"So focusing on what the body needs and wants, rather than focusing on some diet to tell us what we need to eat."
In today’s episode, we welcome Diana Figueroa, a dedicated registered dietitian with expertise in mindful and intuitive eating at Doherty Nutrition. With a strong background in clinical nutrition and a holistic approach to health, Diana shares her insights into fostering healthier relationships with food. Join us as we explore the principles of mindful eating, the impact of cultural diversity, and how to transition from dieting to a more sustainable and fulfilling approach to nutrition. Diana’s guidance will inspire you to make healthier, more mindful food choices for a balanced and fulfilling life.
Diana Figueroa is not just an experienced dietitian; she’s a true authority in the field. Her extensive background covers a wide spectrum of vital topics, from women’s health and hormonal balance to diabetes management and the art of mindful/intuitive eating.
[00:32] Shireen Abdullah: In today’s episode, we welcome Diana Figueroa. A dedicated, registered dietician with expertise in mindful and intuitive eating, at Doherty Nutrition. With a strong background in clinical nutrition and a holistic approach to health, Diana shares her insights into fostering healthier relationships with food. Join us as we explore the principles of mindful eating, the impact of cultural diversity, and how to transition from dieting to a more sustainable and fulfilling approach to nutrition. Diana’s guidance will inspire you to make healthier, more mindful food choices for a balanced and fulfilling life. Stay tuned.
[01:15] Shireen: We are delighted to have Diana Figueroa as a guest on our podcast episode today. Diana is not just an experienced dietician, she’s a true authority in the field. Her extensive background covers a wide spectrum of vital topics, from Women’s Health and hormonal balance to diabetes management and the art of mindful and intuitive eating. Welcome, Diana.
[01:40] Diana Figueroa: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so thankful for you to have this platform and to just share what my passion is. So, I’m looking forward to it and going into it.
[01:52] Shireen: An absolute pleasure having you on. Just to kick things off here, Diana. First, we want to know a little bit about you and your story. Can you tell us what exactly led you to pursue a career in nutrition and dietetics? And how did you become so passionate about really fostering healthy relationships with food and improving physical well-being?
[02:11] Diana: Yeah, I think it comes from-I mean everything, right? When we’re young, for me, everything involves food, right? And the culture. I’m Mexican. So I saw my grandma making cheese from scratch, making tortillas from scratch. And this is, you know, I would go every summer and she would be out in the middle of nowhere in Mexico. So, just the art of just food itself and just the taste, and like the culinary side was something that I was really interested in. And I love to cook, but what really got me going was the emphasis that my parents put on preventative health. Also, because again, it’s the way that I experienced it. I don’t know if it’s part of my culture, but also, yeah, preventing any sort of chronic diseases. So, doing the best that we can with nutrition and things that we have under our control. My mom was very much-she influenced me in that way. And so, my parents really got me started. Then, I went from there. Then, I really never had another career path that was the career path I wanted to choose. I wanted to do something with nutrition and preventing any sort of diseases. And so, that’s what got me going.
[03:22] Shireen: That’s lovely. And so, you also worked at the County Hospital. Tell us a little bit of your experience there. What was that like?
[03:30] Diana: Oh, it was great. You get so much experience. If you’re a dietician and you’re listening, that’s where you need to go get experience because you will get everything under the sun. So, diabetes, kidney disease, really anything. Everything you get experience with. And then, I was actually at the Women’s Health Clinic. Also, it was the refugee clinic. So, I got a lot of experience with different cultures and women’s health. So I was already interested in hormonal health, but it only helped me to emphasize that and educate myself more about that. And so, I really got into hormones and diabetes. And then also just learning about the different cultures. You know, we got a lot of Hispanics from all different parts of Latin America. And then, also we- well, I say we, but myself also, I got experience with different cultures in Africa like Ethiopia and Nigerian and all the foods. And also, I just got to experience different foods trying to tell me about the different dishes that they would have, they would make. And I would ask them, “Oh, what restaurants do we have in Dallas that I could try?”. So, that was also really fun, but in trying it and learning about it, I can understand people a little bit better and help them through their chronic conditions.
[04:45] Shireen: Oh, I love that statement and really understand people better. That’s powerful right there. Which also leads me to what we’re here to talk about on the episode, which is really around this concept of mindful and intuitive eating. So, let’s take a step back before we dive into it. First, just explain to us what mindful and intuitive eating really is and how it really differs from some of the very traditional diet approaches that we hear about.
[05:12] Diana: Right, so intuitive eating is really based on. Well, first of all, mindful and intuitive eating, they go together. Mindfulness is just mindfulness. In any other area of life is a way of lifestyle, of being present. Being there with the food that we consume and being very conscious and present, which can help us be more intuitive and listening to our body and what it needs. So it’s very much away from the diet culture. And so I consider myself an anti-diet dietician. So focusing on what the body needs and wants, rather than focusing on some diet to tell us what we need to eat and what time we need to eat because our body is going to be very wise and our body is going to know that. Now, there’s exceptions too where certain conditions can cause some hormonal imbalances with that intuitive part that can also not be calibrated properly. And so I help with that as well, but listening. So, the principles are 10 principles and it’s getting away from the diet, culture, getting away from the diet mindset, and making peace with food. So, not looking at food as an enemy and learning to love food again and not fear food because there’s a lot of fear in food nowadays. If you’ve noticed that with a lot of folks, you know, they’re scared. Like with everything that they eat, they think there’s going to be something that’s going to happen. It’s either a positive or a negative, and sometimes it doesn’t have to be that. It’s just food. It’s just there to enjoy it and appreciate it. So, challenging the food police too, which we all have our own food police. Which goes into what I was talking about and feeling your fullness, feeling your hunger and fullness cues, coping with emotion, with kindness. So, a lot of folks also tend to fear food because they’ve learned to cult that being their main coping mechanism. So being kind with themselves, when it comes to that and learning other coping mechanisms that are going to be healthy for their body. And gentle nutrition is one of the main things. So, with that it goes with being realistic with yourself and learning to enjoy the foods like I mentioned. So, there’s a lot that goes into it, but really just learning to love food. To put it really simply is learning to love food again for what it is. Which is enjoying the time with it, being present in that moment, tasting all the flavor and not feeling guilty about it.
[07:50] Shireen: There’s so much to unpack within that. So then, I want to take one step at a time. So, you know, when you said, really understanding and listening to your body, walk us through maybe what that journey looks like at a meal, right at a lunch, or at dinner. Then you’ve got chaos around. You got family and kids and, you know, different things going on. Walk us through what that really looks like in practice.
[08:15] Diana: Yeah, that’s a great point. I would love to do that. So, whatever is going on, giving yourself, whether it be 5 minutes, 10 minutes or even check-ins. So, that could look like- if your kids are running around and you’re trying to prepare the meal and get everybody together to sit down. You know, that’s why dinner with the family is so important. Away from technology, away from watching TV. Just being present in that moment with the meal and sitting down, paying attention to what’s actually on your plate. Smelling it, tasting it, and really focusing on that taste in that moment and talking about it too. Even sharing with the rest of the family. If you’re able to do that right when you have the whole family with you, sitting at the table, asking them “Oh, how do you feel about this food?” “How does it taste to you?”. Taking pauses to talk can be helpful with that and checking in with yourself. So, really just focusing on that present and being there in that moment of tasting the food and just focusing on all the texture and all the senses, right? So, how it looks, how it feels, how it tastes, all that.
[09:27] Shireen: That’s very interesting. Now, let’s dive a little bit more into this. So, help us understand what are some common challenges that you normally see with this, especially as people are trying to develop a healthier relationship with food. How do you help them overcome some of the challenges that you see?
[09:45] Diana: Yeah. So, a lot of people that I see, whether they’re coming with a full on eating disorder or just disordered eating, most people have disordered eating just because of how our culture is here in the US. Everything is what I like to call that “All or Nothing”. So, I either do something really well. So, you see most folks at the beginning of the week or during the work week, they’re on schedule with their meals and everything. But then, the weekend comes and they go into the mindlessness. So, it’s mindful during the week, mindlessness during the weekend. So, they go into this all or nothing of Imma do it perfectly on these days and then do it perfectly unperfectly on the weekends. It’s this constant extremes and so they get into this cycle, what I call the cycle of disordered eating. Where they get into this diet, this diet brings them into this restrictive mode in the time that they’re doing this diet. Eventually is going to lead to having the foods that they’re restricting, which makes them feel guilty and the guilt leads them into that all or nothing. They’re like “Well, might as well. If I already had something that I wasn’t supposed to eat, then I might as well just eat all the things today and tomorrow’s a new day. I’m going to restart tomorrow.” Rather than being in that present moment and understanding it’s okay to have this food, it’s okay to eat this right now. There’s nothing wrong with it. I don’t have to go from being at a 100 to 0. I could go from being at 100 to 80, to 70%, if that makes sense. So, getting away from that cycle is the number one most important thing to start having a healthy relationship with. That can help with also the self esteem and being confident with themselves because now they can understand that I can do it instead of making it harder than what it can be. Which is the all or nothing. Just makes it a lot harder because it’s like I either do it perfectly or I don’t do it at all kind of thing. Did that answer the question?
[11:54] Shireen: Yeah, it absolutely does. Which we now want to take it a little bit to the research side of things, right? So, research really shows that many diets are just not sustainable in the long term, right? We see time and again how people associate weight loss with that change. Then all the weight is gained back and then some. So, anyways, we see quite a bit of that. What are the key principles that really make mindful and intuitive eating, perhaps a little different and even more sustainable in the long term?
[11:28] Diana: That’s a great question. You mentioned about the weight and not work, you know, dieting not helping with long-term weight loss. I do want to point out that mindful and intuitive eating is not for weight loss. It’s a lifestyle and you hear that a lot, but there’s a lot of diets. They’re like, “It’s a lifestyle”, but it’s actually just another diet. Mindful and Intuitive Eating, it’s just a way to approach how we view food. You could be even on a diet. What’s going to help that diet? Long term, if the goal is weight loss is being present, being mindful and being intuitive. So, the difference between mindful and intuitive eating and dieting is just that. It’s taking things in a logical way in a practical way and really focusing on mindful, intuitive eating. Adjusting to someone’s life and working with yourself like each individual person working with themselves to figure out that week, what’s going to work for them food wise? So, if we can’t meal prep that week? OK. Well, what’s the plan? What’s Plan B? Right. I can still eat out and that’s really fine. And it’s focusing on being mindful when I’m eating out and choosing nutritious foods, as well as fun foods. You know, we can have those fun foods, which a lot of people would think of fun foods as the junk foods. But they’re just non-nutritious foods. So, there’s always a plan with mindful and intuitive eating because as long as you have the secret ingredient of mindfulness and you’re present in the moment. You have a choice with what you do and what you select, food wise. And if there’s a choice, there’s a conscious choice of selecting nutritious food and foods that are going to nourish the person and are going to help the person long term. Versus dieting, it’s just in that moment. This is what you do. It’s just general. It doesn’t adjust to the person. So, dieting is not adjusting to the person’s life versus mindful and intuitive eating is, which can facilitate with weight loss.
[14:33] Shireen: Sure, sure. An indicator clearly, but not the goal. Right?
[14:37] Diana: Exactly, yeah.
[14:38] Shireen: Sure, makes sense. You know, you take a very holistic approach to health here. How do you address, sort of, the interconnected aspects of well-being in this approach? How do you incorporate the philosophies of health at every size or weight inclusive care? Yeah. How does it encompass some of those?
[14:58] Diana: When we’re looking at mindful and intuitive eating, it’s not even just focusing on nutrition. Crazy to say, but nutrition is a small part of the things that affect our health. And you mentioned the holistic. So, it’s like the whole looking at everything, looking at the person as a whole. So, I teach people the four pillars of health and this was something that was taught to me by my supervisor at the time, Danny. She is so great. So, she taught me the four pillars of health, which is Stress, Making sure that you’re sleeping well, Nutrition, of course, and Gentle nutrition and physical activity or movement. So, those things are part of all that are going to affect our nutrition, right? So think of it as if somebody doesn’t get good sleep or doesn’t have good sleep for several days, that’s going to increase appetite because the body is going to try to get energy somehow. So if that happens, then the person is going to be potentially eating more or having just less control over the foods they eat. Also, their bodies in the more survival mode, their cortisol is a little bit higher. So, now you also have higher stress and that can turn into the person also feeling insecure about the choices that they make. Which can lead to that all or nothing. Which only adds more to the stress and their fatigue, so everything impacts everything, right? So, that’s how it’s so important to pay attention to all the different aspects and variables and things that can affect nutrition. So, all those things are important to look at. And health at every size. So, health at every size plays into that. So, it’s focusing on all those different, non-skill victory things. So, things that we get away from the skill instead of looking at the number. What are the other things that we can measure? So improve sleep, better energy, feeling good about ourselves, more confident, less stress. You know? More physical activity and enjoying it too. And so, all those things are going to play into that health at every size because it doesn’t matter what that number sets within reason, of course, right. But, that within reason part is going to come with each individual. What’s going to be depending on all the other factors that I just mentioned? That are going to determine whether they’re in a healthy state for them, not what society says what is going to be healthy, right? Or what it looks like to be healthy, that’s a typical fit person. They might be healthy, they might not be healthy. Who knows? But, that’s the point is getting away from the scale, getting away from the number. And as a clinician, getting away from judging others based on their weight.
[17:47] Shireen: If anyone in our listener, in our audience wants to jump start sort of this approach to intuitive and mindful eating, How do they benchmark where they are today and measure progress towards that?
[18:00] Diana: Yeah, so I was mentioning the non-skill victor. So, focusing on all the things that can, let’s say affect. Wait, if you know, let’s say if the listeners are wanting to lose weight, that’s also fine. You know, there’s nothing wrong with doing that as long as you have somebody guiding you properly and making sure that all the other non-skilled victories are being met. Weight is just a reflection of what we are doing and the things that we have control over, which is like I said, is nutrition. Deep movement and managing stress. So, focusing on all those other things are going to be the ways that we measure it or our biomarkers. Our labs feeling better, having a more positive outlook in life, and having a better relationship with food. So all those things are going to be the non-skill indicators and things to monitor for someone to see how they’re doing with their journey, with healing, their relationship with food.
[18:58] Shireen: Can you share some insights in this holistic approach to health and how you address interconnected aspects of well-being in a person?
[19:06] Diana: Yeah. So the way that we approach it is, like I said, just focusing on all the different aspects of it. How certain things are going to affect nutrition. So we focus on meal patterns and making sure that the person is having a consistent meal pattern. So like I tell everybody, consistency is the secret ingredient. So, consistency and meal patterns and a variety of nutritious foods. So, including different foods and going back to the whole culture thing, I always encourage people that have different cultural backgrounds. They’re going to have a lot of variety in their foods and what’s great about being in the U.S., they can include different cultures too and just having a variety of nutrients and promoting gentle movement, fun movement. So, all the things that I mentioned earlier. So, looking at it, like you said holistically and looking at the person as a whole and working with them in a day-to-day, week to week. So, I see most clients once a week or twice a week and we talk about what’s going to be realistic with them for that week and we work on the food part and how we can adjust that week with whatever is going to be helping them to continue to reach whatever goal.
[20:22] Shireen: One of the other things I’d like to hear from you, Diana, is really helping us understand what that journey looks like for someone. You mentioned that moving away from all or nothing. What are some minor wins that can happen along the way where someone feels like, “Yeah, I’m moving in the right direction.” Can you help us make it as some tangible wins that we can associate with, We’re heading in the right direction.
[20:46] Diana: Yeah. So, it’s going to be different for everybody, but it’s going to look like the person just feeling better about their body. Better body image, listening to their body. They’re able to actually listen to their hunger cues and actually notice their hunger cues, their fullness cues, and finding success in making them feel better overall, physically and having more energy, like we talked about. So, all the non-skill victory things are going to be the things that we are going to monitor for them and for them to see that they’re improving now. If weight is their weight, loss is a goal. We do focus on that, but that’s something that we’re not looking at every single day. I definitely encourage you to get away from looking at the number every single day because it could also just, you know, weight is going to fluctuate quite a bit day-to-day. Yeah, we also focus on that. Like I said, the biomarkers, the labs, those are going to be things that we’re looking at to see how the person’s improving and getting to their goal.
[21:52] Shireen: With that, Diana, we are towards the end of the episode. At this point, I would love for listeners to just learn more about how they can connect with you and learn more about your work.
[22;00] Diana: Yeah. You can go to dohertynutrition.com. Doherty. Spelled D-o-h-e-r-t-y. And you can also find us on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook. So, check us out. We have a lot of information there. We have blogs so you guys can check us out there.
[22:17] Shireen: Perfect. And with that, we will link it. By the way, everything is up in the show notes below. So, whichever platform you’re listening to us, look at the notes section below. You should find all of the social media and website there as well. With that, Diana, such a pleasure having you on. Thank you so much for your time here today.
[22:32] Diana: Thank you so much for having me.
[22:34] Shireen: OK. And to our listeners, you know what time it is. We are towards the end of the episode. This is where you head over to our social media to answer this quick question. How can you practice mindful and intuitive eating and improving your relationship with food? Again, we’ll continue the conversation on Facebook and on Instagram. Find this podcast, post a comment below to tell us again, How can you practice mindful and intuitive eating and improving your relationship with food? We will continue the conversation there. We will see you there. Diana, again, a pleasure.
[23:04] Diana: Thank you.