March 2013 Issue

TD10 — Today’s Dietitian’s Fourth Annual Showcase of 10 Incredible RDs Who Are Making a Difference
By Lindsey Getz
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 15 No. 3 P. 32

Accomplished nutrition professionals possess special attributes and talents that enable them to not only succeed in the work they do each day but go above and beyond what’s expected to spread the word about nutrition, health, and wellness in creative ways within their communities and across the globe.

In honor of National Nutrition Month and Registered Dietitian Day, we asked readers to nominate colleagues and mentors who exhibit these traits and do exceptional work that’s making a positive impact. Of the more than 100 nominations we received, we selected 10 deserving RDs to be recognized for their incredible accomplishments and dedication to the field.

Some of the dietitians have published best-selling books, participate in international humanitarian efforts, have succeeded against difficult odds, founded specialty nutrition businesses, direct large healthcare organizations, or serve the underprivileged, and one dietitian in particular established her own food company and even created a granola bar.

Please enjoy reading these profiles and congratulate yourselves for the wonderful work you do every day to help clients and patients live healthier lives.

Kate Geagan, MS, RD
“America’s Green Nutritionist,” Author, Speaker, and Consultant
Kate Geagan is a well-known dietitian who has become an outspoken leader in helping people understand the connection between food and the Earth’s climate. She’s also a well-known name in the media as an expert for the Dr. Oz Show as well as the author of a best-selling diet book, Go Green, Get Lean: Trim Your Waistline With the Ultimate Low-Carbon Footprint Diet. With a long list of notable accomplishments, there’s no question her work in the field is impressive. But it’s also Geagan’s nondietetic leadership role that deserves recognition.

After seeing a heart-wrenching story on the Lost Boys of Sudan on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Geagan was inspired to take action. With the help of her sister and a neighbor, The Chier Foundation was formed to provide money for college educations for the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan who now call Utah their home.

“I was so moved when I saw these young men on television,” Geagan recalls. “I ended up meeting some of them through a nutritional counseling client of mine. I went to their apartment in Boston in February and saw they didn’t have jackets or blankets. That struck a chord with me. I knew I could do something. What they really want more than anything else is the opportunity for education.”

To date, the organization has raised more than $250,000 and sent more than 60 Lost Boys to college. Currently, more than 30 have graduated college, and one is attending medical school. Geagan says those who haven’t finished yet “cycle in and out” of school, as they’re working multiple jobs to send money back home to their families.

Of her own profits, Geagan gives 10% back to the charity. “This organization is my labor of love, and I feel really passionate about it,” she says. “To be able to turn someone from a refugee into a college graduate is the American dream, and I’m proud to play a role in that. I hear all the stories and I go to their graduations and am moved every time by what has been accomplished.”

H. Theresa Wright, MS, RD, LDN
President and Founder, Renaissance Nutrition Center, Inc
In private practice for 24 years, H. Theresa Wright has built up a clientele base full of tough cases. Her clients are anorexics, bulimics, compulsive overeaters, food addicts, binge eaters, alcoholics, and even drug addicts. It always has been her gentle, patient, and compassionate nature as a nutrition therapist that has driven these clients to her and keeps them coming back. In fact, Wright’s clients aren’t only local but have come from 41 states and countries, including Hawaii, Canada, Switzerland, England, and Jordan. She does her long-distance work on the telephone and the Internet.

Over the years, Wright says she’s heard some amazing stories and has a long list of clients who have lost 50, 75, and even 100 lbs. She’s also been party to some interesting connections. “I had one client from New York who ended up flying to Switzerland on vacation and met up with my Swiss client to go to an Overeater’s Anonymous class together there,” Wright shares. “And one of my clients from California was referred to me by someone she met while on a trip to New York. Almost all of my clients have been referred to me from someone else.”

With these tough cases, Wright says her role is quite similar to that of a therapist. “I get into the everyday details a lot,” she explains, “like, ‘How are you going to the grocery store? Do you have a list ready?’ And we talk about how to read labels and what aisles to avoid. I often have to get very specific with clients.”

Wright says good self-care and stories of hope keep her going. “I’m very blessed by my practice,” she says. “I feel this is what I was meant to do and have a real passion for it. I love watching the miracles that can happen in people’s lives.”

Stacey Antine, MS, RD
Founder, HealthBarn USA
Working full time in corporate public relations, Stacey Antine ran the global food practice of a major corporation. When she decided it would help to get her RD degree, never did she consider whether it would lead to a brand new career. But it was during her internship at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City that Antine experienced a wake-up call when she realized how many kids were being treated for obesity.

“As I started working with these kids, I found that there were very few educational resources—everything was in the form of treatment after there was already a major problem,” Antine says. “That’s when I decided to create HealthBarn USA. I wanted to have a place where it was fun for kids to come and learn about where food comes from and why it’s good for their bodies. I left my public relations career behind and started with HealthBarn full time in 2005.”

HealthBarn offers summer camps, classes, and more to teach children about food, how to make good food choices, and how to grow their own food. Celebrity chef Rachael Ray has called HealthBarn USA “a great idea,” and it’s been featured on networks such as CNN and PBS.

Recently, Antine became the proud author of Appetite for Life: The Thumbs-Up, No-Yucks Guide to Getting Your Kid to Be a Great Eater. “I never would have thought I’d author a book,” she admits, “but I knew I had to get our recipes out to the public. They’re all kid tested, and kids really do love them, but we weren’t reaching enough families. So I got an agent, pitched the idea, and ended up signing with HarperOne.”

Although she never could have pictured herself in this career, Antine says she loves it. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it because it’s a ton of hard work,” she says. “But it’s become such a passion. One of my favorite things to do is school assemblies because I can impact 300 kids at a time. That’s so inspiring to me.”

Marta McKenzie, RD, MPH
Director, Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, California
Starting her career as a WIC dietitian in Shasta County, Marta McKenzie had a passion for her clients and for breast-feeding that dramatically increased the program and expanded services to some of the most rural areas. Her leadership skills have led to several promotions over the years, but the initial passion that drove her remains.

McKenzie’s mother was a breast-feeding advocate who nursed in the 1950s when it was not well accepted. As McKenzie headed into the field of dietetics, she had the opportunity to work in the WIC program and witness how support could positively impact a mother’s life at a critical stage. “And the more I learned scientifically about the benefits of breast-feeding, the more of a slam dunk it was for me to advocate for it,” she says. “There are so many reasons it’s important.”

McKenzie was instrumental in opening breast-feeding support centers available to the entire community, not just WIC families, which produced breast-feeding rates that were the top five in the state. For 10 years, she also served as deputy director and director of public health in Shasta County and became recognized as a leader in population-based nutrition and chronic disease prevention. As a result of her success, she was promoted to director of the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency in 2006 when the public health, mental health, and social services departments were merged into one large health agency.

McKenzie admits her promotion to director has meant learning much about these other fields, but she says they have plenty of common denominators with dietetics. “We continually focus on how we can do better by the whole system and the whole population by emphasizing prevention,” she says. “Having been responsible for a low-income group from the start of my career has broadened my view of the people we serve and the issues they’re faced with. The issues aren’t isolated. Going forward, I hope for an increasing emphasis on dietetic education that’s more population and prevention focused.”

Lora Williams, MS, RD, LD
Owner, Full Circle Nutrition
Lora Williams is a testament that the path to success often is paved with failure. In her case, perhaps it has been more hardship than failure, but either way, she admits it hasn’t been an easy road.

At the age of 30, Williams realized she was making the same amount of money that she did in high school and needed to go back to school. At that same time, she became pregnant, and her baby’s father left her.

“There I was in the hospital with a new baby, and I’m studying for my biochemistry exam,” Williams remembers. “My professors didn’t think I’d make it. It was hard, and I had to accept help. Churches have helped me, and I’ve been on food stamps and Medicaid. But I did make it, and I’d like other single moms to hear my story of how I didn’t give up.”

Even after Williams graduated, she says life wasn’t easy. It was 2008, and there were no jobs. As a big believer in family, she and her child moved from New York to Texas with her mother, and started offering nutrition services out of her living room. Slowly but surely, she got insurance, her own office, and even some volunteers, starting out in a small single-room office. Today, she has an 1,800-square-foot office of her own.

Williams feels her hardships help her relate to her clients. “I can show people on food stamps how to live a healthful lifestyle,” she says. “You may not get asparagus in the off season, but you can live healthily on a small budget.”

Williams says she hasn’t “made it” yet, but she hopes to secure more funding and has bigger plans and feels things are falling into place.

“It’s a rags to riches story, except I’m still far from the riches part,” she laughs, “but great things are happening. My daughter is 12 now and hangs out at my office after school. She’s a straight-A student. I like to think I’ve set a good example for her. I’ve always just done the best that I can even when others told me not to bother.”

Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD
Distinguished Professor of Nutrition, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Penn State University
Penny M. Kris-Etherton became interested in lipids research early in her career. Studying the relationship between diet and cardiovascular disease, she became fascinated with how great of an impact dietitians can have in helping people decrease their disease risk.

“I had such a passion seeing how nutrition can affect not only lipids but a lot of other proteins and risk factors, so I continued with my research and got involved with the National Lipid Association,” Kris-Etherton says.

Serving as a past president of the organization, Kris-Etherton continues to be involved in the association. Along the way, she’s demonstrated how dietitians can collaborate within a multidisciplinary team.

“I’ve always embraced interdisciplinary collaborations, and I’ve always tried to promote that effort,” she says. “I think when people work together, it’s not just additive, it’s multiplicative. That’s not to say we as dietitians can’t do good things by ourselves—we certainly can—but by combining our efforts with physicians, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists, we can have an incredibly significant impact.”

Over the years, Kris-Etherton has coauthored hundreds of articles on the role of nutrition in lipids management in national and international journals. She also has partnered with the American Heart Association to provide teaching tools for the public. One of the programs she collaborated on was the Heart-Check Mark, a symbol the public can look for on products for an easy heart-healthy reference. She also helped create a nutrition task force within the National Lipid Association.

Despite her accomplishments, Kris-Etherton always turns back to that team approach she values. “I’m so lucky to have tremendous colleagues and have had the opportunity to partner with so many wonderful practitioners,” she says. “I attribute a lot of my success to working together with great people.”

Stacia Nordin, RD
Sustainable Nutrition, Never Ending Food
In 1997, Stacia Nordin and her husband, Kristof, headed to Malawi for two years to work with HIV patients. She was a dietitian in the field of HIV and nutrition, while her husband was working in community development promoting HIV awareness and prevention. Nordin says it didn’t take long for them to realize they needed to stay much longer than two years to make the impact they desired.

The Nordins have lived in Malawi for 16 years, and their efforts, known as Never Ending Food, focus on permaculture (the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient) and nutrition. Permaculture’s purpose is to “create abundance” for people while also taking care of the earth, Nordin explains. Even the couple’s daughter helps with the effort.

“When we asked what the problems were, in unison people would say, ‘Food,’” Nordin says. “Common health problems reported included malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and undernourished children.”

Nordin says she and her husband recognized that a connection between the problems and the solution kept coming back to the health of the environment. “When our environment is healthy and systems are well designed, the environment can provide us with an abundance of healthful food, water, air, medicines, building supplies, seeds, and natural fertility—on short, all that we need,” she says.

Nordin says the biggest success has been a change in thinking. “In policy and program meetings, people are thinking differently about food—realizing we can’t depend on one food—and welcoming diversity,” she says. “Most people also realize that synthetic fertilizers aren’t helping in the long run. This is not just our success, but we have been a part of it.”

Brenda Navin, RD, LD, CPT
Director of Community Health and Wellness, HealthEast, Woodwinds Health Campus, Minnesota
Brenda Navin grew tired of seeing so many clients come through her door with needs too great for her to meet alone. In her nutrition therapy role at the Woodwinds Health Campus, part of the HealthEast Care System, she wanted to do more. But many clients needed more than nutrition support. So six years ago, she and a colleague formed Ways to Wellness, a program that’s part of the HealthEast System that provides nutrition, fitness, and health and wellness coaching. The effort has grown ever since.

“A client may come in for their nutrition consultation, but they also need a personal trainer and in this busy world, maybe they didn’t feel like making another appointment,” Navin says. “So we focused on one-stop shopping. We offer integrated care where the client gets everything they need in one stop.”

Though the undertaking began with the efforts of just two dietitians, Ways to Wellness has grown to a staff of nine that now includes personal trainers and certified health and wellness coaches. Today there’s even a cardiologist who works closely with the program.

“We’re trying to transform healthcare into something that’s more about helping serve our clients’ quality of life rather than just offering episodic care,” Navin explains. “In the past, we’ve always focused on helping someone after they already have a problem, but let’s not wait until they have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Let’s put the focus on prevention.”

On a daily basis, Navin is inspired by the people the program helps. “We just had a client who went to the Canadian Rockies on vacation, and she told us that instead of sitting in her vehicle to see the sights, as she might have done in the past, she got out and was walking around in the mountains,” Navin says. “That’s amazing to me. It’s those kinds of stories that keep me motivated. We feel we’re making a true impact on people’s lives every day.”

Fran Van Geyte, RD, CSP, LD
Clinical Dietitian, Elliot Hospital’s New Hampshire Hospital for Children
Working as a dietitian in the neonatal ICU (NICU) and the pediatric unit at Elliot Hospital for more than 20 years, Fran Van Geyte has a passion for getting her patients the best possible care from the start. When she first began her career, Van Geyte was the only NICU-based dietitian in the state of New Hampshire. Though she’s garnered numerous accomplishments in the neonatal field over the years, the list doesn’t stop with her professional career.

One of Van Geyte’s personal passions is organic and local farming, which stemmed from seeing the connection between healthful eating and a baby’s growth. Initially, she helped other farmers distribute organic vegetables from her own backyard, but several years ago she and her husband founded New Hampshire Community Supported Agriculture, which has expanded to include leasing part of a 400-acre land trust for the purpose of organic farming.

Van Geyte says it’s not whether organic has more nutrients that fuels her; it’s the chemical issue. “Even low-level exposure to pesticides is being linked to children’s health issues,” she says. “I’m very passionate about this. I get so excited seeing children come to the farm to pick kale and Swiss chard.”

She also recently obtained a food license for her new food company, Ingrained, LLC, for which she makes granola from ingredients produced locally and markets it under the name Franola. Her seven-year old daughter designed the Franola logo. “One day at the farm when a little girl came up to me with some money in her hand and said ‘Do you have any Franola this week? I saved my dollars,’” Van Geyte recalls. “That inspired me to make and sell it on a larger scale.”

She says she couldn’t have accomplished everything without support, particularly in her neonatal career. “The biggest credit I give is to Elliot Hospital,” she says. “I work at a hospital that understands just how important nutrition is in a baby’s care. That brings out the best in me.”

Diane Kress, RD, CDE
Award-Winning Author and Owner of The Nutrition Center of Morristown, New Jersey
It’s not unusual for Diane Kress to receive letters—even gifts—from avid fans who have read her book The Metabolism Miracle and say it’s the only program that’s ever helped them lose weight and keep it off. Kress says she discovered the nontraditional approach when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol despite eating a healthful diet.

“I have to admit I was trained traditionally, and for the first portion of my career, I taught the weight-reduction program of calories in/calories out and eat less/exercise more,” she says. “As a dietitian, you’re taught that if patients aren’t succeeding, chances are they aren’t being honest. But on the so-called ‘perfect diet,’ I ended up with problems of my own, and I knew I wasn’t cheating.”

Kress began to do some research within her own patient base, taking a close look at who was succeeding and who wasn’t. What she found was that patients who weren’t losing weight despite a strict diet had started with a “different” metabolism. “I knew then I was on to something,” she says.

Kress discovered that people who had genes for what she calls Metabolism B would never be able to lose weight, keep it off, or get healthy on a traditional diet because of their “alternate metabolism.” The entire research process took years, but Kress ended up with a unique lifestyle program that’s “written to match alternate metabolism.”

Traditional weight-loss programs have been built on the assumption that everyone’s metabolism works the same. But Kress’ research suggests that people with Metabolism B (also known as insulin resistance) are overprocessing carbohydrate foods and turning them into excess fat despite diet and exercise. The Metabolism Miracle helps reprogram the body to handle carbohydrates. The first step does include eliminating most carbs, though they’re later reintroduced in a healthful way. In the book, Kress walks patients through the steps of the diet with a number of easy-to-follow rules, such as avoiding certain foods, drinking at least two liters of caffeine-free fluids per day, and avoiding gaps of more than five hours without a meal or snack.

Still, Kress says it hasn’t always been an easy road. With her program deviating from the norm, she says she felt she had to go “up against the traditional associations.” And even today, she says the book remains controversial.

“But I had to take a stand and say ‘I’m doing this,’” she says. “If I was still doing traditional teaching today, I would have had a frustrating career because only half of my patients would be succeeding. I’m at a place in my career where I love what I do because I know it works.”

— Lindsey Getz is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pennsylvania.