Founders' Perspectives Part 2: Looking Back

Founders' Perspectives Part 2: Looking Back

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It was fun to look back on how my perspective on food has changed over the 20 plus years that I have been a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Only when I took the time to reflect, did it occur to me how much my perspectives have changed. 

While I taught high school English and History, I started my evening classes to complete my prerequisites to apply to a Masters in Nutritional Science degree. My former degree in English and Applied Linguistics, and graduate work in education, hadn’t prepared me for the chemistry adeptness I needed.

At that point, I was convinced that there was a treasure chest filled with proven nutritional science - and as soon as I had the keys, I would know exactly what everyone (me included), should be eating. Until I had the keys, I just followed popular diet authors in what was the lowfat/nonfat fad of the 90’s. Entenmann's fat free products, anyone?!

I was so relieved, when I started graduate school, to learn why I was hungry all the time. I needed some healthy fat. I was glad I learned that lesson well because I taught the importance of healthy fat to my patients for years - many of whom were incredulous that an olive oil and balsamic vinegar salad dressing wouldn’t cause them to gain 5 pounds in one sitting!

My Masters in Nutritional Science program was full of experimentation. As I learned about different eating plans, I tried them all. Vegan - let’s give that a go. Macrobiotics - cue the pressure cooker. Mediterranean - bring on the wild salmon and the olives. Elimination diet - let’s see if dairy is causing me any issues. Long study sessions with friends - let’s enjoy the brownies. Hmm, perhaps they will be yummy with mashed black beans as an ingredient. Or perhaps not.

What I learned from years of reading the research as well as working with patients, is that there is no one size fits all. The optimal eating plan is one that helps a person to feel energized and focused and satisfied. Every sort of eating plan can be designed in a health promoting way - and any can include too many health diminishing foods.

I also learned (and experienced) that people’s nutritional needs change over time. As does the energy they can devote to meal preparation. Individuals need such different things - I prefer to eat the same breakfast each day (fewer decisions) but a few days of the same lunch leaves me with cravings. My husband enjoys a smoothie each day - I like to chew my food. I have a friend who fasts intermittently and feels great- I eat every 3 to 4 hours for optimal energy and focus. My work in the field of nutrigenomics really solidified my confidence in the need for personalized nutrition recommendations.

Of course, the research supports some important general principles. Fiber is key. Plants are an outstanding source of nutrients. Chewing is important for digestion. A combination of fiber, high quality protein and healthy fat has a stabilizing effect on blood sugars, mood and appetite. Eating highly processed food on a regular basis isn’t health supportive.  Moving one’s body has enormous health benefits. If a food fad seems to be a panacea for all evil, ignore it. But how we incorporate these principles and others leaves much room for individuality.

I used to think that being a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist meant I’d have all of the answers. What I’ve learned over the past two decades  is that my expertise gives me the knowledge I need to ask myself and others plenty of questions. It’s the ability for each of us to answer these questions in a self aware way that gives us the real key to doing the best we can to optimize our health.