We got the chance to talk to Alix Turoff, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. We talked about what got her into health and nutrition, why acai food bowls should be approached with caution, and how to properly approach living a healthy lifestyle. Read on to learn from a real nutrition pro!
Alix: I went through my own weight loss journey as a teenager. I can think back to 5th grade, and I always felt chubbier than my friends and peers. Keep in mind, when I look back on it, I was SO normal and probably would've grown out of this phase. However, in 9th grade something just snapped and I remember being in a dressing room in a Century 21 Department store (very specific, I know)... I tried on a pair of pants and just felt so horribly unhappy with my body. I remember saying out loud to my mother at that time "I'm not eating ever again". And the thing about me is that I don't say I'm going to something unless I'm actually going to do it and the next day... I woke up and I just stopped eating. I had NO idea how to lose weight in a healthy way and to me, the most sensible way to lose weight was just to eat less. I would try to eat as little as I could each day and started running every day.
It got to the point where I was eating fewer than 300 calories a day and running 6+ miles daily. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and met with a team that consisted of a physician, a therapist and an RD. While I can't say I got nothing out of the treatment, I felt completely misunderstood by the RD. I went in there eating 300 calories per day and was petrified of food. Her advice to me was just "here's your meal plan, I want you eating at least 2600 calories per day... come back to me next week to be weighed". I knew that this approach was wrong and I lied my way through the process, faked my food journals and wound up with even more issues than when I went in. Long story short, I ultimately received the right kind of help and I am now completely recovered (more than 10 years later). I saw such a hole in the industry and just felt that there had to be a better way to be treating these disorders.
I then went to college and started to see how many people were really dealing with sub-clinical eating disorders and some really bad relationships with food. We can tell people all day long to "love their bodies" but when you are so unhappy, that goes in one ear and out the other. My goal as a professional in this field is to help people to find the balance that I've found. I think it's okay to want to change your body but there's a healthy way to do it. I preach flexibility, balance and most importantly, evidence-based nutrition. I try to break down fads, take the stigma away from certain things and just show people that they CAN have it all.
Alix: Fitness is a very important part of my life. To an extent, it's true that you "can't out exercise a bad diet' but that's not why I love fitness. Exercise to me is about the mental benefits. It focuses me and centers me for the day. I feel strong and empowered when I increase my strength or my speed. I started teaching indoor cycling classes at Equinox when I was in grad school at NYU to help pay for my tuition and also pay for my gym membership. From there, I thought it was important to also get my Certified Personal Trainer license from NASM because there's a ton of crossover when it comes to nutrition and fitness and although I had a good handle on exercise and how it worked for my body, I wanted to make sure that if I was giving exercise advice, that I was within my scope of practice. I love being able to speak to both aspects of wellness. I also do some consulting work-- I do FDA compliant labeling for food companies, I've been involved in research for clinical studies, I've worked on a start-up to develop a nutrition app... I'm always trying to keep up with what's new and I think that by diversifying myself and my experience, I can share so much more with my clients.
"The biggest misconception is that a nutritionist or health coach is the same thing as a Registered Dietitian."
Alix: Probably the biggest misconception is that a nutritionist or health coach is the same thing as a Registered Dietitian. A Registered Dietitian is the highest level of nutrition counseling. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, but only a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) must have a bachelor's degree, complete a one year dietetic internship and sit for a rigorous registration exam. Many RDs also hold graduate degrees (I have a Master's degree in Clinical Nutrition from NYU). As a result, we are able to provide "Medical Nutrition Therapy" which means that we can work with clients on much more than weight management including but not limited to Diabetes, PCOS, Kidney Disease and more.
Alix: I always say that it's best to just stay in the "middle of the road". The truth is, nutrition is a young science and we're constantly learning new things. Another rule of thumb... look for primary sources. Media outlets will often report stories in a way that convolutes the original message. It's important to explore the original research when questioning if something is legitimate.
I truly don't believe that any food is inherently healthy or unhealthy because what can be healthy for someone might not be great for someone else.
Alix: I truly don't believe that any food is inherently healthy or unhealthy because what can be healthy for someone might not be great for someone else BUT there are some "food fakers" out there. Food fakers are foods that seem very innocent but actually contain a lot more calories, sugar, fat, etc than you'd think. One of these is Acai bowls. You can absolutely make a quality acai bowl at home but most restaurants and juice bars that are selling these bowls are using sweetened acai and then loading on the toppings. These bowls have more than 100 grams of carbs each which is more than a bagel, yet people are avoiding bagels because they have too many carbs.
Alix: Bring some of your own snacks. Airplane food isn't even good so why "waste" an indulgence there. I absolutely enjoy myself and try tons of new foods when I travel but if you're traveling frequently for work, you can't be in the "treat yourself" mindset every time you walk into an airport. I advise my clients to "save where they can". Let's say you have an early flight, you're up at 5 AM and get to the airport... half the places aren't even open yet and the other half are fast food places that you can go to on any day. To me, why waste a meal on that? Bring something with you or go to Starbucks or another chain where you can get an egg-white breakfast sandwich or some hard boiled eggs and a fruit. ALWAYS bring workout clothes. Especially if you're planning to indulge more than usual, there's no reason not to try to squeeze in a workout. Running, walking or biking outside is a great way to explore a new place. Hydration is also important-- I always take extra water bottles from the hotel gym so my room is stocked.
Alix: Definitely coffee
Specialties: Nutrition Consultant & Certified Personal Trainer
Degrees: Bachelor's of Science in Media Culture & Communications and Nutrition and Master's in Clinical Nutrition (both from NYU)