Prepare and share a meal with a friend or loved one. Sharing a home-cooked meal with others is such a generous, nurturing thing to do and is truly one of the great pleasures in life. The meal doesn’t have to be extravagant or fancy, but you can make it special by setting the mood. Set some flowers on the table, dim the lights a bit, put on some music and take the time to enjoy the pleasures of the food and the company of people you care about. You can try eating in courses to slow the pace, or make a pot of tea that you can linger over after the meal is finished.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND.
Susan is the senior director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training, at Herbalife Nutrition. She is a registered dietitian, and holds two Board Certifications: as Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and as a Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. She is also a fellow of the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her Master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas.
Prior to her role at Herbalife Nutrition, she was the Assistant Director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University in Malibu and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, California.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of numerous research papers and book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet”.
In her current role, Susan is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials company-wide, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife Nutrition blog, www.iAmHerbalifeNutrition.com. She is a chairwoman of the Herbalife Dietetic Advisory Board, comprised of 20 nutritionists and dietitians located in five regions around the world, who develop educational content and train the Company’s distributors and employees.
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 nutrition and wellness?
The path that led to my career as a dietitian wasn’t a straight one. From the time I was a teenager, I had strong interests in gardening, cooking and health. But I was equally interested in writing and literature, and I just wasn’t quite sure how to put it all together. When I started college, I majored in English Literature, but an elective course in physiology changed all that. After studying the workings of the human body, I found my passion — and promptly switched my major to Biology. Graduate school was heaven for me. I loved every course, every lecture, every lab. And I couldn’t wait to integrate everything I’d learned in school with my love of cooking and healthy eating, and to help others do the same.
If you asked me to define my career in one word, I’d probably tell you that I am — first and foremost — an educator. In virtually every setting and every position I’ve held, I’ve functioned in some way to teach others about the connections between food, nutrition and good health. My first job out of graduate school was in a county health clinic which housed a WIC clinic (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) and a Geriatric Screening Clinic — and, while I was doing that, I also picked up some part-time work counseling patients in a private physician’s office. So, almost immediately, I was counseling every type of patient you can imagine, and I quickly learned that nutrition education and wellness promotion were the most helpful tools in my toolbox.
I then took those tools with me to several outpatient counseling jobs, then to my own private practice (which included consulting for a professional football team), then to academia for many years, and finally to my current position at Herbalife Nutrition where writing and teaching are still my primary activities. One of the best things about my current work is that it allows me to utilize all the valuable skills I’ve learned over my career, and it gives me the opportunity to help so many people to eat better and lead healthier lives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
More than one story, it is really the collection of stories that I have heard from my patients over the years about their eating habits. I am always intrigued by the way in which our individual diets and food choices define us. The best moments during an encounter with a new patient is when I ask them to give me a sense for what they typically eat over the course of a day. In those few moments, I get a good sense for their relationship with food and, often, the origin of many of their eating behaviors. Hearing what people choose to put in their mouths every day — and why — is endlessly fascinating to me.
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 first encounter with a couple of professional football players came on very short notice — and not much preparation on my part. I had already been in private practice for a while, so I figured I could handle whatever came my way. I knew athletes had high calorie needs and ate a lot, but I hadn’t really taken the time to research just how much they could actually consume. I sat down with two of the biggest players on the team and began questioning them about their usual diet. After I casually suggested that they might consider splitting a small cheese and vegetable pizza for a snack, they both looked at each other and started laughing — not because they didn’t want to eat pizza, but because they made it very clear that they each could easily consume an entire large pizza as a snack (without spoiling their dinner). After that, I promised myself I would never to go into another counseling situation without doing some homework first. I also learned not to underestimate the appetite of a professional athlete.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the nutrition and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
Nutrition is such an interesting business to be in — it’s the rare person who doesn’t have some interest in some aspect of nutrition, and even those who know very little about the topic are pretty free with their opinions. I’ve often remarked that since everyone eats, everyone thinks they’re an authority on nutrition.
Nutrition is a very dynamic science and the way that people eat is informed not only by that science, but by health beliefs, gender, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, physiology… the list goes on and on. So being an authority in nutrition necessitates a good working knowledge in all these areas, not just nutrition science.
And it helps to have a good grasp of food science and cooking, too. You’d be surprised how many dietitians are not that interested in food preparation. It certainly surprises me. I’ve met plenty of people in my field who focus so much on nutrients and so little on food that they completely lose the forest for the trees.
There are probably lots of people who, like me, know quite a bit about all these facets of nutrition. But being an authority goes well beyond having tremendous knowledge. None of that matters if you can’t communicate well — and that means not only expressing yourself effectively, but also learning how to listen. I have learned so much from my patients over the years, simply by taking the time to listen to their questions and concerns. To me, being a nutrition and wellness authority means more than simply educating people. It means being able to connect with them, inspire them and motivate them — and that requires the skill and power of effective communication.
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?
For a couple of years, I wrote a nutrition column for the Los Angeles Times. I had established a relationship with the editor of the Times health section through the media relations team at UCLA, and was very flattered that she asked me to become a contributor. But I was nervous about it. While I had done my fair share of writing, this was taking the art to another level. The Times has a well-educated, inquisitive readership, so the articles needed to be interesting and timely, but also needed a personal touch. I knew enough to avoid the stuffy jargon of academic papers, but it took the help of my fantastic editor in order to find my voice. Thanks to her, writing became more fun, more free and more ‘me’. I readily engaged in the process of hunting down interesting findings in nutrition research, and I loved the challenge of translating fascinating (but often complicated) information into something more consumer-friendly. This skill is a core part of my job today, and I am eternally grateful that I had someone who not only saw my potential, but also pushed me to find my footing.
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?
It’s true that most people have a pretty good sense for what a healthy diet and lifestyle looks like. But one reason it can be hard to implement is that people often take advice too literally and don’t make an effort to personalize it. The best diet to follow is the one that works for you. It has to work with — among many other things — your lifestyle, your budget, your exercise routine, your hunger patterns and your food likes and dislikes. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to a healthy diet, and there are plenty of healthy foods that you can choose from to satisfy the recommendations. Just because kale and quinoa are popular healthy foods right now doesn’t mean you have to choke them down — there are plenty of other healthy vegetables and whole grains you can eat instead. It’s really important to adopt a way of eating that works for you, otherwise you’ll never stick with it.
Our food environment also makes it extremely challenging to eat healthfully all the time. We live in a very complex food environment — one in which we are faced with food and food-related decisions all day long. And it’s an environment which makes it really difficult to choose healthy foods, and increasingly easy to choose foods that aren’t very good for us. Everywhere you turn — in your neighborhood, your workplace, at school, at home, on television — there is food, and the pressure to eat it. And the pressure isn’t on us to eat healthy foods. We’re swayed by the fact that we can quickly, easily and cheaply satisfy our cravings for fatty, sugary, salty foods, 24 hours a day. We can resist this pressure at home by stocking our refrigerators and pantries with the basics we need to prepare quick, healthy meals. When we’re away from home, pre-planning is critical. Packing your lunch to take to work, deciding ahead of time what you’re going to eat before you go to a restaurant, or carrying healthy snacks with you while you’re running errands can help you push back on these everyday pressures.
The third factor is lack of time. I hear this all the time from people. They say it just takes too much time to plan, shop and prepare healthy meals, and that eating out or ordering is simply more efficient. Even worse, some people don’t really take time to sit down to eat and enjoy a meal — it’s just seen as something to get out of the way, or an activity to be performed while doing something else, like working or staring at a screen. The solution is to simply prioritize your health and make the time. We make time for other things that we see as critically important — how can eating well not also be high priority? Setting aside a little time during the weekend to do some planning and preparation for the week is a game-changer. If that sounds too daunting, take a few baby steps — aim to pack your lunch or sit down for a family meal once a week as a start.
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.)
- Prepare and share a meal with a friend or loved one. Sharing a home-cooked meal with others is such a generous, nurturing thing to do and is truly one of the great pleasures in life. The meal doesn’t have to be extravagant or fancy, but you can make it special by setting the mood. Set some flowers on the table, dim the lights a bit, put on some music and take the time to enjoy the pleasures of the food and the company of people you care about. You can try eating in courses to slow the pace, or make a pot of tea that you can linger over after the meal is finished.
- Talk nicely to yourself. When it comes to health behaviors, we tend to send ourselves lots of negative messages. We tell ourselves we’re going to have serious health problems if we don’t get our diets under control, or that falling off our eating plans means we’ve failed. But negative messages like these don’t motivate us — positive messages do. What motivates you to tackle difficult things in life is not only the belief in yourself that you can achieve your goals, but also the rewards that make your efforts worthwhile. If you tell yourself you can do something, it’s more likely that you will. And when you talk to yourself, don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to your best friend.
- Practice your coping skills. I work with a lot of people who are emotional eaters — and for some, pretty much any emotion will do. Whether they’re sad, lonely, angry or anxious, they’re usually an edible antidote. The problem is that emotional eating really doesn’t help people to feel any better. Eating in response to stress is just a reminder that you can’t cope with emotions. Instead, it helps to ask yourself, “what’s the worst thing that will happen if I don’t eat?” Maybe stress levels rise a little bit, but the feeling will pass — and it’s often not nearly as bad as you thought it would be.
- Eat a fruit or vegetable at every meal or snack. Most people know they should eat more fruits and vegetables, but they just seem to have a hard time doing it. Since most people eat three meals and one or two snacks a day, this simple tweak can make a huge difference in the quality of your diet. In the morning, add some fruit to your cereal, yogurt or smoothie. At lunch, have a handful of cherry tomatoes with your sandwich. Snack on fruit or baby carrots during the day, and have a mixed vegetable salad at dinner. It’s not hard to do, and it adds an abundance of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients along with plenty of fiber to your day.
- Eat a healthy breakfast. Too many people start the day on the wrong foot — many don’t eat at all, and lots of people fuel up on caffeine and sugar. I’m a big fan of a balanced breakfast for several reasons. First, studies show that people eat breakfast regularly tend to manage their weight better — probably because breakfast skippers make up for it by eating more the rest of the day. But the right choices also mean better nutrition, too. Typical breakfast foods, like fruits, whole grain breads or cereals and dairy products contribute important nutrients like fiber and calcium that might be hard to come by at other meals. And, since your body’s gas tank is empty at the start of the day, fueling up properly gives you the physical and mental energy you need to get through your morning.
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 tend to stick to a “flexitarian” diet, which is primarily a plant-based diet with the inclusion of some dairy, poultry, fish or eggs; I rarely eat red meat. I have a basic pattern to my eating — and it’s something I encourage my clients to establish, too. Once you have that pattern down, you can just plug in whatever foods suit you. My breakfast pattern is protein with a fruit or vegetable, so I might have a protein shake with fruit, or some eggs and sautéed spinach. My lunch pattern is protein and veggies, so I might have a salad with some beans on top or a scoop of tuna salad on a sliced tomato. My dinner pattern is the same as lunch, but I add a whole grain serving –a tofu and veggie stir-fry or curry with some brown rice is often on the menu. My afternoon snack is a combo of protein and healthy carbs — so I’ll typically have a little yogurt with some fruit or some hummus and carrots.
When I create meal plans for most clients or for our independent distributors, I also encourage establishing a healthy pattern and making sure that there is adequate protein at each meal and snack. Aside from its role in helping to build and maintain muscle mass, protein really helps make meals more filling and satisfying, which is particularly important for those who are trying to lose weight. Once the protein is taken care of, I focus on working in plenty of raw and cooked vegetables, then fruits and whole grains as calories allow, and finally some healthy fats from foods like nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil for flavor and health.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I’m sure I am not the only person who has been deeply affected by “The Book of Joy”, a recap of several days of incredible conversations between His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The book discusses the challenges we face in finding happiness and joy in our everyday lives and, more importantly, how we can develop our inner strengths to live a life full of compassion and joy. These two remarkable individuals — both of whom have experienced so much pain and upheaval in their lives — openly and honestly share their wisdom and personal spiritual journeys with humor and grace. Their advice is simultaneously simple and profound, which is one reason it has such an impact. These remarkable men remind us that in order to live harmoniously, we have to not only accept ourselves as we are, but we also need to accept others as they are. As I go through my daily life, I make an effort to view the world through the eyes of others, and would like to think that their advice is helping me to become a more kind and compassionate individual.
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 would love to see mandatory education in nutrition and food preparation for children and teens. I recognize and admire the enormous amount of hard work that educators undertake and would hate to add to their burden… but this could have an enormous impact on kids and their families. Many young adults who have not had this education know so little about the importance of good nutrition, don’t understand where their food comes from, and miss out on the satisfaction and pleasure of learning how to prepare delicious and healthy foods to nourish their bodies. Considering the impact that proper nutrition has on one’s ability to learn, it’s a shame that young people are not exposed to some of the most valuable knowledge and skills they can have to live healthier lives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Eleanor Roosevelt is someone I have always admired. She was a woman ahead of her time, and a tireless advocate for women, minorities, refugees and the poor. One of my favorite quotes of hers is, “What could we accomplish if we knew we could not fail?” Fear of failure is such a common emotion, and one that is natural to experience early in one’s career. I felt this most strongly when I first started counseling patients. I knew I had the knowledge, but I worried that if any of my patients failed in their efforts, it meant that I had failed them. I felt that I had a certain amount of information that I needed to impart, but I didn’t take into account that not everyone was quite ready to hear what I had to say. It took me a long time to understand the dynamics of these interpersonal relationships, to recognize that each encounter was a learning opportunity for both of us, and to understand that each patient had a unique path to follow. When I turned the focus away from myself and my fears — and turned it toward the person seeking my help — I spent more time listening to their concerns. In doing so, we found ourselves on a two-way street, working together to find effective solutions. And that way, neither of us could fail.
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 would love to sit down for a meal with chef Jose Andres, founder of the World Central Kitchen, a non-profit NGO that has organized and served millions of meals to individuals suffering the effects of natural disasters. The organization considers itself a ‘first responder’ in disaster relief, and then builds relationships with local chefs in the affected regions to help address the issues of poor health, hunger and poverty. I recently heard Chef Andres speak at a conference, and was incredibly moved by his passion for this project which has had such a significant and positive impact on so many lives. It would wonderful to share a meal with him and have the opportunity to understand the roots of his humanitarian efforts and how he manages to be equally accomplished as a restaurateur. And, I’m sure the food would be memorable!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Readers can find more nutrition tips from me and my team through the www.IAmHerbalifeNutrition .com blog, or follow me on Instagram @susanherbalifenutrition
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!