Each year in March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month® to bring attention and awareness to the importance of developing healthy eating habits and incorporating physical activity into daily routines. Below, Kim Collins, RDN, LD, and Sarah Sagullo, RDN, LD, who work as health coaches with Memorial Hermann’s Employee Wellness team, talk about their roles, easy steps people can take to improve their diets, and how they adapt their coaching sessions to meet the diverse needs of their clients.
Q: How would you describe a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) to someone who is unfamiliar with your profession?
Kim: Dietitians have such an important supporting role in helping people improve their health. We counsel people on managing chronic conditions, managing their weight, and helping patients plan their diet for optimal nutrition.
Sarah: I tell my kids that a dietitian is someone who knows a lot about food, nutrition, and healthy eating. The foods we eat fuel both our minds and bodies, and a dietitian works with people to show them ways to improve their health through good nutrition.
Q: What are some things you can do to start improving your diet today?
Kim: Try to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Start by adding just one more serving today. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals and are rich in fiber. Including fruits and vegetables in your diet can lower your risk of so many chronic conditions.
Sarah: Reduce your intake of packaged snacks such as chips, cookies or candy. Start with a goal of replacing one packaged snack with whole, unprocessed foods. This could look like an apple plus peanut butter, low-fat Greek yogurt with berries, whole-wheat crackers and tuna, or nuts and fruit.
Q: What are some of your favorite go-to recipes?
Kim: Quick and easy recipes are key for me during the week, and salmon is a popular request. On busy nights, my air fryer is my go-to cooking tool. I will usually serve salmon with a vegetable that I can roast in the oven while the salmon is cooking. My favorite vegetables include roasted broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Drizzling the vegetables with extra-virgin olive oil and adding additional flavors such as balsamic vinegar or garlic before cooking produces such a flavorful side.
Sarah: My dinner staples include simple grilled salmon and garlic-herb whole chicken cooked in either an air fryer or oven. I also recently discovered a recipe for sheet pan sausages and Brussel sprouts with honey mustard sauce, and I make a variation with turkey sausage. My weekly grocery list usually includes pre-made salad kits, frozen cauliflower rice, sweet potatoes, and baby potatoes so I can round out the meal with vegetables and a starch. I like to make enough to have leftovers to meal prep for lunch the following day.
Q: What do you enjoy about the work you do?
Kim: Like so many of our colleagues in health care, I was drawn to nutrition and dietetics from a strong desire to help people. I love being able to connect with people and help them work towards improving their health. I truly appreciate the trust our clients put in us.
Sarah: I have really come to love giving presentations with groups. The shift to meeting virtually due to COVID-19 pushed me to think of ways to be creative and engaging. Also, whether I’m meeting with a group for a presentation or an employee for an individual health coaching session, I really enjoy connecting with employees across the system.
Q: How has your practice evolved over time?
Kim: I would have to say I learned early on to leave my judgment about people’s choices at the door. I feel I have become more compassionate, especially during the pandemic. So many of us have had to adapt and prioritize making time for healthy meals, movement, and self-care. I will also say that the pandemic has shown the need to expand my practice to include stress-management and self-care topics when working with clients. Stress can have a significant impact on our ability to manage our weight and our overall wellbeing, so I have found it essential to emphasize the need to consider these aspects of their health.
Sarah: Having mental health providers as part of our Employee Wellness team has changed my practice for the better. They have expanded the scope of my practice to view nutrition through another lens—what other aspects of our lives help or hinder behavior change? Exposure to mental health has made me feel comfortable including it as part of my practice.
Q: How do you balance work, family, and wellness?
Kim: I have to admit that I am a work in progress. There are weeks where I can practice what I preach and prep meals in advance, meet all my work obligations, and make time for movement and self-care. Then there are other weeks where I am struggling, just like my clients. I have had to learn to give myself grace and appreciate that I always have room for improvement. I find myself advising my clients to extend themselves grace as well.
Sarah: I try to abide by the same advice I give to my participants. However, I go through phases of losing focus on healthy habits, and that is normal. Keep working towards returning to healthy habits because even incremental changes can still improve health! Drink water, find ways to include more movement into your day, eat more vegetables and fiber, or connect with a coworker over the phone.
Q: March is National Nutrition Month and this year the theme is “Celebrate a World of Flavors.” How do Memorial Hermann dietitians incorporate different cultures and food preferences for our diverse population?
Kim: Our employee population, like our city, is very diverse. When meeting with clients from backgrounds other than my own, I recognize the importance of taking time to learn about their food culture and then conduct research on my own. Adapting and individualizing our health coaching sessions for each client is essential in helping them achieve their health goals.
Sarah: A person’s culture plays such an important role in approaching lasting behavior changes. I take my time getting to know each person I work with, asking questions about their days at work and at home. Honoring an individual’s traditions and background means that instead of giving someone a one-size-fits-all approach, we work together to navigate and learn how to apply patterns of healthy habits in a way that works for that person.