I've always been interested in food, after a foray into the hospitality industry, including a degree in hospitality management, I decided to study nutrition (for 5 years) at Western Sydney University and The University of Sydney to become a dietitian. Two masters degrees was just the starting point, I have continued my studies in counselling, motivational interviewing, health coaching and the non-diet approach and I am still learning today.
I've been a dietitian since 2000. I've worked for big corporations and high tech pharmaceutical support programs but I love the one-on-one interaction of private practice the most.
I am a wife and mother, and life is busy. I love eating out (often with my cottage friends), I particularly love Italian and Asian cuisines. I enjoy a glass of wine and an icy cold G&T. I love to cook but I totally understand the difficulties of feeding a family after a busy work day.
I love talking to people, and learning about their lives. I can't count the times someone has said to me "I've never told anyone that" so I'd say I'm a good, non-judgemental, listener.
I started my dietetic life like other dietitians. I had the idea that people who weren't eating well just needed to know better to do better. I would clear things up for them and they'd go on their merry way and live happily ever after. Sigh. I gave out meal plans, and made to do lists, I weighed and measured and congratulated and commiserated. I took great pleasure in my clients success, it made me feel like a very good dietitian. When my clients started to stall or fail, I felt so bad for them and for me, I remember clutching desperately for ideas that might help.
All the while there was something burrowing away in my mind that was telling me something was amiss. People would ask me 'how many slices of bread can I have?' and I would think 'I don't know, how hungry are you? what else are you having with it?' Never in my life had I asked anyone else 'how many slices of bread can I have?' I didn't understand.
So rather than change my practice I ran away from dietetics, or rather I ran away from clients for nearly 8 years. Life has a funny way of forcing you to face your fears. I returned to seeing clients after an unsatisfactory return to work from maternity leave. I felt like a fraud as a dietitian no longer feeling comfortable working in the way that I had learned to, but not at all sure that the way I wanted to work was even a thing. I had watched my baby girl feed on demand, intuitively understanding her own tiny body, putting me right when I was getting things wrong. She and I battled over introducing solids (she won) and, in a moment that saved dietetics for me, I had been introduced to the work of Ellyn Satter.
Her story, of feeling like maybe the way we traditionally practice as dietitians (educating, instructing, being the expert) might actually be making things worse, resonated so deeply I recall releasing an involuntary cry of pain. Her research into natural appetite and children's eating behaviour changed my practice forever. I no longer felt like a fraud (well not a complete fraud, I'm still working on that 'imposter complex') but I certainly felt unsupported by my profession, no one else I knew worked like this.
I had a mentor and friend who said to me 'when the student is ready the teacher appears' and this is how it was for me. Once I found Ellen's work, my next discovery was Rick Kausman and not long after this a community of non-diet dietitians revealed itself to me. That is supposed to sound mystical because it totally is, most of them have travelled a similar journey to mine, and it is a community that is global and growing in number.
Outing myself as a non diet dietitian, and now a Health at Every Size dietitian has put me somewhat at odds with my profession, my association and the majority of the health world. Listening to my clients lived experience of life in larger bodies and becoming increasingly aware of weight stigma and conflicts of interest in weight focussed research and healthcare makes navigating life as an Accredited Practising Dietitian a tough road some days. However as a health professional with high levels of qualifications and many years of study (not to bignote myself but as a demonstration of the commitment and sacrifice I've gone through to get here) I promise to do no harm, and I truly believe HAES is the path that offers this.
More recently I have chosen to work purely in eating behaviour, disordered eating and body image. I have very little interest in what people actually eat, that probably needs some clarification! The influences on what people choose to eat are myriad, and many are way beyond an individual persons direct control to influence. Why that person eats, why they don't trust their body, why perhaps they hate their body, why food has become a weapon of self harm or the one and only source of comfort to them, why they restrict or binge, and why that seems more comfortable or familiar than natural eating is far more interesting to me than whether they choose full fat or low fat or avoid gluten or are sugar free.
What is available for people to eat can and should be influenced by our profession, not at an individual level, but at a supply and policy level. Dietetics should be promoting farmers, lobbying and advocating for a better quality food supply, greater access to core foods.
However our professions relationship and partnership with large food companies seems to hinder this. It's one thing for individual dietitians to work in food companies but for our whole profession to be (rightly or wrongly) seen to be in the pocket of 'big food' impacts every individual dietitian negatively. The dietitian who works in intensive care working out TPN regimes, the dietitian who counsels, supports and informs a family throughout their child getting an insulin pump, the dietitian who home visits a client with disabilities requiring a PEG feed, the dietitian who works closely with the athlete taking on their first ultra endurance event, the dietitian who sits in a room holding a terrified family steady while they wrestle their child out of the grips of anorexia nervosa, they are all tarnished by accusations of 'sponsored' by 'big food'.
Instead of celebrating the diverse and impactful profession that we are, we are seen as glorified weight loss coaches at war with Sarah Wilson, Pete Evans, David Gillespie, Gary Fettke and now Peter FitzSimons. Well I for one am happy to leave people to their own devices. Wars and bickering never help anything. And if this is who the Australian public turn to for nutrition advice then surely that lands directly at our feet, somehow we lost their trust, we need to look within.
So that's me. A bit ranty, and a bit different. But what you see is what you get. So as much as I'm sure we'll get on beautifully don't come and see me if you want to lose a bit of weight before summer, I'll only disappoint you. If however, you have a troubled relationship with food, or you and your body are not best friends, if you've dieted for as long as you can remember, if your eating causes you shame or distress, I am the girl for you. Curl up on my couch, cuddle up in the blanket, grab a comfy cushion and a tissue if you need it and let's get this sorted out. Let's get you feeling good about yourself again xxx
Love Susan xx