Susan Burke March was overweight and unhappy before she took control of her life and immersed herself into a never-ending study of nutrition. Today, eDiets followers reap the rewards of Susan’s vast knowledge of food, diet and health.
Get to know Susan a little better by reading this exclusive eDiets interview.
eDiets: Please tell us about your background, Susan.
Susan Burke-March: I am a returnee! After graduating from college with a BA in communication, I spent the next 15 years in sales – first automobile, then establishing and managing an insurance brokerage in an automobile agency. I hated it. I was at an impasse when I read a book called What Color Is Your Parachute. It advised me to explore career opportunities doing things I felt passionate about. And that was health, food and fitness.
After struggling for years with unhealthy food behaviors and overweight, I truly was able to change my life. By my late 30s, I was feeling fairly good about myself. Returning to school after all that time was the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced – I went back for a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree in nutrition and nutrition education, and obtained my registration with the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Each day I felt more powerful about my knowledge. I worked first as an outpatient dietitian, and then as the chief dietitian in Queens, NY, and during this time also earned my certification as a diabetes educator.
Overweight and obesity are contributing factors to so many chronic medical conditions, and I think that understanding firsthand the struggle makes me an effective and empathetic counselor. It’s my goal to help all types of people – from kids to seniors – adopt healthy behaviors.
eDiets: What was the "a-ha moment” when you decided to abandon your poor eating habits and turn to a healthier lifestyle?
SBM: I always say that it’s not typically a straight line to “thin” and describe my experience in my book Making Weight Control Second Nature – Living Thin Naturally. The title is an oxymoron. There’s nothing natural about living thin in our environment – it’s much more natural to be overweight or obese. Most Americans are, unfortunately! It was a deliberate effort, over time, to identify my barriers to change.
There are a number of theories about behavioral change, and I knew I needed to know more about why I used food unhealthfully, as a way of understanding what I needed to do to change. And experts will tell you that until you are ready to change, it won’t happen. But once you identify the need to change, that’s a huge step toward action.
One evening I was feeling stressed out and frustrated and as usual, was going to use food to dampen down the feelings (this particular evening it was some greasy lo mein takeout), but instead I made myself a turkey sandwich and went for a long walk. And that moment is one I’ll remember forever. I felt so positive and optimistic afterwards. I started planning my days with fitness and food in mind. I didn’t do it alone, and it wasn’t that easy! I reached out and joined support groups, worked with a registered dietitian, joined a gym, surrounded myself with other people whose goals were similar to mine.
eDiets: This isn't your first time working with eDiets – why did you come back after 6 years away and how has the online dieting business changed?
SBM: I was there with you just about from the start – back in 1999 when eDiets was one of the only websites on the Internet where a person could get a personalized menu. We were the pioneers in online weight management, and we expanded our services to include fitness and then a number of different programs where consumers could find options for eating differently and scheduling their lifestyle, and tracking their foods and fitness activities.
I’m excited to be back – it’s so gratifying to share knowledge about what works best for weight management. My goal is to share nutrition knowledge, including what’s “hot” including new research about disease prevention. I will also weigh in on new products and services, and support those members who are working to lose weight and improve the health of their families.
eDiets: When it comes to the subjects of eating healthy and getting to a healthier weight, what is your philosophy – and how do you get your clients to embrace your approach?
SBM: You’ve heard it said that “diets don’t work”, but my philosophy is that ALL DIETS WORK! If by “diet” you mean “weight loss diet,” then by definition you’ll be eating differently than you usually eat, which usually translates into becoming more mindful of what you’re eating, choosing more healthfully, and paying attention to portions. Some people do much better by following a structured plan—it’s helpful to have a set of menus and a shopping list, and a way to choose meals and foods that fit their lifestyle.
For example, I’d never tell someone who is time-challenged that they have to cook all of their meals! I’d help them choose convenient but healthy foods so they can stick to their program easily. Most diets are structured fairly precisely, with a set amount of calories and sometimes including only specific foods and preparation methods—and/or excluding certain foods too. And because you’re eating differently than you usually eat, you’ll likely to lose weight. You’re changing your usual and creating a different eating pattern.
The goal is to find the pattern that you are comfortable with, knowing that it will help you with structure. I like our tagline, “Your diet, your way.” Make your diet fit your lifestyle, so you can stay healthy, permanently.
eDiets: Is American winning the war on obesity and overweight? If not, why?
SBM: No, we’re not. It’s a battle on many fronts, and we have so much to do! As I said above, there’s nothing natural about being healthy in our environment—we’re bombarded by advertising that makes it appear sexy to eat huge portions of fast food and fun to drink sugary energy drinks and soda. We see little if any advertising that shows the consequences of obesity—increased risk for heart disease and high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritis in young people, depression… even cancer.
Increasingly, children are showing the complications from overweight that used to be seen only in overweight and obese adults. But people eat for many reasons. Food is plentiful in America. We’re time challenged and stressed – and it’s become normal to eat wherever we go.
eDiets: When it comes to losing weight, what are 3 simple steps that could lead to big results?
SBM: Ah, that there were three simple steps to losing weight! There are countless programs available that “tell you” what to do to lose weight, but I think the first step that anyone can take is to give themselves a pat on the back because they’ve moved from contemplation to action by joining a program like eDiets.com. That’s the biggest step! Besides just thinking about doing something, they have now taken action.
Second, just start logging what you eat and what you do. Journal your foods and fitness activities for a week and then reevaluate. Third, identify your barriers… your biggest challenges. For example, do you notice that each evening after dinner you snack on ice cream? Or that you always stop at the drive-thru when you’re feeling stressed and pressed for time after work? Now you can identify strategies to change, and if you have an online journal (one of the best tools invented!) you can plan in advance what you’re going to do and you’re more likely to do it. Once you commit to change, you can identify what you need to do to make things better.
eDiets: What are the most common mistakes people make when trying to shed weight or keep off the pounds already lost?
SBM: Most commonly, people think of diets as temporary, and instead of adopting the healthier eating behaviors that they used to lose weight they see the magic number on the scale and think, “hey, now I’m able to go back to my usual diet.” But, of course, it’s not magic. It’s hard work with great rewards. Keep off that weight permanently by making those changes permanent. Love your food because it fuels your body
eDiets: What makes a good shopping list – and what staple foods should ALWAYS be on it?
SBM: Planning in advance is a very smart strategy for people who want to change behavior. Studies show that shopping with a list helps people stay with their program and avoid impulse buys. Your shopping list will vary depending on what you need, but a great shopping tip is, besides your list, stay on the outside aisles! The perimeter of most grocery stores is where the healthy stuff lives; the middle aisles are stocked with soda, chips and treats.
A list helps you make a beeline for what you need – whole grains, low or nonfat dairy, lean meats, and produce, produce, produce. Make it fun and try new foods frequently. Instead of spinach, try kale. Instead of banana, try a mango. Frozen is just as good as fresh—vegetables and fruits keep well in the freezer, are convenient, and you can stock up when they’re on sale.
eDiets: Some critics charge that the Internet is too cold and impersonal for such an emotional matter as weight loss. What are your thoughts?
SBM: Online weight loss programs have been shown to be as effective as traditional weight loss programs. There are many benefits to online. For some people, online programs are the only way they can easily obtain personalized, credible advice. They may be too busy to meet face to face with a dietitian, or they are geographically not able to get to meetings, or they can’t afford the type of traditional counseling.
For many, weight loss is an emotional issue –a behavioral wake-up. Many people are not aware of how much they’re really eating, and once they have a structured program they find that it’s possible to eat healthfully and reduce their portions. With a program such as eDiets, we’ve shown that the more members engage with the program by tracking their foods and activities, the better they will do. Online can be quite social—and quite supportive! Posting questions, sharing challenges and wins with peers keeps people engaged and motivated.
eDiets: What drives you to stay the course of a healthy lifestyle and to continue your mission to help others follow your lead?
SBM: Healthy lifestyle is what I do – every day, deliberately. I know the struggle of feeling frustrated about weight and food because I used to eat for many wrong reasons—to de-stress, to escape boredom, because I felt deprived or sad. I realized that I have the choice to eat the foods that I want to eat, and to move as much as I want to move.
Over time, I changed my attitude about food—food is still delicious, or spicy, or fatty or healthy, but it’s not a substitute for facing feelings. There are few choices in our life that we get to make so freely! We can choose what to eat or what not to eat, how much to eat and – for the most part – when to eat it. My mission is to help others understand this freedom that we often take for granted. We have the freedom to choose! Embracing this freedom leads to healthier choices.
eDiets Chief Editor John McGran has an extensive background in online dieting and tabloid news. He covers the celebrity beat for eDiets.