is on Instagram (@busygalnutriton) and in my Facebook community (Busy Gal Nutrition Inner Circle) or on my website, busygalnutrition.com. Check us out! Our team is always happy to chat with you and answer any questions about your health goals and needs.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.