A Bethesda dietician on fad diets, making healthy choices and why she eats dark chocolate every day
Livleen Gill had never been inside a grocery store until she moved to Bethesda when she was 24. She’d grown up on army bases in India and purchased food at small markets or from vendors who came to her home. “I was just taken aback by all the colors of the vegetables and fruit—and the meat section blew me away,” Gill says of the Giant Food on Westbard Avenue, which she visited a day after arriving in the U.S. as a newlywed. “I had never seen so much food.”
After settling in Bethesda with her husband, Indermit, she experimented with new dishes and expanded her mostly vegetarian diet. “Food, I think, in every culture is the center of life. It doesn’t matter where you grew up, where you come from,” says Gill, now a registered dietician. She was motivated to make healthy meals for her kids—she has twin sons, 21, and a daughter, 22—and smart nutritional choices for herself because of her family’s history of diabetes and weight problems.
Gill, 53, worked as a dietician at hospitals in Towson and Cheverly, Maryland, and at skilled-nursing facilities in Montgomery County before shifting her focus to the preventive side. In 2001, she opened Bethesda NEWtrition & Wellness Solutions. While many of her patients are trying to lose weight or manage diabetes, she sees clients of all ages—from toddlers to seniors—with a variety of nutritional issues. “Everybody eats, so everybody thinks they are an expert on food,” says Gill, a former president of the Maryland Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“People don’t want to be told that what they are doing is not correct. We think there is a judgment—that is what really keeps people from getting help.”
Gill believes in a holistic approach to nutrition, and she has expanded the business to 15 employees, including primary care physicians, behavioral therapists and an acupuncturist. Several years ago, a busy couple with young children came to Gill to get on a healthier track. The family was eating out a lot, so she helped them plan basic meals to cook together at home and slowly move away from processed foods. The family added more beans to their diet, and Gill taught them to bake or grill chicken using a marinade and herbs rather than heavy cream sauces.
“By the time we were done, they were diligently cooking more than three meals a week,” she says.
Some of Gill’s patients come in for one or two sessions, while others see her for months or years for weight maintenance. She says she suggests slight adjustments—rather than drastic changes—to help people make better food choices, noting that fad diets often do more harm than good. “We’ve become a diet-obsessed nation,” says Gill, who doesn’t have a scale at home and uses the fit of her clothes as a gauge for managing her own weight. “People often have this cookie-cutter approach to weight loss: ‘Just follow the keto diet or follow the cabbage diet and you are going to lose weight.’ I wish it was that simple, but it isn’t.”