What is your role at Integrated Care Clinic?
I am a registered dietitian nutritionist at Integrated Care Clinic. I specialize in working with adolescents and teens who are struggling with eating disorders. I provide family-centered education, meal planning guidance, and empower my clients to find balance with food and health. I also enjoy working with clients who struggle with gastrointestinal issues, weight management issues, or those struggling to have a healthy relationship with food. I am not a dietitian who believes in quick fixes or general advice. I like to get to know my clients and provide individualized care in order to help them achieve their goals. I like to empower my clients to make changes to their diet/eating habits in order to improve their health, wellness, and overall well being.
Let’s break the ice: if you had to eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Pizza! I really enjoy making homemade pizza from scratch. At home, I like to experiment with different sauce recipes (tomato, pesto, garlic sauce), different additions of cheese, and lots of topping combinations. My favorite homemade recipe to date: thin crust, homemade pesto, mozzarella cheese, and lots of veggies on top. But don’t get me wrong, I also love going to all the pizza restaurants around St. Pete!
Where did you go to school for undergrad? What did you study?
I went to Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN for my undergraduate studies. Go boilers! I started off in the college of health and human sciences, thinking I wanted to be a doctor or physician’s assistant. After I took my first nutrition class, I was hooked! I changed my major to nutrition and dietetics after my sophomore year and never looked back. I ultimately graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. During my undergraduate studies, I really loved learning about the science behind nutrition and how food can affect our body in so many different ways. Also fun fact… I minored in Spanish while studying at Purdue! Although I have lost my ability to fluently speak the language, I still enjoy practicing my Spanish when I can.
Where did you go to graduate school?
I am currently working on my Master’s degree through the University of Alabama. I am studying human nutrition, with a focus in clinical nutrition. I decided to pursue the degree because of my desire to be a lifelong learner. Nutrition is ever-changing and I love studying new things in the field! I am about halfway done with the program and expect to graduate in the winter of 2020. Another motivator for pursuing this degree is that as of January 1, 2024, all dietitians will need to have a masters degree in order to practice. I decided to obtain this degree in order to stay competitive in the field and keep up with the education level of my soon to be peers!
Why did you decide to become a dietitian?
The short and simple answer is because I love science and I love food. Put the two together and you get nutrition! I love learning about how food affects the mind and body; it is such a complicated process! I also love education and teaching others about nutrition. I really enjoy helping people identify issues they have with food (whether that’s physically or mentally), providing the science behind WHY this is happening, and then empowering them to make changes to improve their health and wellbeing. There is a lot of false information available nowadays on nutrition, so I provide up-to-date, science-based information to my clients in order to dispel myths and misconceptions about food.
What are you most passionate about?
I am most passionate about helping people understand the science behind food and how it affects overall health. I love educating people on what makes food so beneficial and how it affects the body, even down to the biological and chemical reactions! I like problem-solving with my clients in order to figure out what changes we can make in order to help them not only maximize their nutrition but also improve their relationship with food. We live in a culture that demonizes food and certain body types. I like to bring awareness to this issue and help clients work through these issues related to food and nutrition.
Do you have any pets?
Yes! I have two dogs and one cat. I found my cat, Nutmeg, when I was at Purdue in October 2012. She walked up to me after I parked my car, then followed me up to and inside my apartment, meowing at me the whole way. I offered her some tuna, which she scarfed down, and we never said goodbye to each other! I also have 2 dogs, both of which were adopted from animal shelters when I lived in Montana. They are both 5 years old; one is a beagle mix and the other is a border collie mix. They love playing outside, sunbathing, swimming in the pool, running, sniffing around for treats, chasing squirrels, and cuddling with their cat sister. I am definitely a dog AND cat person!
Tell us your favorite joke!
Why don’t scientists trust atoms?
Because they make up everything!
What are the client ages you work with?
I work with all ages, but specialize in pediatrics. Pediatric nutrition is a special field; there are many illnesses and diseases unique to this population, which makes it rewarding and fun. I recently became a Board Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition because this is the population I work with the most. I have experience working with infants, children, adolescents, and teens. Although I specialize in pediatric nutrition, one important aspect of this is the patient’s family. The family is the one providing care for these patients, so they are vital in keeping them healthy! I really like to take a family-centered approach when caring for kids, involving all members in the education and goal setting process.
What clinical rotations have you done, and how have these shaped you as a clinician?
I did a variety of clinical rotations while studying during my dietetic internship. I rotated in adult facilities/hospitals where I provided nutrition education and interventions for acutely ill patients with cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, recent surgeries, gastrointestinal issues, and a variety of other illnesses. I also completed a self-select rotation in pediatrics. During this rotation, I was able to see patients in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, children admitted with acute illness on the general pediatrics floor, kids who required tube feeds, and children with feeding difficulties. I gained a wealth of knowledge during these clinical rotations, and this experience is what made me realize my passion for working with children. Although I enjoy working with children, I do have the training and knowledge to work with adults as well. I am able to help adults with chronic illness, those struggling with disordered eating, or adults just wanting to make healthy diet/lifestyle changes.
Tell us about your internship/residency?
When I was completing my dietetic internship, I did rotations all around the state of Montana for about 10 months. There is only one dietetic internship in Montana, so they required us to do a lot of traveling in order to see many different settings in which dietitians can work. I worked in a variety of places including: schools, hospitals (inpatient and outpatient), WIC programs, farm to school programs, long term care facilities, community gardens, universities, government agencies, food banks, and dialysis centers. These experiences not only helped me learn more about nutrition, but it allowed me to observe many dietitians and a variety of work styles. This helped me develop my own work style and allowed me to figure out which settings/populations I liked working with the most.
What hobbies do you have? What do you like to do in your free time?
One hobby I have is running. I recently signed up to run a marathon with my best friend in Texas in 2020! I love how freeing running is; it really allows you to disconnect and clear your mind after a long day. In addition, also really like to travel. It is on my bucket list to visit all the US National Parks. I have been to about 20 and there are 61 total. I have a lot more to go see! Lastly, I’m a foodie (not surprising huh?!). I love cooking, baking, experimenting with new recipes, and trying any new food. St. Pete has so many great restaurants, so I am always looking to try someplace new.
Do you have any certifications?
Yes- I recently became a Board Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition. This certification requires 2000 hours of experience and passing a comprehensive, 3 hour exam. In order to maintain the certification, you must pass the exam every 5 years. I decided to pursue this certification because of my passion for working with infants, children, and teens. This certification is only for dietitians, and distinguishes that I have expertise and skills to work with this unique population.
What do you plan to learn next in your career? Any areas you’d like to learn more about?
I am looking forward to continuing to specialize in eating disorders. Although I have about 2 years of experience in this field, I find that I am always learning something new and that the field is always changing. I also look forward to learning more about how to do research in the field of nutrition. I am starting to work on a research project for my master’s degree focusing on differences in body composition in adolescents with eating disorders. I have never conducted and published a research study, so I am excited about the opportunity to learn about and pursue this!