A few weeks back, I participated in a corporate health and wellness fair. No big deal right? But after spending the morning interacting with a number of new individuals, engaging in uplifting conversation on small steps to making a healthier lifestyle less intimidating and more doable, I left grinning ear to ear, my heart full with a sense of purpose. On the long drive home, I reflected on how many people need to hear those words and have hope of making positive progress, that my role as a dietitian goes well beyond the food.
With that, I'd like to rewrite my job description to simply state:
Ambassador of Health, Hope & Happiness
Yes, perhaps I am "tooting my own horn" with this one, but what I'm trying to get at is that I'm truly passionate about my role as a dietitian, that I do feel I can make a difference and that I want to live out my career with a purpose. In my eyes, there's much more to being dietitian than diet manipulation, nutrition education or being the "food police." Being a dietitian means promoting health, spreading hope that a better world does exist through cherishing and treating your body with respect, helping others to realize that eating healthy can be fun and a source of enjoyment rather than a daily frustration.
As a dietitian, my main goal is to enable people to take control over their nutritional quality of life. We all make daily decisions regarding food and I believe it's possible to make choices for chronic disease management, weight control and/or performance while also maintaining a high level of satisfaction. Food is a form of nourishment and life, not the enemy, and progress is about meeting people where they are nowand instilling sustainable lifestyle changes rather than setting unrealistic expectations of attaining that non-existent "perfect" diet.
I like to think I look at the total package, taking one's overall lifestyle, emotions and relationship with food into context rather than simply stating "eat these foods and your world will be better." Because let's acknowledge reality: food is much more than just nutrition, it is a way of life. And if you're not enjoying what you eat, you're not truly living.
As I mentioned, today marks my one-year anniversary at my first full-time job as the dietitian for Warm Hearth Village! I am blessed to say without a doubt that I love what I do and I love "my people." I have been entrusted with a role that goes way beyond the food in terms of building relationships with the residents, gaining their trust, earnestly listening to their needs and feedback and doing what I can to make their world a better place. Some days, a five minute conversation about life and a warm smile can be more beneficial than any dietary intervention I send their way.
The ability to make a difference is a gift we've all been entrusted with and it's with that very mindset that I am preparing for our medical mission trip to Haiti in January. While I hope to put my education and nutritional expertise to work for the greater good of the community down there, I know that my role in the mission and their daily struggles extend well beyond the food they eat.
"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~ William James
Final thoughts, since November is all about thankfulness:
For me, this is just the beginning of a lifelong journey that is building a career and I can't wait to see where the years take me!
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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