Weekend Reading, 5.20.18
May 20, 2018

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

On Tuesday morning, I graduated from Teacher’s College with a master’s of science in nutrition and education. It’s one of the final steps in my road to becoming an RDN (registered dietitian nutritionist).

Regular readers know that this has been a long, long road for me. I took my first pre-requisite science classes while I was still working full time, in 2010. I wasn’t yet sure what route I’d take into healthcare; six months later, I had quit my job and become a pre-med, post-baccalaureate student. Four years after that, I’d finished the post-bacc, sat for the MCAT, and gotten rejected from medical school. I’d also come to the difficult and surprisingly realization that I had no desire to reapply.

I came home to New York, regrouped, and saw clearly that an RDN is probably the degree I should have been pursuing all along—that is, it’s the role that’s best suited to my interests and strengths. I started at Teacher’s College, Columbia University a year later, and I’ve been at it ever since; the master’s degree typically takes two years, but I wanted and needed to work the whole time, so it’s taken me three.

In August or September, I’ll start Columbia’s DI, or dietetic internship—a 10-12 month series of clinical, community, and food service rotations in the dietetics field—before taking the RD exam and hopefully starting a new chapter in my work with clients, words, and food.

At the start of all this, I was confident that a strong work ethic and lots of enthusiasm would be the assets I needed to excel. I was wrong. Those qualities have mattered, but they weren’t the things I needed most. Going back to school for an education in the sciences has been the toughest and most humbling thing I’ve ever done. At every step of the way, I’ve been forced to confront my own limitations, to withstands affronts to my sense of identity (as a “good student” and achiever) and to ask for help—lots and lots of help.

When I posted about convocation on Instagram earlier this week, I wrote,

When I started this process, I wasn’t focused on building relationships. I figured I was there to get my degree and move on—you know, the whole “I’m not here to make friends” attitude. It didn’t take me long to realize that what I’d really been feeling was insecurity: I was self-conscious about being older than a lot of my peers, frustrated that it took me a while to find the right pathway into healthcare, envious of my fellow students for often grasping easily the concepts that were a struggle for me. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Thank goodness I wised up and opened up my heart, because this education wouldn’t have been possible without the support and inspiration given to me by my peers. Many of them are about a decade younger than me, and they’re already doing incredible things with their energy, minds, and hearts. They’ve taught me so much, and I can’t wait to see where their professional lives take them.

I meant every word. One generous reader commented, “Keep up your great attitude of depending on others for the support you need (and deserve). It’s wisdom that you can count on at any age.” I loved this advice, which was so beautifully put, and I’ll hold it close to me in the year ahead and always.

Yesterday, I told a friend that I was proud of my persistence through all of this, because there were so many points along the way when I wanted to quit and could have. The persistence I’m talking about isn’t the kind that asked me to grit my teeth or tighten my muscles, though; rather, it was a kind of faith, a willingness to keep going because I believed I’d learn more by staying the course than by leaving it. I’m guessing that many fellow career changers and longtime students can relate.

I haven’t always felt at home in this process or in my program. It’s funny: when I started blogging years ago, I was very comfortable putting on the expert hat, making big claims about what’s healthy and what isn’t, and what constitutes an optimal diet. I understand that part of what RDNs do is to communicate best practices and evidence-based dietary guidelines to the public, and there will be times when it’s my job and responsibility to generalize.

The longer I work with food, though—and this includes exploring my own relationship with it, as well as guiding others through that process—the less comfortable I am speaking in broad strokes. The business of eating is so personal, and while there are fundamental pieces of nutrition guidance I believe will work for most people, I’m never all that comfortable administering suggestions until I’ve taken the time to hear a person’s story.

I know more about nutrition than I used to, and I’ve become better at assessing evidence, which is thanks to this degree. But the irony of being at the finish line is that I feel less like an authority or expert than ever. If anything, I realize that the being a student continues, even if school is finished; I have so much to learn, and it’s my future clients, peers, and members of this community that will continue to teach me.

I’ll do everything I can to be a trustworthy and informed resource as I move forward, but I hope I’ll always maintain a person-focused approach to nutrition work, meeting people where they are and allowing them to communicate to me what kind of nourishment they need. (Interestingly, my thesis project involved researching use of psychosocial theories to encourage dietary behavior change, many of which are focused on fostering a sense of self-efficacy.)

Since Tuesday, I’ve been feeling bowled over with gratitude to all of the people who have cheered me on through this very long process. That includes all of you. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to every person who has watched and read and been a witness. I’m so grateful.

Onwards to the RDN—and now, to recipes and reads!

Recipes

I love Amanda’s recipe for authentic vegan tikka masala! I’d never have thought to use shredded oyster mushrooms, but they must give it the perfect “meaty” texture.

Know what I’d like to serve that tikka masala over? A warm batch of Heather’s simple, golden saffron brown basmati rice.

An easy, vegetable-packed summer chili from Christine of Jar of Lemons.

What a beautiful, comforting pasta supper: white beans and pasta with rosemary pesto. (Super easy to make vegan by replacing the butter with vegan butter, or simply omitting it.)

My desire for a post-graduation treat is good and strong, but until I’ve spent about a week taking regular naps, I’m not sure I’ll be in the mood to bake 😉 Jessie’s no-bake chocolate peanut butter cookies are a perfect solution.

Reads

1. Troubling reporting on how difficult it can be for those with mental illness to navigate the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP—in spite of the fact that this population has high rates of food insecurity.

2. A fascinating, complex look at the nature of clinical trials and what is learned when they’re halted.

3. A humorous article, and I like the topic that author Eric Thomas is exploring: what happens when we’re willing to do just enough?

4. So interesting! How aerobic exercise might aid in word recall.

5. In the last year, I’ve become a big fan of pauses. Pausing in all sorts of situations—after triggering interpersonal moments, when work stress hits, when I’m grappling with a big decision and don’t know what to do—has helped me to become far less anxious and more self-aware, to make choices that feel aligned with my intuition.

I love Heather Hower’s perspective on the value of pausing in ED recovery. She recounts the advice of a friend who once advised her, when she was doubting the value of recovery “Pause; you don’t have to move forward, but don’t go backward.”

I think it’s so wise; my own experience of AN recovery has been that treating the process as if it’s a race to the “recovery finish line” (Hower’s metaphor) is counterproductive. Each time I treated recovery that way, I got swallowed up by relapse. I experienced lasting freedom only when I was able to hold myself accountable to certain physical endpoints (which for me, included weight restoration), but also able to honor and respect the non-linearity and slow unfolding of my healing process.

Enjoy the reads, friends, and I’ll be around this week with a new, springy recipe.

xo

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    19 Comments
  1. CONGRATS on this huge step forward! You are one heck of a badass for juggling all of those obligations and graduating nonetheless!

  2. Congratulations, Gena. I’ve been reading your blog since 2010, I think. I have long loved your writing, and I’ve also felt a certain kinship with you, as a CC ’02 grad. Best wishes for your future, which I’m certain is bright (and wise, and kind, and contemplative). Cheers, cheers.

  3. Congratulations on your graduation. And thank you the weekly roundup, I look forward to it every week.

  4. Gena,
    Congratulations! I’m really excited for you. I’ve been reading your blog for sometime now – maybe 8 years – and many of the changes you’ve written about during that time have mirrored changes in my own life. One of the traits I admire most in people is a willingness to try new things and make big changes. It can be uncomfortable and even painful, but those changes can have some beautiful results. Your accomplishment is proof of that. I wish you the best!

  5. I hope you’re as proud of yourself as your readers are. I wish you all the best with the next steps you take. We’re there with you, even when you can’t see us in the comments.

  6. Congratulations on graduating, Gena! I’ve enjoyed following your journey for all of these years. I’m looking forward to seeing where life takes you next and wishing you well 🙂

  7. Congratulations, Gena! You model perseverance and gritty hard work with such grace and strength. And your humble heart is an example for us all. So happy for you and this big milestone! What a great photo! I’m looking forward to seeing how you can even more use your gifts for helping others find joy in wellness.

  8. Gena,

    I so look forward to these weekend roundups. Thank you!

    The article about the SNAP program and the mentally ill really made an impression. We just watched a PBS snippet about the state of Maine and their programs. (Mainecare I think it is called.) The state links their benefits to a variety of things mentioned in this article, such as the ability to work. What if you can’t? Do you starve? What if, what if, what if? There has to be a better way. And I think the observation the author makes, that those who need the most help are the ones who think they don’t is very, very true. We have a lot of that here in my county I think and I have encountered it in people that I know personally. A lack of personal insight can be a person’s undoing.

    Congratulations on your graduation. Such an accomplishment. Keep going and keep at it. Flourish wherever you find yourself:)

    All the best to you (and thanks for the reading!),
    Libby

  9. Heartiest congrats, again, Gena! It’s been such a privilege to watch this journey unfold, and I’m looking forward to seeing what internship and beyond holds for you. As you know I, too, had a long slug towards my MSc in nutrition, and I well understand the challenges with switching from arts to science and how humbling that can be, so I feel especially proud of you in that regard. I also nearly shouted out loud in agreement when you wrote that the more you’ve learned about nutrition the less comfortable you are speaking in broad strokes. I think I started off my education feeling more of an “expert” than I do today, as if the more I learned the less I really know. I think that good nutrition education is a road map of critical thinking, understanding research, and understanding how marvellously complex we are. I always cringe when I read blogs written by people with far less education making far more confident claims. Glad I’m not alone in that!

  10. Oh my goodness, Gena, what happy news! You graduated! Congratulations, my dear! I LOVE the happiness radiating from you in that photo of you in your cap and gown–such a beautiful you. 🙂 And I love what you said about all you’ve learned and how you’ll continue to learn and listen to your clients, and how individual it all is. You will be in great empowering service with that emaphasis. I’m very proud of you. Looking forward to seeing it continue to unfold. Much love to you and enjoy those afternoon naps! xoxo

  11. Congratulations!! And all the best as your begin your dietetic internship in the fall. Your compassion, wisdom and perseverance are going to make you a a wonderful RDN.

  12. Congratulations, Gena! You have so positively supported all of here, no doubt your reach will transform many more lives with your new professional credentials. Go get it!

  13. Oh Gena, well done. What an achievement! Congratulations on this momentous milestone. Thanks so much for including my vegan tikka here. x

  14. Congrats, Gena! I follow several vegan food blogs to get tips & recipes, but yours has become my favorite. When I receive an email with your latest post, I settle in for a good read – one that I connect with consistently as a vegan as well as a woman in recovery (different substances). Thank you for showing up each week and sharing your wisdom and experience.

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