We chatted to Registered Dietitian, Jessica Byrne, who is currently undergoing her Masters studies in Therapeutic Nutrition and fulfils the role of chief operating officer for ADSA, 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?
Biology was always my favourite subject at school, and I knew from fairly early on that I wanted to follow a career in health. Finding out more about dietetics when I started varsity, I knew it was the perfect fit for me, incorporating science as a base but also allowing me to work with people on a more personal level.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do? What are the most satisfying moments?
For most people their first thought about a dietitian is that our job is helping people to lose weight. But I love that our profession is involved in such a diverse range of areas, and with that it brings versatility and variety. For me no day is ever the same. One day I could be seeing patients in the ICU, and the next assisting a journalist with evidence-based content for an article on nutrition, through my role in ADSA.
In my work in the hospital setting, it is rewarding to know that through providing nutrition therapy, I am contributing to enhancing the recovery of that patient and improving their health.
What has been your career highlight?
A recent highlight for me is when I represented ADSA and the dietetic profession at parliament, where I presented ADSA’s position and recommendations for the sugar tax. It was an exciting experience, and certainly not something I saw myself doing when I first became a dietitian!
What are the most challenging aspects of your career?
The public is being exposed to more nutrition information that ever before, but unfortunately not all this information is accurate, from credible sources or might not be appropriate for every individual. Trying to correct these misperceptions around diet is an important part of a dietitian’s work.
How do you cope after a day of nutrition disasters and bad eating choices?
I don’t let it get to the point where the entire day has been filled with poor eating choices, but if I’m having something less healthy I don’t beat myself up about it, but try to really savour it and know that I will get back on track at my next meal. I truly believe that moderation is key to keeping yourself on track long term, rather than putting yourself under unnecessary pressure to always make the healthy choice. That is why I follow the 80:20 rule – 80% of the time make the healthier choice, and then allow yourself that 20% for a treat now and then, without feeling guilty about it.
What are the three things that you think people should stop saying when they meet a dietitian?
- ‘Please don’t look at what I’m eating!’ (I’m not the food police and I do not judge, especially as I don’t know what the rest of your eating patterns and lifestyle are like.)
- ‘So, do you ever eat chocolate/cake?’ (Of course I do, just not every day!)
- My initial thought was to add ‘What do you think about (insert current diet trend)?’ to this list because, let’s be honest, we don’t want to be talking about work when we’re out enjoying time with friends. But in fact, I don’t want people to stop asking that question! It actually makes me excited when someone asks a dietitian for their opinion on a new diet trend or popular headline they might have read. They are trying to make their mind up about a particular issue, and it’s a fantastic opportunity as a healthcare professional to provide guidance that is scientifically sound and based on evidence.
What should clients look out for when deciding which dietitian to work with?
Dietitians are all trained and qualified to treat any patient presented to them. However, some dietitians might have special interests and be more knowledgeable in certain areas, so this can be useful to guide you on finding the right dietitian for you.
What is your favourite dish and your favourite treat food?
I love so many different foods, it’s so difficult to choose a favourite dish. It might sound cliched, but I really do love veggies! I love trying new dishes where veggies are the hero, particularly using vegetables to take a boring salad to something super tasty. And when it comes to a treat food, without a doubt, my favourite would be anything that contains chocolate!
Jessica holds both a B.Sc degree in Physiology and Biochemistry, and a B.Sc (Medical) (Honours) degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Cape Town. She is currently undergoing her Masters studies in Therapeutic Nutrition at Stellenbosch University. Before joining ADSA in the role of chief operating officer, Jessica worked at the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA where she provided up-to-date scientific content for media, planned public awareness and education campaigns, and worked on local government projects. Jessica also consults at private hospitals, where she is responsible for the nutritional management of critically ill, medical and surgical patients.
To find a dietitian in your area please visit the ADSA website and click on the PUBLIC button.