Interview with Nutritionist Dr. Lisa Young

by Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH

Dr. Lisa Young, a portion-control and nutrition expert, broke new ground for readers with her first book, The Portion Teller.  Understanding that portion sizes can easily be underestimated and derail your diet is critical to healthy eating and weight control. In her new book, Dr. Young teaches readers how portion control, mindful eating and other life patterns can positively and permanently impact eating behaviors. Recommendations based on time-tested research help readers to adjust their eating habits for a healthier lifestyle.  I was fortunate enough to grab an email interview with Dr. Young.

Lisa, thanks for the opportunity to interview you. I would love to know how you became interested in food. Was it an early passion? What was your motivation?

Dr. Lisa Young: I was always interested in food and nutrition as a kid. I was influenced by my grandma Ceil, who was fighting breast cancer as well as struggling with weight. She was my inspiration,  because she turned to nutrition and healthy eating as a way to fight her cancer, and she did, indeed, live with cancer for 2O years. In college, at Wharton/University of Pennsylvania, I majored in health care administration and sought out all elective classes that were nutrition- and food-related. And so my passion began. After running a weight-loss program for 3 years, I decided to go back to graduate school and formally study nutrition.

As an nutritionist, what are some of the changes and trends you’ve observed in the food world over the last 20 years?
Dr. Lisa Young: I’ve observed the portion sizes of commonly consumed foods increasing—really quite a lot. No one was talking about big portions in the 1990s, and I decided to write my doctoral dissertation on growing portions.  Sodas, fast food, restaurant portions, bagels, candy, and most other foods have increased in size. Many foods we commonly eat are now 2 to 5 times larger than they were 50 years ago. That’s a huge increase, which certainly explains our obesity epidemic in the US. Plates, mugs, cup holders in cars, and even hospital gowns, have increased in size. 

Tell us about eating healthfully? Why INCREASE your portions? Why should someone load up on non-starchy veggies to lose weight? 
Dr. Lisa Young: Eating healthfully is about balance and moderation. It’s about eating foods from all the food groups, varying your food choices, and, of course, watching your portions. There is an exception, however, when it comes to fruits and veggies. 

It’s very hard to get people to eat less, because they feel deprived. A simple solution is to recommend that they eat more fruits and veggies, which are super-nutritious, high in fiber, low in calories, and a win-win for weight loss. As I tell clients, no one got fat eating too many carrots. 

Can you define the term “healthy eating?”
Dr. Lisa Young: Healthy eating is about balance and moderation. It’s about eating foods from all the food groups and not feeling deprived. It’s also about creating a healthy lifestyle you can sustain. 

What if you’re not a “portion” person? What if you just can’t stop yourself from eating everything you see in front of you? Can you eat everything you see? 
Dr. Lisa Young: I come from a family of “volume eaters”— lovers of big portions. The key is learning which foods to downsize and which you can supersize. If you can’t stop yourself from eating certain junk foods (cookies, chips), Id suggest not bringing them into the house and enjoying a small taste when you are out. 

What non-related issues (e.g., sleep habits) are important to healthy eating? Dr. Lisa Young: Getting enough sleep along with regular exercise are so important. Research shows that when people are sleep deprived, they often overeat. And they make poor choices. Exercise not only burns calories but it’s also good for your mood. A win-win.

What’s the one thing you’d suggest people keep in their kitchen if they want to cook healthy meals?
Dr. Lisa Young: Keep measuring cups and spoons handy and use them on occasion. You may be surprised what a cup or tablespoon of your favorite food looks like.

What food person do you respect most, or who motivates you?
Dr. Lisa Young: Marion Nestle, my NYU mentor, has been an inspiration.

How would you describe healthy foods?
Dr. Lisa Young: WHOLE foods that don’t come in packages. Colorful fruits and vegetables, for instance.

Your proudest moment?
Dr. Lisa Young: Finishing my PhD and writing my books.

As a child you wanted to be?
Dr. Lisa Young: A famous nutritionist.

What’s your motto?
Dr. Lisa Young: Size matters! At least when it comes to food portions. 🙂

What is the best advice you have been given?
Dr. Lisa Young: Do what you love!

Grew up in: Long Island, NY 
City or town you call home: upper east side of Manhattan (NY, NY) and Lawrence, NY. 
Job title: Nutritionist in private practice and adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU
Background and education: Received undergrad degree at The WHARTON School/ University of Pennsylvania. Master’s degree and PhD in nutrition from NYU.
One word you would use to describe our food system: A work in progress
Foodie hero: Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers
Your breakfast this morning: yogurt with berries and walnuts
Favorite food: whole wheat pizza with lots of veggies 
Last meal on Earth: peanut butter ice cream
Your healthiest habit: daily exercise
Least healthy habit: go to bed too late      
Food policy social media must follow:@marionnestle @cspi
Food newsletter, website or book you can’t stop reading:I love Nutrition Action and Consumer Reports
Your proudest “food” moment: being recognized for my work on portion sizes and contribution to the field of nutrition

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