What was the thought process and motivation behind our profession?
The impetus behind my career in nutrition and dietetics came from my desire to improve the health of others while incorporating my love of food, and cooking. Since young, diet directly influences health. This became especially evident when watching my Grandmother who had diabetes struggle at times keeping her blood sugar under control.
Please tell us about your area of expertise in the field of Nutrition?
I consider myself a forward-thinking innovative businesswoman who is financially astute and willing to reinvent practice models to stay competitive in today’s changing health care environment. COVID 19 was one of the most challenging of times for my business and employees. My focus continues to be increasing consumer access to nutrition services by advocating for insurance reimbursement, consumer protection, promoting the RDN and creating new opportunities. I call myself an accidental trailblazer starting a business 32 years ago when I moved to Florida from New York.
- Maintaining a viable nutrition practice for 32 years is one of my proudest accomplishments. As a visionary, I looked for new ways to promote nutrition services and reimbursements.
- In addition to the private practice, I created Family Nutrition Center of South Florida Insurance Navigation program for corporate clients which assist families in navigating insurance coverage for specialized nutrition formulas. This program has assisted more than 10,000 individuals.
- Clinical specialties include various areas in Pediatrics: GI, CF, Endocrinology and Adult diabetes education and care.
What are some of your health-related values, beliefs, and practices?
As an advocate for infant and child nutrition, it is my belief that children should have access to healthy food either at school or in the home. Nutrition professionals need to teach families healthy does not need to be costly or time consuming. It has been part of my mission to do that for many years through education programs to families, and even pediatric health professionals. This was the motivation for coauthoring the book Nurturing with Nutrition: Everything you want to know about feeding infants and toddlers first published in 2003 with a second edition in 2019.
For myself, I share the same concerns of our patients. Type 2 diabetes is a significant risk factor for me based on the number of family members with Type 2 diabetes. I work on my own lifestyle behaviors: eating, exercise, stress levels which is a daily issue. Again, just like our patients!
Do you avoid eating any foods for your cultural or religious reasons? Which ones and why?
I do not think I can answer this question without happily sharing my background. My ethnic background is 2nd generation Italian American, and my religion is Catholic. Currently, there are not many religious restrictions that are practice in the Catholic faith. At one time Catholics did not eat meat on Fridays or at times during Lent. *
I not only love to eat almost everything but love to cook as well. I have been cooking since 5 years old at my Grandpa’s stove. Cooking is creative and brings me immense joy. These feelings give me insight in understanding other individuals’ thoughts and motivation regarding food which is especially important in counseling.
What steps do you take to counsel a patient from a different culture and racial group?
On any given day in my practice Family Nutrition Center of South Florida we see people of so many backgrounds: Latinos from Mexico, Central America, South America, and Haitians, Jamaicans, Bahamians, and European cultures, Middle Easterners, Asian Indians to name a few. Thankfully, we have a busy practice. We cannot look like all these diverse people we serve but we can be compassionate, caring, while understanding their culture and how it effects dietary patterns and their health. The goal is to help them improve their health with what unites us all and that is food.
I like to say, “Regardless of our background the ingredients of our meals are similar, our ethnicity adds the unique flavor”. What I would never do is to tell someone to give up their favorite food. Try telling this Italian American gal to give up pasta. It would not work, and it would not work when advising others. What we can do is focus on portion sizes and suggest small modifications in food preparation.
Lastly, I find if you do not know enough about a certain dish just ask in a respectful manner. People like to talk about the foods they eat and cook. Do not assume you know what they eat and how they prepare a food or ethnic dish. A good example is when most people think of Italian food their thoughts go to chicken parmigiana which my family never cooked but we always cooked pasta with cauliflower. Surprised?
What is your message to our fellow dietitians?
I have two messages that revolve around my passion for our profession and our members.
- Look at what unifies us not what separates us.
I have watched with great dismay as our profession is being defamed and pulled apart focusing on internal issues publicly while allowing our distractors and competitors to take over areas of our practice. The bullying under the guise of enlightenment on social media has been horrifying to watch. Let us strengthen our association by including all and speaking in a respectful manner. Most importantly, instead of dwelling on ourselves let us focus our attention externally on the people we serve while remembering our mission and vision.
- Get involved
My years of volunteer service has been beyond rewarding. It has shaped me professionally and personally. Through volunteering, I had the chance to received excellent training in leadership, problem solving, and communications. The opportunities I have had allowed me to develop lasting and treasured friendships. Get involved! You will get more than you give and be better for it.
*Religious dietary restrictions are an important topic for our colleagues to understand. This is a great handout to do so https://www.chapman.edu/campus-life/fish-interfaith-center/_files/religious-dietary-restrictions.pdf
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