We had the chance to talk to Shelley Rael, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We touched on topics such as her approach to physical and mental well-being, how to approach the "science" of food, and the frustration that comes with people demonizing certain foods. Read on to learn more about the world of nutrition from a pro!

Oola: To start off, tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Shelley: I am a RDN - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. I've been a dietitian since 1999 always working in the area of wellness and disease risk reduction. I help people stay healthy as much as possible. After working in employee health and wellness for 13 years at the same university I attended I ventured out on my own. I work with people virtually, and a professional speaker and writer. I also help dispel nutrition myths and misinformation calling myself a #NutritionMythBuster

Oola: What inspired you to focus on the field of diet and nutrition?

Shelley: My mom was self-educated about nutrition and I was raised knowing a lot about the nutritional value of food. She was part of a food co-op and into "natural" foods when it wasn't yet "cool". I remember that every year I would come home from summer camp sick. I was usually getting sick by the end of the week while still at summer camp and would be sick for several days after I came home. I didn't realize until later that it was because I was eating so terribly, lots of junk food, while at camp and that was why I was getting sick. Later as I was sitting in a class where the instructor was talking about nutrition that I realized that it is not common knowledge, how food can directly impact our health. When I found out that it can be a career, I was in. Something that we do every single day (eat) can influence how we feel today and or long-term health. Who wouldn't want to do that? I get to talk about food for a living.

healthy food

I find that a lot of people don't always think about how they eat unless they are trying to lose weight, but there is so much more to food and nutrition than just weight management.

Oola: Do you specialize in a particular area? Can you elaborate on what it entails?

Shelley: My primary focus is helping people have more physical and mental energy using food and physical activity. Without supplements or other stimulants, but adjusting the amount, type and timing of their food. I consider myself a "wellness dietitian" because I also help with chronic disease risk reduction/management - this is a fancy way of saying that I help people stay healthy for as long as possible, healthy aging, and/or manage their disease through food as much as possible.

An example of this is high blood pressure. There is a LOT we can do with our diet that can significantly help reduce the right for hypertension (or chronic high blood pressure. So, we can do a lot to reduce our chances of getting hypertension. If we do get the diagnosis, there is a lot we can do with our diet that can help manage it. It doesn't mean NO medication, but perhaps LESS medication.

We can really reduce our risk for or manage the occurrence of heart disease including heart attacks, certain kinds of strokes, diabetes, certain types of cancers, migraines, osteoporosis, inflammatory diseases, and of course, weight.

I find that a lot of people don't always think about how they eat unless they are trying to lose weight, but there is so much more to food and nutrition than just weight management. It is about 75% of what affects our risk of getting a disease - when genetics is about 25% of our risk. For example, we can have a genetic predisposition for getting colon cancer, but MOST of what affects whether we will get it is our lifestyle, including what we eat.

healthy stir fry

I don't promote weight loss, but feeling better physically and mentally.

Oola: You offer free live webinars on various topics such as "The quest for energy" and "Eating is Not Cheating." How effective have those been to increaseyour reach in an effort to help more people?

Shelley: I find that these webinars help me reach a lot of people. This is a way for people to get some information from a qualified health professional for no obligation. The information is valuable and even if someone never does anything else with me if they get one or two things from the webinar I am happy. Anyone who listens to these webinars not only learns about eating and nutrition but they also get a sense of my approach to nutrition and food. For example, the title of the webinar "Eating is Not Cheating" already says something about my approach and a LOT of people have told me that they love the title - and it encouraged them to listen and change their attitude towards food.

I find if someone is ready to STOP the cycle of "dieting" and go with an approach of eating healthier, then they are more interested in what I have to say. I don't promote weight loss, but feeling better physically and mentally. And the cool thing about that is weight loss does happen even when people aren't focusing on that.

Oola: What's a common misconception people have about working with a Dietitian?

Shelley: People think of us as the "food police"! We are not. To a lot of us, this idea of us just randomly monitoring or judging what people eat just isn't what we do and it is like nails on a chalkboard. In social settings meeting someone for the first time and being asked what we do? People will automatically act like they have walked into a confessional and start telling us about their latest (usually trend or fad) diet or say "oh, don't look at my plate." The network of dietitians I know find balance in what we eat and drink and that includes coffee, alcohol, red meat and dessert. People tend to be surprised that we eat "normally". Even my clients still will tell me that they had some food they feel they shouldn't and call it cheating. I really have to help them change that mindset. They had some chocolate. Move on. Any guilt or shame about it is coming from past experiences - not from me. No extremes.

I think people may be afraid of being told how to eat - they may feel obligated to change. So avoiding it may be easier.

dietitian with food

Nutrition is a science and like many of the sciences, it isn't so much what changes as much as we finally (think) we have an understanding of something.

Oola: One day we read in the news that something is bad for us, the next day we read it's good. Is there a rule of thumb or method to use to figure out which to believe?

Shelley: Before I answer, can you remind me of what Pluto's status is today? Nutrition is a science and like many of the sciences, it isn't so much what changes as much as we finally (think) we have an understanding of something. Even though we didn't know that vitamin C was so important and critical to our health, 200 years ago, that doesn't mean it wasn't important then. We just understand it differently now.

I teach college nutrition and the first week or class we talk about the scientific method and different types of studies. Sometimes we have unethical researches, we have inaccurate reporting by both the researcher and the media. We need to look at the actual studies and ask, was this study looking at humans or mice or rats? Sometimes animal studies get a lot of attention, but a rat study about a food or food substance doesn't always mean it will have the same effect on humans. It if is a human study, how many people and who were the people. My husband read in a magazine about a study that showed some substance would help build muscle faster. Getting some key information from the magazine article, I was able to look up the study and found that is had 11 men in their early 20's. So this doesn't mean much in making widespread recommendations.

So, the bottom line: just do a couple of clicks and ask the question was this humans or animals? How many people? How long? A study that shows something helps with weight loss but is only a 6-week study, isn't going to mean much for long-term changes. One study does not result in sweeping changes in recommendations. One substance or one food or one thing does not make or break a diet or disease risk. It is the overall pattern of eating many types of foods that will affect us in the long term.

A rule of thumb? Look a bit deeper. Look past the headlines. If someone references a study, click a few more times to see who, what, where and when the study happened. If something says a "university study" you should be able to determine which university instantly.

knife with butter

Oola: What's a food that a lot of people consider healthy that is actually pretty unhealthy?

Shelley: Wine - so many people tell me that they drink red wine because it is so good for them, good for their heart. But what people mistakenly think is that more is better. That isn't to say to skip the wine but stop justifying a four bottle a week habit by saying it is healthy.

But another thing is butter and other solid fats. I use butter because it is fine in small amounts. But some people are using these fats to such excess that is has a potential negative impact on their health. Fats are things we add to our foods for flavor and texture. Fat isn't a food group, but part of food we eat. Adding it in these very large quantities I see people using is not a good thing to overall and long-term health.

Whether you are flying or driving I always suggest that people pack snacks.

Oola: Eating healthy while traveling can be a real challenge. Any tips for making it more manageable?

Shelley: Pack snacks and have a plan! Whether you are flying or driving I always suggest that people pack snacks. You never know what your options will be or what kind of delays might happen. Especially with flying. You may think you have a couple of hours to get something to eat and find that you are lucky to make a connection.

Snacks can include fruit, trail mix, your favorite "bar" and a water bottle. I always have a water bottle with me so I don't have to buy water.

Once at a destination - be choosy. Sometimes you can stick to your usual habits, but I always suggest that people ask for what they would like, within reason.

Personally, I find that I can usually manage things better when I travel by having a good breakfast, a midday snack, and an "early dinner" at around 4 or 5 pm if the schedule allows.

I often help people strategize their travel depending on what they are traveling for and how long they will be away.

array of vegetables

Oola: What's a big trend in american diets that you think is really positive or negative?

Shelley: The trend of demonizing foods is frustrating. I say that having a hot dog at the ball game isn't going to be the death of you unless you choke on it. The drive to the ball game is usually more dangerous than what people eat there. But by watching what people say about certain foods and types of foods you would never know this.

The trend I am seeing that isn't the good is the trend to avoiding plant foods because they are "high in carbs" when they have a lot of vitamins, mineral, fiber, and so many nutrients that are only found in plants.

I always say, the potato isn't the problem, it is what we DO to the potato that makes it less healthy. This will not be good for long term health. This does not mean to avoid animal foods, but really, people have really gone over the top on having having such a high animal protein diet to the exclusion of some plant foods.

  • Really positive: people are much more aware of what they eat.
  • Really negative: people just go to such extremes with their diets. It is ridiculous.

Oola: If you could only keep one of the following items in your diet for the rest of time, which would it be: Coffee, Ice Cream, or Bacon?

Shelley: Coffee, Coffee Ice Cream, Coffee Infused Bacon (I've made that coffee infused bacon). Final answer: coffee

Oola: What advice do you have to give to our readers for living life to their tastes while maintaining a healthy diet?

ice cream cone

Shelley: Don't think that having something you want or like is being "bad" or "cheating". When we are told we cannot have something or do something, we tend to rebel and desire it more. Remember Adam and Eve? They could have anything but that one thing. And they chose that one thing. Once we let go of that mentality, then it becomes less enticing. Any "diet" that tells you that you cannot have something you really want? It isn't the diet for you.

I encourage people to stop the all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking. Enjoy food. And stop making things off limits.

Oola: Anything else you'd like to comment on while we have you?

Shelley: I encourage people to stop the all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking. Enjoy food. And stop making things off limits. Adopting healthier eating and lifestyle habits doesn't require a Monday or the first of the month, but can start in the very next moment or the very next meal. Having ice cream or chips isn't "bad" it is a choice that is made. If people truly want to feel better and feel good then choose foods the help them feel good.

To learn more about Shelley Rael and her work, follow her at:

Visit Shelley's website at: shelleyrael.com

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