Make time for sleep — Sleep is a biological necessity. The process of sleeping is essential to all systems of the body. Quite literally it is a time of rest and rejuvenation. Without sleep, we simply are not able to function optimally. When working with patients we often talk about sleep hygiene and the need to create a healthy sleep rhythm as well as preparing one’s body for sleep.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN
She is a Brooklyn-based registered dietitian nutritionist who is a nationally recognized nutrition expert. Maya received her Masters of Science in clinical nutrition at New York University, where she is adjunct faculty. Maya shares her approachable, real food based solutions to millions of people through regular speaking engagements, writing in local and national publications, via her social media account on Instagram, @mayafellerRD, and as a national nutrition expert on Good Morning America, Strahan Sara & Keke and more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
I came to nutrition in 2005 when I was training for the Boston Marathon. It was a time in my life where I was interested in human metabolism and distance running. I would often find myself thinking about food and nutrition during long training runs. At some point during the training, I decided to pursue nutrition as a career and decided to return to school for my MS in clinical nutrition.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
My first job as a dietitian was the program manager of a DOHMH funded food and nutrition program. My program was responsible for providing nutrition education in both groups and one on one to the program participants. Part of my responsibility as the program manager was to travel to local public hospitals and present the program to caseworkers, social workers, and doctors. It was the most incredible education I ever received. Having the opportunity to talk with various providers throughout the public healthcare system allowed me to listen and learn from alternative perspectives. Those interactions truly informed how I shaped the nutrition program as well as how I served my patients.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
One of my first nutrition jobs was providing group nutrition education to children who were a part of a running program. One of the participants said, “eating rice is bad.” And I replied, “That’s not true! Rice is great and can be part of a balanced diet! Who told you that?” And the child said “My mom who’s over there.” I’ve never been so shocked in my life! Needless to say, I learned not to badmouth people’s beliefs and to reframe, probe and question rather than flat out refute.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
I wouldn’t call myself an authority. I would rather say I’m one voice among many that offer alternative perspectives on health, wellness, and nutrition. I work from a clear, antibias, antiracist, inclusive patient center perspective.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m incredibly grateful to my family for their support, specifically my husband and children. Each of my teachers and preceptors has also shaped my view on nutrition.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
When working with patients we always take the whole person into consideration. There is no one size that fits all. It’s my job as the clinician to look at the socioemotional components of a person’s life including work and family as well as access to the pillars that support overall good health. Rather than blaming people, I think about ways that I can support their current lives and what recommendations I can make that would support sustainable change when needed. I’ve found that the following variables can be barriers to change:
- Limited access to safe and affordable nutritious foods
- Limited access to credible sound nutrition guidance
- Time to incorporate new behaviors into ones overall routine
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
- Make time for sleep — Sleep is a biological necessity. The process of sleeping is essential to all systems of the body. Quite literally it is a time of rest and rejuvenation. Without sleep, we simply are not able to function optimally. When working with patients we often talk about sleep hygiene and the need to create a healthy sleep rhythm as well as preparing one’s body for sleep.
- Make time for self-care — Taking time and space to refill the proverbial cup is integral to any wellness practice. We must prioritize our own health and wellness and carve out space to engage in restorative activities such as breathwork, self-massage, meditative practices and gentle movement. Running on empty isn’t a long term solution.
- Nourish yourself with a wide variety of balanced foods and safely supplement when needed. A recent survey from Life Extension found that there is a clear crisis in confidence with Americans when it comes to their vitamin and supplement options. While nearly all supplement users (92 percent) believe that ingredients are important when purchasing a vitamin, two-fifths (42 percent) do not research the ingredients when considering which product to choose. When purchasing a supplement — making an informed choice is key. Life Extension researches, test and retests every ingredient in all of their formulation.
- Make time for laughter — there is plenty of research that supports laughter as good medicine. When we laugh endorphins are released. There is no harm in laughing and finding joy — in fact, it can help reduce stress. Living in these stressful times, we all need a release.
- Share a dish with a loved one, neighbor or friend. The simple act of bringing a homemade meal to someone you know can boost your spirits and that of the recipient.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
- Exercise is great for helping to manage blood sugar levels. When people engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity the body is better able to sensitize insulin and use glucose as energy. The end result for many is improved blood sugar levels.
- Improved blood pressure — exercise is cardioprotective and helps the heart to pump more blood with less effort. This in turn helps reduce blood pressure.
- Improved mood. Exercise releases endorphins and feel good hormones that can help to improve mood.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
Exercise is truly individual so I would suggest each person finds movement that works for their body.
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
It may be time to change the type of exercise or reduce the intensity. It’s always good to seek out the help of a credentialed provider if the person is continually sore.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
I generally don’t recommend diets to my patients. We work together to find a pattern of eating that is supportive of their overall health. I do however think we all can benefit from increasing our intake of whole and minimally processed foods.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
There are many books that have made an impact in my life. Generally, I appreciate authors who craft narratives where I see representations of myself. A book that I devoured was Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy — I read it over the course of 3 days while traveling with family. It was brutally honest yet filled with humility and rocked me to my core.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d want us all to dedicate some portion of our lives to working on equity and justice for Black, Indigenous and People Of Color.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
There isn’t a quote that I live by. However, I do strive to treat each person I encounter with respect.
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 if we tag them 🙂
I’d love to meet and have a meal with the incredible Billy Porter. Besides being an outstanding performer, Billy Porter is a major talent and advocate for the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
People can follow me on IG @mayafellerRD and FB: mayafellernutrition
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!