Interviews / August 16, 2012

Heather Bauer, RD

By Charles Platkin, PhD
Heather received her RD from the University of Wisconsin and started her career in the pre- and post-natal nutrition unit at Maimonides Medical Center in New York, and as a nutritionist at Equinox Fitness Club in New York. She is also the author of The Wall Street Diet (Hyperion, 2008).

Name: Heather Bauer, RD, CDN

Location: New York City

Diet Detective: Heather, thanks for answering our questions. How did you get in to the nutrition business?

Heather: I have always been passionate about food and nutrition.. My interest truly surfaced when I made the connection between what I was eating and how it affected my athletic performance. I was a competitive runner growing up, and it gradually became obvious to me that there was a strong association between what I ate and how I performed. It seems like an obvious link, but most of us simply ignore it! It was only natural for me to turn this undeniable connection between food and performance into a career. After I finished school, I started working with extremely busy, overworked and stressed out people at a New York gym. It was at this juncture that I realized I could not only help these people reach their weight goals, but also help them feel better and be more productive. The truth is, I’m much more interested in the “people” part of nutrition than the hard science — I find the combination of food and psychology much more intriguing than the chemistry of it. The science is exciting and widely available today but the trick is to make the science work for you. It’s important to know how many calories are in a piece of lean chicken or how tryptophan will affect your brain chemistry, but it’s more satisfying to see those facts translate into someone being able to finally lose weight or finally feel energetic all day. That’s my goal, and the satisfaction I get from helping people is indescribable.

Diet Detective: Can you tell us a bit about The Wall Street Diet — what makes it unique and different from the plethora of diet books out there?

Heather:The Wall Street Diet is a lifestyle book. The original title was Live Your Life, Not Your Diet. The publishers didn’t like that title but it still describes what my book is. Many diets are created around an ideal of what people should eat. You have to change your life to follow that plan. These plans are often unrealistic and impossible to follow in the long-term. They’re typically set up for a week or two with some gesture of “maintenance”, and are frequently unhealthy.

I took an opposite approach. I saw every issue that made my clients fail on diets in the past and created strategies to combat those issues. Very few people have never been on a diet before. Most of my clients have been on multiple diets that work until LIFE happens— a celebration, a business trip, a work deadline, a vacation. Busy people need a plan that works with them. For example, a large portion of my clients entertain for business and consume one or two alcoholic drinks daily. Many diets tell you that you must completely give up alcohol if you want to lose weight. My clients told me that they simply would not give up their cocktail or their glass of wine (I refer to these as “non-negotiables”). So what’s the point of telling people they can’t drink if you know that in their everyday life, they’re going to? That’s building-in failure. Instead, I give strategies and guidelines so you can have your “non-negotiables”, but still lose weight by eliminating something else from your diet that matters less to you.

The busier you are and the more hectic your life is, the more effective this book will be for you. You don’t have to be a Wall Street CEO — I have plenty of stay-at-home moms whose lives are just as hectic as any international lawyer’s or business executive. The point is, if you need to juggle your time and you can’t always predict or determine precisely what your next meal will be, this book is for you.

Diet Detective: What makes it so difficult for people to lose weight and keep it off?

Heather: Most people can lose weight but have trouble keeping it off. Anyone can shed a few pounds — it’s not that hard. Keeping it off is the tough part, particularly if you have a busy lifestyle. Roughly one percent of my clients come to me without ever having tried a diet before, and ninety percent are successful at reaching their weight-loss goals. Why does my diet work when so many others have failed for people? It’s because it’s geared to everyday, busy lives. I always ask my clients what diets they’ve been on and why they didn’t work. The reason is always that something happened or changed in their lives that made it impossible to follow the diet. They started to commute, to entertain at work, to have kids— the diets they were on didn’t teach them how to live in that world.

It’s easy to diet if you can stay at home, cook all your meals, have a regular schedule, and constantly stock the house with nothing but healthy low-cal foods. In reality, how many people live like that? If you have kids, travel, eat out a lot, or are in situations where you can’t choose what you’re eating, you’re obviously going to have trouble keeping weight off unless you have strategies.

Here’s an interesting example. I met an elderly woman recently who looked fantastic – slim and trim. I complimented her on her appearance and she told me that once upon a time controlling her weight had been hard for her. Years ago she made a recognition— if she never snacked and only ate meals, she could stick to her best weight rather easily. It was a simple strategy, but it worked for her. These are the type of strategies I share with readers— simple things you can change that will make a significant impact on your life…

Diet Detective: What is it about being busy that thwarts our efforts to stay fit?

Heather: Do you know anyone who’s not busy? The truth is that real life is about juggling. I don’t know anyone who wakes up in the morning with nothing to do but go to the gym and cook special meals. Everyone is running to beat the clock. It becomes difficult if you’re trying to follow a particular plan that requires you live outside your regular routine. You may be able to do it for a while but sooner or later you’ll find yourself in an impossible situation and “fall off” your diet. When that happens, not only do you lose ground in terms of your weight loss goals, but it also makes you feel defeated. You need strategies at your fingertips. As my clients call it, you need a voice in your head to help navigate the challenges of daily life, and continue to eat well. That’s what The Wall Street Diet is— strategies at your fingertips.

Diet Detective: Tell us about carrying an emergency eating pack. What should we put in it?

Heather: I recommend that my clients create their own personal emergency eating pack. They might want to keep it at the office, in their briefcase, or in their carry-on bag for travel. They can rely on it whenever healthy food isn’t available — while traveling, at long meetings, etc. The basic emergency eating pack would include: One nutrition bar (no chocolate or vanilla coating) that’s under 200 calories, Fiber Rich crackers, peanut butter packets (between 100 and 200 calories), Baby Bell light cheese, and a one liter bottled water. Needless to say, this would vary depending on personal taste — I give many alternatives in my book. And, by the way, lots of my clients travel with Fiber Rich crackers in those plastic soap dishes— they fit perfectly!

Diet Detective: What’s the best grab-and-go meal?

Heather: Of course it would depend on whether you’re looking for lunch or dinner, and it would depend on whether you’re at home, in an airport, at a highway rest stop, etc. I give lots and lots of specific top fast food and restaurant picks in the book for all these situations. However, many people feel it’s a big relief to just know that a delicious and healthy lunch or dinner can simply be a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with mustard and lettuce. You can grab this most anywhere — a deli or a diner.

Diet Detective: What was the most interesting nutrition concept you’ve found in the last few years that would surprise us?

Heather: Don’t worry about exercise! I tell people to forget about exercise and focus on diet. I can’t tell you how many of my clients come to me and say they simply can’t or won’t exercise because they have no time and/or no desire. They’re so discouraged about always being told that they must exercise that they use it as an excuse to avoid dealing with weight issues.

Of course, exercise is important, and most of my clients find that once they lose a few pounds, they make time for exercise. I exercise every day and ideally, it’s an important part of everyone’s routine. However, I understand that some people truly don’t have the time. This lack of time leads them to put better health and weight-loss on the back burner. While it’s true that you can always control your time, it’s also true that you can always control what you put in your mouth! So focus on the eating first and the exercise will follow. Don’t let anything stop you from making your next meal a healthy one.

Diet Detective: What do you consider the world’s most perfect food?

Heather: In general, a variety of foods is critical to good health. I don’t think there is a most perfect food. Food tastes are so individualized. For example, some excellent foods like turkey would not be a good choice for a vegetarian. Eggs can be an excellent food choice, but for some people they’re too high in cholesterol. Mallomars are a pretty perfect food in many ways but they do have some serious drawbacks!

Diet Detective: Tell us the biggest secret that dietitians typically don’t tell their clients, but should?

Heather: There are a lot of slow-losers out there. Most people don’t lose two pounds each week until they reach they’re goal. Some people won’t lose weight until they’re on a plan for a month. This is why many people live their lives chasing various diets—they aren’t on any one diet long enough to see visible results. Persistence pays. You must have patience and give a diet at least a month.

Diet Detective: How do you get a body by Heather Bauer? What do you need to do each day?

Heather: Embrace who you are as an eater. In the book I talk about figuring out if you’re a Clean Plate Clubber or a Controlled Eater. The truth is, you can’t change who you are as an eater. I’m a Clean Plate Clubber. I can’t be trusted with peanut butter — I’ll eat an entire jar! If we have any in the house, my husband knows to hide it from me. It’s important to learn the strategies that apply to your life. For many people the single most important can-do to help lose weight is to plan ahead. What’s your day going to be like? Where/when are you going to have lunch and dinner? When are you going to have breakfast? What about snacks?

Diet Detective: What are your hobbies?

Heather: I have a beautiful daughter and my free time these days is all about spending time with her. I love being outdoors — to run, hike, bike, and ski.

Diet Detective: Which historical figure can you relate to most?

Heather: Marie Antoinette, who famously said, “Let them eat cake”. This advice would create a huge audience for my book. She also had a fabulous wardrobe.

Diet Detective: What’s your favorite “junk food?”

Heather: Where do I begin? If I’m craving sweets, I like Mallomars and anything chocolate. On the salty/starchy side, I like French fries. For a dual-purpose food, there are always chocolate covered pretzels. (Can you tell that I’m a true Clean Plate Club eater?)

 
Diet Detective: What’s your favorite healthy breakfast?

Heather: I tend to be a Phase Eater. In the book I talk about Phase Eating. It’s a great strategy for busy people. You just pick a breakfast or lunch that you like and is healthy and stick with it. Research shows that more choices mean more food consumed. Phase Eating is easy and works really well. Right now for breakfast I’m having Greek yogurt with a half cup Kashi Go Lean cereal mixed in. I also throw a few strawberries to top it off. In the winter, I may have an egg white omelet or oatmeal.

Diet Detective: Who do you respect most, or who motivates you?

Heather: I really respect my grandfather. He was a Holocaust survivor who came to this country with nothing. He learned the language, built a business, and created a rich life for himself. He had to overcome terrible losses and start over — that’s not an easy thing to do. It’s difficult for me in my happy, comfortable life to imagine what he went through. As for someone who motivates me, I’ve always been very self-motivated. I had to struggle with learning issues in school. I had a diagnosed learning disability and many people felt I wouldn’t go anywhere. After having to work harder than most people, seeing any measure of success would truly motivate me.

Diet Detective: If you weren’t a dietitian, what would you be?

Heather: I can’t imagine being anything else — I love what I do. The satisfaction I get from seeing people change their lives is incredible. There really is no better gift in life than helping others. It was always my life dream to have my own business, be a mother, and juggle it all. I feel I’m doing what I’ve always wanted.

Diet Detective: What do you do to reduce stress/relax/center your mind? Do you participate in an organized relaxation activity such as yoga, meditation or tai chi?

Heather: I run frequently and also enjoy doing yoga. I also do Physique 57, which is a combination of stretching, yoga, pilates and core strengthening.

Diet Detective: What was your worst summer job?

Heather: I worked in a high school cafeteria as part of my professional training. The combination of having to deal with hungry, high-energy high school students, while wearing a hairnet, was perhaps the most challenging and demoralizing work I’ve ever done. My hat (and hairnet) goes off to cafeteria workers around the world!

Diet Detective: What’s your motto?

Heather: Live your life, not your diet!






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