I just had an inspiring conversation with Lisa Markley, MS RD in Overland Park, Kansas. She is a Whole Foods Market Healthy Eating Specialist and has been for just over a year. Her colleague, Dani Little MS RD, was the first Healthy Eating Specialist in one of the Boulder, Colorado Whole Foods Markets. They are both Bastyr University trained dietitians.
Lisa is clearly a woman who loves her job. She explained that Whole Foods Market added a seventh core value to their mission statement which is to promote health education to team members and customers. From this core value, the “Health Starts Here” initiative was born.
Lisa is essentially a highly trained personal shopper. Her role includes leading grocery shopping tours, teaching nutrition education and cooking classes and being part of community health events.
But here comes the really cool part – you can meet with Lisa for a one hour nutrition consult for $30 and follow up consults for $15. She will help you assess your nutrition goals and needs and then will take you shopping in the store so that you have in your cart whatever foods are going to work best on your customized meal plan. She’ll explain how to prep the foods you may not have tried before and she’ll give you lots of ideas to get you out of your food rut. Lisa describes what she does as “sensory based nutrition education in the store”. She opens foods for you to sample, gives you quick and easy recipes and it’s all personalized for you. Now that’s what I call having a huge impact on behavior change!
I asked Lisa why people most often come to see her. The top three reasons are: food sensitivities (including gluten intolerance), cancer diagnoses and metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and blood sugar issues). She reports that customers often walk into the store to see her right after a doctor’s appointment. They may have been told to lower their sodium intake, take gluten out of their diet, or reduce saturated fat. They are often overwhelmed and confused. And that’s where Lisa enters the picture. I bet the sighs of relief are audible.
Lisa had some really interesting comments about gluten free living. She said that some customers come into the store just wanting to make sure that their gluten free diet means they can still have pizza or mac and cheese. However, Lisa works with them so that they can appreciate that a gluten free diet, like any other diet, needs to be as nutrient dense as possible. Lisa also said that her Whole Foods Market has been carrying Zing Bars for a little less than a month and she is so excited to have them in the store. Her personal favorite is the peanut butter chocolate chip. She and I spent some time discussing flavors
I love what Whole Foods Market is doing in this arena. How wonderful for physicians, dietitians and other healthcare professionals to be able to refer their patients to a person like Lisa who can do the hands on piece right there in the store.
Not all Whole Foods Markets have Healthy Eating Specialists so be sure to ask your local store to hire a dietitian if they don’t have one onsite already. I am betting that customer satisfaction goes up tremendously with this kind of service. And, most importantly, awareness and knowledge of healthy eating is going up too.