How to Get Your Nutrition Right: RDN Shelley Rael Interview

Shelley Rael

Nutrition is the foundation of a fit and healthy lifestyle. What you eat can make or break you. Get your nutrition wrong and it can ruin your health. Get your nutrition right and the rest is pretty easy.

But, how do you get your nutrition right? Well, we reached out to Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) Shelley Rael and asked her some crucial questions on nutrition and diet. We also asked her opinion on the currently popular diet trends. Read her interview below and let us know what you think by leaving a comment below!

Can you tell me about yourself?

I am a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with a virtual private practice that helps people ditch dieting, lose weight and keep it off. I want people to not feel restriction or deprived when they want to lose weight. I help people lose weight and keep it off with my proprietary F.A.S.T.™ Program and it is guaranteed.

I personally have dropped 30 pounds in the past year and people are constantly asking me how I did it. Honestly, the only thing I did was cut back on portions. I did not cut out dessert or alcohol or carbs or sugar or take any supplements as many people assume (because they have asked me if that is what I have done). I didn’t count calories or portions (still don’t).

I simply, really truly, cut back on how much I ate. Even if someone eats healthy most of the time, which I was and still do, if they are eating more than what their body needs then they will gain weight. Period.

How did you become a dietitian?

The journey of becoming a dietitian included a bachelor’s degree (BS) in nutrition with a minor in biology, a 9-month internship after the degree, sitting for the national exam, and maintaining 75 hours of continuing education in my area of practice every 5 years.

I also completed my master’s degree (MS) in nutrition. I have recently written a book that is coming out in December 2019; I teach college nutrition classes including sports nutrition; and I do myth busting videos on my Facebook Business page: Eat, Live, Be Well – Nutrition, along with many other things in my community and nationally in my field.

What’s the best diet for fat loss or weight maintenance?

As much as people want a name of a diet, I have to find what works for the individual. Three things I help people do when they want to lose weight―body fat, not just water weight―and maintain their weight are:

  1. Something they can do for life no matter where they are, at home, eating out, or on vacation, no matter what time of year, and still being able to eat what they love;
  2. It is not potentially harmful to their health by eliminating entire food groups like whole grains or fruit which are rich in many disease fighting nutrients;
  3. It helps them create a calorie deficit without being deficient in nutrients that human body needs.

Most often, I will help someone design a plan with the framework of the Mediterranean style diet or the DASH diet or a combination of the two. But if it isn’t sustainable, it is highly restrictive, and unpalatable, then people won’t stick with it. If a diet makes you feel sick or like you are getting the flu after a week or so of doing it, that isn’t good. That is your body telling you something is wrong.

What do you think about the currently popular keto diet?

Is that still popular? I was so surprised when this became a “diet” people were following outside the clinical setting. I knew about this diet over 20 years ago when it was used in the pediatric unit to treat children with seizures, and this diet has been known for 100 years. I was surprised people actually wanted to follow this diet.

But most of the people I have met who claim they are “eating keto” aren’t really doing that. People say they do it a couple of days a week or they are doing “keto light,” which someone cannot be in ketosis if they are only doing it here and there. And I have not really seen people following the actual keto diet, but they are merely doing “low carb.”

But I worry that people are compromising their long-term health for short-term weight loss. A diet that high in fat and that low in carbohydrates, specifically fiber, is just not compatible with reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. Weight loss will happen on this diet―pretty much a fact, but it really isn’t sustainable.

What do you think about intermittent fasting?

There are so many versions of IF that I always have to ask what exactly people are doing when they are doing it. For some people, it is “fasting” a couple of days a week (like the 5:2 or the 6:1) and even on the “fasting” days they are eating less, not actually fasting. Then there are the 18:6 or 16:8 types of IF, which is fine if that works for people.

All it is doing is narrowing the eating window. There is nothing special or magical about it other than people may be changing their behaviors. I never really thought about it, but when I looked it, without even realizing it, I was doing a 15:9 and have for most of my adult life. I just never put a name to it other than my life.

People can still overeat their days’ calorie needs in the window of eating, no matter how small it is. People don’t think about this, but the time on the clock is an arbitrary number that we as a society have agreed on. Your body has no idea that it is 7 pm compared to 5 pm, really. That is a function of an agreed upon thing.

What’s your recommended method to determine how much to eat?

I calculate how much someone needs based on their sex, height, weight, age and activity level. It is an equation to estimate their needs. There are other ways of measuring it, but it takes more time and a lab setting. I did the lab setting once and the equation I use was pretty accurate.

Now for someone to know how much they are eating―there are several ways of doing that, but is it necessary? It just depends on what their goals are. Calorie counting can help, but it can become obsessive for some people and isn’t really practical to do for long term, even with the various calorie counting apps. Besides, even with calorie counting apps, it is just an estimate of the calories consumed.

I often recommend that people take a look at their portions and cut back on them. For example, rather than 12 ounces of meat or even 8 ounces of meat, will 6 ounces be enough? Usually yes―it is enough to satisfy the body’s needs, but people think they need more because they are used to larger portions (that is just an example, people have differing needs). If people increased their intake of fruits and vegetables and spread out their protein intake throughout the day, most people would eat less naturally.

People tend to use visuals to determine whether they need to eat more or if they are done. For example, if there is still food on the plate, they continue to eat. If there is still food on the plate, but the person feels satisfied and no longer hungry, then why continue to eat? I guarantee there will still be food available later. We aren’t bears preparing for hibernation. Most of us have no problem getting something to eat when we are actually hungry.

What’s your recommended macronutrient ratio?

This all depends on the person. While there are general guidelines, I don’t make the same recommendation for everyone since everyone is different.

In general, I would recommend half the diet (50%) coming from carbohydrates, which includes all fruits and vegetables, about 30% from fat, and mostly healthy fats, and the rest, 20%, from protein. However, when I work with someone and learn their goals, their activity level and any pre-existing conditions they may have, I adjust those numbers based on their specific needs.

What’s your recommended eating schedule?

Again, this depends on the person. Some people do better with 3 meals and maybe a snack or something, while others do better at smaller more frequent meals. I never make a general recommendation on what is “right” for someone without knowing their habits and their lifestyle. I am more looking at a “schedule” that works for the person and base that on their job and when they workout and whether they are a morning person or a night person.

Do you recommend meal planning?

Yup. Most people will make healthier food choices if they know, or have a good idea of, what they will prepare for their meals each week or even for a few days. If it is 4 pm and you don’t know what you are making for dinner, how will that work out? For many people they may end up eating out or having a less than healthy meal.

Some people even like meal prepping, but for some people that can be overwhelming. At minimum, having a meal plan, even if it is loosely based on a general framework of something like chicken on Monday, seafood on Tuesday, beef on Wednesday and making sure the ingredients are there for a balance meal, is all it takes.

Some people will want more details and have the recipes for the week planned. As long as there is some planning, the better off most people will be, and it can help with not having to make last minute and less healthy food choices.

How to change bad eating habits into healthy ones?

You have to first want to change. I have met many people who have zero interest in actually changing their habits, so I really ask that we not waste anyone’s times. Just talking to someone doesn’t make someone healthy.

Actually, making changes is what does the trick. I encourage small steps in cutting back on portions, especially of the less healthy foods, and increasing fruits and vegetables. See this as a long-term thing for life that needs to be repeated. Just because you took a shower and brushed your teeth yesterday doesn’t mean you don’t need to do it again today.

I don’t get when people think doing it for a week or so and things will just become automatic. Despite what people think or say, it can take up to 254 days (over 8 months) to create a habit. Some will take a lot less than that. So, if people give up after a week or two, they have not given themselves a chance.

What are your top tips for people who wanted to eat healthy?

Don’t deprive yourself of what you want. When something becomes “off-limits,” people tend to want it more.

You don’t have to wait until Monday to makes changes―it can start now.

Think of the overall pattern of eating. Rather than think that a piece of chocolate cake will be the death of you―think how often you are having it. If you don’t have it every day or very often, what is the harm?

Focus more on what you really need to add to your diet rather than what you need to cut out. Add fruits, vegetables, plant-based protein and lean animal protein, and whole grains, and the rest will likely fall into place.

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