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Exclusive Interview With Author " Kay Loughrey"

Kay Loughrey is a speaker, health and weight loss coach, and registered dietitian nutritionist who addresses both inner and outer health issues. She has been featured in major media including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Men’s Fitness Magazine, Newsday, and local television and radio stations.


She spearheaded multiple national initiatives for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Kay is a seasoned professional who has brought her science, public health, and health communication expertise to major nutrition and health programs including the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, and the Food Supplement Program for Women, Infants, and Children. She helps clients remove inner roadblocks, turn food related shame into freedom, lose weight, and live a happy life at a healthy weight.

Writer’s Life had the exclusive opportunity to talk with her about her life, career and upcoming book.

Tell us a bit about your background - why/how did you decide to go into the field of health and nutrition?

Growing up, I overate for years and comforted myself with food that led to decades of yo-yo dieting and weight gain. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t even like who I saw. Later, I became a dietitian to stop letting food control me. It was an overwhelming feeling to be controlled by food and it actually compelled me to make my career choice. I did lose 350 lbs., but not all at once, It was the same 15-20 pounds that I lost over and over again while I yo-yo dieted for decades.

You're open about discussing your own personal problems with unhealthy eating habits. Tell us about that.

Back when I was eight-years-old, I started a devotedly unhealthy relationship with food. I experienced trauma, abuse as a child, that launched me into years of hiding and shame. I began overeating to comfort myself. This turned into a habit of overeating. Growing up in our little, red house with a white picket fence, I remember that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like who I saw. I’ll never forget that my mom loved to bake sweets and the glow of satisfaction I felt from eating the warm gooey, chocolate chip cookies she made for me. I would eat them while they were still warm, almost right out of the oven. Eating those sweet, warm cookies reminded me that my mom loved me. This feeling of being controlled by food all of those years was overwhelming. 

As an adult, and after constant weight struggles, I met a lady who showed me a process that I used and it changed my life. It wasn’t until I met her that I solved the problem of the shame I felt from letting food control me. Now, I have a healthy relationship with food. As of more than 15 years ago, I no longer overeat, or yo-yo diet and I look in the mirror and love who I see. Healthy eating became a catalyst for living the life I’d always wanted to live. What I discovered is that shame and the feeling of being unworthy are at the root of most unhealthy relationships with food. 

Statistics show that over 45 million people go on a diet every year. What are your thoughts on this?

A client, Julie, called me one day because she was frustrated with dieting and her weight. She said, “I was 140 pounds when I started dieting. Now, five diets later I’m 225 pounds. I only wish I could get back to the 140 pounds where I started.” It surprised me when she said, “I’m disappointed and frustrated and I don’t feel like myself anymore.” What hit her hard was that she had lost weight so many times and now she was heavier than ever. The sad truth is that 80 percent of dieters fail to keep off the weight they lose. Most of them not only regain the weight they initially lost, but end up with a net weight gain after dieting. 

If you’ve tried dieting, you’ve probably found out for yourself that losing weight is much easier than keeping it off. Why is this? One of the problems with diets is that they aren’t sustainable. By design, diets are temporary and yield only short-term results. By the time people come to me for help, they often tell me that they’ve tried many different diets, each one with the same result. In the end, each time they had regained all the weight they had lost and more. All this goes to say that dieting makes things worse. 

But people don’t have to put up with having thier weight go up and down time after time. I left a six-figure job more than a dozen years ago and started to work with clients individually because I was fed up that no one was helping people keep the weight off once they lost it. Lots of diets promise to help you lose weight, but no one is there to help you maintain weight loss. This is so easy compared with the challenge of keeping it off. That’s why I decided to make a career move to help people both lose weight and keep it off.  I find that when people tell me about all the years they’ve yo-yo dieted, they feel much shame and disappointment from regaining weight repeatedly—just like I had. Then I felt compelled to do something about it. 

I decided to take a stand to help people who are struggling just as I had struggled. Many of them also feel controlled by food and overeating, and that’s why I help people heal the food shame connection and build a healthy relationship with food. 

What is your opinion on the stigma surrounding diets?

While diets may be popular and trendy, the real stigma is around weight and body image. It so often comes up and one example, especially, sticks in my mind. Do you remember when Michelle Obama was shown on TV and social media, in a picture where there was a little bump around her stomach? The woman had probably just eaten lunch. She’s in terrific shape and there was an outcry. The norms for women are to be gaunt and it produces a lot of shame.

Tell us about your new book, A Happy Life at a Healthy Weight: Creating a Shame Free, Healthy Relationship with Food and Life

This is a book designed to help you lose weight and keep it off because it addresses big gaps that other approaches to weight loss lack. I guide readers to free themselves from and heal the food-shame connection. Readers are urged to stand up for themselves and chart their journey by overcoming the inner and outer roadblocks to change. The destination is to live a shame free, happy life at a healthy weight. We throw out the old rules of a failed weight loss system of dieting. 

Why was it important for you to write this book? 

It’s my life’s work. And there are three ideas that are very important to me. I wrote it because for women, shame and food go together. 

My first point is about the root of food and shame. It could be trauma – that is my particular story. It could be your family of origin. You were told to tone it down or even sit down and shut up. You got those cues, things like don’t put your elbows on the table, don’t be you, don’t be yourself. So you eat. You shut up and eat. And there are social norms around body image like I just mentioned.  

And that leads to my second point. How does emotional eating start?  I worked with another client, Katie, and her shame came from her family of origin. They were conflict-avoidant and she was told not to talk about anything and just keep it under wraps. She was a very outgoing kid so she learned to simply suppress her emotions. She was in her mid-40s when I met her. She was a working professional who worked all day, came home, made dinner for her family, who made no attempt to have a conversation together, never thanked her, and then they got up and left the dinner table without a word. That was her underlying trigger to loneliness. It went right back to her childhood.

She sat by herself and turned on the TV. Then, she’d start with three beers, and then go to a bag of chips and finish with a bowl of ice cream. She felt lonely as a child, and she felt lonely with her own family. 

I can tell you how I helped Katie get out of that weeknight routine. I taught Katie the five steps to stop being controlled by food, the third idea in this book that is so important to me. After working with Katie, she completely stopped her nighttime behaviors and she lost weight. One of the most potent tools I share in this book is how to use these “Five Steps to Stop Being Controlled by Food” that I have used to help many clients.

Would you like to know the 5 Steps?  The five steps are, number one: what is your trigger? The trigger for Katie was she turned on the TV, and that was the trigger to start the beer. 

Number two: what is your specific food craving? For Katie, it was beer. And then it was followed by chips, followed by ice cream. 

Number three: you need to interrupt the pattern. This sounds very hard, but it's doable. Your brain is about to go into fight or flight. How do you interrupt? Here is a powerful example -- I was working with a man named Phil, and I asked him what was important to him. Phil, a people pleaser, had gained 50 pounds on M&Ms. He was afraid of high blood pressure. His answer to my question was his two-year-old daughter. He wanted to be around for her, see her graduate from college and meet her children. So that made Phil pause, to think about her. 

Number four: figure out what do you really want. Do you really want the M&Ms? Do you really want beer? With Katie, she was feeling lonely and she wanted a connection. It is so important to figure this out ahead of time because you can't find out what you really want when you've got a beer in your hand or a bag of M&Ms. We did this work outside of the food/eating scenario. So, this is a very powerful, again, this is furthering the interruption. What is it that you really want? Phil wanted to be there when his child grew up. Katie wanted connection.

Finally, number five: what is your best option right now instead of eating? Katie wanted people. She wanted to love and be loved by people. And what was Katie's best option? She figured out it was calling her sister, because beer, ice cream and chips can't cure loneliness. 

Those are the five steps.

What is the main message you want readers to take away from reading your book?

No matter what has happened to you, you can break free of food triggers and old routines that have caused you shame, to overeat and gain extra weight. By taking a stand for yourself you can free yourself from being controlled by food.

My book offers you much needed tools to tackle the inner roadblocks that are holding you back and build the life you want to have by removing one inner roadblock at a time, one habit at a time with love and self-care that can help you build a shame free healthy relationship with food and life. 

What would you say to someone who is constantly struggling with a healthy diet and weight issues?

Take a stand for yourself so you can break the food shame cycle to live the life you want at the weight you desire. You will look in the mirror and love who you see!

What can we expect from you next?

A book on how to build your shame free-healthy lifestyle mindfully.

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