For our expert corner this month, I interviewed Cooper Clinic nutritionist Meridan Zerner. With so much information and misinformation in the media about diet and nutrition, I thought it would be helpful to go back to basics with a highly sought-after expert in the field. If you’re interested in weight loss, supplementation, or food sensitivities, you’ll love Meridan’s valuable insights and advice. Also, be sure to check out her contact information at the end of the article!
Alana O’Connell: Please tell us about your background and why you became a nutritionist.
Meridan Zerner: I have always been passionate about health and well being so while I was working in news (my first career), I would make ends meet by teaching fitness classes and personal training. Later, I followed my heart and added a masters degree in nutritional science with an emphasis in health promotion to better support my clients and participants. This was a huge turning point for me as nutrition information out there (even now) is often opinion versus actual science. AO: There are so many current diet trends (as always). What is your general advice for someone wanting to lose weight?
MZ: So many people get lured down the rabbit hole with promises and anecdotal stories about diets and supplements when there’s actual meta-analysis, consensus science to help guide us instead. I feel strongly that folks should use a registered and licensed dietitian who specializes in their area of need AND who is willing to design a plan that is tailored to the individual.
We can test metabolic rate. We can design diet plans that don’t risk your health in other areas to get weight loss. We believe in lifestyle and balance over rigid food group eliminations. I lovingly recommend that anytime you think about the “next trendy diet” that you look closely at if it can be sustained for a year or longer...otherwise, it’s not worth it.
It’s also meaningful to reassess your plan through the life cycle. What worked for a 20 year old may not make sense for the hormonally unhinged 50+ year old. We change and our needs change too. For example, I do recommend smart supplementation for most people – really finding out what you are deficient in and addressing it with food first BUT if you don’t like or won’t consistently eat a food to get enough magnesium in (as an example), then we need to supplement it and get a good quality brand too! AO: What are your thoughts on the various trending supplements such as collagen (and others people ask you about)?
MZ: I get a lot of questions about anti-aging supplements and requests for pills that help with energy. However, often someone’s sleep habits place them under physiologic stress because they are only getting six hours of sleep. That has to be addressed first as a possible (MAJOR) root of many problems...including weight gain around the waistline.
AO: Several friends have developed food sensitivities or even severe food allergies in their 40s. What causes this and are there steps one can take to minimize the risk?
MZ: That can happen during perimenopause and menopause and is so frustrating. This is a time for every tool in the toolbox starting with resistance training. The ACSM recs are to engage is resistance training twice a week - 3 times is better for women. This is where we get serious change and return on time investment versus dabbling in yet another cleanse (which can sometimes be dangerous). Plus, we get more food/calorie (can you say a chocolate cookie and a glass of wine) wiggle room if we are more active.
Now, in my close to 30 years in the field I have certainly met with individuals who are struggling with genetics, food sensitivities, stressors that have messed with their weight and energy. Likely the challenges are multifactorial so it’s rarely as simple as just cutting out gluten, but we want to dig in with science - get blood work, get testing and draft a better plan. I can almost guarantee that it will include less processed food, more water and nothing that is electric blue! By the way, our kids may benefit from that advice too!
My kids (I have 2) aren’t always thrilled when I’m facilitating their exercise or providing two veggies at dinner and only occasionally offering the electric blue treat your grandmother wouldn’t recognize but it’s my job. And it’s not just my job - it’s science...dose-dependent, tailored science! AO: Awesome - this is such great advice. If someone would like to work with you, what is the best way to contact you?
MZ: I, along with 7 other RDN specialists, work at Cooper Clinic in Dallas and we all share the same philosophy - eat real food, make it your own and adjust as needed! Oh, and laugh more -like a lot more...it lowers stress hormones which manages weight better!
Thanks so much to Meridan for taking the time to do this interview. This is some great information! If you’d like to contact or work with Meridan her information is below:
12200 Preston Rd, Dallas, TX 75230