I love to tell people how I got into the field of Nutrition. I imagine anyone who is passionate about what they do feels the same way.
Most other dietitians and nutrition students that I have met usually have some sort of story behind why they chose to become an RD. You definitely don’t get rich being a dietitian, so that certainly isn’t it. Maybe they’ve overcome an eating disorder and have now dedicated their career to helping others do the same, or have a family member suffering from a diet-related chronic illness and they want to make a difference for the future. Or, one might have just realized the true value of good food early on and wants to spread that message everywhere. That’s sort of what happened to me:
During my preteen years, I was very overweight. Sure, maybe this was a side effect of the awkward years of life, but I can look back with confidence and say I had extremely poor eating habits at this time. My parents have always been healthy eaters and pretty much always cooked at home. Minimal take-out, no pre-packaged meals. Yet I somehow found a way to overeat crap whenever possible. Then one summer when I was 14, my mom, sister and I spent 7 weeks in Brazil visiting family. Most of my time was spent on my grandmother’s farm, eating fresh and homemade everything – fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and pastries known as “quitanda”. By no means did I eat less on this vacation than I did at home. In fact, I probably ate a lot more because Brazilians are constantly putting food in front of you. Yet somehow, when I came home, I found that I had lost a significant amount of weight, my hair was shinier, my skin was clear, and I felt so. much. happier. And everyone noticed. So...I think this was more than just a post-vacation glow. It was at the tender age of 14 when I first made the connection between diet and health.
One of my best friends growing up (Hi Mary :) ), is vegetarian and so is her mom. I spent a lot of time at their house and her mom had a bookshelf full of nutrition and diet-related books. And she’d always be talking to us about which books she was reading and warning us about different ingredients in food. She had given me a couple to read and that is when I began to question what was really in our food, why people were so sick, the science and hype behind fad diets, why the food industry had so much power, etc etc etc. Literally, this is how I know I was meant to become a registered dietitian! How many high school girls do you know that would rather hang out with her best friend and her mom and talk about vegetables, than do other typical high school girl things? Probably not many, but I have absolutely no regrets.
Upon reading a bunch of these books and becoming more and more interested in food and health, I made the conclusion that there was a major gap between the dietary guidelines, and what people actually consume or even have access to. I became more aware of additives in food, serving sizes, the fat, sodium, and sugar content of different food products, as well as how different foods made me feel when I ate them.
Unfortunately for me, I did not do enough research and ended up at Salve Regina University right here in Newport as an Undecided major for my first year of college. I can’t really say unfortunately though, because I made some really great friends that year. But I had no idea what I wanted to study or do with my life. I was at a small private school with limited options and stressed out of my mind. It was when my friends kept pointing out to me how much I talked about nutrition that I really started to look into what I could do with that. I researched the field, realized I could become something called a Registered Dietitian, and fell in love. I googled “dietitians in Massachusetts” and emailed the first person that popped up without a clue of what I was doing. This amazing person turned out to be Kate Scarlata, a very well-known dietitian for her work with digestive health. In fact, I ended up working with her during my Elective Week of my internship. Kate was kind enough to take time out of her day and give me a call to tell me about her career. She told me about how she also transferred schools to study nutrition, where she did her internship, her career path, and how she now had her own private practice counseling individual clients. My face might as well have been one big heart-face emoji :) She gave me some quality advice and encouraged me to follow my passion. So, I re-applied to college and started my major in Nutrition at UMass in the Fall of 2011.
My time at UMass was no easy feat, but I chugged along with my big career goals in mind. Nutrition was no joke. I sort of give a blank stare whenever people tell me that they assume it is an easy major. In high school I was more of a history buff than a Bio nerd, so the science classes that we are required to take were extremely overwhelming for me, especially on top of being at a new, much larger university. I can honestly tell you that for the sake of trying to do well in my classes, adjusting to this new setting, and having a social life, my diet and sleeping habits were compromised. Halfway through my schooling it was like I had hit a wall. I finally asked myself, “Why am I eating and living this way when it goes against everything I am learning and working towards?”
In the Fall of 2013, I switched my minor in Spanish to a major and took a break from my current pattern to study abroad in Madrid. When I came home, I felt like I was able to start fresh again and finish the rest of my undergraduate career with poise and confidence. And that is what I did. I re-realized for myself the value of good nutrition, importance of sleep, balance, and taking care of myself. And with that, my good grades, dual degree, healthy weight, and increased energy, all came very smoothly. At the end of my senior year, I was matched to a dietetic internship (a required step in becoming an RD) during my first round of applying and that is still one of the proudest moments of my life.
During my internship, I was exposed to tons of different paths in the field of Nutrition – school food service, community outreach and nutrition education, WIC and Snap-Ed, clinical nutrition, rehab, long-term care, pediatrics, geriatrics, bariatrics, worksite wellness, private practice, diseases like kidney failure, liver disease, heart disease, diabetes, IBS and IBD and so much more. I learned more than I can imagine, and am still learning every day. The day I passed my exam was like a (warning: cliche coming) huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. They certainly don't make the path to becoming an RD easy, so knowing I had accomplished my dream and all the possibilities that were now available to me made me more excited than ever.
Now, I am happily sitting here as a credentialed professional and practicing dietitian, telling you about my long, yet rewarding journey to becoming an RD. I practice what I preach and am in awe that I get to work as an RD and blog for you as one as well, because it does not feel like work at all for me. You know you’ve found the right career when you would absolutely work for free if bills weren’t a thing. As I said before, I am motivated by the large gap between what we should eat and what we actually eat, the common misconceptions regarding food and diet, and how many people and families have little to NO access to quality food. This is all unacceptable to me and that is why I am doing why I am doing what I'm doing. With good health and nutrition comes increased quality of life. This is something we all deserve to have, and that starts with understanding what food can do for you.
Thank you so much for reading about why I chose to study nutrition, and I can't wait to share more with you on where this career takes me! I would absolutely love to hear why you also chose to enter this field, hear your comments, or answer any of your questions!
Happy eating !