I decided to become a dietitian my freshman year of college, which is actually super surprising considering I graduated in May with an “undecided” in the university column next to my name. I had no idea what I was going to do, where I was going to go, or who I was going to be.
Six months earlier I had returned from Australia. I was in a year-long exchange program where I lived with a family that I had never met before. I could talk forever about my exchange experience so I’m just going to leave it at that. During this time, I thought I was going to be a dermatologist, I was going to go to an Ivy League school with a premed designation and then attend medical school. There are a lot of problems with this looking back, I’m not a huge fan of Math and because I went to Australia, I essentially forfeited the year of math I was ahead in, which means I would not take calculus or physics in high school, therefore, I would be at the mercy of the Princeton professors and it probably wouldn’t have gone over well.
When I returned home, I was seriously considering nursing school and playing softball. But what I really wanted to do was take a Wildlife Medicine course where you live off the land of the Rocky Mountains for six months, or do a semester at sea to get my Gen Eds, but my parents weren’t really feeling that plan. During my last semester of high school, I took a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) course so I could test out the whole nursing thing. But when it came time to graduate, I was still lost, with nowhere to go. That summer I was playing club softball and spending most of my time kayaking. While out on the water I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to do. I thought about being a eating disorder counselor and becoming a therapist, inspired by one of my closest friends, I thought about becoming a hiking guide and moving to Colorado getting a job that does anything outside, I still thought about med school or more so becoming a Naturopath. Honestly, the only thing I wanted to DO was travel (I’d still take some suggestions on jobs in this line of work).
Fast forward three weeks and I committed to Colby Community College to softball. We can laugh at this, I went from Princeton to community college in the middle of Western Kansas. A lot of people were surprised I went to community college but the other school I was looking to play softball at and had a nursing program, was a private school and I didn’t want to pay a ton of money when I didn’t actually know what I was going to do. At the end of the day, I landed in exactly the right place, I learned a lot about myself, I made lifelong friends, and there’s a certain freedom that comes from living in the middle of nowhere when you’re 18.
At Colby, I was taking all of the science classes, just in case I became a nurse, and working as a CNA, just in case I became a nurse. But honestly, I loved my residents and I made decent money, especially when you have nothing to spend it on, had a flexible schedule, and I learned so much about patient care from the experience.
Then one day, on the Softball field, we were stretching and I was probably talking about health or nutrition, or something and my second baseman asked me what I was majoring in. To which I replied general studies. She told me I should be a dietitian. After practice that day, I went back to my dorm room and figured out how to become a dietitian. Here we are, almost 5 years later and I’m a dietitian and I’m 6 months away from getting my masters.
Despite this one moment from God being the catalyst for my academic and professional endeavors. I think that I was always meant to be a dietitian, I just didn’t know that dietetics was something you got an education in. And as it turns out, with all the biochemistry involved I should have just become a doctor, but hey, I didn’t have to take physics so that’s a win.
Growing up, I always cared about health and eating to feel my best during athletic practices and games. I was spoiled, so let’s acknowledge my health privilege here, my parents would pack me a bus lunch and a meal for the ride home so I wouldn’t have to eat the chocolate covered granola bars and chocolate muffins in the snack packs provided. In the summer when I played softball and we would have to eat out in between games, they would pack my own meals because I wouldn’t eat fast food while we were playing. My mom also made sure I had some pre-practice fuel no matter what the sport was. This is something I really valued, but there were a lot of times when other kids on the bus would ask to try what I was eating because they were curious and wanted to eat better, but there was something missing. I still think about these experiences often. They’ve shaped the way I want to practice dietetics, working with parents to improve their nutrition literacy, reducing the barriers to providing children nutritious meals that taste good!
Going back even further, my grandparents are some of the healthiest people I’ve ever met. If you’ve read The Blue Zones (which I would recommend), my grandparents house is their own little Blue Zone. They had an immaculate garden with flowers, berries, and vegetables. We would help harvest what they grew, which meant snacking on raw peas while shelling buckets of them. Although, my favorite thing about the garden was the raspberry bushes, we could pick them, but not many of them made it into the house. This garden helped me understand the way we grow, the way we eat, the importance of sustainability, and later sparked ideas of food as medicine.
My grandparents are also very active, they worked outside, they worked inside, and they always had time to play with us. Together we would go on walks and bike rides, and I made my grandma play just as hard as I did. My grandpa would lay concrete when it was warm, and would walk or bike around town regularly. To this day, my grandma wakes up in the morning and does her walking, push-ups, and squats. They would hike through the mountains when we would vacation, and you’d never guess their age. They fit all the criteria for the Blue Zones, even though I’ve skipped over some in this post. They are my health heroes.
The bottom line is that teaching people about nutrition and health is my calling. It’s something I have been primed to do my entire life, even though I was oblivious. A lot of people I know became dietitians because they, or someone they loved had severe disease that could have been prevented with lifestyle and diet change. But for me, I’ve see the strength that nourishing food gives you, how it fosters strong families, what is really meant by quality of life that dietitians promise to improve, and how a balanced healthy lifestyle allows your physical, mental, and spiritual health to flourish.
What/who has shaped your personal relationship with food and health?