Inspiring Women: Talia Follador, RDN

Inspiring Women & Their Relationship With Food

Disclaimer:The information provided by these women is for information purposes only and is not advice given directly from me. Eating lifestyles that work for them may not work the same way for you. If you have, or ever have had issues with food, these answers may be triggering. This is a space for women to bravely share their story. If this is in any way triggering to you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for support.

In this blog series, I ask women from my life questions pertaining to their relationship with food and how it affects their eating lifestyle. They share their individual dietary struggles and how to overcome them. They also give their honest opinion about diet culture, Health At Every Size (HAES) movement, and how to practice intuitive eating. Each of these women are inspiring to me and I hope that you can also be inspired by their stories and ways of practicing mindful eating habits.

Talia Follador is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a passion for holistic health and intuitive eating. She obtained her B.S. in Nutritional Sciences from Penn State University and underwent her dietetic internship at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She currently works as a Retail Dietitian at a ShopRite grocery store in Burlington, NJ. While studying nutritional science in her undergraduate education, she quickly realized that science could only provide so much insight into the impact of behaviors on health. As she builds her career as an RDN, Talia continues to explore the psychological, spiritual, and emotional aspects of health and apply these to her professional practice. In addition to nutrition, Talia loves cooking, reading, baseball, coffee, playing the piano, tap dancing, and eating yummy food. Connect with her on Instagram , Twitter, and by following her blog, Peace & Pancakes.

“From personal experience, dieting only sucks up precious time and brain power that you could be using to go do useful things like building meaningful relationships, enjoying hobbies, and learning and growing as a human.” Talia Follador, RDN

What has been your biggest dietary struggle and how have you overcome it?

The biggest dietary struggle for me was the cognitive dissonance that I experienced with nutrition in college. I fell into the trap of believing that being skinny/losing weight was the most important measure of my success and thus would result in love and acceptance. On top of this, I also I felt that I had to live up to a certain standard as someone who chose a career in nutrition — that I always had to be a “perfect eater,” exercise harder than everyone else, and never give in to food cravings. As a result, I became hyper-focused on healthy eating and exercise. I felt extreme guilt for eating or even desiring foods like candy, French fries, ice cream, etc. I was afraid I would be shamed because “I should know better” due to my career choice. To be sure, many of these standards were ones that I set for myself, but not entirely of my own doing. I did (and still do) often receive comments from people along the lines of “You’re eating that?!” or “Oh you must be a perfect eater.” (The funny thing is, I never receive these comments from fellow dietitians!).

Thankfully, I’ve realized the falsehood of this belief system and no longer live under its control. This took years of hard work which included cognitive behavioral therapy, reading up on intuitive eating and Health at Every Size, and surrounding myself with a positive support system. Note: I still have bad days and think those thoughts sometimes — I just don’t let them control me anymore.

Explain your current eating patterns. How have they influenced your overall quality of life?

I love trying new foods and recipes ! Nowadays, I lean more towards a plant-based diet, but I’m not a strict vegetarian or vegan. I’ve always loved fruits and vegetables and eaten them in abundance; I recently shifted towards eating mostly plant-based proteins, like nuts and beans, simply because I truly love their texture and flavor. I don’t typically eat red meat or poultry only because I don’t prefer the taste, however I do occasionally still eat these when I am in the mood. I can’t say that eating this way has particularly influenced my overall quality of life. I put in the work to change my relationship with food so that I now think about food as only one part of my life, rather than the key determinant of my happiness.

Do you believe that restrictive dieting at an early age leads to disordered eating? How so?

Restrictive dieting definitely sets people up for disordered eating, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee it. A large body of research shows that restricting food intake leads to disordered eating behaviors, and this makes total sense from a biological/physiological standpoint. The body doesn’t want to starve, so it has mechanisms in place to prevent that from happening! Research also shows that even just restrictive food messages (“You shouldn’t eat x, it’s bad!”) are associated with disordered eating in adulthood. However, this is not the case for everyone, so I think a lot of factors are at play. Those factors include the messages you get from family and friends and how much you are exposed to media messages about dieting (like magazines, television, and social media).

What is your opinion on the diet culture and how do you think it has influenced society?

First and foremost, I find it interesting that just as diet culture was becoming more popular in America in the 1950’s and 1960’s, obesity rates also started to rise and have only kept increasing since then. Diet culture has clearly done us no good at fighting off the obesity and ill health that it promises to be the perfect antidote for.

Diet culture is incredibly dangerous because it’s not just about losing weight; it has taught us to believe that dieting will make our life all around better. We are told that if we follow a diet, it will bring us more than just weight loss — it will bring us vibrant health, social acceptance, love, career success, [insert goal/achievement you have always wanted but never thought you could achieve]. Additionally, we are sold the idea that to be healthy we must be skinny, which is simply not true.

What does intuitive eating mean to you and how do you practice it daily?

When I was wrapped up in diet culture, I always ate based on external factors. I ignored hunger and skipped meals because I wanted to be skinny so that people would like me. I ignored fullness and ate handfuls of M&M’s to distract myself from emotions because I thought they made me weak. I ignored my craving for a burger at a restaurant and instead ordered a salad because I was scared people would judge me if I ordered the burger.

When I started practicing intuitive eating, it completely changed my life because it not only normalized my eating behaviors, but it also made me realize how much I care about what other people think of me. Now, I practice intuitive eating daily by not caring what other people think of my food decisions and body. With every bite, I choose to eat with my body’s best interest in mind.

What is your opinion on the “Health at Every Size” (HAES) movement? How has this changed your view on health, beauty and nutrition?

I love the HAES movement! I read the book Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon during my senior year of college when I was still struggling with diet culture. It was one of the vital pieces of my break-up with diet culture. It completely changed my perspective on health and nutrition by forcing me to think about health more holistically, as opposed to just considering nutrition, exercise, and weight. Reading Health at Every Size also opened my eyes to weight bias and its influence on not only societal norms but also healthcare, which completely changed how I approach my practice as a dietitian. I now notice every day the ways in which weight bias influences healthcare, media messages, and research. I feel better prepared to help people no matter their health conditions or goals because I consider a variety of factors that may be influencing their health, motivation, and goals.

Explain how your current eating patterns have changed your overall health and well being.

During my dieting days, I had no energy, was anxious all the time, had trouble sleeping, and stopped menstruating. Of course, I still have days where my energy levels are shot, I’m anxious, or I can’t sleep, but these are not due to food deprivation. Now that I’m working with my body and giving it the fuel it needs, I all around feel more connected to my body and my life.

Share some tips on what you do when eating out at a restaurant.

First and foremost, I make sure I’m fueling my body throughout the day so that I’m not famished at the restaurant. I typically try to order a balanced meal that includes a protein, starch, and vegetables because I know that this will make me the most satisfied. I’ll check out the menu and see what looks good and then pick out two or three dishes that I think I’ll like. Then, I’ll ask the server which of those dishes they would recommend — this is fun and forces me to try new things! I try to eat slowly and savor my meal (this is why not being famished is important! Eating slowly is not a thing when you’re starving.). I try to stop when I start to feel comfortably full, but if the dish is really good sometimes I eat the whole thing — no guilt.

What advice would you give to someone dealing with similar health/food issues?

Most importantly, I would tell people that if they are struggling at all with food or health issues, don’t wait to get help. You don’t need to have a full-blown eating disorder to deserve help. If it feels bad to you, then it is bad.

If you have the resources, try finding a dietitian and a therapist who specialize in disordered eating/eating disorders. From personal experience, getting professional help makes such a difference!

If you don’t have the resources to get professional help, reach out to people who care about you, and tell them that you are struggling. Even if they don’t totally understand your struggles, simply opening up to people can be such a relief. There are also a lot of great podcasts and blogs you can check out that offer great advice and will make you feel less alone in your struggles:

*Note: these are not a replacement for professional help*

What is your “food philosophy” that you strongly believe in?

 Food is not our enemy. Food is not good or bad. Food is fuel, love, and connection. Food gives us energy, comforts us, connects us, helps us celebrate, and helps us survive.

What is your favorite food/recipe that you enjoy making?

My favorite dinner recipe as of late is this Veggie Fajita Bowl:

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