No-Media Mornings! I start every weekday with quiet reflective time and do not listen to nor look at any media before my work day. It is important for me to do my work from a centered heart space, and being stressed out about what is going on in the world isn’t going to help me do that. So my early mornings are quiet and reflective, and enhance my ability to focus on a meaningful work day. There’s plenty of time later in the day to get caught up with the world’s news.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Debra Boutin, MS, RDN, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University. Debra is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) who has enjoyed the past 16 years educating others about whole-foods nutrition and whole-person movement at Bastyr University. Committed to supporting the development of extraordinary nutrition and exercise professionals, Ms. Boutin is proud of the impact Bastyr University’s alumni are making on transforming the health and well-being of the human community. When not on campus, you can most often find Debra cooking and sharing good food with others!
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?
Igrew up in the Midwest in a family who ate three meals together every day and spent the rest of our time running around a large empty field next door. We had a huge garden, and I had my own little vegetable plot by the time I was in the second grade. Food was always at the center of our family life, and I started cooking and baking at a very young age. Feeling truly nourished by whole foods and being incredibly active at all other times has simply always been a way of life for me. When starting college, I didn’t even know that the nutritionist career existed until a friend shared information with me about a bachelor’s program in dietetics, and from that moment I knew I had found my life path!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
What I’ve found to be the most interesting about giving nutrition advice is that no matter what perception people may have about “healthy” food, no matter how positive or negative, if you prepare something healthy for them and serve it, they will eat it and enjoy it. I have done so many cooking demos throughout my career, in a variety of venues, and independent of how much someone in the audience would say they hated this food or that food, if prepared for them and shared with care, intention and attention, they eat it and enjoy it. I have never had someone turn down a food prepared for them during a cooking demonstration or class. I truly believe that there are few greater gifts than the act of preparing food for someone and serving it to them. It never grows old for me. That simple act of care and nourishment can have profound impacts on another person, and can be inspirational to them to then offer that same level of care to themselves and those they love.
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?
My most incredibly memorable mistake wasn’t really humorous, nor was it a mistake at that time, but it taught me a valuable lesson. During my dietetic internship, I prepared to offer cardiac diet education to a heart attack patient prior to their hospital discharge. I entered the room to find the patient surrounded by about twenty family members, most holding notepads, all intently ready to learn from me. I began the education, and at that time, way back in the late ’80s, all fat was considered unhealthy for cardiac patients. When I got to the part about eliminating olive oil from the patient’s diet, there were audible shrieks, as this family had strong Italian roots, and olive oil was an ethnic foundation. The patient got tears in his eyes and everyone grew very emotional. It was highly uncomfortable. Needless to say, years have passed and science has since taught us new things about olive oil. I have so often hoped that the wonderful family I educated remained in tune with these changes, and never stopped consuming their olive oil. This lesson reminds me to always stay current, and to incorporate new science as it becomes available!
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 would never consider myself an authority on fitness and wellness, precisely because this field is constantly changing, and because each individual person is uniquely qualified to support what life changes they can best manage and maintain. I would instead consider myself a fitness and wellness “guide,” ready to support each person towards enhancing their own precious life! But what I am most proud of as my contribution to the world of wellness is creating such incredible professionals who are out there practicing. Creating and enhancing degree programs which empower individuals to enter these important fields, and teaching students in our nutrition and exercise science programs has been the biggest thrill of my career!
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?
Yes! Agreed! My plan as I finished by bachelor’s degree in dietetics was to go on to get my graduate degrees, including a doctorate, because I knew I wanted to be a nutrition professor. I had been accepted into a graduate program, and assumed I’d stay on there until I had my PhD. Dr. Louise Renker, one of my dearest and most caring professors, asked me to come to her office one day after I had announced proudly my grad school acceptance, and to my shock, kind of yelled at me for doing something so stupid. She said no one should get up in front of a classroom and talk about how to change the way people eat unless they’ve actually practiced nutrition and have stories to tell about what that is like and how challenging that can be. She told me “you can’t teach eating from textbooks.” She said I should get out and practice for at least ten years, and then if I still wanted to teach, I’d have something to teach. She really scared me into thinking I had made a huge mistake, so I went back and applied to more grad schools that had dietetic internships attached to them so I could get my Registered Dietitian credential. And then I did practice for a decade before moving into education. I can say that she was absolutely right! The stories I have been able to bring into the classroom have given me a much stronger foundation from which to teach. I never did return to get my PhD, and I am grateful to Dr. Renker for her sage scolding!
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?
I have seen three main blockages to lifestyle change to be:
- Lack of planning. People always say they don’t have time, but it’s much more about not planning their time. We schedule so many other things in our lives. There’s nothing wrong with also scheduling meal prep time, movement time and sleep time.
- Lack of self-awareness. When individuals take the time to focus and link physical feelings, energy levels and attitudes to what was just eaten or how much sleep happened the night before, and then apply that new knowledge to future choices, it can be life-changing!
- Lack of self-love. Food, water, movement and sleep are not optional! And yet our society encourages us to go, go, go as long as possible without placing attention on these essential needs. You’ve got to take care of YOU to be your best YOU!
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.)
- No-Media Mornings! I start every weekday with quiet reflective time and do not listen to nor look at any media before my work day. It is important for me to do my work from a centered heart space, and being stressed out about what is going on in the world isn’t going to help me do that. So my early mornings are quiet and reflective, and enhance my ability to focus on a meaningful work day. There’s plenty of time later in the day to get caught up with the world’s news.
- Get Comfortable with a nice knife! Cooking delicious whole foods meals is not hard, and does not require a high level of culinary skill. All it takes is feeling comfortable and safe with a good chef’s knife. Chopping a variety of seasonal vegetables and a protein source, tossing them onto a sheet pan with some salt, pepper and olive oil, and roasting while you relax into your evening can easily become habit-forming and nourishing!
- Find Nature! Whether you call it forest-bathing, hiking or just being outside, find a regular space where you can go to feel the benefits of plants, fresh air and wildlife, and breathe deeply!
- Sleep in the Dark! Read “Why We Sleep” by Dr. Matthew Walker and listen to what he says! Cutting out all the light in your sleep space is just one simple step to creating deeper and more effective sleep, which in turn is critical for renewing body, mind and spirit.
- Move! There are as many ways to move as there are individuals. Find YOUR way and do it! Don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing if it doesn’t feel right for you. Just move. Feel your body. Be grateful for what it can do. And move. Regularly! With intention and with passion!
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?
I wouldn’t list weight loss as a benefit, as this just sets up expectations that may not be reality based upon the intensity and volume of movement completed. Instead, I would say three benefits of daily exercise are stress release, improved mental focus and improved heart health.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
Forgive me, but I don’t believe in exercise dogma and don’t believe there are 3 critical exercises for anyone. It’s all about finding movements that feel good and that you want to do more of! I recommend a combination that includes these 3 types of movement:
- Something cardio
- Something strength-building
- Something that helps maintain and build balance and flexibility.
There are so many ways to cover these 3 areas! For some, doing the same habit-forming types of movement works, while others prefer to change it up. No exercise dogma from me! Just move in a way you enjoy!
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?
My area of expertise is much more nutrition than exercise science, so I’d make a referral to one of my exceptional graduates to offer personalized recommendations that would work for each individual’s goals.
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 prefer to think of eating as nourishment, and not as a “diet.” “Diet” in this country means “limitation” and “denial” and these are not terms I use when speaking about an essential life need such as food. I believe fully in the power of whole foods as much as possible, and I enjoy them fully. I believe in cooking at home and in sharing food with those we love as often as possible. I believe in being self-aware to focus on hunger and satiety cues and learning to observe how different foods make us feel — not to focus on creating barriers that then make us feel as if we have failed when we cross them.
However, I trust that the diet mentality will remain throughout my lifetime, so when a client tells me they want to follow a certain fad, “diet” or way of eating, I listen without judgment and ask what that means to them. What are they eating? What are they not eating? And then I try to assess as best as I can if they are getting the nutrients they need. For me it all comes down to that. Are essential nutrient needs being met? Many of today’s diets do not offer adequate nutrients, and ensuring that a client is aware of what they are missing, and how they might be able to gain those nutrients, is my top priority for those choosing to follow any “diet.”
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
M.F.K. Fisher was an eloquent writer who wove messages about food throughout all of her literary works of genius. “The Art of Eating” is a bound compilation of five of her books, and I read it early in my dietetics career. Despite all that I thought I knew about food and nutrition at the time, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher taught me the meaning of “nourishment” and it has been my favorite word ever since. Picking up any of her books and reading them makes me whole again. I once taught an elective course specifically about her food literature, and it was the most meaningful and memorable teaching experience I have ever had.
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 give equal access to whole, nourishing, delicious food to everyone. “Food apartheid” is a term used to recognize that our society’s policies and systems have created systemic barriers to healthy foods for a large segment of our neighbors and communities. If I had a magic wand, I would wipe out all the dangerous and unfortunate food politics in this country, and I would create and fund a Department of Nourishment where the top priority would be to get whole, nutritious foods to every citizen as a human right. What an impact this could have on the health and well-being of all communities!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
The quote that I’ve heard the most often in my life comes directly from my dad, who says this to me still: “Do the best you can, and judge yourself accordingly.” My father never finished high school because he had to go to work as a teen to support his family when his father died. With that, a strong work ethic was always at the top of his list of priorities to teach his children. I have constantly been reminded to not do anything at all unless I am willing to do my very best, and I have taken that to heart throughout my career. I myself judge my performance against my own high standards, and I have used this quote as a driver to develop and strive to become the best version of myself that I can. This doesn’t mean I’ve always achieved every goal, but I can honestly say that I’ve always done the best that I could do at the time.
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 🙂
That’s easy! Michelle Obama. I was so moved by her initiatives for both nourishment and exercise during her years as our First Lady. Creating the beautiful White House Garden was such an impressive statement to the world about the importance of fresh vegetables for our health. The way she focused on our young people through both her garden work and her “Let’s Move” campaign was motivational for all, and I know that her messages touched so many. She is one of my personal heroes for the way she utilized her position to prioritize the importance of healthy lifestyles as a means for us each to become our best selves and healthier citizens of our global community. I would love to invite Michelle Obama to enjoy lunch at Bastyr University Dining Commons, show her our Campus Herb Garden, and I’d promise not to serve her beets!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
If people are seeking more information about an approach to nutrition that integrates health, science and nature, I encourage them to check out Bastyr University and our teaching clinics in Seattle and San Diego. For over 40 years we’ve been producing industry leaders who are changing the world. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook:
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Thank you! It has been a pleasure to share this with you! Make space for nourishment and movement in your life!! ~ Debra