“Social media is a morass of misconceptions when it comes to nutrition and health, and I, you know, I and my team spend a very large part of our roles combating these myths, such as Inflammatory foods and seed oils as inflammatory, dairy as inflammatory, diet culture in general” “Until we can change pricing models and that goes into agriculture economics and politics and lobbying and congress until we can change the pricing of foods and if we can make really really intentional pricing decisions and include dieticians like me in that those decisions about fresh produce and foods that we consider that we want people to eat more of and so we make them very affordable and we somehow you know I don't want to say novelize, but we incentivize them and we de incentivize foods that we shouldn't be consuming so much of. I don't see our national health getting very much better.”
In today’s episode, we are thrilled to welcome Monica Moreno. Join us as we explore the strategies, challenges, and future trends that influence the way we communicate and make informed food choices. Monica will shed light on the impact of accurate nutrition messaging, and how it shapes healthier lifestyles.
Monica is the founder and owner of Essence Nutrition, a group practice of six dietitians and three psychotherapists based in Miami. She maintains private clientele (both pediatric and adults), and provides corporate and school wellness programming and consulting nationwide. She is the in-house chef for her three roommates – a 15 month-old, a nearly 4 year-old, and a 36 year-old husband.
[0:32] Shireen: In today’s episode, we are thrilled to welcome Monica Moreno. Join us as we explore the strategies, challenges, and future trends that influence the way we communicate and make informed food choices. Monica will shed light on the impact of accurate nutrition messaging and how it shapes healthier lifestyles. Stay tuned.
[0:56] Shireen: Monica Moreno is the founder and owner of Essence Nutrition, a group practice of six dieticians and three psychotherapists based in Miami. She maintains private clientele, both pediatric and adults, and provides corporate and school wellness programming and consulting nationwide. She is the in-house chef for her three roommates – a 15 month old, a nearly four year old, and a 36 year old husband. Welcome, Monica.
[1:25] Monica Moreno: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
[1:27] Shireen: An absolute pleasure. Monica, I first want to start out the episode by understanding from you. What drew you to pursue your current career? Tell us a little bit about your journey.
[1:38] Monica: So, as a dietitian, I just really, in middle school, thought food was neat. It occurred to me that it did more than taste good, and I started kind of asking questions about it and reading magazines about it. And then coincidentally, in high school, I got diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. You know, my GI at the time told me nutrition doesn’t really matter and make a difference, and that just didn’t really sit well with me. So, I said, “Hmm, I think I’m going to major in this”, but I was actually kind of scared off by the prerequisites because they’re very heavily science based. So, I was actually a linguistics major and French minor and teaching English as a second language minor. I ended up changing it all halfway through and getting my Master’s in Dietetics and Nutrition.
[2:23] Shireen: Hey, when you have a calling, you have a calling right? You can’t run from it.
[2:27] Monica: Yeah, you can’t run from food. Certainly not.
[2:31] Shireen: Absolutely. Can you tell us more about your journey and really, you know, understanding your why that ultimately led you to what is now Essence Nutrition?
[2:42] Monica: Certainly. So when I started my career, you know, after graduate school and becoming a dietitian, it appeared that the career options, at least in Miami and South Florida, were pretty limited. I really wanted to work in a corporate setting. I wanted to work in a corporate setting. I wanted to work for a big company. I wanted to work with food products and do communications, but there just wasn’t any openings locally. Those days remote was not a thing. So, I joined like a large academic hospital institution and I actually really loved it because for one, it gave me a really, really interesting clinical experience. Number two, it really grounded me and gave me a lot of perspective about how precious health and life and family is. I would have stayed there forever if the salary would have been tenable, but it wasn’t. So, I started a private practice based on the fact that I knew that clinical was important and I wanted to hire other clinical dietitians who had spent years in hospital services I had, but I wanted to provide a space for people to receive an experience that was the healthcare that I envisioned, which is you have to spend at least an hour with someone and you have to globally evaluate and discuss. It’s virtually every fiber of their being, not just about food, in order to enact nutrition and behavior change. That was what really motivated me and kept me going in the very hard, early entrepreneurial days.
[4:01] Shireen: It’s helpful to know that for this podcast, we’re really focused on understanding more around corporate wellness programs. We always hear about some sort of nutrition or even any kind of medical services really being driven by the hospital or the insurance. And you know, there is a whole corporate element to it and your employer element to it. So, help us understand a little bit more around how important is nutrition communication within corporate wellness programs, and how does it really impact overall employee health and productivity?
[4:32] Monica: Oh, for sure. There’s even so much research now to back up these claims, even though for me, I’m like, this is kind of useless. I could have told you all this without the big funded studies. But, you know, in our American culture, work is a priority. It’s unfortunately for many, work over everything else and that lends itself to unhealthy lifestyles and behaviors. Which I feel most people are just a victim of because of corporate culture. So, if we can infiltrate a corporate culture, it’s not my job to change American corporate culture. I don’t have an MBA, but it’s my job to kind of make it the best it can be. If we can infiltrate that and keep people healthier, more present at work, more grounded, more mindful, less stressed, making better food choices, being more productive, more likely to stay at their jobs, more likely to connect with people, more likely to contribute to their company in meaningful, happy ways, more likely for those behaviors to trickle down to people in their own households, more likely for those behaviors to become endemic to companies who then prioritize a healthy lifestyle and living, and then they leverage that to attract change, more talent. That’s kind of how I envision all of the corporate wellness stuff happening. And the way I got involved in it is because, yes, I started as clinical, then I moved into my private practice seeing one on ones. And I thought, “It’s really great to change individual lives, but what if I could do this 500 people at a time?” What if I could kind of change this into an aggregate experience where I could stand up and broadcast my, what people call like the Monica show, because I tend to make it very exciting or whatever. Not just to one person at a time, but to an entire global office. And then when webinars and global seminars became a thing, that really actually began to happen. And for me, it’s just so much more efficient to touch many lives at once that it is, you know, obviously there’s so many wonderful things about one on one counseling, but If I could, you know, have a global reach and inspire people and therefore their companies and their cultures and their families and the world at large to be healthier and prioritize personal nutrition and wellness, that’s pretty incredible.
[6:42] Shireen: And I love that, you know, what you’re saying there is really being able to scale the impact. that we know that nutrition can really have on an individual’s lives. And in this case for employees in particular. Absolutely. What role does, and especially when you’re talking about scaling, I can’t help but think about the influence that media has around spreading nutrition information. And how do you navigate the challenges of delivering accurate and evidence based messages while also keeping them relatable and accessible to the general public?
[7:14] Monica: So I came of age and Instagram when it was 2013 and you would post something and people would see it and interact. And then everybody was happy and linked hands and went home. And then Instagram, I know there’s other forms of social media, but for me, it was Instagram became a source of stress and a place of toxicity. And yes, we were getting referrals from Instagram, but they had different. they had misaligned expectations. They were very demanding of diets. They were people who were just nasty in general, a lot of the times, although there were of course, wonderful people who came from Instagram and I felt such pressure to keep up with the influencers. And I wanted to shout at all the people that, and, you know, not just shout, but, you know, put them in their place about all the influencers, especially in the nutrition space, who either they were not credentials and saying things that were incorrect or they were credentialed and saying things that were incorrect. And it just became overwhelming. So I tried for a while to, you know, stay in my lane, stay calm, stay civil, stay smart, not even really engage or just engage in a kind, you know, way. But I think Instagram just. became not a safe space for me, and I actually took myself off of all social media in June. I meant it as a summer holiday, but sitting on it a lot, I thought to myself, I don’t want to play in a game where the rules aren’t fair. I spent a large time of my life, career, money, finances, personal life, getting my nutrition degree and credentials and developing my skills as a practitioner and Instagram just isn’t a space that the audience doesn’t appreciate, the other people don’t appreciate it. The whole monetization of content, which I’ve been a part of and I’m proud of the campaigns that I’ve worked on you know, it doesn’t seem like for me. It’s a space where I can You know, deliver the message to people who really are understanding about it in a way that even reaches them because my audience was like 30 people for some posts and I thought that doesn’t make sense. I have more, a lot more followers than that. So I’ve removed myself from that narrative. And now I’m focusing. My communications on people who really want to hear them, which are our personal clients, our corporate wellness clients, our school wellness clients, our public speaking clients, and anyone who, you know, is reasonable enough to listen and understand and if there is an issue or a debate, we can rationally speak about that instead of, you know, throwing cyber daggers at each other.
[9:36] Shireen: Oh, absolutely. And I feel like not only is it like social media, but even if you look at some of the impact that it has, right around, you know, there’s common misconceptions, myths that we hear about as a result. Could you provide some examples that perhaps you hear in your own practice in the work that you were doing? The work that, you know, or myths or misconceptions that you’ve encountered in this work. And then how do you really go about addressing them in a meaningful way? Because I feel like we’re so sometimes, not ill intentioned, but we’re so short sighted to say like, this is what I want and what is the quickest way to get me from where I am today to where I need to be, be it weight, be it whatever those goals are. And you know, a lot of that is also fighting the narrative that we hear from social media. But yes, your thoughts on that.
[10:23] Monica: Yeah, I mean, I’ve removed myself from that narrative, and it has been so wonderful to me, so I’m constantly now proselytizing to everyone to get off social media, but yeah, social media is a morass of misconceptions when it comes to nutrition and health, and I, you know, I and my team spend a very large part of our roles combating these myths, such as Inflammatory foods and seed oils as inflammatory, dairy as inflammatory, diet culture in general, the fact that diets morph and shapeshift and there’s rules on Monday that don’t apply on Tuesday, intermittent fasting, eggs are bad, carbs are bad, bananas are bad. And I’m like, okay, yeah, we, now we’re people that are afraid of bananas. So what I counsel. My clients, whether it’s personally or in front of an audience to do is to step back and turn off the noise and envelop yourself in critical thinking and stop and think, does this make sense to me really, truly, if I really boil it down and I really, really, really distill what I as an intelligent person know to be true, does it make sense? And yes, I can Google if it makes sense, but. What is the source telling me that it makes sense? Is it a sensational news article or is it a PubMed, which is our free accessible government science body? Is it a physician telling me? Is it a dietitian who I trust and who says other things that are consistently trustworthy? So unfortunately today, where social media gave everyone a voice, which is great. It gave voices to the voiceless. It gave careers to people who were otherwise stymied from not having careers. You really have to stop and think, does this make sense? And not, you know, be a conspiracy theorist that everything is bad for you. That’s simply not true. And when you boil that down even further, it really all goes back to diet culture, which says that. What you’re doing is wrong. Diets are good. You need to turn off everything you’ve ever known about food to be true. There’s something wrong with you. You need to change. No. So it’s complicated and that’s why nutrition work one on one is really, really hard and complicated.
[12:27] Shireen: Yeah. Can you bust some of those myths and misconceptions for us, even the ones that you mentioned around inflammation from dairy, Cedars, another, I think you mentioned another one around eggs and bananas. I haven’t heard about this banana one, by the way, but I’m curious.
[12:40] Monica: Yeah, I mean, it’s just that bananas are just, they have so many carbs and they spike your blood sugar. And the reality is any kind of carbohydrate will cause a blood sugar spike. That’s what carbohydrates do. And then in, in the presence of a healthy pancreas, insulin will be secreted and escort that. You know glucose to or you know that blood sugar to where it needs to go in the body and ta da We’re all fine And I ate a banana almost every day of my life and i’m here before you to tell the tale alive a banana survivor Inflammation is complicated because yes inflammation is a root cause of various diseases including autoimmune diseases and other diseases and so a lot of diets and These misconceptions start out really innocently and really nobly, which is okay. If this food, you know, is linked to inflammation, we should not eat this food. And if this food is linked to fighting inflammation, then we should eat this food. I love the theory, it just doesn’t really work like that in context with so many other factors in the body. So like, if you have Crohn’s disease, Which I do, which is an autoimmune disease. It’s not like every time you eat an anti inflammatory food, like, the Crohn’s bank says, Ah, one notch down, let’s inflame her. Like, it doesn’t really work like that, because there’s so many moving pieces to the health and metabolism of a body. So there is some truth, you know, deep in the weeds to it, and like, yes, I try to eat as many anti inflammatory foods as possible, but I know full well that every time I take a bite of, let’s say, an inflammatory food, like my beloved Hebrew national salami that I grew up with. It’s not like my colon is going up. She’s bad. Let’s gang up on her and do some bad stuff tonight. It’s not how it works. And that goes back to diet culture, which is very black and white thinking, which is yes, no good, bad moralizing food. And it just doesn’t work like that. The human body is too complicated. Dairy is not inflammatory. That has been proven like a thousand times over in research. Now, is it cheese whiz or is it Kefir or is it, you know, yogurt or is it a pasteurized cheese like product, you know, so how do we define dairy? How much, you know, if you eat too much dairy and you’re lactose intolerant, well, if you eat any dairy and you’re lactose intolerant, that’s problematic. People always want like a simple answer and I’m like, eek. It’s a little complicated. Eggs, they have a lot of cholesterol, but they actually don’t raise serum cholesterol as predictably as you would think, meaning blood cholesterol. Neither does shellfish. What actually raises blood cholesterol more is added sugars and trans fats, as well as too much alcohol, not enough activity, and not getting enough prebiotic fibers to help metabolize cholesterol. So eggs are great. Should you eat 17 eggs a day? Like, probably not. And that’s why. You know, people say, okay, this is good. So if something is good, more is better. And that’s. That’s not true either. So again, stop and think, does this make sense? Intermittent fasting, hard no for me. I consider it a legalized eating disorder. The research does support it in mice who want to live longer. The body does require a, some amount of time at night to fast, to repair cells and do all this metabolic stuff that it needs to do at night. You know, if you work in an office. You need to leave every so often so someone can clean, they can’t really clean around you when you’re sitting there, it makes sense. But you don’t need to eat by the clock and fast for 16 hours, you know, that just creates a lot more stress and problems and social weirdness than it should. I think it’s perfectly normal to eat dinner at 8 p. m and breakfast you know, at 8 a. m. the next day. I also think people are not considering exactly what they’re eating at nighttime or in the morning time when their arbitrary little cutoff times are happening and that’s probably why they’re being more mindful with their food choices which is always a great idea.
[16:16] Shireen: So what you’re saying is at the end there is not so much the quantity but the quality of the food that you really need to focus on.
[16:23] Monica: Right. So if people are fasting and they’re saying no more food after 5 PM, well, then you’re not going out to eat and having three glasses of wine and ordering cheese fries and then ordering pizza and up late watching Netflix. Like it’s the company that it keeps. It’s not the time. That’s the problem. It’s, you know, what are you eating? You know? So if I’m hungry and it’s 10 PM, I’m going to have something to eat, you know, but what am I choosing? And what am I then staying up late? Mindlessly eating 100, you know, potato chips. No. You know, I’m saying I’m hungry. It’s 10:00 P.M., I’m gonna have some yogurt. Okay. Eats yogurt, Goes to sleep, happily ever after. Intermittent fasting does not apply.
[17:02] Shireen: Makes sense. In the same vein, are you able to, Monica, share with us a success story or two where strategic food planning and really that nutrition communication piece made a positive impact on a company, a group of employees. Can you talk through that?
[17:17] Monica: Sure. This actually happened recently. I was giving a webinar to, I believe it’s the Professional Development Association of Lawyers in New York. And then several months later, when I went in person to give a in person seminar to this global law firm in New York, one of the people came up to me and said, I was at your seminar a few months ago, and I have had your voice in my head ceaselessly about caffeine and how much caffeine I’m getting and added sugars in my caffeine and thank you so much because I have really become more mindful about my caffeine intake and that was really great.
[17:48] Shireen: That is always awesome, because you never know what you say resonates with whom and then what kind of impact it would have, right?
[17:55] Monica: Right, exactly. Yeah, I mean, if I talk for 60 minutes, you can’t possibly memorize all the things, slash, you know, digest them, so to speak, slash enact them, but If one thing resonated with you and you made that change, fantastic.
[18:09] Shireen: Yeah, makes sense. You know, in the context of this retail corporate setting that we’re talking about here, what do you think some of the obstacles are in terms of making healthier food choices when unhealthy options may be more readily available?
[18:25] Monica: I will point you to this book called Ultra Processed People that one of my dieticians actually just lent me and then I lent to another dietician. It’s like a book, Sisterhood of the Traveling Book. I believe that plates are political and that in retail and corporate settings and cultural settings or wherever you are. You know, it’s really hard to go against the grain of what is served. If that is not in your financial, cultural, realistic, or lifestyle budget, so to speak. So it’s really hard to tell people, and this is something that, you know, was largely ignored when I went to school. Unfortunately, eat 10 fruits and vegetables a day when that costs like $80 a day. So how do I tell people who are spending two hours in Miami traffic, each way, sitting at a desk to then eat $90 of fruit and vegetables a day and workout. And it’s just not fair, right? So until we change the system, which a system, which I, of course, if I were queen, I would make fruits and vegetables as cheap as sugar and as cheap as white rice, because I buy those things in my house too, and it’s very evident to me that my pint of blueberries is $5, but this giant bag of sugar was three. So, you know, until we can change pricing models and that goes into agriculture economics and politics and lobbying and congress until we can change the pricing of foods and if we can make really really intentional pricing decisions and include dieticians like me in that those decisions about fresh produce and foods that we consider that we want people to eat more of and so we make them very affordable and we somehow you know I don’t want to say novelize, but we incentivize them and we de incentivize foods that we shouldn’t be consuming so much of. I don’t see our national health getting very much better.
[20:20] Shireen: That is so interesting because there’s so many forces at play here, right? So we talked earlier about the marketing, the social media, so you’re bombarded with those images, the convenience and readiness, availability. of sort of some of the unhealthy food choices and then you have to make the time to eat healthy and even within if you have the time then there’s, you know, you run up against the cost is what you mentioned.
[20:46] Monica: Eating is easy. It’s cooking and preparing and packing that’s hard. I mean like eat raspberries, great. I would love to can you bring them to me like can you pay for them so that’s the challenge. Knowledge is not the problem anyone can say eat more vegetables and it’s like well, How?
[21:03] Shireen: Absolutely. Agreed. So, last but not least here, Monica, I’d love to learn a little bit more from you. If you can share some tips with us here today, or favorite strategies, and I completely know to your point of like, this is not one size fits all. It may be different from one person to the other. But if you absolutely had to give some very broad strokes advice here to our listeners for this podcast, what strategies can you provide to them for maintaining a balanced and healthy diet, especially as busy professionals and parents.
[21:37] Monica: So, I think the most important part is planning and it’s almost like what would appear to be a little strange in your planning. So I never leave my house for the day without like some kind of meals, snacks on me because so many people are like, well, what do I have for lunch? You know? And like I said, it’s easier for me to say, eat this, eat this, eat this, don’t eat this. But where’s it coming from? So if you don’t leave your house with the food, which means you have to get the food, you had to order the food on Instacart. You have to go to the grocery store. You have to put it in the Tupperware. You have to cut the vegetables. We all have that 90 year old bag of celery just Becoming a fossil in the back of our fridge because we didn’t wash it and cut it because we didn’t make the time for it So planning is the most important part and planning takes time So you really and if you get off social media, trust me you have all the time in the world So you sit down and you say okay, this is my schedule for the week This is when my meals are going to happen. I need to procure the food, prepare it, bring it with me with the Tupperwares and the cutlery. It’s like kind of my part time job to do it because it is my like worst fear to be somewhere without food. And like I said, it seems a little nuts. Like, you know, I’m on a plane and I pull out like a variety of cheeses and my husband’s like, what, who travels with that? And I’m like me because there’s no food on this airplane. I don’t want to eat 400 biscoff cookies. So I mean like one packet is great, but like, I’m hungry. So yeah, I’ve got a. travel purse of cheese on me, but you know, how that would probably trickle down to, you know, a regular sane person is, okay, before I leave today, I’m going to grab a cheese stick and a banana or an apple, but I need to make sure that I have cheese sticks in stock. So I’m going to, every Friday at 4pm, set an alarm to order cheese sticks, order apples, and you can Start there and then you know snacks are the gateway drugs to meals So you start doing that with your meals and pretty soon you are spending no more money on takeout because you are taking little adult bento boxes of prepared lunches that make you feel a lot better. So, planning.
[23:42] Shireen: Love it. And what I’m hearing you say is like definitely the planning part. But just make it really easy to make it a habit, right?
[23:49] Monica: So we’re saying like yeah Like laying out your clothes the night before, like I do that now because in the mornings I have like, like one eye up here, like I look like a Picasso painting and it’s just easier for me to think about it the night before. So planning really helps me. It helps most of my clients and making it easy and not, you know, taking the pressure off yourself to not make those social media. I’m going to make a seven course frittata. Like no, buy a rotisserie chicken. That is a great protein. Buy smoked salmon. That is a great protein. Open it, eat it. Ta da! So make yourself, you know, make yourself do it by making it foolproof for you.
[24:24] Shireen: Just make it very easy for yourself, for sure. With that, Monica, we are toward the end of the episode, but I do have one last question for you. How can our listeners really connect with you and learn more about your work post this episode?
[24:36] Monica: So I am off social media. I still have the page, it’s eatlikemonica on Instagram, and I do check DMs occasionally because You know, sometimes I like to take a little peek what’s going on in the world and I’m like, oh, no, no, no, no I’m gonna go back off now, but I do have an email Our practice email is hello at essencenutritionmiami.com and our website is essence nutrition miami. com Appreciate that.
[25:01] Shireen: I love, I love the little peeking and then just pulling back out of social media.
[25:06] Monica: Like a groundhog day, like he comes out and he’s like, Oh no, it’s too cold for me. That’s how I feel about social media. Like, what’s going on here? No, no, no, no. I’m going to go back in my hole now.
[25:15] Shireen: Love it. Well, thank you so much for your time, Monica. I really, really appreciate it. To our listeners, head over to our social media and answer this quick question. What is something simple that you can incorporate into your daily routine to elevate? Your food choices again, head over to her social media, head over to either Instagram or Facebook. Find this podcast post comment below to tell us what is something simple that you can incorporate into your daily routine to elevate your food choices. We’ll continue the conversation there. And with that, Monica, such a pleasure. Thank you so much. for coming on the podcast today.
[25:49] Monica: Thank you, Shireen, for having me.