Hillary Irwin on Health & Diet Myths


  • Mindful eating means paying attention to what goes into your mouth!
  • Don’t miss out on the good stuff, just be aware of how much and how often.



Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.

Jessica: For today’s podcast episode, we have back with us Hillary Irwin, a registered dietician who is going to be able to talk to us today all about health myths, things that we hear with regards to fitness or nutrition that we just aren’t sure whether or not they’re true, and if they are, what’s the reasoning and the logic behind it? Thanks for coming back, Hillary.

Hillary: Thanks for having me.

Jessica: We want to start right off with questions a lot of people are asking these days. Because I feel everywhere you turn, there are all different kinds of diet plans and eating plans and things like that. Everyone’s talking about the influx of people going vegan, the difference between vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and keto. There’s just so much stuff, and back in the day, it used to be like South Beach diet and those kinds of things. Start us off with really the immense popularity these days of vegan and how would you describe it and for people who really don’t know what the difference is between vegan and vegetarian.

Hillary: Okay. I agree, I think the vegan diet has really like taken off. I personally follow a mostly vegan diet.

Jessica: Can we just say also for people what’s happening nowadays, because I think there are some people who are very deterred by the phrase vegan, now it is called plant-based. For everyone out there, if you hear things at restaurants and things on the menus and things in the grocery store that say plant-based, it’s just another way of saying vegan.

Hillary: Yes, it is. Although I have to say personally, I’ll use plant-based a lot because vegan I think sometimes sounds more intimidating. I also use that phrase because I don’t like to completely categorize myself. If I want to eat a mostly vegan diet, but I’m in Nantucket, and I want a really good ice cream cone, I will allow myself to have an ice cream cone. I feel like maybe someone who is vegan is a bit more of an animal rights person. Not that I don’t love animals [that’s fair], someone who’s vegan would not have honey, they would not wear leather, they would never eat a piece of fish, or they wouldn’t be ‘sometimes vegan’.

TH: The rule that I was told is vegan means no heartbeat, no eyeballs, so is that true?

Hillary: Yeah, it’s kind of a gross way to say it, but yes it is true. The difference between vegan and vegetarian, vegan is going to be absolutely no animal products at all, no dairy, no eggs, no fish, whereas someone who’s vegetarian would have dairy. Someone who’s vegetarian might also have eggs, it depends. There are a few different categories of vegetarian diets. Those are like the little nuances. I like to use plant-based because I feel for myself, my diet is based in plants, but then I might occasionally have some fish or occasionally have a little something else. My reasons for going plant-based are probably different than someone else’s reasons for being fully vegan. I think it gets a little – there are definitely a lot of health benefits, and I’ll tell you for going plant-based, lots of studies have shown that it can help lower cholesterol, it can help keep your weight in check, it can help increase your fiber intake, your intake of fruits and vegetables and antioxidants, all these great things. But you could also be vegan or plant-based or vegetarian and eat all junk, so you have to just do it in the right way.

TH: She goes to the health food store and she buys all the wannabes: wannabe Pringles, wannabe Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, wannabe pretzels –

Jessica: It’s plant-based!

Hillary: Yes, it is.

Jessica: I hear you. Also, for people who are seriously vegan, it just goes so far beyond. I know people who won’t take certain supplements because the capsules are made of a certain kind of gelatin. It really goes to a whole other level, which is fine, no disrespect to those people, but to your point, vegan is a much stricter lifestyle than focusing on plant-based unless someone has specific allergies that require them to really be vegan. I feel another super common popular, I don’t want to say fad or trend, because who knows how long it’ll be around, keto?

Hillary: Yes.

Jessica: Is it just low sugar?

Hillary: Keto, I feel it’s similar to the Atkins diet where it’s a higher fat, lower carb diet plan. There are probably some individuals where that is a good idea. I’d say for most people, it’s not the best type of diet to eat. We really do need carbohydrates in our diet. The problem is that most, especially Americans, choose the wrong kind, and you can have a high-carb diet. I remember back in the early 90s and everything was fat-free. I feel like we lived on frozen yogurt and bagels [everything was fat-free] and then everybody got fatter and fatter because you can eat a lot of that stuff and not have it be filling. Choosing the right kind of carbohydrates is important.

Jessica: And those are?

Hillary: Things like fruits and vegetables, a great source of carbohydrates. Whole grains, things like quinoa, oatmeal, lentils, beans, and all that kind of stuff. Those are great sources of carbohydrates. It doesn’t mean that you can’t eat bread, but you can go to a New York City bagel store, and you get a bagel that’s like the size of your head, and it’s like eating five pieces of bread. It’s just easier to eat bigger quantities of that kind of food. The same with pasta, you can go and eat an entire bowl of pasta, which could be like five to ten servings, but if you had a serving of pasta, which is probably closer to like a half a cup, maybe a cup, depending on who you are, that would be fine, but most people don’t eat that way. It’s just being careful of the portions to certain foods and then choosing the high quality versions of the carbohydrates. And to your point you were making before, you can have a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or you can have a Justin’s vegan dark chocolate almond butter cup, they’re both candy, like for sure, no question.

TH: But that’s the thing, it isn’t even healthier for you.

Hillary: No, but it is better for you. If you look at the quality of ingredients, it’s better for you.

Jessica: Okay, so it’s not fewer calories, it’s not less fat.

Hillary: The calories are probably the same, but I will do that on Halloween. I don’t want to eat my kids’ junk, and I will go out and buy myself, because I do happen to like that brand, Justin’s dark chocolate peanut butter cup. I will have that and I will feel better. The sugar content isn’t as high, the junk content isn’t as high, and I just feel really good when I’ve had it. I can have one and be done with it. Whereas when you eat the junkier stuff, it’s often calling your name to finish the entire bowl. There are benefits to it 100%, but it is also possible to go into a health food store and come out with a lot of healthy not-healthy food. Do you know what I mean?

Jessica: Let’s move on. Let’s move on.

TH: Listen, you’re the one with the issue. Not me. [Laughs]

Jessica: Okay, keto, talk us through it. What is it? Why is everybody loving it?

Hillary: When you eat a higher fat diet, a few things happen. Number one, and I think we may have mentioned this before –

Jessica: Oh wait, I said keto. I meant paleo, because we were already talking about keto. Keto you said is high fat, low carbs. Paleo?

Hillary: Paleo is supposed to be eating like our ancestors. It’s the hunter gatherer and what you could have had then. It’s like another fad, that’s how I think of it. I also fit the keto diet into that as well, where it’s just another type of diet that limits certain foods that you can and cannot eat. That will just cut out your calories because you’re like, oh, wait, I can’t eat this thing that I normally eat, and your calorie intake is less in the beginning, or it’s fun for people to be on a thing. When you’re on like a thing, it’s like, oh, I’m doing this now and following these rules.

Jessica: What is sort of the thing of paleo though? What is it cutting out? What are you not supposed to have?

Hillary: I think you can’t eat – they’re certain grains that you can’t have and certain healthy foods that it’s like you can’t have these foods. It doesn’t really make sense to me.

Jessica: It’s not like no carbs or like no sugar?

Hillary: No, it’s not like a no, but it’s just different parts of different categories of foods are cut out. I really do think that the main benefit is that it just limits what you can eat. Then you take in fewer calories, so you lose weight.

Jessica: I don’t think I would take in fewer calories; I would just find substitutes for those things.

Hillary: I think at the beginning most people take in fewer calories and they see some sort of a loss. Then it does even out over time. Studies have shown that too with a lot of these really low carb diets that you can lose weight in the beginning for multiple reasons. One is that fat fills you up more than carbs, so you could end up taking in fewer calories. Another is that your body stores carbohydrates with water, so when you cut out those carbs, you lose a lot of water weight. That’s like a quick weight loss. When you eat a lot of fat and not a lot of carbs, you form these ketone bodies in your like in your bloodstream, in your urine, and that also can decrease appetite. In beginning a lot of these diets, you will lose a lot of weight quickly, but then over time, things start to even out. I’m really a fan of finding a plan, I hate to call it a diet, but just a way of eating that –

Jessica: Like a lifestyle.

Hillary: Lifestyle, that’s the word, and that you can just do. It’s not like I’m on today, I’m off tomorrow.  This is just what I do

Jessica: I have one other question with regards to going back to the vegan thing because I just talked about how I would just find substitutes for things. I have been for close to two years, I’ve been dairy-free. I’ve learned that it’s very easy for me to be dairy-free if I go to vegan restaurants and when I buy vegan foods or snacks because I know for sure it’s dairy-free. I don’t have to worry about it. But I feel people think when I say that I’m dairy-free, and I’m eating the dairy-free cheese substitutes, I don’t necessarily believe this, but I know that people think I’m so much healthier and I’m eating fewer calories and less fat. I’m like it’s made of nuts. I don’t think I’m eating any less fat.

TH: Didn’t we go to a place where you had vegan mac and cheese?

Jessica: I would order vegan cheese. I do think that if you’re on something like that, then just the way the world works, God should make it fewer calories and less fat. This is a myth I think that people –

Hillary: Yes, because most of the vegan cheeses are either made out of coconut oil or made out of some kind of nuts, and they’re not necessarily fewer calories. They could be healthier for you just depending on which one it is. I recently made a vegan lasagna with a cooking class that I did. We made the cheese out of cashews and nutritional yeast and some spices and so it wasn’t low calories. It was made with a lot of nuts, but it was definitely healthier because it didn’t have saturated fat, it didn’t have the cholesterol, and it had lower sodium than if you did store-bought cheese. There are health benefits, but it’s not necessarily a caloric benefit. There are definitely some vegan cheeses that are just made of all fat and oil. They’re not really good for you, but it’s if you need it as like a little substitute, better than eating regular cheese, it is fine. It just depends on which one you choose.

TH: But if you do it once in a while – I really am dairy-free, Jessica is way more extreme. She won’t even eat like a little Snickers mini because there’s like two dots of dairy in it, but she has her reasons, totally fine. For me, I feel like, I mean I have an allergy reason, but if I didn’t, for me, I would want to eat the real thing and feel fully satisfied than a wannabe. Then I would rather not eat it. That’s just my own personal opinion. You and I both know when the Carvel ice cream cake comes out; we don’t care what the blue frosting is. We don’t care about anything else. Our lips and tongue are blue, and you just eat it. Once in a while, as long as it’s not part of my every day, you’re better able to manage that.

Hillary: Yeah, I 100% agree. My philosophy is we have one life to live. You want to enjoy yourself. Part of that enjoyment is being healthy and having your body feel good and doing all these great things for yourself. Part of that too is having a glass of wine, making cookies with your kids, eating ice cream, whatever it is. If you have an allergy, or often there are reasons why you just simply can’t have it or just choose not to, but if you’re putting rules on yourself just to put rules on yourself, you don’t need to do that. You want to enjoy the things when they’re worth enjoying. You go to Italy, you better eat some pasta otherwise what’s the point? Obviously, if you have celiac and you can’t have gluten, I’m not saying that.

TH: If there’s a medical reason, yeah.

Hillary: Yeah. In certain places, you want to be able to enjoy yourself, but you also want to feel really good. If we ate Carvel ice cream cake every single day, first, at some point, you probably wouldn’t enjoy it anymore because you feel kind of gross. You just wouldn’t feel great. Your body wouldn’t feel good. If you do great things most of the time, but you allow yourself to have some fun, I think that’s really important.

TH: One last question for you. Do your legs get fatter when you spin?

Hillary: I honestly think that just depends on your body makeup.

TH: That was not what I thought you were going to say!

Hillary: It depends. There are some people who will put on muscle really quickly. I think if you are spinning, and you’re just doing hills, like pushing really hard, and that’s all you’re doing, sure, maybe your leg muscles will get bigger. If you are doing any other class where you’re sometimes running and sometimes doing hills, and it’s a mix, which I think every class I take is probably like that, then no, your legs are not going to get big. That was a myth from even years and years ago. I really think the only way that would happen is if you truly just did hills, and you were like pushing against resistance all the time, and you were someone who tended to put on a lot of muscle.

TH: And drinking those protein things also, no? Doesn’t it matter the food you eat also if you’re going to build that kind of muscle?

Hillary: It’s truly more important – The food is important with that. I don’t know if necessarily it’s like drinking a protein shake, but if you were pushing really hard all the time, you’re doing squats with like 400lb, if it feels like that when you’re riding the bike, then maybe. But I’d say for most people, I mean, I’ve been spinning for years and years, and not that I have like these skinny legs, but my legs have not grown from like doing the bike.

TH: Okay.

Jessica: I feel though to that point, in terms of fitness myths, there are a lot of people, whether it’s spinning or different kinds of things, people that are afraid to do even lightweight training, because it’s like, am I going to bulk up? I just want to be long and lean. Help us put some of that to rest. If someone wants to have a body that’s more long and lean, what types of exercises would you point them towards vs. someone who wants to really beef up?

Hillary: Okay, so any kind of resistance training is important for everybody, because it also helps to keep your bones dense and help prevent osteoporosis. We all want to be doing that.

Jessica: And by resistance training, for people who literally know nothing, you mean weight training?

Hillary: It could be. What I’ll say is the different types you could do. If you’re someone who really wants more of like a long, lean look, and you don’t want to build up a lot of muscle, doing things like Pilates, doing yoga, Barre classes, or weight training with lighter weights but higher repetitions, are a great way to do that. If you want to build up more muscle, higher, like heavier weights is really what you’re going to want to do. I will say too that there are just some people who can do really heavy weights and will never bulk up but some people that will, so there definitely is a little bit of difference in your body. But if you do things like SLT, which is like a Pilates type class, any kind of power yoga where you’re holding planks and doing Chaturangas which are like push ups, you will see a change in definition in your arms. You don’t need to be doing weights for resistance. You can use your own bodyweight. It’s the same thing with the TRX or  using that kind of thing. It really makes a difference.

Jessica: Where does cardio fit in with that?

Hillary: Cardio is a different, almost like a different beast. Cardio is important to keep your heart healthy, like super important for that. It’s also important to help or maybe not important, but it does help in burning body fat. You burn calories when you’re doing cardio. You will see some change in definition depending on the cardio you’re doing. Like you’re doing the bike, you can help change the definition in your legs. I know some of the classes I do, there’s a lot of push ups on the bike or using hand weights, so you can see some change in your upper body. Runners, you use your core to hold yourself up, so you can see a change in definition in your abs from running. You will get some muscle definition from that cardio, but it’s a little bit more with doing the resistance training and then more fat burning with the cardio.

Jessica: Excellent. Well, there’s always so much more to talk to you about, but we’re going to cut that off for now until next time. Thank you so much for bringing all that stuff to the ExExperts community. For any anybody who wants to reach out to you directly to ask questions or to get advice or work with you, what are the best ways for them to find you?

Hillary: The best way is my website which is or on Instagram it’s @hillaryirwinnutrition.

Jessica: Perfect. We’ll have that information on our website also so people can find you more easily. Excellent. Thanks Hillary for coming back. We’ll see you soon.

TH: Thanks.

Hillary: Thanks guys. Bye.

Goodbye: For everyone out there listening, if you know anyone at all who would benefit from what we talked about today please share this episode and everything exExperts.  Be sure and click to subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts and please follow us on social media @exEXPERTS Divorce etc… on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube and our website at  Thanks for listening!

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