Meet registered dietitian Abby Courtenay, who is serving on the current ADSA executive committee and looks after the PR portfolio. We chatted to her about why she loves being a dietitian, what the challenges are and what people should consider when deciding which dietitian to consult:
Why did you become a Registered Dietitian?
From a young age I had an interest on the effects of nutrition on the human body. I vividly remember reading the ‘How my body works’ books and being fascinated by the complexity of the digestive system. By the time I was in standard 9 (or grade 11), I knew I definitely wanted to become a dietitian. Strangely though, in Matric I changed my mind and pursued a degree in architecture. After 1 year I realized that architecture was not my passion and so I started my BSc degree and subsequently was accepted for dietetics at the University of Pretoria in 2007. People often ask if I regret my round about journey to dietetics, but I made some amazing friends along the way and learned a great deal about myself in that time. I don’t think I would be the dietitian I am today, had it not been for my experiences.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do? What are the most satisfying moments?
I have been in private practice for almost 3 years, and I still feel a great sense of pride and joy when I receive feedback from my patients telling me how amazing they feel. I think that many people feel pretty terrible on a daily basis, but with correct diet and adequate lifestyle changes they can truly reach their full potential. I strive to incorporate a strong message of moderation and I do not believe in deprivation.
What has been your career highlight?
I will be attending FNCE conference in Chicago (coming up in October 2017), so for me I feel like all my hard work and dedication to my career and dietetics has culminated to this point and I am beyond excited to represent South African dietitians at an international conference.
What are the most challenging aspects of your career?
Trying to correct nutrition misconceptions. People unfortunately get their nutrition information from un-credible sources (usually on the internet) and it can be challenging to correct these perceptions. I believe that for dietitians, knowledge is power and the more you arm yourself with current, up-to-date nutrition information to more you can educate the population.
How do you cope after a day of nutrition disaster and bad eating choices?
To be honest I don’t ever feel as if my day has been nutritionally disastrous. When you give yourself permission to eat all foods you remove the guilt from eating and thus stop the diet cycle (binge, guilt, deprivation and repeat).
What are the three things that you think people should stop saying when they meet a dietitian?
- Do you ever eat *insert indulgent food here*? Of course we do, we are only human and can eat anything in moderation!
- Don’t judge what I am eating/ buying! This will often happen at a braai or when I see someone at the shopping mall, and I can promise you that I never judge and don’t give my professional opinion unless it is asked for!
- Can you print me/ email me a diet? All the plans I do are individualized, it is not a “mik-and-druk” process. In order to be successful (with regards to dietary change), you will need to see a dietitian for a one-on-one consultation. She needs to get to know your medical history, lifestyle, likes and dislikes, level of nutrition education and current diet history before she can even think of creating a plan for you!
What should clients look out for when deciding which dietitian to work with?
If you have a specific medical problem, ask the dietitian if this is her special interest. If it is not, ask if she can refer you to a dietitian who is more knowledgeable in your problem area and the dietitian should also be conveniently situated, so that it is convenient for you to see her regularly .
What is your favourite dish and your favourite treat food?
I like to experiment in the kitchen and try to update my recipe folder on a regular basis, so don’t ever have a ‘favourite dish’ but rather a favourite dish of the week. At the moment I am trying out a homemade tuna and butterbean fishcake.
My favourite treat food is without a doubt baked cheesecake!
To find a dietitian in your area, visit the ADSA website.