Fifteen years ago, nutritionist Keri Gans didn’t think her career would become what it is now.
The once aspiring filmmaker is now a brand spokesperson, a lecturer and an author. She wrote “The Small Change Diet: 10 Steps to a Thinner, Healthier You” and her nutrition advice has been featured on TV and in Self, Fitness and Shape magazines.
“When I was a little girl, I wanted to star in movies,” Gans said. “When I went off to college, I wanted to make movies.”
Gans ultimately ended up changing her major to marketing and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, marketing from Ohio University. It wasn’t until many years later that she decided to become a nutritionist.
“My first job ever, I worked at for three weeks,” she said.
As a receptionist in the Garment Center she was “miserable,” but three weeks later, an advertising company called her and she switched jobs. Gans’ career in advertising lasted a year and a half, then she wound up back in the Garment Center. After that, she became a national sales manager.
It was around this time that she met her husband, Dr. Bartley Labiner.
“I met my husband in the gym. As the story goes he was watching me for years and then finally introduced himself. His exact words: ‘Do you mind if I introduce myself?’ The rest is history.”
At that point in her career, Gans was traveling a lot to visit her sales teams throughout the country.
“I really decided that I couldn’t live that lifestyle anymore – that I wanted to one, not travel so much and two, do something that I felt passionate about.”
This is not to say that Gans isn’t passionate about clothing after 10 years working in fashion – she still is.
“I wanted to explore something else. So I went back to school and got a master’s in nutrition.” She said her husband jokes that she now travels almost as much.
“But the difference is, for me, I feel really passionate.”
Gans begins her days now by taking a skim at her Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts. She said staying on top of social media is one of her biggest day-to-day challenges.
She then starts with the same breakfast every day – oatmeal with nonfat milk, crunchy peanut butter and chia seeds. With her meal, she drinks orange juice with seltzer and a half-half coffee (meaning half decaf, half regular).
“That’s a compromise I do with my husband. I’m a decaf person. I don’t necessarily need caffeine, so we compromise as half-half,” she said. “I drink it black because I don’t think coffee needs anything to change the taste of it.”
The next part of her day is walking her vizsla dog, Henry.
“He’s 14 and a half years old at this point, but he’s still going strong. It’s because I feed him all good stuff.”
Unless Gans has a last-minute deadline, interview or media event, her mornings are free for yoga practice at the House of Jai. Her goal is to attend yoga five days a week, as she’s been an avid yoga goer for more than 15 years. It’s the part of the morning Gans says she can count on – and the rest of her day can take on many shapes.
“I work for myself, so I create my own work hours.”
Gans’ day can range from creating a recipe, writing a blog post for the Keri Report or U.S. News & World Report, shooting videos, hosting a Twitter party, taking lunch meetings or seeing patients, she said. Gans also gets TV requests (which she’d like to do more of) and she can have anywhere between zero to three magazine interviews in one day. She also has various assignments as a spokesperson.
When Gans looks back at the beginning stages of her career, she said she never thought she’d author her own book or be used as a nutrition expert for magazines. It wasn’t on her bucket list.
“I didn’t realize that the world of nutrition had this many different opportunities. I really only thought that I’d be working individually with patients.”
Gans said she believes her social personality and desire to do more is what brought her these opportunities. This goes hand-in-hand with how her husband would describe her.
“If he had to give one word, it would be energetic. If he had to go further, he’d probably say there’s nothing I can’t do that I put my mind to – that I’m very determined. I’m very personable.”
Early on in Gans’ nutrition career, she became active in her local state dietetic association. Networking eventually led her to become the president of the New York State Dietetic Association and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Being a nutritionist who’s just seeing patients in private practice can be isolating, so I always ventured out to meet others.”
But Gans still works with patients because she likes to keep herself honest, she said, “and what I mean by that is I like to hear the trial and tribulations, and the questions and the concerns of the average consumer.”
THE SMALL CHANGE DIET
“I’m like the anti-diet person. I promote burgers, French fries and martinis, but I promote that in a way that’s small change,” Gans said, adding that an example would be that if you want to lose weight, you can get rid of the bun or French fries, or perhaps not have them every day.
“It’s about making small changes and by creating new habits that last a lifetime.”
Gans said her approach is not about deprivation. It’s about being realistic – by tackling one thing at a time rather than making too many changes at once. She advises that 85 percent should be reserved for healthy eating and 15 percent for everything else.
“There’s no one size fits all when it comes to weight loss, but I had found those that work at changing their lifestyle do a lot better than those that pick something that is sudden and quick.”
For example, Gans mentioned that her sister asked about how to remove chocolate from her life. And here’s the answer Gans gave:
“First and foremost, you have to include chocolate in your life,” she said, adding that if she were to create a meal plan for her, it would include chocolate every day. Removing it completely could cause her to “pig out.”
Gans advises finding a way to incorporate the foods you enjoy, but in small amounts. If you create “forbidden foods,” you’ll want them more.
This same thinking can be applied when you go to a party or a barbecue.
“Navigate it the way you would any meal – and that’s to choose smartly,” Gans said.
For example, if you’re going to drink, Gans suggests a vodka seltzer or a beer. While some women may think beer is a man’s drink or fattening, she recommends it because it’s portion controlled. In a single serving, you know everything you’re getting, including the calories.
“With wine, there’s nothing like a summer in the Hamptons with glass of rosé, but if you find that you lose track easily, then maybe you need to have something a little stronger,” Gans said. She says this because if you really love wine, you may find yourself pouring glass after glass and putting on more calories. Alternately, if you aren’t a fan of martinis, you may just have one glass.
When it comes to barbecue or party food, you don’t always have a choice in what to eat but Gans explains that it’s about picking and choosing. For example, choosing chicken, steak and shrimp as your protein sources is not the way to go – commit to just one, Gans said.
“Don’t stack your plate high. Put what can comfortably fit on it.”
Gans also has great tips for how to manage salt intake. Drinking water is a good way to wash the sodium out, she said. It’s also a habit for many people to sprinkle salt on their food at the table immediately before even tasting it.
“We should learn to taste our food first,” Gans said. “Learn to cook with lots of different herbs and spices that can replace sodium.”
If you happen to go overboard and get off track on the weekends, Gans said the best thing to do Monday morning is start with a healthy eating attitude.
People also tend to focus on getting into great shape for warm seasons, special occasions and vacations.
“We shouldn’t need something to drive us to get ready. Our bodies should be ready 365 days a year for whatever comes our way,” Gans said.
Gans seems to apply the same principles in her career that she does with nutrition. When she switched careers, it involved a temporary financial sacrifice, but she was still able to pursue her goal, she said.
“Not everybody can do that. What everybody can do, though, is believe that things are possible.”
People should understand their priorities, whether that means less stress or making more money, as it’s different for every person. If someone doesn’t find joy in what they do, they need to figure out what will, Gans said.
“A lot of times you have to be patient and realize that switching careers – it might be a step back before you step forward. At least when you’re stepping forward, you’re getting closer to that joy – and that’s what’s important.”
Gans also told the story of when she was 18 years old applying to colleges. When she applied to Syracuse University’s communications program, she wasn’t accepted and ended up not attending the school.
“About six years ago, I got an email from Syracuse University asking me to speak at their school for National Nutrition Month,” Gans said. “And one of the first things I said to the students was, ‘Isn’t this pretty ironic, that I didn’t get into the school of communications but I’ve been asked to communicate to all of you on nutrition?’”
Gans said you just never know what can happen. “Life comes around in circles.”
“Don’t be afraid of failing,” Gans said. “You have to be willing to work hard. In my days in fashion, I used to travel cross-country, come back on the red eye and show up in the office the next day – and work all day.”
While Gans jokes that she may not climb Mount Everest, she does hope to share “more sound nutrition advice.”
She wants to continue representing brands she aligns with and working with exciting companies and magazines, “because when you’re having fun, why stop?”
Gans talks about nutrition on a level that’s relatable so people feel they can make realistic changes, she said.
“That’s why I love that I get the opportunity to share solid nutrition advice – mainstream.”
Gans said she looks to science for many of her recommendations, and because science is always changing she is open to reading new information.
“You can’t be set in one way in this field, or I should say, in any field. You need to be able to listen to others and you also need to be able to voice what you think. There’s a combination of listening and sharing.”
If there’s one thing we can learn from Keri Gans, it’s the importance of finding a balance in every aspect of your life – from nutrition to career.