Food Vancouver Select Guide: Interview with Celebrity Nutritionist Maria Thomas
In this edition of Food Vancouver Select Guide we talk to Vancouver based registered dietitian Maria Thomas. Her practice: Urban Nutrition, focuses on three core tenets: engage, empower, encourage. As the nutritionist on Village On A Diet, on CBC, and the behind the scenes nutrition guru For The Last 10 Pounds Bootcamp, with host Tommy Europe, on Slice, Maria is a highly sought-after consultant in the field of health and wellness.
FV: Maria, you’re currently involved in the CBC-TV series “Village on a Diet”. Please tell us what this show is about?
MT: Obesity is certainly becoming out of control. We see it everywhere. Particularly in small communities like Taylor in BC where it was at 60% of the total population. So the town decided they really had to do something about their weight gain problem. They put out serious feelers and that’s how the idea for the show came about.
FV: So the entire town has made a collective commitment to tackling this problem?
MT: Yes their target is to shed 1 ton of collective weight in 3 months. A team of experts is working with them, consisting of a doctor specializing in obesity, a chef, psychologist and personal trainers. I’m the dietitian. The people of Taylor are going to start by eating healthy and exercising – two important aspects of good health. But they have to work as a team, which is going to be tough. They have to learn to get along together as they start making these changes in their lifestyles.
FV: So this is an example of how not only parents but also society can start taking charge of our collective styles? And a reality series of this type – which is authentic, is a really good way to make an impact on an entire nation?
MT: Yes definitely. I think parents have to set the example. Get involved in your kids’ life, have simple family dinners together; participate in family outdoor activities. That’s the best start. Introduce kids to nutritious foods at a young age. Sometimes you may have to introduce it 8 times before they’ll actually eat it. But once they develop good eating habits their palates will widen and they will be more open to good nutrition.
FV: The participants must be finding this really tough after years of bad eating and sedentary lifestyles?
MT: Oh yes, it’s tough. Any lifestyle change is tough. But this show is such a good idea because they all do it together. We teach them how to make a change for the better, as a team with a common goal. We are there not only to push them but also to motivate and support them. It’s a really good idea.
[Village on a Diet is a 10-part series. It is ground-breaking in its scope, authenticity and desire not just to shake up and change eating habits in the small town of Taylor but also to challenge the entire nation of Canada to start adopting healthier lifestyles by engaging viewers in a real conversation about their health and motivating them to get off the couch to do something about it. Village on a Diet airs Mondays at 9 pm on CBC-TV]
FV: How did you become interested in pursuing nutrition as a career choice?
MT: I was always interested in nutrition from a young age. My background is Jamaican-Guyanese, and I was born in England, so I grew up around a lot of rich food! I used to watch my mom cook – how much oil she used and I’d think how could this be done better and healthier. Since then, I have to say she has reduced the amount of oil she cooks with, but it took awhile! In high school my boyfriend had Type-1 diabetes so that too got me thinking more about nutrition because it was such a big factor in his life and how what you eat affects your life…the direct impact it has on your body.
FV: How do you motivate your clients not to get frustrated when that quick weight loss doesn’t happen?
MT: So much of our emotions are tied up in food. It’s very intimidating making a lifestyle change so I say, take it easy - do it slowly. I ask them, why do you want to achieve this weight loss, is it health, image? I encourage them to keep their eye on their desired target and not lose focus. I lay it out step by step, provide a time frame and guide them through the process. That’s the best form of encouragement and support. I’m developing a set of self-help tools on my website for Urban Nutrition. Meal Plans, grocery ideas, tips on health issues. It’s a way of getting them to take control of their nutrition.
FV: Carbs, low fat, high fat, protein, Atkins,are people getting too confused with all the quick fixes out there?
MT: Definitely – there’s so many diets out there that claim to help you lose weight faster…losing weight is not the problem; it’s keeping it off. You have to find the right approach that works for you. I really enjoy working with clients, getting to know them and understanding why it is important to them to make this change. then together we develop a nutrition and lifestyle plan that is based on their lifestyle. its simple and it works. Not just for short-term weight loss but also in the long term.
FV: But parents complain they’re busy; rushed, don’t have enough time and have no choice to fall back on process and fast foods?
MT: That’s where I come in. I say let me help you with keeping it simple when it comes to meal preparation. For most people cooking is a big job. I’ll help you figure out what to eat, what to cook, when to grocery shop. I create meal plans based on the principles of healthy eating and weight management. They are easy to follow. Your grocery plans are laid out for you and you decide how you want to make it work for you.
FV: So healthy eating aside, what’s your weakness?
MT: I love cheese. Cheese on toast is one of those things I used to eat as a kid; my mom’s homemade macaroni and cheese…it’s honestly one of my favourite things. But I do recognize its high in saturated fat so I make it fit and not overdo it.
FV: And that’s the key, moderation?
MT: Definitely, you don’t need to deprive yourself but if you do it right you can enjoy food without it causing health issues.
If your interested in contacting Maria please go to her Urban Nutrition website: http://www.urbannutrition.com
By: Sheila G. LoGuisto
Images supplied by Maria Thomas
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