“Sensible, long-term healthy eating is not the sexiest of subjects” – meet dietitian, Hlanzeka Mpanza

ADSA Spokesperson_Hlanzeka Mpanza_1Why did you become a Registered Dietitian?

By accident actually. My father brought a career guidance book home that featured a dietitian when I was in standard 9.  I was fascinated about the idea that everyday food could help with getting the most out of life whether in sports, work, disease and general mental well-being. I still am.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do? What are the most satisfying moments?

I work in the food industry. I believe this is the most exciting area to work in in dietetics today as there is so much happening in the field of food policy worldwide. My job as an industry dietitian is to make nutrition relevant and accessible to our consumers through relevant  products, messages and projects. And most importantly to provide our consumers with nutrition information that they need to make informed choices.  I like knowing that when we hit that sweet spot between the right health message and product/ project, we can positively change lives of millions of people every-day.

What has been your career highlight?

For a black girl from very humble beginnings, my job has allowed me to travel to places I never thought I’d see in my life. After qualifying, I registered as a dietitian in the UK, where I later went to work as I travelled my way around the continent over a number of years.  I not only got to work and live with diverse people from all over the world, I did it whilst still feeling like I was making a difference in peoples’ lives. Those years were special for me.

What are the most challenging aspects of your career?

Sensible long-term healthy eating is not the sexiest of subjects.  How do we as a profession get better at enabling the general public to eat better, without bells and whistles?  I’d like us to crack the key to population-wide healthy eating messages that are based on nutrition science yet are simple, engaging and accessible (not just financially but culturally as well).  We have to get to a point where investing in credible nutrition is the only sensible choice. At the moment, there is so much information clutter that the general public is mostly confused about what sensible healthy eating is. And when people are not food literate, they are not able to make lifestyle changes that they need to make for them live longer, more productive lives.

How do you cope after a day of nutrition disaster and bad eating choices?

Except I don’t call them nutrition disasters. I call them celebration days like when your BFF gets a promotion and you share one big cake between the two of you or sad days when you get ceremoniously dumped by your ‘not-really-serious-boyfriend’ and you eat all the food in the house.  The problem is when sad and celebration day kind of eating becomes the norm, which is when you need to start recreating a healthier normal.  How I cope is I pick myself up the following day and go live my best life, it’s all about trying to do better every-day. I believe food is a legitimate way of coping with emotional events and marking milestones, that’s ok.  I don’t think shame and guilt are useful when it comes to sustainable healthy eating.

What are the three things that you think people should stop saying when they meet a dietitian?

Are you really going to eat that?

How do I gain muscle or lose weight?

Don’t look at what I’m eating! (this makes us feel like the food police, which we’d like to think we are not)

What should clients look out for when deciding which dietitian to work with?

Find someone who gets you and your vision. Someone who understands what you want to achieve. Other than when dealing with certain medical conditions, success in nutrition is mostly relative. Define what success means for you, your health, your culture, your work, your mental well-being, your budget, stage of life, support system, etc. Choose someone that can help you navigate what success means for you and how to get there without giving up the most basic parts of yourself that make you YOU. You are more likely to be successful when you do that.

What is your favourite dish and your favourite treat food?

It changes, right now I am loving ujeqe obrown ( steamed brown bread) that I make at home a serve with everything. As a treat, I have a weakness for  spicy chicken wings from the orange fast food chain.

3 thoughts on ““Sensible, long-term healthy eating is not the sexiest of subjects” – meet dietitian, Hlanzeka Mpanza

  1. Nomfundo

    Mmmmh Hlanzeka!!!! Great stuff! This article is making me to think more about what I eat everyday…..living a healthy lifestyle indeed!! I’d love to work with you regarding my diet…*toung out*

    Like

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