How many times in a week do you hear or read food advice? And how does that advice make you feel? Does it leave you confused, excited or wondering if you’ll ever be able to eat another piece of bread again?!
In the age of information overwhelm, it’s more important than ever to find a trusted source who can break down health tips, trends and eating advice in a way that makes sense and is based in science. Enter Jackie London, R.D. and nutrition director of Good Housekeeping and the Good Housekeeping Institute.
In her role, Jackie is responsible for the research, creation, execution and oversight of the magazine’s nutrition related content across all of its platforms. Jackie also oversees Good Housekeeping Seal applications in the food space. She also is responsible for the inception and strategic development of Good Housekeeping Food and Nutrition Brand Lab and Good Housekeeping Nutritionist Approved Emblem.
In addition to sharing advice via Good Housekeeping’s platforms, Jackie also can be seen helping others conquer diet myths. She recently released a new book on the topic, Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked): 11 Science-Based Ways to Eat More, Stress Less, and Feel Great about Your Body, which is available everywhere books are sold. She is quick to mention that her book isn’t just another diet book. It focuses on the biggest barriers and points of confusion everyone faces when it comes to losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle. And, her writing points out that diets and food choices can be very situational. Think of this book not just as a guide to what to eat, but instead an in-depth look at the places, people, situations and general patterns in your life. And it uses these situational examples to help you make better choices to live your healthiest life.
We read her book in a weekend, and we’re already feeling more empowered about the choices we are making with our food. Read on to see why we admire Jackie so much. We know you’ll walk away from this interview feeling more education and enlightened about your health.
When you were a young girl, what job did you dream of having?
I probably changed “dream job” once a week when I was a kid, but I have a vivid memory of specifically wanting to be an archaeologist, a writer and a marine biologist! I also dreamed of combining those things somehow—though I’m not sure what that would look like, other than being a writer in a coral reef?!
How similar is that vision to the life you’re living now?
Actually, now that I think about it, it isn’t all that far off from what I do these days! I translate science into actionable strategy through content creation. Although maybe it’s a little different. My work is pretty solidly geared toward those of us who live on dry land!
You have a fascinating career background in nutrition. How did you parlay that experience into your current role as the nutrition director of Good Housekeeping?
As someone who has worked in the clinical and private practice settings, as well as in the clinical research setting as an R.D., I feel like I found my “home” at Good Housekeeping in the sense that it combines all of the things I love to do into one umbrella role. I’m very grateful that I get to do it every day. RD’s are always using evidence-based practice for work with their respective cohorts, and journalists are often quoting RD’s/using studies for backup. But I have the role of being both—my background is in clinical practice, and my day-to-day life is communicating it on a broader scale.
Nutrition is in and of itself, a science and an art. You have to know your stuff in various areas of straight science—from physiology to microbiology to chemistry and biochemistry. But, you also have to be able to communicate what you know to people in ways that resonate with them in order to help your patients/clients achieve their goals. And now, more than ever, I’m hyper-aware of how important it is to be specific and strategic in the words I choose to use to illustrate a point, so that my “advice” can be genuinely applied to and used by anyone and everyone—no matter who they are, where they live, or their previous experiences and current life stage—while also being specific enough to make strategic, actionable choices that can work for you within the context of the very nuanced realities of your everyday lifestyle.
One thing I always say, is that I don’t know how I could do this job without this (seemingly!) polar opposite background. As a practitioner, you’re in the trenches, listening to and interacting with the very real, very crucial needs of what’s important to all of us within the framework of our everyday lives. Each of us prioritize personal health differently, and we’re all coming from different places, be it psychologically, physically, and from a socioeconomic standpoint. But at the same time, all of us have some crucial common denominators that we have to keep in mind on a larger platform. There are ways to put science into broad scale strategy that works for everyone, but we have to be willing to zoom out on some of the data that’s out there in order to understand it and apply it in ways that work best for each of us.
You also championed the Good Housekeeping Food and Nutrition Brand Lab and Good Housekeeping Nutritionist Approved Emblem. Can you share your motivation for this program/platform?
Science is only as good as how it’s actually used in the context of how we live our lives. And in the same sense, nutrition is only as good as the food you actually eat! To that end, the Good Housekeeping Nutritionist Approved Emblem program was born out of the idea that in order to make better-for-you food choices, you have to be able to source, easily shop for/procure, prepare and eat food that’s more nutritious. Additionally, it has to be easier to identify on crowded supermarket shelves. Enter the whole “marriage” of evidence-based practice (nutrition and dietetics) with lifestyle and consumer context at the supermarket.
At the Good Housekeeping Institute, thousands of food products cross my path on a weekly basis—from all areas of the industry—all of which are riddled with confusing claims that usually speak to agricultural practices or FDA requirements (“USDA Organic,” “Non-GMO Project Verified,” “Fair Trade Certified”) vs. Nutrient Content Claims (“Good Source of Fiber;” “Low Fat; “Excellent source of vitamin C”). All of them want to make claims about how “health” promoting they are, but this is much more nuanced than it sounds, and can be unbelievably overwhelming/anxiety-provoking for most of us!
So, I saw the white space for cutting through this clutter by using the Good Housekeeping Seal platform to expand upon our history of consumer advocacy to make real behavior change that sticks. The Emblem id’s food products that make it easier to eat better—using scientific outcomes to actually translate into food choices, and ultimately, better-for-you habits. I look at nutritional criteria on a per product, per category basis, but I also look at the product at large in the context of the category. For example, how does this specific food make it easier to buy, prep and eat meals and snacks that are simple, affordable, nutritious and delicious? And how does it stand out in a specific category for innovation (technology, sustainability, packaging etc.)? Since we wind up with effective frequency bias—the more we see a certain term, the more we attribute value to it—a lot of what we “know” about food and health starts at the supermarket. And it can be what’s currently screaming at us from food packaging to positioning within the store is all smoke and mirrors in terms of your actual health!
That’s where the Emblem comes in, standing on the shoulders of the iconic Good Housekeeping Seal. Our platform brings a whole history of consumer trust and reliability, so I was excited about the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of the Seal while changing the conversation to be more of a dialogue between brands and consumers. We use an evidence-based practice to applaud brands for their current efforts, working with them to make better-for-you products more accessible and identifying what that looks like for consumers.
If I had to sum it up into a general, bird’s eye POV about my own role with the Seal and the Nutritionist Approved Emblem, it would be this: How we at Good Housekeeping provide consumers with the trust and reliability that’s essential to our brand identity, core values and reverent to the brand’s role in history and our history is different among each lab. But in the food space: Consumers are inundated with choices, and the supermarket is its own hotbed for claims, marketing strategies and the breeding ground for various myths that stem from anywhere/anything—product placement in-store (e.g., breakfast cereal should often be in the dessert aisle, while nuts really don’t belong in the dessert aisle at all…). The Emblem helps consumers navigate the shelves by simplifying this process and helping you understand how you can make food choices that serve the purpose of improving your health—without sacrificing taste, adding emotional or financial strain to your life, or giving up flavor and fulfillment.
What is your favorite part of the work you do?
This is so cheesy, but it’s about as honest as I can get: Helping people make teeny tiny shifts in their day-to-day habits that don’t require total lifestyle upheaval, elimination of a nutrient or food group, or doing something exceptionally torturous or difficult to achieve better health. Instead, when I see people using my advice to make a tiny change that yields major results (and ultimately, butterflying into healthier habits that ultimately stick with them for life)—that’s what seriously gives me life!
The most rewarding thing about this role is that because there are so many different parts to it, there’s also so many channels and mediums by which to reach different people, at different phases of life and stages of change. So whether it’s a reader of the magazine, GoodHousekeeping.com or on social media sending me a message; someone who’s read the book and shares how it’s helping/has helped them, or meeting someone 1:1 who shares a story about something I wrote about that resonated with them enough to do a little bit better every day. That’s the “meat and potatoes” of what makes my worthwhile.
On the flip side, what is most challenging?
Well, being curious about many things for me translates often into wanting to do many things at once, and therefore, often biting off more than I can chew. Everyone eats, therefore everyone is an “expert.” In journalism, information is more democratized and accessible than ever which is both amazing and thrilling as it is more difficult than ever to be heard. The bigger challenge that lives within that framework: If you are an expert in any evidence-based practice, you’re always looking at links—associations, possible outcomes, possible causes for why certain health outcomes appear to be linked to certain dietary patterns.
But if you’re not an expert in this area, you’re often the first and the loudest to take a sliver of science and call it a “fact” or “result” or the worst: You’ll use the red-flag phrase, “proven to.” Delivering advice that sounds soft (like, “linked to…”) is not as sexy, but it’s the only thing we know to be true about this type of work. No single food in isolation can make or break your state of health, nor can it directly and immediately impact the number on the scale or the way your jeans fit right now. It’s what you do consistently over time that matters! Ultimately, in an ever-changing world of algorithms and mixed messaging, it can be tough to be a practitioner who is consistently fighting for a seat at the proverbial table—without compromising professional integrity.
What is something surprising someone might not realize about your job?
How much “homework” is involved in my day-to-day in order to make science-based recommendations on a platform like Good Housekeeping’s (a.k.a., a massive one!). What many people don’t fully realize about nutrition “news” is that a lot of what we read about or hear about lately is based off of misused application of something called “biological plausibility,” which basically means that it’s feasible that X food you eat could have Y effect. But without proper context, it’s lesser known that the likelihood of this actually happening to you (or anyone!) in REAL LIFE is either essentially impossible, or specific to only a certain group of people with a specific DNA profile.
Some examples of this in real life that we’ve all heard about: Sugar substitutes, intermittent fasting and basically anything and everything labeled, “inflammatory.” The type of information that “catches fire” the fastest are often generated from slices of statistics derived from very real scientific research—but it’s not always the kind of research that’s applicable for our everyday use. So as both a practitioner and a writer, I have to know the scope of any subject cold by being 200% thorough—combing through research, considering various data points and then translating those well-powered (or not so well-powered!) findings into actionable advice that also addresses why or why not it may actually be applicable or arbitrary for most if not all of us.
What is something you find your readers always want to know more about when it comes to nutrition?
Literally everyone wants to talk about their GI tract—from the good to the bad to the ugly. (Btw, I LOVE this because it brings me back to my clinical days—everyone in a hospital is obsessed with if, when, and how you’re pooping, and when your next poop will come. So, please: If you want to talk sh*t, get in touch with me!
Are there trends in the nutrition space we should all keep our eye on? If so, what are a few of them?
Personalized, precision nutrition recommendations are an area that’s constantly evolving, but I still think we’re a long way from fully implementing some of these and reaping their benefits as consumers. Currently, they’re mostly in a stage where they’re creating more confusion and therefore, more harm than good…stay tuned! These days, any trend that maximizes health and convenience is no longer a trend. It’s an innovation that’s here to stay.
Some good examples of that are food companies that use plant-based protein sources like pulses (legumes like chickpeas, beans, peas and lentils), nuts and seeds and their “butters” to make higher protein snacks. This is such a smart idea and a great way to use technology and innovation for the better. The same is true of riced or “spiralized” veggies or pizza crust made from veggies. Really, anything happening in the convenience space that maximizes our need for meeting consumers where they’re at and solves the very real problems we all face when it comes to making better choices that promote healthier habits, e.g. “what can I eat for breakfast that I can take on the go?” was a question I used to get all the time in private practice. But 4 years ago, I only had a handful of good answers to that, whereas today, I can list a whole slew of them that are on the market—from yogurt bars to oatmeal cups to ready-to-eat hard-boiled egg packs in the deli section.
Tell us about your new book, Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked): 11 Science-Based Ways to Eat More, Stress Less, and Feel Great About Your Body. What can we expect to learn within its pages, and what is a favorite tip of yours that is included in the book?
I’m so excited to share this book with you. It’s essentially 11 umbrella chapters that serve as the biggest barriers or points of confusion that anyone and everyone has faced when it comes to losing weight and claiming ownership of your health. It might as well serve as the “transcript” behind the scenes of a counseling session with an R.D.! I take a very scenario-specific, situational approach to health and weight-loss by diving deep into the nuances of where exactly you are, what specifically you’re doing, and what you’re thinking about when you make decisions about food, and ultimately, what you eat. It’s a super stark contrast to a traditional “diet book” model, which essentially sets you up to fail. Rather than relying on a prescriptive, regimented or restrictive “plan,” that tasks you with the challenge of changing your life to meet your “new” food-related needs, I use the places, people, situations and general patterns—essentially, the realities—of your everyday life to show you how you can make changes within your own context and based on your individual needs. No matter the circumstance.
What we don’t talk about or hear about enough is that 95% of all diets “fail”—and that’s no accident—they’re designed that way! It makes sense why, though, right? Restriction for life is antithetical to actually living! So, my approach in the book is almost verbatim the way I would address a client if they came in for a 1:1 counseling session with me. It’s based on my real-life experience working with people and using science to address any and every scenario inert when it comes to claiming their health and making real changes that are sustainable for life. Through my role at Good Housekeeping, I’m hyper-aware aware of the many different shapes and forms that diet myths take control over our inner monologue and the way we speak about food and health with others. So, each chapter is named after real-life readers or former clients who have actually said these things, e.g. “I need to detox;” “I have no willpower;” “I read on X [wellness-y] website that I should…;” “I travel for work so I can’t eat well;” “I don’t cook so I’ll never be healthy;” “Most of my meals are at my desk;” “So much of my personal and professional life includes cocktails and dinners out;” etc.
The book takes all of these perceptions (and much more!) head-on, while clarifying/debunking as many claims or mini-myths that I could possibly stuff into this 300-page beast: “Cravings” (they’re a pseudonym for shame-trigger); understanding your “biological sh*t starters” to combat the idea that “willpower” is a thing (and what to do about them in ways that actually satisfy you); defining “self-care” in terms of personal priorities and the boundaries we need to put them into actions that work for us, and how to drown out of that noise, regret and constant self-evaluation that comes from getting “stuck” in this democratized world of 24/7 information.
I think a larger idea I’m excited by is this very female-driven notion that we “can have it all!” This is about as sexist as it is overused. You can’t have everything you want all the time with anything, much less with food, but you can make empowered choices to have what you want in any given scenario. You can do this so long as you are paying attention to type, timing and tools—(I call these the 3T’s in the book!)—that help you protect your priorities, claim your choices and stop feeling like you have to consume wilted lettuce with dressing on the side, green juice with something “activated” in it, or a smoothie bowl straight out of Pinterest in order to achieve (a seemingly transcendental state) called “wellness.” (IMO: Carrying a green juice is the 2019 equivalent of a Birkin bag in the early 2000’s, no?)
What advice do you have for others who want to work in nutrition?
Get good (and get fast) at looking at research. Learn how to put it in the context of consensus in a specific area of study. And learn how to talk about it in the way you would teach someone how to apply a new nugget of info for themselves—no matter who they are, and no matter the challenges they currently face.
What is something you wish every woman knew?
I think we all assume this, but we don’t realize how much it affects us: STEM is a male-dominated area of study; public health policy is a male dominated profession; and medicine is still male-dominated. When you think about the roots of information—many of us are getting ours from these sources, (among others!) but we’re not always given the context for how to apply that information to our everyday lives.
It’s not just “mansplaining;” it’s actually neurobiology! (Men are hard-wired for single-focus, and women are hard-wired to be more adept at focusing between tasks and through transitions). This is a tremendous public health problem in the sense that women are still driving 80% of food shopping in the U.S. How can you actually make informed choices about how to find, shop, prepare and eat food that’s nutritious, tastes great and promotes health amongst almost meaningless scientific soundbites like, “eat less fat,” or “eat less sugar,” when there’s no context for how to apply that advice to supermarket shopping in today’s consumer market?
The result is that we often have a lot of words or sayings that all wind up funneling into the same thing: Restrict, restrict, restrict. And ultimately, our language really matters for both psychological and physical health, and our general approach to achieving and maintaining fulfillment through health promoting behavior change. Trigger words like “portion control,” “moderation,” “cravings” and “balance,” may be dated, but so are the trendy versions of these tropes: “Clean eating,” “wellness” and “detox” can wind up having the same effect. They teach us to practice feeling bad about ourselves, with the intended goal of feeling better and improved. Inherently, phrases like these imply requisite status—and remind us to feel as though we don’t have the access (a.k.a., the tools we’d otherwise need) in order to make changes that promote better health.
Ultimately, we wind up using words that promote feelings of unworthiness in the name of “wellness.” Clarifying key words and phrases that attribute value to your lifestyle and eating habits in any way, shape or form is sneaky, but totally ubiquitous in our vernacular. So, the most important step we can take as women is to get off of this shame-inducing hamster wheel. We can start by changing how we speak about food as it relates to our health. That’s some serious self-care right there.
What is next for you?
Next up, my goal is to expand upon the “bucket” myths of Dressing on the Side through various channels (at Good Housekeeping and beyond our traditional platforms of print/digital—e.g., live events, broadcast, audio, etc.) to really reach you and speak specifically to your unique set of circumstances. No matter what or where I am, my overarching goal is to make sure that through my own work in nutrition and in whatever way I can, I’m helping people to feel less alone.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
First, I can’t wait to hear what people think about Dressing On The Side—constructive feedback is really important to me, so please check it out and let me know what you think! You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter @jaclynlondonRD. Ultimately, nobody knows what’s best for you better than you do. Whether or not you read my book, please remember that!
I’d love to have coffee with:
Oprah Winfrey—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
The books on my nightstand are:
Eeeek which shelf?! Mostly, I listen to audiobooks on my walk to and from the office (and everywhere in between). But currently as I type, there are several copies of Dressing on the Side next to me (they double as coasters, my friends! Just in case you’re on the fence: It’s really a 2-for-1 purchase!); This is Marketing by Seth Godin, Unwifeable by Mandy Stadtmiller, The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, Severence by Ling Ma, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, You Know You Want This, by Kristen Roupenian.
My current favorite saying, or mantra, is:
Straight from the pages of Brene Brown’s latest work, Dare to Lead: “People, people, people.” (P.S. Brene is also on the “please, please, please have coffee with me” list!)
My favorite way to spend my day off is:
I have about a zillion ways, but for the sake of prioritizing my own health in this particular moment in time: SLEEPING!
One lesson I’ve learned lately is:
The absolutely crucial nature of boundaries—especially for moi.
I can’t live without:
Several (unsweetened!) beverages physically on/with/near me at any given point in time and newly, my Apple AirPods, which I recently wrote about because I feel that serious about how game-changing they are.
I feel my best when:
I have a few big projects/balls in the air at the same time—but by my own design!