Keri Gans is the Registered Dietician Nutritionist, Certified Yoga Teacher and dog lover from New York teaching us how to achieve a balanced lifestyle, find the right personalised diet plan and ways we can establish a healthy relationship with our bodies. The National Sales Manager turned Nutritionist graduated with a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition from New York University and imparts her wisdom and body positivity to her audience via her book, The Small Change Diet and her blog, The Keri Report.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Keri Gans (KG): I am a die-hard New Yorker, but could easily also see myself living on a farm surrounded by goats and cows, and of course many doggies. One of my favourite mantras is "yoga by day and martinis by night” as I truly believe in living a balanced life. I married later in life to an older man, but am fortunate to have 2 wonderful step-children and daughter-in-law, and 3 grandkids that always make me smile. A favourite quote of mine is from George Bernard Shaw is, “We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” And at the moment, my Vizsla puppy Cooper is certainly keeping me young!
When did you first decide you wanted to become a nutritionist?
KG: I was working as a National Sales Manager for a wholesale clothing company travelling constantly across the U.S. I then met a man, who I would eventually marry, and my work life was so hectic it kept getting in the way of growing our relationship. I felt it was time for a change. A change that would enable me to be more in control of my work/life balance. I dove deep into my interests and realized that I was always interested in health and helping others. At this point, I had never met a nutritionist but thought hey, this sounds like it could be the ideal fit. Went back to school, basically on this whim, and the rest is history.
How has your relationship with your body developed? Did you always prioritise a healthy lifestyle?
KG: Growing up I was a ballet dancer, so needless to say I was always concerned about my weight. Truth is though, I was never overweight, even though as a young dancer I felt I was. This idea of being thin became ingrained in me and I started to be aware of all foods that entered my body and whether or not my weight would be affected. But luckily, the older I got I started to let a lot of those thoughts go and instead of focusing on thin, I started to focus on healthy. And for me that also always included exercise. Then later on as I studied nutrition, and learned the roles all nutrients played in our body, I really started to prioritize health as a long-term endeavour.
How do you define a healthy lifestyle?
KG: A healthy lifestyle is multi-faceted. In my opinion, it includes a healthy well-balanced diet, lots of physical activity, adequate levels of sleep and the strive for less stress. Also, I like to be clear when I say healthy, well-balanced diet I don’t believe that means eating healthy 100% of the time. To me, it’s more about making healthy choices 85% of the time and allowing the other 15% to be whatever it is you want. Personally for me, that includes making room for French fries, burgers, pizza and martinis. It also means that you don’t have to eat certain foods just because they are healthy. For example, I hate kale and sweet potatoes. Sure, they are good for me, but you will never find them on my plate. And as for physical activity - that doesn’t mean getting to a gym every day and hating it. It means moving your body more and finding something you enjoy doing.
What are your opinions on diet culture? Should this be promoted?
KG: I don’t think restrictive diets should be promoted at all and most diets promoted do more harm than good. But on the other hand, I do believe it is OK to want to lose weight and believe there are healthy ways to go about it. The word diet need not only be equated with restriction but rather it’s true meaning of a way of eating. But it all starts though with how you feel about yourself. If you have compassion for yourself, then perhaps you will be able to find weight loss tools that are actually helpful not harmful. If however, shame and guilt are surrounding your endeavours, then healthy weight loss might not be possible at this time.
How can we establish a healthy relationship with our bodies?
KG: It is important to stop thinking of your body as simply a number on a scale. We are so much more than that. The human body is fascinating in all that it does for us every single day, breathing, walking, thinking, etc. Changing the way we look at things doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process, a long process. Habits that are ingrained in us don’t go away overnight, patience is key.
Do you have any advice for people struggling with their body image?
KG: The truth is more people than you realize struggle with body image. Unfortunately, it is an all-time too common human trait, so know you are not alone. But it can be really helpful to talk individually with a professional, for example, a registered dietitian nutritionist or a psychologist, or find a support group that is run by trained experts in the field.
You are a certified yoga teacher, what initially drew you to yoga?
KG: I initially was drawn to yoga to help with fertility. At the time I was boxing and taking spin classes and felt that perhaps I needed to engage in less strenuous exercise. To make a long story short, I never became pregnant, BUT I did fall in love with yoga.
How does yoga facilitate the process of healing?
KG: I think it can vary depending on what you are actually healing from so hard for me to answer that. What I do know though is that yoga has a way of making you more mindful of everything that happens within your body. It’s no longer about burning calories or simply exercising; it’s about breathing, it’s about awakening our hamstrings and hip flexors, elongating our spines, opening our heart and much more.
What is your advice for people wanting to introduce healthy habits into their lifestyle but may not have a lot of time in their schedule?
KG: Introducing healthy habits is not about time, it’s about priorities. And also realizing as I mentioned above that being healthy doesn’t mean being perfect. Even one small health change in your life can have a positive lasting effect.
What are your top tips on making healthy food choices on a budget?
KG: 1. Buy in bulk, portion out, and freeze if needed, i.e. a family pack of chicken breast for an actual family of one
2. Buy in season when possible, i.e. berries in the summer, apples in the fall.
3. Don’t negate the health benefits of frozen fruit and veggies, as well as canned fruit and veggies. FYI: they are frozen or canned at peak ripeness.
4. If going to an office for work, brown bag lunch instead of going out.
5. Plan your meals ahead, create a list and go food shopping in attempt to decrease food waste.
Now that we have entered winter, how can we maintain a nutritious diet when we might not have the same motivation we did in the summer?
KG: So many of our actions come down to mindset, as well as our ability to be flexible within that mindset. Maybe your winter diet looks a little different than your summer, but try and remember that summer is right around the corner and having a bikini-ready body should never really be part of the plan anyway. Feeling healthy is what counts.
What are your thoughts on the impact social media has had on our diets? Is the promotion of fad diets healthy?
KG: Ha! Fad diet promotion is 100% unhealthy. And funny enough, I just recorded an episode for my podcast, The Keri Report, on the relationship between social media and eating disorders.
How can you find the right diet plan for you?
KG: Excellent question because we are all individuals. What matters most is that whatever you do choose, is that it doesn’t feel like a diet. Not something that you start and eventually put an end date on. The right “diet” is something that you can sustain healthfully for the rest of your life.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can sometimes be a challenge. What are your tips on staying consistent with a nutrition plan?
KG: You need to understand that sometimes you will not be consistent, and that is AOK! Actually, it probably is even important, because striving for perfection may lead to failure… What counts the most is how quickly you let it go and get back on track.
Fuelling your body with good food has physical and mental benefits. What are the benefits you’ve noticed from following a healthy lifestyle?
KG: Energy. Strength. Compassion.