Gisela Bouvier the Anti-Diet Dietitian: An Interview

You will hear me say over and over again how much I love social media for providing a platform for women to EMPOWER one another, to connect, and to grow a professional network. This brings me to today’s post. An interview with Gisela Bouvier, Registered Dietitian who takes an Anti-Diet approach with all of her clients. Not sure what this means? What I can tell you is that it’s an entirely different way of viewing nutrition and food than what the diet culture wants us to believe.

I am so inspired by Gisela’s ability to stand in her own truth in a society that will continue to preach dieting as the “solution” to our unhappiness or weight loss goals. Gisela stands apart from what we typically see as she advocates for self-love and acceptance, while rebuilding our connection with food. Enough rambling and woman-crushing from me; GO ON, read!

So first things first, you’re a Registered Dietician (RD). What stood out to me the most, and what I LOVED most, was your emphasis on being an “AntiDiet” Dietician. Break this down for us here – what does this mean, and how does this shape the work you do with clients? 

I always tell my clients, I am Anti-Diet but I am not and Anti-Nutrition Dietitian. I believe in working with all of my clients in helping them learn how to still incorporate fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and all food groups into their diet. However, it’s important to me that they eat the foods they like. They aren’t put into structured meal plans, food restrictions, or told what to eat.

Instead, I focus on teaching my clients about Mindful and Intuitive Eating. Mindful Eating, meaning how to re-learn and re-connect with hunger and fullness cues and stay present while eating. Intuitive Eating, meaning eating based on what the body desires and what will provide satisfaction. Learning these practices, in turn, helps to amend my clients’ relationship with food and find total food freedom.  

Can you take us back to the first moment you knew you wanted to work in dietetics and nutrition?

During my senior year of high school, I took a Fitness and Wellness Class at the college I did dual-enrollment at. There, I learned about “healthy” eating and exercising. Since I had been diagnosed with an Eating Disorder since I was 15, I thought the class was the “answer to my recovery.” I thought to myself: “I want to be a dietitian one day to help women get ‘healthy’ and not go through what I went through with an eating disorder.” Unfortunately, with the stress of college and my personal life, my Eating Disorder only got worse. 

What has food freedom allowed YOU to do?

I didn’t know what food freedom meant. I didn’t learn about being able to enjoy all foods until I entered my second treatment center at the age of 24, one and a half years after already working as a clinical dietitian. I had hit rock bottom and realized I needed help. I had manipulated my treatment at my first treatment center 2 years prior and realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed help. It was at Oliver-Pyatt Center in Miami where I first learned about Mindful and Intuitive Eating and that we can, indeed, enjoy all foods and have food freedom, and still be healthy. Finding total food freedom took me many years to fully learn and accept. But now that I understand it and accept it, it’s allowed me to enjoy life again. I can eat and not think about the “bad” things the food may be doing to me or my body. Instead, I can eat and taste food for what it is, experience it, and truly enjoy every bite. My eating disorder took away years of food enjoyment for me and food freedom has given it back. 

The diet industry, as we both know, seems to rely on extremes. And extremes that often times, don’t provide for any flexibility or sustainability. What is the approach YOU take? How do you define balance?

I am a true believer that if you put into practice Mindful and Intuitive Eating, your body will naturally find adequate balance. Our bodies are very intelligent. If we feed our bodies nutrient-dense foods (such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains), they will naturally ask for those foods most often. Eating pizza, cake, burgers, and everything in between, can also be part of a healthy diet. However, if you eat foods that are less nourishing too often, your body will eventually tell you that it does need more nutrition.
I don’t believe in “good” foods vs “bad” foods. I believe in integrating all foods and fueling your body with what it needs and asking you for each day. 

Intuitively eating sounds freakin’ amazing on paper – and even more amazing to practice. However, I can totally see how at first it may seem completely vague or even out of reach for a lot of women. How do you work with women to practice mindfully eating when they’re surrounded by diet fads and are misinformed about nutrition?

The most important thing to understand is that both Mindful Eating (ME) and Intuitive Eating (IE) practices are not diets. They are not a 12-week program you follow and then “fall off.” It takes months, even years to fully understand. I am completely transparent about that with my clients. I, myself, learned ME and IE during Eating Disorder recovery and only got the minimum foundation after 6 months of inpatient and outpatient treatment. My clients understand that learning to trust their bodies again to put these practices into place takes time. 
The first step for any of my clients is understanding the Hunger Scale. So many people are out of tune with their hunger and fullness due to stress, emotional eating or not eating, or eating while distracted (working, driving, watching TV). As they recognize and relearn to connect with their bodies, we then begin to focus more on mindful practices, such as eating utilizing all 5 senses, and then eating intuitively, which is eating the foods your body needs at that moment in order to achieve satiety, and learning the Intuitive Eating Principles. 
During this time, I also help my clients learn to cope with the pro-diet messages diet culture is constantly displaying. We discuss how they can ignore diet discussions, remove themselves from triggering situations, change the channel on the television, or journal their feelings when the diet messages become too overwhelming. 

What is a message you give to ALL of your clients? Regardless of their goals?

The message I give to all of my clients is that Mindful and Intuitive Eating truly lead to TOTAL FOOD FREEDOM. Food creates memories, traditions, experiences, and enjoyment. To be able to remove the guilt, pondering, and stress around eating, is completely life changing. Someone recently told me, “Mindful and Intuitive Eating pave the way to NORMALIZE EATING again.” I could not agree more with this statement. 

What is something you feel is missing in the world of nutrition?

I think the world of nutrition needs more Empathy. We want to help people find health through nutrition but the field lacks empathy.
There is so much focus on the need for dieting for weight loss due to the obesity epidemic, that the field of nutrition forgets to ask individuals, “But how do you feel? How can we help you find your most optimal health?”
Also, many Eating Disorder treatment facilities deny patients because their Body Mass Indexes (BMI) aren’t “low enough;” “normal” weight is defined as being “healthy” despite not knowing someone’s internal struggles; and even the Center for Disease Control defines BMI as “a measurement for body fatness.” The field of nutrition needs to stop putting so much focus on the numbers (of weight, BMI, and calories) and should put it on the individual. 

Let’s say you have a client who really does want to lose weight, and is completely focused on this goal. What kind of approach do you take here? How do you stay true to what it is that you advocate for?

Before working with any client, I let them know that Weight Loss is not my primary focus. I remind them that putting them on a diet isn’t going to “fix” anything and that my goal is to help them make peace with food and address any emotional or stressful issues they have around food. The Mindful and Intuitive Eating approach isn’t for everyone. If a client wants a meal plan, structured diet, and focus solely on weight loss, they aren’t the client for me and I am happy to refer them to someone else. 
I also let all of my clients know that everyone has a Set Point. Set Point is the weight range where the body functions most optimally. There is no test to determine an individual’s set point. Rather, by eating mindfully.

AND you’re a barre instructor! Jack of all trades here! What led you into barre instructing? What is it that you love most about barre?

I absolutely love barre. It mixes dance, yoga, and strength training movements all in one workout. I first started taking barre classes when I moved to Savannah GA nearly 5 years ago. I was feeling insecure about my body because I had been training in a Crossfit-like gym while living in Gainesville FL. The gym was very competitive, negative, and diet talk was constant. I loved the strength I gained while training there, but not the environment. I wanted to go to a class that wasn’t competitive and embraced women of all shapes and sizes. It’s almost as if barre found me right when I needed it. 
I took a barre class at least 2 to 3 times a week. I even took classes throughout my entire pregnancy – until the day I went into labor!
When my husband and I moved (once again) back to Florida with our 6-week old at the time, I really missed barre. There were no barre classes, or even dance classes, anywhere near my small town. For months I thought about getting certified but was too scared I wouldn’t be good enough to teach. However, one day I finally said, “I’m going after it.” I was working a full time job from home that I hated. I wanted to do something I loved and would make me feel like myself again. Low and behold, just a few weeks after, I was certified. 
I taught barre consistently 3 to 5 times a week for a year and a half. Teaching gives me such thrill. Women of all ages, shapes, and sizes would come to my classes. It is such a body positive type of workout, which is what attracted me to the workout to begin with. However, after teaching for some time, I recently stopped teaching consistently. I love the workout and taking barre classes, but teaching so much was wearing me out and taking away time for myself. I now teach spontaneously and when the studio I used to teach at needs coverage. It’s great because my former students get excited when I come visit and it has returned my full love for barre once again. 

What’s the greatest way you practice self-care?

I try to practice self-care as often as possible – even if just 15 minutes in my day. Almost every morning I wait to eat breakfast until my daughter and husband leave. I get her ready for daycare, while my husband gets ready for work. When they leave, it gives me time to eat a mindful and enjoyable breakfast. I don’t always get self-care time during the rest of the day, so my breakfast mornings are crucial to my well-being. 
Going to the gym is also part of my self-care. However, I am very vocal that I need to be careful when I workout. If I give myself time to workout, I stick to only that 1 hour or 1 hour and 15 minutes time block. The reason for that is because I used to over-exercise and there is always that fine line to where I could over do it. I enjoy my gym time and always workout according to what my body needs that day. Sometimes it’s a weight training, sometimes it’s cardio, sometimes it’s circuit training, and sometimes a little bit of each. 
Lastly, I do love to pamper myself as often as I can. Whether it’s getting manicure and pedicure, foot massage, or laying down for 10 minutes while I get my eyebrows done, I take full advantage of my pampering self-care moments. 

Who are you outside of being a dietitian?

Outside of being a dietitian, I am a wife to Richard and a mom to my 2 1/2 year old, Sofia Monet. I enjoy finding the best shopping deals, exploring different cuisines, traveling, cleaning (yes I actually enjoy to clean), and simply spending time with my friends and family. 


Questions from YOU all!

I don’t have time to meal prep and find myself eating out A LOT during the week. I often feel really guilty and never know if I’m making the “right” choices. Any tips?

Great question! I, myself, don’t necessarily “meal prep.” I feel that the term “meal prepping” is tied too much to dieting. Instead, I recommend to all of my clients to simply cook extra of the foods they are already preparing during the weekend or early in the week. When you cook in bulk, it allows you to have a variety of food in the refrigerator that can nourish you during the week or can be combined with other items you plan to make. Foods such as starches (rice, pasta, beans), vegetables, and meats or tofu, are easy to cook in greater quantities. Having a variety of these types of food in the fridge allows you to create new combinations every day. I like to call them “Raid Your Fridge Meals.” It still allows for intuitive eating, without the need of cooking for every meal or eating out too often.
Also, restaurant leftovers can always be combined with the foods you have in your fridge as well or simply put over a bed of greens for a salad. Sometimes nourishment is about thinking outside of the box and making your meals spontaneous by creating fun combinations.

What do I do when everyone else around me IS on a diet?

One of the Intuitive Eating Principles is “Ignore the Food Police.” Unfortunately, many people around you will either be on a diet or talking about a diet at some point in your day. If this is triggering for you, I recommend to remove yourself from that environment when you hear it or try to distract yourself with something else. Also, if someone asks you if you’re on a diet, don’t be afraid to say no. There is nothing wrong with vocalizing that you eat to nourish your body, not to restrict it. The more you stand up for the anti-diet message, the easier it becomes around diet culture or the more you can impact those around you that are miserably following diets.

I’m currently in the process of becoming an RD, and find myself getting triggered by other students. A lot. Can you relate? What was helpful?

I can definitely relate by being triggered by other students. In fact, I still get triggered by other RDs myself. Unfortunately, there are some RDs out there that whole-heartedly believe in calorie counting, sugar “detoxing,” or following restrictive diets. There are even some RDs that confuse the Mindful and Intuitive Eating messages and show it to be a “weight loss” method. I have to remember that whether they are dietitians or other people in general, circumstances like this will always be around. Do they upset me or bother me?
Yes. But do I let it interfere with my nutrition approach? Absolutely not.
What helps me refocus is remembering my purpose. When you feel triggered, think about how different you want to be and will be in helping others when you become an RD. Let that be your fuel.


Nicole works as a life and wellness coach through Nicole Leigh Coaching ( Nicole strives to empower women with similar struggles to redefine and re-identify themselves, separate from their eating disorder. Through her work, she empowers women to use balance in every aspect of life to maintain lifelong recovery. When Nicole isn't blogging or counseling, she loves spending her time traveling, eating burgers, and surrounding herself with positive people.