On Tuesday morning, I graduated from Teacher’s College with a master’s of science in nutrition and education. It’s one of the final steps in my road to becoming an RDN (registered dietitian nutritionist).
Regular readers know that this has been a long, long road for me. I took my first pre-requisite science classes while I was still working full time, in 2010. I wasn’t yet sure what route I’d take into healthcare; six months later, I had quit my job and become a pre-med, post-baccalaureate student. Four years after that, I’d finished the post-bacc, sat for the MCAT, and gotten rejected from medical school. I’d also come to the difficult and surprisingly realization that I had no desire to reapply.
I came home to New York, regrouped, and saw clearly that an RDN is probably the degree I should have been pursuing all along—that is, it’s the role that’s best suited to my interests and strengths. I started at Teacher’s College, Columbia University a year later, and I’ve been at it ever since; the master’s degree typically takes two years, but I wanted and needed to work the whole time, so it’s taken me three.
In August or September, I’ll start Columbia’s DI, or dietetic internship—a 10-12 month series of clinical, community, and food service rotations in the dietetics field—before taking the RD exam and hopefully starting a new chapter in my work with clients, words, and food.
At the start of all this, I was confident that a strong work ethic and lots of enthusiasm would be the assets I needed to excel. I was wrong. Those qualities have mattered, but they weren’t the things I needed most. Going back to school for an education in the sciences has been the toughest and most humbling thing I’ve ever done. At every step of the way, I’ve been forced to confront my own limitations, to withstands affronts to my sense of identity (as a “good student” and achiever) and to ask for help—lots and lots of help.
When I posted about convocation on Instagram earlier this week, I wrote,
When I started this process, I wasn’t focused on building relationships. I figured I was there to get my degree and move on—you know, the whole “I’m not here to make friends” attitude. It didn’t take me long to realize that what I’d really been feeling was insecurity: I was self-conscious about being older than a lot of my peers, frustrated that it took me a while to find the right pathway into healthcare, envious of my fellow students for often grasping easily the concepts that were a struggle for me. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Thank goodness I wised up and opened up my heart, because this education wouldn’t have been possible without the support and inspiration given to me by my peers. Many of them are about a decade younger than me, and they’re already doing incredible things with their energy, minds, and hearts. They’ve taught me so much, and I can’t wait to see where their professional lives take them.
I meant every word. One generous reader commented, “Keep up your great attitude of depending on others for the support you need (and deserve). It’s wisdom that you can count on at any age.” I loved this advice, which was so beautifully put, and I’ll hold it close to me in the year ahead and always.
Yesterday, I told a friend that I was proud of my persistence through all of this, because there were so many points along the way when I wanted to quit and could have. The persistence I’m talking about isn’t the kind that asked me to grit my teeth or tighten my muscles, though; rather, it was a kind of faith, a willingness to keep going because I believed I’d learn more by staying the course than by leaving it. I’m guessing that many fellow career changers and longtime students can relate.
I haven’t always felt at home in this process or in my program. It’s funny: when I started blogging years ago, I was very comfortable putting on the expert hat, making big claims about what’s healthy and what isn’t, and what constitutes an optimal diet. I understand that part of what RDNs do is to communicate best practices and evidence-based dietary guidelines to the public, and there will be times when it’s my job and responsibility to generalize.
The longer I work with food, though—and this includes exploring my own relationship with it, as well as guiding others through that process—the less comfortable I am speaking in broad strokes. The business of eating is so personal, and while there are fundamental pieces of nutrition guidance I believe will work for most people, I’m never all that comfortable administering suggestions until I’ve taken the time to hear a person’s story.
I know more about nutrition than I used to, and I’ve become better at assessing evidence, which is thanks to this degree. But the irony of being at the finish line is that I feel less like an authority or expert than ever. If anything, I realize that the being a student continues, even if school is finished; I have so much to learn, and it’s my future clients, peers, and members of this community that will continue to teach me.
I’ll do everything I can to be a trustworthy and informed resource as I move forward, but I hope I’ll always maintain a person-focused approach to nutrition work, meeting people where they are and allowing them to communicate to me what kind of nourishment they need. (Interestingly, my thesis project involved researching use of psychosocial theories to encourage dietary behavior change, many of which are focused on fostering a sense of self-efficacy.)
Since Tuesday, I’ve been feeling bowled over with gratitude to all of the people who have cheered me on through this very long process. That includes all of you. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to every person who has watched and read and been a witness. I’m so grateful.
Onwards to the RDN—and now, to recipes and reads!
I love Amanda’s recipe for authentic vegan tikka masala! I’d never have thought to use shredded oyster mushrooms, but they must give it the perfect “meaty” texture.
Know what I’d like to serve that tikka masala over? A warm batch of Heather’s simple, golden saffron brown basmati rice.
An easy, vegetable-packed summer chili from Christine of Jar of Lemons.
What a beautiful, comforting pasta supper: white beans and pasta with rosemary pesto. (Super easy to make vegan by replacing the butter with vegan butter, or simply omitting it.)
My desire for a post-graduation treat is good and strong, but until I’ve spent about a week taking regular naps, I’m not sure I’ll be in the mood to bake Jessie’s no-bake chocolate peanut butter cookies are a perfect solution.
1. Troubling reporting on how difficult it can be for those with mental illness to navigate the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP—in spite of the fact that this population has high rates of food insecurity.
2. A fascinating, complex look at the nature of clinical trials and what is learned when they’re halted.
3. A humorous article, and I like the topic that author Eric Thomas is exploring: what happens when we’re willing to do just enough?
4. So interesting! How aerobic exercise might aid in word recall.
5. In the last year, I’ve become a big fan of pauses. Pausing in all sorts of situations—after triggering interpersonal moments, when work stress hits, when I’m grappling with a big decision and don’t know what to do—has helped me to become far less anxious and more self-aware, to make choices that feel aligned with my intuition.
I love Heather Hower’s perspective on the value of pausing in ED recovery. She recounts the advice of a friend who once advised her, when she was doubting the value of recovery “Pause; you don’t have to move forward, but don’t go backward.”
I think it’s so wise; my own experience of AN recovery has been that treating the process as if it’s a race to the “recovery finish line” (Hower’s metaphor) is counterproductive. Each time I treated recovery that way, I got swallowed up by relapse. I experienced lasting freedom only when I was able to hold myself accountable to certain physical endpoints (which for me, included weight restoration), but also able to honor and respect the non-linearity and slow unfolding of my healing process.
Enjoy the reads, friends, and I’ll be around this week with a new, springy recipe.
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