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"You don't owe society a body that you have to sacrifice your mental and physical health for"

Images courtesy of Shana Spence, @thenutritiontea on Instagram

Meet Shana Spence, the "eat anything" dietitian dedicated to dispelling the myths around foods, fads and diets "giving you the tea on nutrition, one sip at a time". In 2018 the New York Dietitian Nutritionist created The Nutrition Tea, a platform for open discussion on nutrition and wellness, which has grown to a dedicated community of over 100,000 people.

1. You created your incredible platform "The Nutrition Tea" and your community has grown to over 100,000 people. What inspired you to start the platform and did you ever expect it to get this big? When I first started, I wasn't entirely sure of the direction that I wanted to go. I began looking into the anti-diet and healthy at every size movement on my own, and it just resonated with me. I always knew that I was not into the fad diets out there, and I would never suggest that for a client, but I really wasn't sure about making a "platform" from it. I just started posting what I was thinking or what I would read about. It apparently resonates with many people as well which makes me happy and I love being able to spread the message and positivity!

2. You weren't always a dietitian, tell us about your journey from fashion to nutrition? Who or what inspired you to go back to school?  I started out in the fashion industry and it just wasn't the right fit for me. I kept changing fashion companies thinking that would help get me motivated but it was always just the career choice that I made, which was wrong. I had always been interested in nutrition and also public health. I saw the health disparities between neighbourhoods and I wanted to dig deeper, find out why, and help. I decided to take the plunge and fully invest in it after going back and forth for a while. I had a stable fashion career at the time and I chose to quit, go back to school, and ultimately change my career.

3. You label yourself as a "eat anything" and "anti-diet" dietitian, what do you mean by that?  All foods can fit into someone's diet (except the ones that you are allergic or intolerant to). We are constantly saturated with diet culture and the quest for thinness, that people are willing to cut out major food groups or certain foods because they heard it could help with weight loss. Or, now people don't want to use the term diet so they call it a lifestyle. Food rules tend to make people feel as though they are obsessed with food. They feel this way due to the restriction and the "rules" surrounding food.

4.  One of the main aims of your platform is to dispel the myths around fad diets and unsupported claims on the internet. What are some of the harmful claims you've seen being spread since, starting your platform?  The elimination of carbs is the main one that keeps popping up and seems pretty consistent. We saw Atkins and now we have keto. Carbs are actually good for us and there is no need to eliminate them. Carbs convert to glucose which our bodies need for energy. This includes our brain! I also see misconceptions about certain carbs such as potatoes. Potatoes are really good for us and provide vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. Not to mention there are bonus points if the skin is left on because that's where the fibre is.

5. What would your advice be for girls and young women growing up with the internet, perhaps coming across these fads, false claims or harmful adverts?  The diet industry is worth over $70 billion. It profits off of people trying to fit into an unrealistic ideal. I want people to start becoming more and more mindful of who is perpetuating these ideals. We accept that we all have different skin colours, and hair colours and textures. We accept that we all are different heights and shoe sizes. But for some reason, we have a hard time accepting that not everyone can be thin and that everyone cannot wear the same size. And that's okay. If we all came into acceptance that we are different and we started liking what we saw in the mirror, think about what a loss to the $70 billion industry that would be. Why should they profit off of the insecurities that they themselves project?

6. What are the most common questions you get/issues you deal with as a dietician?  Many people now are starting to become more aware of "diet culture" and the mentality surrounding it. Many questions that I get are usually questioning how to stop previous thinking and how to make peace with food and with their bodies. 7. What have been the highlights of your journey so far and what is the best part of your job ? I love helping people find their "ah-ha" moment and discovering that they don't have to follow food rules. I also love when people come to me and are shocked to find out that most of the time, surprise surprise they aren't eating enough during the day. They increase their intake and all of a sudden it's newfound energy and feeling of balance throughout the day. 8. Who inspires you? What other accounts can we follow to continue learning?  I love body positive accounts and also really great mental health and wellness educators: @encouragingdietitian @your.latina.nutritionist @danaemercer @tiffanyima @the.lovelybecoming @wellwitholi @minaa_b

10. What would your advice be to anyone worrying about weight-gain/not being able to exercise or a change in eating habits due to COVID?  It's easier said than done, but try to put things in perspective. Gaining a few pounds is not the worst thing that could happen when people are dying and losing loved ones. Try to think about some non-weight or appearance-related outlooks. Think about how amazing it will feel to give your friends and family hugs and kisses without worrying about passing something or contracting something. Think about how amazing that first trip will be out of the country or state without the worry. There is so much more to life and things to look forward to than a number on a scale.

11. What's next for you? Endless possibilities! I would really love to continue to work on building my private practice because I do love working with clients. I also have been getting into writing more and am looking to write more about diet culture and why we as a society think the way we do. 12. What is your favourite quote?  "Don't miss out on 95% of your life to weigh 5% less". - the source is unknown, but I found this once and I use it in some of my IG posts as a reminder that the memories we create are more important than a number on a scale. Follow Shana on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or visit her website for more information


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