Friday, April 19, 2024

Health care Worker Spotlight

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Katrina Welch

Alove for food and a passion for health led Victoria Cox to a career in the field of dietetics. As we continue our Health and Care Worker Spotlight, we will take a look at this 28-year-old who has dedicated her life to helping others improve their lives through better nutritional choices.

Victoria has been a private practice dietitian and consultant for Barbados Diabetes Foundation at the Maria Holder Diabetes Centre since 2016. This foodie and fitness enthusiast is also a regular professional contributor to the Better Health magazine.

• What inspired your career path?

It was a blend of wanting to be in health sciences and my love for eating, cooking and food in general. I wanted to help people, but, unlike others around me who wanted to go into medicine, I picked the nutrition programme on a whim at university and I fell in love with it.

• How long have you been a dietician?

After I attained my Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition & Dietetics at Acadia University in Nova Scotia Canada, I wanted to learn more and do research, so I pursued my Master of Science in Applied Human Nutrition at Mount St Vincent University, also in Nova Scotia. As part of my graduate studies and in order to become a registered dietician, I had to complete a one-year internship.

• How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your work with clients?

It was interesting because COVID-19 changed the topic of conversation with my clients. From the first lockdown when it was highlighted that a lot of people with COVID-19 had underlying chronic conditions, a lot of my clients were scared because they had many of these conditions.

So, a lot of people asked about boosting their immune system. We had to talk to them, tell them not to panic and instead teach them about supporting their immune system, lowering their blood sugar and keeping it under control. Then, there were new issues with people being at home more and food insecurity came to light due to unemployment.

• What has been the most trying part of your experience working in this global pandemic?

The most difficult part has been navigating healthy eating with financial challenges. It does not make sense telling people to eat foods they cannot afford or access, so I had to ask myself: how do I help people with cost-effective nutrition strategies? Some people were over-buying and overeating while other people could not afford the foods that they thought they needed to buy for good nutrition.

• Do you often encounter clients with misinformation about nutrition?

There is a lot of nutrition misinformation out there and it was amped up during COVID-19. We had to dispel myths about drinking tea to resist COVID-19 and there are lots of foods being pushed as super foods that are more expensive. People don’t have a large disposable income, but these foods are being pushed at them on social media and they are appealing.

So, we spend a lot of time respectfully dispelling misinformation. It’s a difficult space to navigate because some of these foods are not that good for you; and there are other foods which are just as nutritious and cost-effective but they are not being promoted to people.

• What is the biggest struggle which most people face when trying to maintain good nutritional habits?

It’s difficult to decide the main challenge because we need to acknowledge there are many reasons why people eat the way they do. There is so much that goes into food choices… a person’s culture, religion, finances and even emotions. We know people can improve their health by changing their eating habits, but their choices often reflect what they know, what they’ve been raised eating and what they can afford, so it can be very hard to change a person’s way of eating.

As mentioned before, there is a vast amount of nutrition misinformation which makes things trickier and a lot of people get information from family and friends that is not accurate. I’ve also found that people are not just lacking in knowledge but they also lack confidence in how to eat nutritionally.

• How do you guide people in adjusting and improving their eating habits?

First, we have to acknowledge why they eat the way they do and then we take a step-by-step approach. When talking about healthy eating changes, you need to look at the big picture.

You can’t overwhelm people and cause them to think it will be too expensive; and you shouldn’t just tell people that they can never eat great cake or souse again. You have to find what they are willing to change and what they’re not.

I enjoy working with people so they understand why I have made certain food suggestions. This teaches them how to make their own choices without me, which they can tweak for their meals, and then choose what’s best to eat when they go out.

• What are simple changes which anyone can make to improve their nutritional habits?

Most people are aware of the basic healthy eating suggestions, such as eating vegetables and fruits, avoiding fried foods and not consuming sugary beverages. We already know what should be done, so what can we do differently?

Choose the change that sounds easiest; you don’t have to go from zero to 100.

For example, if you eat an unhealthy food just because it’s there, reflect on your food environment and you can start with that. If you eat too much ice cream and you buy a tub of ice cream to eat at home, stop buying the big ice cream and instead just go out for a little ice cream as an occasional treat.

We want people to have optimal health while being able to enjoy what they eat. As dieticians we say we want to be “pencils not erasers” by having people add good food choices to their diet instead of just erasing the foods they might love. The goal is to make the healthier choice, the easier choice.

• How does good nutrition impact a person’s health, not just physically but mentally?

Optimal well-balanced nutritional health can help with energy, pregnancy and child development, brain development, mental clarity and focus.

We shouldn’t only see food as nutrients but we should see it for its social, family

and cultural values. Just eating food for the sake of enjoyment is helpful for mental health. We need to find that balance because unless it is medically contraindicated you should be able to enjoy your favourite foods without feeling guilty. It is important for people to have a healthy relationship with food because guilt can lead to binge eating and other problems.

• What is the most rewarding part of the job for you?

The most rewarding point of my job is when I feel like I’m working with someone but they don’t need me anymore because I have empowered them enough to be at the point in their health and nutritional journey that they can navigate without me. I am also happy when people have good results such as when their blood work shows improvements or when they can reduce their medication or come off of it completely.

That makes for very good days.

“We know people can improve their health by changing their eating habits” The most difficult part has been navigating healthy eating with financial challenges. It does not make sense telling people to eat foods they cannot afford or access.

Dietitian

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