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Felicia Stoler: Spreading Health With A Little TLC
Felicia Stoler is a woman with a mission: educating the public on how to live healthily.
Felicia Stoler is a woman with a mission: educating the public on how to live healthily. She is a nutritionist with a private practice in Monmouth County and host of the TV show “Honey, We’re Killing the Kids.” A sought-after expert in her field, having recently testified before the New Jersey State Assembly on obesity in our state, she was honored by being selected as the “surprise” presenter at the National Governors' Association this past year. She is a dynamo, not afraid to take on life’s challenges, having tackled new careers and having spent years educating herself to become an expert in her field. Felicia will soon earn her doctorate, adding to her numerous accomplishments. Stoler calls both Holmdel and Marlboro home. She grew up in Marlboro, where she attended the Delfino (Central School), Marlboro Middle School, and Marlboro High School (her family still owns a home in town). Now she, along with her 9-year-old daughter Isabella and 6-year- old son Zachary, live in Holmdel. Living In Holmdel and Living In Marlboro recently had the pleasure of interviewing Felicia.
LIH/LIM: You are an expert in the fields of physiology and nutrition. Can you explain each of these disciplines in layman’s terms?
FS: Nutrition is pretty basic. It is the foods that you put into your mouth and what you are eating to meet your body’s nutritional needs. By nutritional needs we mean making sure you get enough calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats, the right fats, the wrong fats, vitamins, and minerals…and, you know, hydration. The exercise physiology component is basically what you do for physical activity. It is great to exercise, but the reality is a lot of people do not get enough exercise. I like to look at it as all-inclusive physical activity. The words "physical activity," when I talk to people about incorporating more physical activity into their day, are a lot less intimidating; as long as you can move, even if you are in a wheelchair and can move your arms, there is always movement that can be done. It is how the exercise you do, or the movement or the energy you exert, impacts your body.
LIH/LIM: Can you have each discipline independently, or do they have to be in conjunction?
FS: You can have them independently. I went back to school and decided to do both together. I was interested in sports medicine and I was interested in weight loss, those being two areas that I knew in private practice would be very popular. I knew that nutrition and exercise go hand-in-hand. I just testified yesterday at the State House for Health Assembly Committee that wanted to know about obesity and I said there is no magic pill, you know. It is energy in versus energy out.
LIH/LIM: What was this panel about? What was its purpose?
FS: Well, they wanted to get information about what was being done in terms of childhood obesity in the state of New Jersey. In New Jersey there is an Obesity Task Force that was convened about a year and a half ago…and they wanted to know what was going on, so I was there representing the State Dietetic Association. Obviously obesity is a growing problem in this country. New Jersey ranks up there and is the 40th fat state. We’re no different than the rest of the country.
LIH/LIM: So you took your expertise in these fields and are currently using it as the host of the cable show, “Honey, We’re Killing the Kids.” How did you get involved with that project?
FS: Well, I submitted my reel the first time they were casting and I never got so much as a call back; I was quite insulted (laughs)…because I thought I was the hot thing. I really thought it was an up-my-alley kind of opportunity and thought nothing of it when the show came out. Then, over the summer, I was doing my residency for my doctorate at ABC News’ medical unit in Boston and I got a phone call from a producer from the BBC who asked me if I was still interested in hosting the show. I said yes and then they waited for me to get back and I did the test shoot. Everyone there was very positive. After I got it, I had to start calling around for a talent agent. They were not going to negotiate with me without an agent. I was pretty much pinching myself, but glad that I got it…it was a great opportunity and I am thrilled to be a part of it. I think that I have tried to bring …well, I have a very different personality from the previous host, but I feel confident…The stuff in the studio is not quite my personality because it needs to be a certain way, but then when we are with the family in their home, that is where you can see more of my personality come out. I am proud of it and I work well with children. I am very casual, even in my private practice, so with the show I develop a great relationship with the families and the kids; it makes it a lot better for me to go into their homes to do things with them; I am a mom so a lot of times they can relate to me and I can relate to them.
LIH/LIM: So this is national. Do you travel all over the country?
FS: We have already finished taping and I have traveled all across the United States; but I didn’t hit the west coast. The farthest west I went was Texas. I have to say, as glamorous as people think the job is, I would be up every Monday morning at 4 o’clock, I was picked up at 4:30 am, and on a plane by 6 am. I usually do some napping on the plane, I get to a location, check into a hotel, get changed, and someone does my hair and makeup; then I have to put on wardrobe. We get [to the home] and from 2 o’clock until 8 o’clock it is non-stop taping.
LIH/LIM: How do you find the families?
FS: The families volunteer to be on the show and submit an application. They go through their own screening process. I am not involved with that. I do have input as to some of the things that go on. I‘m also there to give them ideas and suggestions, to help triage and troubleshoot things that are going on with the families.
LIH/LIM: For those who haven’t seen the show, what is the format?
FS: It is a reality show; it has a basic formula to it. We bring parents into a studio in New York and show them an image of their children now; we have this process – we call it morphing – where we transform them. We use pictures and take them from whatever age they are now to the age of 40, transform them, and show them what they are going to look like. It is pretty disturbing for the parents to watch, but I will say – I will stick to my guns – we just show a projection of what the body looks like on the outside. Can you imagine what they look like on the inside? What their arteries are like, what their heart is like, what their lungs are like. Have they done damage to their joints because they are so obese? I mean, these are things we just can’t know about, but we can only predict the way they are going to look. The parents get upset, then we show up at their house the next day and that is when the fun begins. We dish out rules. Every week they get two rules and I was very insistent when I came on board that I wanted to make sure that the nutrition aspect [healthy eating and exercise] were always the first rules. Then we did other things that were appropriate for the family.
LIH/LIM: And how long do you stay with a family?
FS: For 3 weeks. It takes 21 days to change a behavior. I am not there all the time; I come in 1 day a week, but the production staff practically lives with the families. They are on the phone with me and I follow up with them; I want to know how the families are doing. I really take pride in what I have done with the show. At the end of the 3 weeks we bring them back to the studio and show them new images; then we revisit with them 4 weeks afterwards. They have huge transformations. Also, there is something to be said for having a TV crew in your house all the time. No one wants to be the family that fails. But, look…people cheat, they start to ignore the cameras after a while, they forget.
LIH/LIM: Does the show have a goal or agenda?
FS: Well, we try to change behavior, so the first thing we do is get them to dump all the junk food, get them eating healthy foods, and throw stuff out. Most of the people get ingredients into their homes that they have never seen before. You know, in a lot of these families the parents both work; they do not even know how to cook. How do you cook when you are busy and you are working and you have a family to run? I know, even myself, it is very hard sometimes. You have to start with good ingredients, even if they are partially prepared for you. We make them cook; we make them exercise; we turn off the television – that is a whole other thing too, turning off the television. Yeah. I know it is a TV show (laughs) and I want people to watch it, but how many hours do kids spend parked in front of the TV? I could not believe how some of these families had kids that spend hours and hours in front of the TV; and what do they do in front of the TV? They partake in mindless eating.
LIH/LIM: So now that we know how you are currently applying your knowledge; where and how did you get started on this path? Where did you go to school?
FS: I went to Columbia. This is not my first career; this is my third career. My first career was as a paralegal at a big Wall Street law firm, thinking I wanted to be a lawyer. Nobody there liked their job, so I then went to ABC news and I did licensing.
LIH/LIM: What did that encompass?
FS: I basically did aftermarket use of news footage for the network. That involved a little bit of intellectual property knowledge and a lot of really good interpersonal skills. While I was there I wanted to move around in the company and I found myself up against the glass ceiling. I wanted to go back to school to get a Masters’ in journalism. Someone that I spoke with there said, “You know those are a dime-a-dozen in the production department. Why don’t you go back to school for something that you are passionate about and see if you can bring that back into media?” So that is what I did; I went to school full time at night while I worked full time during the day.
LIH/LIM: Did you have children at that point?
FS: No children yet and I did not have any of the right science prerequisites. The idea of going back and having to take three semesters of chemistry was the most nauseating prospect that I could ever imagine. You know at the age of 28, 29 to first go back to school for that… So I did it and I did very well actually, but I did that for I guess it was 2 years, and then I finally quit my job at ABC because I could not take any more night classes.
LIH/LIM: Where did you take classes?
FS: At Columbia’s Teacher’s College, some at Pace, some at NYU, and the New York Institute of Technology. I had more student ID’s (laughs) by the time I got out of there and then completed a 3-year Masters’ program. It was a dual Masters’ degree in Nutrition and Applied Physiology. Then I did a dietetic internship there as well, which was basically 10 months of supervised practice; 4 months were clinical in a hospital, so I worked at Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy and then I did 3 months of community. I worked at a WIC clinic in Staten Island; I worked at a community settlement house in Hell's Kitchen in New York; and then the other place I worked was the OBC Research Center at St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital, which is one of the premier obesity research centers in the country.
LIH/LIM: What does WIC stand for?
FS: Women and Infants and Children supplemental feeding program; it’s a governmental supplemental program…a national program, but it is administered on the state level so it's for women who are pregnant and children up until the age of 5 who are low income, who need additional resources. Then I worked at food service and I did that at a company called Flik International, and I was at Bristol Myers in New Brunswick. I went from there to working at Somerset Medical Center at their inpatient eating disorders program. I had my daughter at the end of the third year of graduate school. She was an infant when I was doing my internship and that is when we moved back to New Jersey, when I did my dietetic internship.
LIH/LIM: What sparked your interest in this field? What made you passionate about this field in particular?
FS: I have always been interested in exercise. I was a runner when I was younger – I ran track. As a matter of fact I remember having asked my parents to allow me to join a gym before gyms were fashionable. Then the nutrition thing fit as I was always into healthy eating. After college, I had gained some weight. When I first got out of college, gyms didn’t open till 7 am, and I had to be at work at 8:30, so it was very hard to get my workout in. All of sudden I found myself 25 pounds overweight. The trainers were not helping me. I was working out twice a day and was not seeing results; I went to someone with my exact credentials and she changed my life. It took me 2 or 3 years to gain the weight, it took me a little under a year to lose it, and I have never gained it back since. I have learned how to eat right and exercise right. So that’s where my passion has always been. I have always been into communications and I always liked writing and speaking, so that is how I ended up coming back into this.
LIH/LIM: What do you view as the most important issues in your field at this time?
FS: Wow! There are so many different issues. But I find that I spend a lot of time dispelling myths to people. There are so many people that consider themselves nutrition and fitness gurus who don’t have the education to go with it. I practice what I call evidence-based practice, science-based practice. I didn’t self-educate and it has gotten me to this point; you have to know how the inside of the body works in order to give information to people. Misinformation is out there on the internet, TV, radio. Most people don’t know the difference. Something that is very important to me, even on a local level, is licensure for dieticians in New Jersey. There is no licensure, so every Tom, Dick, and Harry can call themselves a nutritionist, and there are times when harm comes to people.
LIH/LIM: You had mentioned that you are in the State Dietetic Association. Have they tried to address these issues?
FS: We have been working for 20 years on licensure, trying to get licensure in New Jersey and because of politics and certain things related to other professionals wanting to be able to call themselves nutritionists…without pointing fingers at any profession, because I can get myself in trouble, there are a lot of people that should not be giving out nutritional advice. It is a sexy industry and everybody wants a piece of it, but it really does take a lot of understanding and skill.
LIH/LIM: Do you deal with issues that are health-related, such as diabetes or other diet-sensitive maladies, as well as with healthy individuals with weight problems?
FS: I probably get the largest percentage of my referrals from physicians – primary care doctors, OBGYN’s, cardiologists, and even sports medicine doctors and endocrinologists. I deal with diabetes. I do not want to just say that nutrition and exercise go hand-in-hand, but nutrition and exercise can be the least expensive, least invasive, and most effective ways to treat and prevent many illnesses or minimize the amount of medication you need for high cholesterol, diabetes, or hypertension.
LIH/LIM: I think we have all seen how effective a healthy diet and exercise regimen can be.
FS: It is so great to see my clients go off their medications or never have to go on them. That is what we were talking about yesterday; the insurance companies will pay for the drugs, they will pay for the bariatric surgery, and you know what it is? Just a band-aid! If you do not change your behavior then you are not changing the whole thing. It’s like getting glasses and never wearing them.
LIH/LIM: Are you involved in any other health-related projects?
FS: I am a resource to NJ 101.5 radio station. They call me multiple times a month to comment on studies that come out about nutrition or exercise. I am involved with the state’s Dietetic Association, and I used to teach…I precept and mentor students all the time. A lot of times people call me and I am not the person they need, so I direct them to the right source; so I am really here to be a resource. I do writing and I have other projects. Hopefully, we have other opportunities in media, whether it be TV, radio, magazines, or books. I really do foresee that as a very powerful outlet for me, because I can reach more people that way than I can in my private practice. The other thing is that I don’t do anything that is a fad. I tend to be very straight-and-narrow; I worked so hard to be where I am, that I want to have credibility and be objective, and I don’t want to give that away. That is something I learned at ABC News.
LIH/LIM: If you could get three messages (non-traditional) out to the public regarding nutrition and physiology, what would they be?
FS: One would be: there is no quick fix, no magic bullet; that change takes time. Two would be that people need to make better food choices. Three would be that exercise and physical activity has to be part of everyday life. Humans were not meant to sit all day. This contributes to being overweight. The heart needs to be exercised and this lifestyle should begin as a child.
LIH/LIM: Is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t touched upon?
FS: Well (laughs), I would like everyone to watch the show. It is on TLC. People can check the website for times.
Avenue and Teak
Sting and Bruce Springsteen (I’m a real Jersey girl)
The Sound of Music
people who talk on a cell phone without a headset and drive as if they’re the only ones on the road
Three people you would like to dine with:
Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, and Madonna
Photo GalleryClick here for Slideshow. You can also click on any of the photos to start slideshow.
Felicia at the home of the Humphries family featured during the show's second season. Pictured are Randy, Felicia, Lisa (back row) and Justin, Joshua, and Cody (front row).
Using "Honey, We're Killing the Kids" high-tech morphing methods, Felicia (in front of the screens on the right) shows Kevin and Kelly Hannah (left) how great they could look by adopting healthy lifestyle changes.
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