Melissa Burton, based in Pasadena, is a woman of many talents. Owner of the website thevalentineRD.com, she also is a Registered Dietitian (RD), Certified Diabetes Educator, and holds a Certificate in Adult Weight Management (CDE) from AND.
In addition to her expertise in nutrition and as a diabetes educator, Melissa has a certification in weight management, but she does not consider her specialization to be weight loss. “My objective as an RD is to educate people about food and nutrition and to help them recognize their eating patterns,” she says. “Many people seek the counseling of an RD to lose weight, but weight loss is not only about calories in versus calories out and eating ‘healthy’ foods. People eat not just to sustain life in the metabolic sense, they eat for many more reasons than sustenance.” She maintains that there is always an emotional, social, financial, educational and lifestyle component to why, what, when, how and how much people eat.
To help her patients and clients lose weight without restricting calories, she tries to educate people about food and take the demonization out. “In my mind there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods just like you are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ if you eat certain foods,” she says. “There is a place for every kind of food that someone likes in a healthy lifestyle. There are some foods that are healthier than others and I encourage people to eat foods that are as close as possible to how they were when they either came out of the ground, or off a tree, or with minimal processing.”
Teaching people what carbohydrates, proteins and fats are can be very eye opening to people. Melissa believes that that learning to read food labels, and noticing the number of ingredients listed on food labels, can allow people to make educated empowered choices about the foods they choose to eat.
In her experience, restriction of any kind such as calories and specific foods creates what she calls the ‘boomerang’ or ‘Hoover’ effect. “The chronic sense of deprivation sends someone from being strictly adherent to what they’ve been avoiding to doing the absolute opposite,” she says. “They Hoover or vacuum up the thing they’ve been avoiding and they cannot stop. Finding a way to include foods that are considered ‘triggers’ or ‘slippery slope’ foods is also very important in achieving a heathy eating mindset. Helping people to gain confidence in their own abilities to choose foods or give themselves permission to eat foods formerly considered ‘bad‘ are major steps toward a lifetime of healthy eating and living versus the ‘I need to diet to lose weight’ mentality.”
We need to eat multiple times a day just in order to live. There are people who eat to live and others who live to eat. Melissa believes that a healthy lifestyle can be a blend of both. “My nutrition practice speciality is women’s health,” she says. “I find that many women become interested in nutrition beyond the vanity phase before and during pregnancy. This is a time when women are open to learning about nutrition and when special attention to the growing of another human being, or two, is of the utmost importance.”
When asked if there are any specific foods that assist with weight loss, she says that there are not any specific foods per se, but consuming adequate fiber in the diet can certainly help with satiety and regular elimination of solid waste. “Fiber requirements for women are 25g per day and 38g per day for men,” she says. “The average American does not meet this with daily intake. Many nutrient-dense plant-based foods like fruit and vegetables are high in fiber so in the effort to lose weight, I do advocate fruit, vegetables, beans, whole grains and water. This is because in addition to increasing nutrient intake these foods increase fiber intake and help people feel full for longer. If people do not properly hydrate, the increased fiber can lead to constipation. With fiber one always needs adequate hydration of at least 30 ml per kg body weight, more if exercising or depending on climate.
Melissa does not generally recommend dietary supplements for people who want to lose weight. “However,” she says, “if one’s intake does not meet all of the daily vitamin and nutrient needs sometimes a multivitamin may be in order. Also asking your doctor to check at blood draws for nutrient deficiencies such as Vitamin D, B12, or calcium (especially for women) may help optimize metabolism with supplements if nutrient deficiencies are detected.” A multivitamin can often act as an appetite stimulant in those with long term poor intake history. Once the body receives missing nutrients on a regular basis, it often begins to give signals of hunger to replete stores.
While for some people hormone imbalances may be hindering their weight loss efforts, stress, sleep and intake patterns can also have an effect on weight loss efforts. If stress, sleep, intake changes and exercise do not have positive effects on weight loss, she recommends a blood work panel to check thyroid hormones, insulin levels, or in women to test for androgens (male hormones) that may play a part in PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) which all may prevent expected weight loss.
The most important piece of advice she can give to someone that wants to lose weight is to find a way to make healthy eating a part of one’s lifestyle, not just go on a diet. “As an RD, I hate that my professional title has the words ‘die’ and ‘diet’ within a helping profession,” she says. “However, I am proud to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, the newest term for RDs) because we are the nutrition experts. Anyone in the world can call themselves a Nutritionist but Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RD or RDN) have standardized formal and practical education requirements that need to be met before being eligible to take and pass the Registered Dietitian exam.” Indeed, RDs and RDNs must also take 70 continuing education credits every five years to keep themselves in good professional standing.
Melissa adds, “Most people know that exercise, healthy eating, sleep, moderate stress and proper hydration are keys to losing weight but what we eat and the way we live is more than the sum of science. It’s imperative that someone starting on weight loss journey find their own measure of support, patience and the willingness to learn.” She maintains that it is important not to let the pills, cleanses and diets promising a new body, and a new life, play upon one’s insecurities.
“Your mind is the most important part of a weight loss effort,” she says. “With nutrition education comes empowerment and the beginning of a healthy lifestyle on one’s own terms.”