Tell me a little bit about your job and/or describe a typical day for you?
I am a student dietitian, and spent this year doing 20 weeks of placement and am now reaching the end point of my research semester. When I am not working (or sitting for 4.5h per day in a bus to get to work), I am either cooking, writing, socialising, or out and about doing numerous volunteer activities advocating for and promoting health in the community.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
I love learning about food, nutrition, the diet-disease relationship, and busting pre-conceived food myths or ideas. There is so much nutrition information available for people, and it is a rewarding feeling when I see people’s faces light up at the realistic, factual and practical information I provide them, or when they see and feel improvements in their health and excitedly report back to me.
Tell me a little bit about your career in dietetics thus far and/or why did you choose dietetics as a career?
As much as I loved my course at USYD, I have been anticipating the completion of my degree to just get out there, empower individuals in the community, and make an impact since I started the Master’s program last year. Ever since I was young, I have loved food, and I knew that somehow good nutrition meant a happier, longer life. I wanted this message to get out into the community. Food can do you good – food can prevent so many diseases – food can give you energy – food can make you feel happy – food can make you recover from illness – food is used for celebrating. You can enjoy it and still be healthy.
What would be your number one tip to someone starting their career in dietetics?
Work hard, be creative and make an impact. Don’t wait for the opportunities to come your way – go out and seek them. If you want to make an impact, go and make it. Most people are open to ways to improve their life and will appreciate any of your efforts to help them. And of course, you will receive so much experience and skills which you can transfer into any stream of dietetics that you choose, especially when you choose to accept challenging situations.
What is one interesting fact about you?
I love food, I eat it all the time, and I have never been on a fad diet. And people are always shocked at how much vegetables I eat each day, even raw.
Two short articles from Katherine on her placement experience
Giving Up Too Soon
I am a student dietitian working at a clinical trials unit investigating the effects of eggs on the lipid profile of people with pre-diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes, in an attempt to dispel the notion that eggs are bad for people with diabetes. During my time, I counselled numerous clients; many of which I’d like to describe as interesting learning experiences.
I consulted an older aged man who decided that because he was withdrawing from the study (even after losing weight to date), he returned back to his ‘normal,’ unhealthy eating habits. I needed to educate him on the fact that the changes we discussed are part of a lifestyle intervention, and for life; he was doing it for himself because health is his own priority (i.e. losing weight is not for us). By completing a food diary, he felt accountable to someone – to the dietitians – but I wanted to encourage self-accountability. The client stated that this ‘new healthy lifestyle’ just did not fit in with his life as his wife had early stage dementia and she was his focus. He believed that since he would blow his diet on the odd occasion that she cooked anyway, it would just ruin all his previous attempts, and as such, was a waste of time to continue with us. But if 9 times out of 10 he ate healthily, we agreed that a very unhealthy meal cooked by his wife every now and again could be a treat. That situation, like social eating settings, is an inevitable and normal part of any weight loss journey.
The lesson behind this story? It is important to understand the client’s reason for non-adherence to their dietary and physical activity goals. What is going on in their world that makes it hard for them? Lack of space? Preconceived ideas? Lack of time? Mental health? Stressful commitments? – and work on these. By the end of this short session, we worked on dealing with the barriers, and he decided to continue in the study. It’s amazing how useful a bit of simple digging into the patient’s background can be.
Justifying eating habits with levels of Physical Activity
“I went for a run today so I can have this chocolate bar [or insert other food here]” or “I mowed the lawns so I can have this packet of chips”. Sound familiar?
During my time at the clinical trials unit, I had one client that really stood out to me. He stated rhat he mowed farms pushing a 200kg mower and stated he “needed a lot of energy” – “I have to put sugar on my toast for energy. Nothing else works. I’ll just faint.” I provided him with suggestions such as fruit, legumes, skim dairy etc for prior or during the mowing session, particularly because of their low GI, but he adamantly claimed that he had tried all of these to no avail, and that ‘legumes taste gross’.
What do we do in these situations? – When you are hitting a wall in the conversation and the patient is just not losing weight? Focus more on physical activity, I hear? Yes, easier said than done. Suggestions incorporating the FITT principle, such as structured walks at varied intensity, or a stationary bike in his living room (which I mentioned can still beneficial in 10-15 minute blocks to be more convenient. And, if you can’t work longer, work harder.) just did not work – “I spend 1-2 days recovering from the physical activity, and I have no more space in my apartment.” – Just another excuse about fatigue, space limitations, time limitations, and the like.
A bit of homework: What would you do in this or similar situations? I focused on having a smaller dinner, exploring his favourite foods (and to my relief, I discovered that baked beans was actually on the list), and to only eat when hungry, when physically hungry – not clock hungry, or routine hungry, or mood hungry.
He did not drink alcohol so that potentially contributing factor was out.
In the meantime, I do recommend constructing a table showing commonly eaten foods and the amount of exercise it corresponds to. It definitely acts as a reality check to many people. I find the 8700kJ app particularly useful in this regard. For example, who would have thought that a simple Rogan josh curry with Naan bread would be equivalent to 5hours of walking, 2.5h of jogging, or almost 2h of running? That’s a lot of exercise, given that most Australians struggle to try reaching the guideline of being physically active on most days of the week! Maybe it will make them a bit more mindful of what enters their mouth.