Many of my clients often wonder what attracted me to the field of nutrition. In truth, there’s no single response, and the reason can be traced back to a progression of events throughout my life that affected the way I view health and wellness today. Here is my honest answer.
My journey began with the family in which I was raised. I come from an Italian and German household. I have one sister. My mother, who is 100% German, was fantastic about providing balanced, home-cooked meals. She made us oatmeal and pancakes, packed our lunches, and prepared dinner menus that included stuffed peppers, roasted chicken, veggies and grains. Our lunches typically had 2 cookies as a side (I distinctly remember envying my friends with bags and bags of snacks.), and we ate dessert nightly.
I remember observing my father’s eating habits along with those of my extended family, including aunts, uncles and cousins. My family is not on the lighter side; rather, many relatives weigh on the upside of 300. Holidays and celebrations were centered on food. If we had 30 people, then we had 30 pounds of mashed potatoes. Portions were without limits. However, my sister and I ate intuitively. I never thought about portions or my health until 8th grade, when I was diagnosed with high cholesterol.
The doctors told me that I had “inherited” high cholesterol, but before they would consider medication, I was instructed to change my diet. Physically, I was still very petite, and though I ran track and stayed in shape, I also consumed a ton of high-fat dairy products like cheese and drank whole milk like it was going out of style.
The doctor’s prognosis made me much more aware of my diet, and so my mother and I began to educate ourselves. I eventually learned to lower my consumption of high saturated fat foods, eating less cheese and switching to skim milk. I ate plain pasta. Within a month, my cholesterol dropped from 236 to 180. Wow! If observing my family’s eating habits signified the first time I’d recognize differences in dietary behaviors, then this was the first time I realized the power of those behaviors and what we put into our bodies.
When I hit middle school and high school, specifically between 7th and 10th grade, my habits changed significantly, mainly because I started eating outside of my home on a regular basis. I ate a lot more pizza, Chinese take–out, and tons of muffins while working at DePiero’s Farm, which had a bakery I absolutely loved.
I specifically remember people telling me I would gain weight if I kept eating those foods—especially the muffins. Well, they were right. The next time I’d have a revelation of this magnitude was when I couldn’t fit into my clothes—the result of eating endless baked goods daily for lunch while working one summer. Puberty and growth may have been partially to blame too, but the weight gain was largely caused by an increase in calories.
Another piece to the puzzle was when I quickly lost weight as a freshman in high school—the result of playing sports all 3 seasons. The weight loss was unintentional, and when my friends and family noticed, they brought it to my attention. In an effort to re-gain the weight, I began to eat even when I wasn’t hungry. This helped me put the weight back on, but this routine of eating for no reason and at any time stuck around.
Sophomore year was challenging for me. I could no longer run due to an injury and I was eating for behavioral reasons, as mentioned above. Fortunately, I began to learn about health and nutrition in biology class. I became fascinated, and before long, I was hooked.
It was also around that time that my uncle Gene was diagnosed with diabetes and started seeing a registered dietitian. Kindly, he was open to me joining his sessions.
Inspired by what I was learning, I knew I waned to become an RD and began apprenticing for my uncle’s nutritionist, Nancy. Just like that, my career path was set.
So like I said, my decision to become an RD can’t be pinpointed to any single moment in time. In the same way many others discover their passions in life, my desire to learn about nutrition and to teach others about its importance is the result of a confluence of experiences—from my childhood on. It was through all of these lessons that I personally found empowerment, balance and my ideal health. Today, as an RD and a mother, I can only hope to pass on my knowledge and enthusiasm for the field to others.