My current internship rotation is a pretty big departure from the last one. It’s outpatient nutrition counseling at a community health center with multiple locations around the city; I’m splitting my time between Harlem, Chelsea, and the Bronx. The work is nearly all diabetes management, with some weight management and general nutrition guidance thrown in.
The work often feels repetitive, and in some ways I miss the intensity and variety of intellectual challenges that I had working in the hospital this fall. But this rotation brings me back to counseling, which is my passion; it’s the very thing that made me pursue the RDN in the first place.
Nutrition counseling is a funny thing. In some ways, it underscores how incredibly different each person’s food story is. It definitely affirms the fact that there’s no “right” eating style or nutrition formula for everyone; in many years of working one-on-one with people, I’ve yet to see an approach that didn’t have to be tailored sensitively to the individual.
Yet at the same time, I’m continually struck by how much shared terrain there is in peoples’ experiences with food. The internship year has given me an opportunity to work with new, and extremely diverse, populations of patients. In spite of how many cultures, ages, lifestyles, and stories I’ve crossed paths with, so much of what I hear echoes what I’ve heard from clients in my own practice for years. Every patient finds a way to communicate to me a fundamental desire to preserve good health. Most people say that they know how they “should” be eating, but that everyday life often vies with their intentions. Nearly everyone feels a little better when they move and eat vegetables.
And then there are the shared struggles. In nearly every nutrition counseling environment I’ve worked in, I’ve heard people admit to deep shame surrounding how and what they eat. People spend a lot of time apologizing, for the food choices they’ve made, for the things they crave, and especially for their bodies. Too big, too slow, too weak, too small—I hear so many apologies for shape, size and ability. Many people carry around good/bad binaries surrounding food; oftentimes, their conceptions were shaped very early in life, by caretakers or peers and the way their appetites were criticized.
I’m both heartened by how much we share in our experience of food and saddened by how universal these issues of shame, regret, and struggle are. I feel sorry that eating is so often complicated, be it for practical, socioeconomic, or psychosocial reasons.
What motivates me in the work is the fact that, at least once in each counseling session, I see a patient or client’s face light up in describing something positive about eating. It might be a memory of something delicious, the happy surprise of discovering that a healthful food is much tastier than was assumed, the pride and reward people feel when dietary changes lead to health improvement, or the relief they express when their experiences are acknowledged and validated.
In any of these cases, I feel deeply lucky to be present and to bear witness. This rotation is reminding me of how difficult and tricky nutrition counseling can be, but it’s also giving me daily reminders of why I love to do it. And it’s making me excited for next fall, when I’ll be doing it on my own again.
I’ll be taking my meals with a sense of appreciation for our shared experiences with food this week. Wishing you some good eats. Here are my recipe picks and reading links!
Green apple in guacamole! I’d never have thought of this, but I love the idea.
Pretty much drooling over Cadry’s vegan reuben. It looks so authentic, right down to the marble rye!
If I didn’t already love falafel enough, here’s a version that’s stuffed with vegan feta (made with Violife cheese, which is pretty great).
An umami-packed vegan miso mushroom bowl from the talented Ania.
Finally, and just in time for Valentine’s Day, the prettiest vegan chocolate cupcakes.
1. New research suggests that vegetarian diets might boost insulin sensitivity.
2. A really interesting article on the science that underlies loneliness. It’s a topic that hits close to home for me, and I like the author’s suggestion that loneliness is part of life, but that there are ways we can choose not to be crippled by it.
3. A very interesting new study points to links between metabolic factors and the risk of developing eating disorders. This is news to me, but I was interested to read that prolonged low body weight/BMI in childhood may be linked to higher rates of anorexia nervosa. I’d be curious to see more research on this, but the findings definitely help to explain why and how EDs can develop very early in life (before social pressures to diet would be prevalent).
4. I enjoyed this essay on the power and meaning of rituals. Especially this line: “Tiny, everyday rituals are a hand-crafted prayer to domestic order, beckoning the divine to step inside a moment.”
5. Perhaps I’m biased—rutabaga is one of my favorite vegetables—but I loved Alicia Kennedy’s tribute to the humble root (and the recipe that accompanies it).
Most of my breakfasts this winter have been in the form of baked oats, which I prep over the weekend and enjoy with fresh fruit and/or nut butter before leaving for work. This week, though, I’m returning to my savory breakfast roots with the leftovers of a favorite tofu scallion scramble. I’m sharing the recipe (long overdue!) in a couple days. Till then, be well.
Happy Sunday, friends. It’s been a busy week here at CR, with a new green recovery story, two giveaways (one to win two tubs of delicious, smooth tasting vegan pea protein from NuZest USA, the other to win a copy of the fabulous Candle Cafe holiday cookbook). Let’s pause for a moment to savor some weekend reading, shall we? First up, Rika’s vibrant and colorful Mediterranean harissa stew is so perfect for cold weather. Erin’s roasted parsnip and spinach salad with wild rice…
There are so many new plant-based products and business these days that it’s difficult to keep track of what’s up-and-coming. It seems as though each week brings news of an innovative vegan product, from protein-infused plant milks to vegan eggs to plant meats that seem to get more authentic by the minute. I recently came across this article in the New York Times. It profiles food startups that are holding their own in what remains a heavily corporate culinary landscape. A few days later, I read…
Last Sunday, I came clean about being stuck in a cycle of repetitive, anxious thoughts. My friend Maria shared the following response: When I was in my thirties, I had a therapist who suggested something that sounded really counter intuitive to me about my fearful thought patterns. She said that when I started into a worrying self-critical spiral, instead of getting frustrated or mad at myself, to say “thank you” to myself. “Thank you” to that part of myself that was trying to…
Happy Sunday, folks. Thank you for all of the kind words and feedback during NEDA week. It’s always a pleasure to write those posts and to hear your insights. This week will have a new and different theme: I’ll be completing the SNAP food challenge. This is an assignment for my Community Nutrition class, and the purpose is to shed some light on what it feels like to live with food insecurity. I spoke more about the challenge in this post, but the…