We chatted to Registered Dietitian, Monique Piderit who works mostly in the corporate wellness space, to find out why she became a dietitian, what she loves about her work and what the challenges are:
Why did you become a Registered Dietitian?
I heard about dietetics for the first time when I was in 2nd year at Wits doing a BSc. I soon realised that all my subject choices where right in line with the types of subjects done in dietetics. It was one of those “aha” moments where I realised I have just fallen in love with my future profession.
If you ask my mother this question, she will tell you I was born to be a dietitian. From an early age, it was natural and easy for me to choose the healthier foods. I disliked fatty meats, chicken skin, and creamy-based foods, and processed meats like polony made me ill. I was quite happy to have milk with my meals, never went overboard on sweets and chocolates, and there was never a struggle as a toddler to eat veggies. It really is just something that is instinctive for me to be healthy and thus it’s easy to lead by example.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do? What are the most satisfying moments?
I love the versatility our profession. People think dietitians just help with weight loss diets. The truth is almost every medical concern, disease or condition can be managed, treated, or even prevented with good food choices.
Also, I enjoy how impactful our profession can be. I work mostly in the corporate wellness space. Employees spend 1/3 of their time at work, making the workplace the ideal opportunity to promote and encourage healthy nutrition. I am involved in onsite nutrition consultations, canteen audits, nutrition workshops and article writing for corporates, all impactful yet undervalued ways to address nutrition.
What has been your career highlight?
There are many dietitians that I look up to and admire in our profession, and when these dietitians express acknowledgement in the work that I do, it is hugely fulfilling. It is gratifying and rewarding when your mentors, dietitians who love and protect profession as much as you do, recognise and compliment you on your contribution to the profession.
What are the most challenging aspects of your career?
Everyone eats, so everyone thinks they’re an expert in nutrition. The truth is nutrition is far more complex than calories and not as simple as just being about food. On a daily basis, dietitians, the nutrition experts who study for years to practice, are confronted by people who (unknowingly) cannot discern evidence-based nutrition from sensationalist ‘fact’ found on the internet. It has been a personal challenge to learn how best to address the controversial questions in a friendly manner, remaining true to the science. Regardless, my immense pride to be a dietitian always helps me keep my head high.
How do you cope after a day of nutrition disaster and bad eating choices?
I never let it get to a point of an entire day of poor choices, but rather a cheat window where I allow myself to relax the nutrition strings, thoroughly savouring and enjoying the less healthy choice. It’s so vital to change how you think about food. Food nourishes the body and is not a sentence to a life of unhappiness. There will be meals where you overeat or eat incorrectly. But the power resides in you that at the next meal or even in the very next bite you decide you are in control. Be kind to yourself. No one is perfect (not even your dietitian).
What are the three things that you think people should stop saying when they meet a dietitian?
- Are you really going to eat that? Dietitians are humans and have taste buds and emotions like everyone else. When you’ve eaten well most of the time, your body can certainly tolerate a little cheat here and there, so yes, I’m not only going to eat that but delight in every bite along the way.
- So tell me, what’s your opinion on Banting? The answer is I don’t have an opinion, I have a position, a position that, like other health care professionals guided by science, is based on scientifically-sound, evidence-based, high quality research.
- Can you make me a meal plan quickly? Meal plans take time and effort and require an understanding of your needs, likes, dislikes, medical history, budget, lifestyle, etc. If meal plans were the ultimate answer, then one could simply download one of the thousands on the internet and be healthy, happy, skinny, and fit. A meal plan is a guide to healthy eating, not the ultimate answer.
What should clients look out for when deciding which dietitian to work with?
Our relationship with food is so very intimate and personal that you need to be comfortable to open up and share that with your dietitian. You need to find a person that you trust in and can connect with. It’s also important to remember that dietitians are the leading experts in nutrition and you should note red flags when the person favours a certain diet, pushes sales of a product that you “have to have”, or “prescribing” weight loss medication. Chances are this person is not a dietitian.
What is your favourite dish and your favourite treat food?
My family is Portuguese and I am the first generation to be born in SA. The culture, language, and of course, food, is still a large part of who I am. A freshly baked, hot bread roll with butter or perfectly plump roast potatoes are an all-time comfort and favourite. I am also not inclined to part with my beloved red wine (red grapes count as a serving of fruit, surely?
Monique is a registered dietitian with a background in corporate wellness and Masters degree in Dietetics in sports nutrition. Guided by evidence-based nutrition, Monique believes in an integrated approach to wellness where the key to being healthy is to adopt small yet sustainable changes to your lifestyle. Monique is a member of the ADSA (Association of Dietetics of South Africa) Gauteng South branch and registered with the HPCSA (Health Professionals Council of South Africa). She is also a Discovery Wellness Network dietitian and DNAlysis accredited practitioner.