Healthy Living in the North

Northern Table: Gardening at Gateway

A short sunflower in a wood raised garden.

This sunflower adds a pop of colour to the garden’s greens.

This summer, my two-year-old son excitedly watched the raspberry bush in our backyard grow as he waited for the berries to turn red. When he tasted our first raspberry, his eyes widened, he jumped up and down, and couldn’t wait to have another! Watching him, I felt a sense of satisfaction, pride, and joy because he’s getting to experience growing and harvesting his own food right in his backyard. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? The feeling of picking that first berry of the season and enjoying its sweet and tangy taste?

Now, imagine losing that feeling – not being able to take the fresh raspberries from the bush you’ve harvested for years, not being able to enjoy the crisp texture of a freshly picked carrot, or not feeling the satisfaction and joy of growing food for your family.

A hydroponics tower is located in a corner. It has several young plants growing in it.

The hydroponics tower turns “growing season” into a year-round event.

Many residents living in long-term care don’t get to experience these feelings anymore, and may not be able to participate in activities they used to love and found meaning in, like gardening. Backyard gardening or living on a rural agricultural property in Northern BC, and the experience of gardening and growing food for sustenance and pleasure, is a meaningful activity that some people greatly miss. Losing this connection to nature can affect their mental wellbeing. As a dietitian who loves the connection to food, this breaks my heart. At Gateway Lodge (Gateway) in Prince George, we’re helping create an environment where residents can experience growing, preparing, and eating homegrown fruit and vegetables again.

A team of people from the University of Northern BC (UNBC), BC Cancer, and Northern Health received a seed grant to grow vegetables and other edible produce in raised garden beds and a hydroponics tower at Gateway. With the help of residents, our team co-designed a gardening program that includes a shared gardening space between staff and residents, gardening time, and meaningful food and nutrition activities that support the nutritional and mental wellness of residents.

A hand holds a styrofoam cup filled with green smoothie.

A green smoothie, made from veggies from Gateway’s garden and sweetened with store-bought fruit, was a favourite of residents!

One activity that residents loved was making green smoothies from our harvest. We created delicious smoothies with greens from our gardens and added store-bought fruit to sweeten them up and make a vibrant, refreshing green drink.

Residents’ favourite recipe was a combination of greens (kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach), banana, pineapple, vanilla almond milk, and ground flax seed – yum!

I’m thrilled with the opportunity to engage residents in meaningful and nourishing activities through gardening, and we hope to build on the success of 2019 for our next growing year!

Erin Branco

About Erin Branco

Erin is a dietitian who works with residents in long term care homes in Prince George. She is passionate about supporting residents’ quality of life as well as fostering their reconnection to food. In her spare time, you can find her with her family and friends, enjoying a meal, playing in the garden, camping or supporting clients in her private practice. She loves being a part of making positive change in healthcare, and is an advocate for providing best practice nutrition support to our northern communities.

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Northern Table: Plant-based sources of iron

A hand holds a plate of Moroccan lentils on rice and broccoli.

Many health organizations are suggesting that you should eat more plant-based proteins, like this dish of Moroccan Lentils, brown rice, and broccoli.

Do you pay attention to how much iron you consume? Most people don’t, but many health organizations are urging people to choose plant-based proteins more often, and this could mean taking a closer look at where your iron comes from.

Iron is a very important mineral that carries oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of iron deficiency can include fatigue, a weakened immune system, and difficulty regulating body temperature.

There are two types of iron:

  • Heme iron, which is found in animal products like meat and seafood.
  • Non-heme iron, which is from plants.

Non-heme iron doesn’t get absorbed as well, so people who eat a vegetarian or vegan diets need to consume almost twice the recommended amount of iron as people who eat meat. Also, women need more than twice the amount of iron than men, and pregnant women need even more!

The best way to make sure you’re getting enough iron is to include a good source of iron at each meal and snack. Other than the small amount of iron in a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin, it’s important not to take an iron supplement unless you’ve received a diagnosis of iron deficiency and have spoken to your doctor.

You can find iron in a variety of plant foods. Some of the staples in my diet include:

  • Dried apricots, tomato paste, and greens (for instance: spinach, kale, and beet greens)
  • Oatmeal, bran, and iron-fortified cereal
  • Edamame, tofu, lentils, beans, chickpeas, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and tahini
  • Blackstrap molasses

If you’re trying to increase your iron intake, it’s important to squeeze in extra iron wherever you can:

  • Sprinkle savoury dishes with sesame seeds.
  • Use peanut butter and tahini to create a sauce or dressing.
  • Use blackstrap molasses in place of some of the maple syrup or honey in baking.
  • Include a variety of fruits and vegetables with each meal.
  • Use onions and garlic frequently in your cooking. Onions and garlic can increase absorption of iron.
  • Vitamin C also increases the absorption of iron.

There are many factors (other than intake of dietary iron) that can affect your iron levels. If you have questions about how much iron you should be consuming or if you think you might be iron deficient, speak with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian.

Sarah Anstey

About Sarah Anstey

Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sarah moved to Prince George in 2013 to pursue her career as a Registered Dietitian. Since then, she has enjoyed developing her skills as a Clinical Dietitian with Northern Health, doing her part to help the people of northern B.C. live healthy and happy lives. Sarah looks at her move to Prince George as an opportunity to travel and explore a part of Canada that is new to her, taking in all that B.C. has to offer.

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Northern Table: Getting my feet wet in the kitchen

This article first appeared in the Summer 2019 Northern Health: Health and Wellness in the North magazine.

A table, full of Vietnamese dishes.

Lan’s Mom’s cooking — complex and with many different ingredients.

What would you do if you were shooed out of the kitchen?

You might stay out.

Growing up, my place in the house was anywhere but the kitchen. I always seemed to be in the way or, as my mother put it, “doing things too slowly.”

My mom worked full time, but still managed the household and whipped up delicious meals in a jiffy.

My early childhood was spent in Vietnam, and food is an important part of my life; family meals and gatherings define the Vietnamese culture.

Vietnam is a tropical country with an abundance of vibrant, fresh produce that’s available year-round. One of my fondest memories is going to the outdoor markets every morning with my grandmother to pick out food for the day (in Vietnam, daily shopping is popular because it guarantees freshness and minimizes waste).

When we moved to Canada, daily shopping was no longer possible, as time was limited. As well, many of the foods and spices we ate in Vietnam weren’t available.

What did my mother do? She created her own mouth-watering dishes from the ingredients that were available. She called them “Vietnamese-inspired.”

Every time I asked her how she made a dish, she’d shrug and tell me she just threw it together. I assumed cooking came naturally to her, and that I’d never be a cook.

Fast forward to university: I was living away from home and missed Vietnamese food. Not having much experience, I was intimidated by the thought of cooking. I was overwhelmed by the steps and techniques, and by having to familiarize myself with an endless list of spices and seasonings that I couldn’t even pronounce.

However, I learned that if you want it badly enough, almost anything is possible.

It took some time for me to be more comfortable in the kitchen. I started out by stocking my little kitchen with salt, pepper, and fish sauce — the Holy Grail sauce of Vietnamese cooking.

A plate of cucumbers, a omelette dish, and a glass of water are pictured.

Lan’s simpler style of Vietnamese cooking.

Slowly but surely, my time in the kitchen yielded semi-edible foods and a growing confidence. Meals from my kitchen were simple: steamed rice, boiled veggies, and steamed chicken with fish sauce.

In the beginning, I often phoned my mom for help, which, as a by-product, also helped deepen our relationship.

Through many “learning opportunities,” I’m now at a point where I can navigate the kitchen without setting off the smoke detector!

Although my cooking is simple, I enjoy it. I’m still learning and excited to grow through this process.

My goal is to be able to re-create some authentic Vietnamese dishes, because food is such an important part of my identity, and I want to preserve that.

My tips for budding cooks:

  • Start simple – try a recipe with less than seven ingredients.
  • Stock your kitchen with basic ingredients. For me, that included rice, veggies, a few key spices, and fish sauce. It might be different for you.
  • Recognize that things might not turn out the way you’d hoped. One way to get around this is to use recipes from trusted sources. And if you fail, just try again!
  • Ask for help – call your relatives or friends.
  • Make cooking social – cook with friends or family.

Becoming a confident and competent cook doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t be too harsh on yourself — you can always try again tomorrow. I know it sounds cheesy, but if I can do it, I really believe that you can too!

Lan Nguyen

About Lan Nguyen

Lan is a dietetic intern at the University of British Columbia who just completed a 10-month internship with Northern Health. She enjoys learning about food and what it means to others. Lan hopes a career in dietetics will allow her to support people to achieve their best health in a culturally respectful manner.

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Northern Table: Eating well when living alone

Amelia eating alone, takes a bite of food.

Canada’s Food Guide says to “Eat Meals with Others.” What about those who live, and eat, solo?

The newest edition of Canada’s Food Guide focuses on the “hows” of eating just as much as the “whats.” One of the recommendations is to eat meals with others – but what does that mean for those of us who live, and eat, solo?

Eating together is best for our health

Food is one of life’s great pleasures. When we share a meal with others, we share our joy, companionship, heritage, and life experiences. People typically eat more vegetables and fruit when eating with others, and the social connections that we create around food are so special (I personally love the message behind this video). There are good reasons that the Food Guide suggests this practice; however, many people experience loneliness and do not always have that privilege. It can be hard to be motivated to cook interesting, healthy, and enjoyable meals for one person – especially when you know you’re doing all the clean up as well!

The effects of loneliness

Loneliness can exist for people in many different ways. For instance, some people live in one-person households, while others live with family or friends, but have challenging work schedules. Feeling lonely, no matter the circumstances, can impact your ability to engage in health-supportive practices and can affect overall health. Some studies suggest that loneliness is more damaging to our health than other risky behaviors, such as smoking.

Staying connected when living alone

I live in a single-person household and am faced with loneliness at times. From keeping on top of household chores to taking time to prepare and eat healthy meals, loneliness can make day-to-day tasks more challenging. I’ve learned that living and eating alone doesn’t have to be all leftover leftovers, microwave meals, take-out, and eating over the sink. What has worked for me is finding ways to simply and quickly feed my “family of one” meals that are nutritious and enjoyable, and to plan to share food with others when possible.

Strategies I use for eating well when living alone

  • I batch cook, but keep meals simple so I can switch things up. Over the weekend, I batch cook simple proteins and whole grains that can be served in different ways throughout the week by changing up the spices, sauces, and presentation. Using frozen fruits and vegetables helps cut down on prep and cooking time, and allows for variety throughout the week. Batch cooking also helps me reduce cleanup time – a real bonus in my books!
  • I keep in mind “quickie” meals that I can make in a hurry. These fast meals more or less follow the “healthy plate” in Canada’s Food Guide, and can save time and money versus ordering in or relying on highly-processed convenience foods. Staples for me are:
    • Breakfast for dinner.
    • A taco salad of canned black beans and corn with other veggies and Tex-Mex spices.
    • A sandwich, piled high with my favourite ingredients like chicken, spinach, avocado, and sliced apples.
  • I plan to eat with others when I can. My friends and I get together a few times a month to share meals. It could be potluck-style or one person can host everyone, or we may choose to gather around a table of take-out pizza or sushi. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but we all enjoy it! For me, eating with others also means carving out the time in my work day to eat meals with coworkers in the lunchroom, and occasionally planning potluck lunches or other special meals at work.
  • I set up the right environment for myself. When I’m eating alone at home, I find that I’m better able to enjoy my meal and eat mindfully (two other Canada’s Food Guide recommendations) when I’m at my dining room table and I’m listening to an audiobook or a podcast. Watching television can be too distracting, and eating in silence feels isolating to me. When the weather is nice, I might take my meal to eat outside.

Putting it all together

Canada’s Food Guide offers tips on how you can eat together with others more often. It even gives special considerations for families and seniors. We all experience variations in our eating habits. These day-to-day variations cause normal fluctuations in the amounts and types of foods that we choose and eat. The healthy eating habits, such as eating together, that we practise can also change from day to day.

We all experience “normal eating” a little differently. Your “normal” might be eating most meals alone or practising self-care by preparing nutritious foods you enjoy. If that’s the case, consider including others at your table. It could bring valuable benefits to your health!

Want to learn more about the Canada’s Food Guide? Here’s what Northern Health’s dietitians are saying about it.

Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

Amelia is a Primary Care Dietitian living and working in Fort St. John. Born and raised near St. John's, Newfoundland, she made her cross-country journey to northern BC in 2017 and is delighted to see comforts of home in the kindness of the people she meets and their love of the outdoors - even in the long and snowy winters. Forever a foodie, Amelia's the one at your dinner table trying to snap the perfect picture, or trying to replicate the latest food trends in her kitchen. As a dietitian, she hopes to simplify the mixed nutrition messaging and help people re-learn to enjoy their eating experience while supporting their healthy living goals.

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Mindful eating: 4 practical strategies you can do at work

A person holds a white plate of food. On the left of the plate is pasta noodles with spinach, on the right is a chicken breast covered in chunks of tomato.

Mindful eating focuses on paying attention to the eating experience.

Do you eat lunch at your desk? Eat until you are uncomfortably full? Inhale your meals?

If this sounds like you, keep reading — this blog post is all about how to incorporate mindful eating into your work day!

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating focuses on paying attention to the eating experience. The focus is more on how to eat, and less on what to eat. In practising mindful eating, the goal is to be present, use all of the senses (seeing, tasting, hearing, smelling, and feeling) without judgment, and to notice the emotional and physical responses that take place before, during, and after eating.

Why is mindful eating important?

Becoming more mindful while eating can bring awareness to your own unique habits, thoughts, and feelings around food. I know I fall victim to eating at my desk and working through lunch to try to “catch up” with a never-ending to-do list, or parking myself on the couch to watch Netflix and eat a bowl full of snacks. I know I’m not the only one!

Eating in these moments becomes mindless, not enjoyable, and provides a sense that eating is not important. But, eating is important! Not only does it nourish our bodies with the vital nutrients we need to survive, it provides us with enjoyment and an opportunity to appreciate food and regain food freedom.

Making time to eat helps productivity

Making time to just eat instead of also working during your breaks can help you be more productive at work. Taking a break and focusing on something else while you eat nourishing food can help you recharge your brain, reduce stress, and get you ready for the next item on your daily to-do list.

How to eat mindfully at work

Practising mindful eating at work can be challenging, but the routine of our job provides an opportunity to incorporate mindful eating as part of your own daily routine. Here are four strategies that you can do to practise mindful eating in the workplace:

  1. Be present – Put your phone down and step away from your computer. Most things can wait 15-30 minutes while you eat your snacks or lunch. Your breaks are built into your day, so use them to recharge! Eat with friends or find a quiet place to enjoy your own company while focusing on your eating.
  2. Listen to your hunger and fullness cues – Once you get to work, pay attention to when you start to feel hungry. If your breaks are flexible, try eating when you are truly hungry. Then try to eat until you’re satisfied, but not stuffed. Do you have food left over? Are you still hungry and looking for more to eat? Adjust what you bring in your lunch box tomorrow to meet your hunger needs.
  3. Eat slowly – Give your body time to recognize that you’re feeding it. This can take up to 20 minutes — whoa! Taking your time can help you eat until you’re satisfied, instead of hungry or uncomfortably full. Try eating your lunch slowly by chewing thoroughly and noticing how the food is making you feel.
  4. Engage your senses – For the first five bites of your meal, notice how the food tastes, feels in your mouth, smells, sounds, and looks. What do you think? Are you enjoying what you’re eating? You may be surprised with your thoughts!

Take action!

Pick one strategy from above that resonates with you. Write it down on a piece of paper, your note app, or set it as a daily reminder on your phone or in your Outlook or Google calendar.

Every day for the next week practice this one strategy. Remember, mindful eating is a practice, and it may be something that is completely different than your norm. Don’t fret! If you lose track, or get distracted, acknowledge it and then try again. It will get easier!

Have you tried these strategies and are looking to build a better relationship with food? Talk to a dietitian who can help you with your individual needs!

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Erin Branco

About Erin Branco

Erin is a dietitian who works with residents in long term care homes in Prince George. She is passionate about supporting residents’ quality of life as well as fostering their reconnection to food. In her spare time, you can find her with her family and friends, enjoying a meal, playing in the garden, camping or supporting clients in her private practice. She loves being a part of making positive change in healthcare, and is an advocate for providing best practice nutrition support to our northern communities.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Robyn Turner

Robyn Turner skating on a frozen lake.I’ve recently noticed that many of the conversations I’ve had with multiple Northern Health staff have uncovered a common theme! These staff members were anticipating coming to the North for a short amount of time, but have stayed for a lot longer. I’m capturing some of these stories in a new series! See our first story, on Andrea Starck, here!

Robyn Turner, a Dietitian for Vanderhoof, Fort St James and Fraser Lake, is another person who never intended to stay in the North, but now calls it home! Robyn is from Victoria, BC and started at Northern Health in February 2016.

What brought you to Vanderhoof?

I was a newly graduated dietitian living in Victoria and there weren’t many opportunities for full time jobs. I started looking at available positions in other towns. I wasn’t actively looking for positions in the North, but I noticed the posting for a temporary dietitian for Vanderhoof, Fort St. James, and Fraser Lake. On a whim, I decided to apply for it.

Why have you stayed?

I have really appreciated the small team environment at work; everyone is friendly and welcoming. Team members are on a first name basis which makes working together easier. I also have a lot more opportunities here than I would elsewhere. The team appreciates my work and people are willing to help me when I ask.

Living in Vanderhoof, I have tried a lot of different activities that I never thought I would: I have learned how to snowmobile, attended a quilting retreat, and even walked in a local fashion show. There is a strong sense of community and a commitment to the citizens, which I really appreciate.

My position is now permanent and I don’t have any plans to leave. I enjoy it so much that I have even started trying to recruit my friends to come here as well!

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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Following up with past Community Health Star Seamus Damstrom

Seamus and his parents posing at graduation.

Seamus with his parents, Scott and Jenny, at his graduation from the College of the Rockies.

Four years ago, Seamus Damstrom was a grade 12 student in Terrace, with a passion for healthy eating and creating healthy change among his classmates. We were so impressed with the food revolution he brought to his school that we recognized him as a Community Health Star, and although several years have gone by, I’m happy to report that his interest in nutrition hasn’t wavered, but has only grown stronger.

I recently reconnected with Seamus to learn more about what he’s up to and hear about his plans to become a registered dietitian – and have found out he’s still an amazing health advocate, living up to his Community Health Star status!

You were recognized as a Community Health Star in December 2014 – what did that mean to you?

When I was recognized as a Community Health Star, I was very shocked, as I had never been recognized for a project that I had done. After the initial shock of the recognition I was truly honoured and humbled to have my story shared and I hoped that it could inspire other youth to find creative solutions to local issues. I look back at this recognition as a motivating factor that provided me with more evidence that a career in food and nutrition is the right thing for me to pursue. I think the whole process of being on the Healthy Living Youth Council of BC, to developing and conducting a project was extremely important for my personal and professional development.

Seamus at a long dinner table.

Seamus at the Farm to Fork Dinner, a fundraiser for the Cranbrook Food Action Committee, for which he worked with for the last three summers.

What have you been up to since graduating high school?

Shortly after graduation, I decided to take two years of prerequisite courses at College of the Rockies in Cranbrook. Life always has a funny way of changing your course and that happened to me as I actually ended up staying there for three years. At the time I was frustrated as I wanted to get to UBC to get underway with my Dietetics program but now I wouldn’t change a thing. I graduated from College of the Rockies last April with a certificate in Arts and Science and now I am currently attending UBC in the Bachelor of Science in Food, Nutrition and Health program.

One awesome thing about being in Cranbrook for three years was the connections and opportunities I found. Over the last three summers, I‘ve had the honour of working at a local public produce garden conducting various work groups, student classes, and other food literacy activities, as well as distributing and organizing our local BC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program for both Cranbrook and Kimberley Farmers’ Markets.

For the last three years, I also volunteered with the Canadian Mental Health Association Senior Assisted Shopping Program, a program that pairs volunteers with senior citizens in the community to help them grocery shop and carry their groceries in every week. These experiences helped me get involved in the community when I first moved there – and it was fun listening to each senior’s unique story!

I also have had the pleasure of being on the College of the Rockies Board of Governors and Education Council, and two years ago I was nominated by Canadian Mental Health as a local Game Changer in the categories of Health and Wellness and Youth for my work in the community. I love to stay busy and try to give back to my community in any way I can.

How has your passion for food and health developed or evolved since high school?

With all the opportunities I have had the pleasure to participate in, my passion for food and health has grown even larger. One thing I love about food is how it can tell one’s story in it. When I was at the College working as an International Activities Assistant, we would do an event every two weeks called “International Cooking,” where we got groups of students to cook and serve a traditional cultural dish. This activity brought students together and, in my opinion, created a stronger community at the College.

I have really developed a keen interest in food policy and its importance in providing the framework for positive change in our food system. Furthermore, I am very passionate about food and nutrition education especially with youth and children as you can really leave an impression on them when it comes to food. By creating a positive environment to learn about, taste, and share food, youth can be inspired to further explore food and this excites me. We can never forget how important educating youth is especially when it comes to food and health.

A really cool opportunity I am involved in now is as a Nutrikids Ambassador. Nutrikids is a club at UBC that focuses on improving food literacy in elementary and primary school students in Vancouver. I am the leader for my pod and we conduct nutrition/food workshops for a kindergarten/grade 1 class. To date, we have done four 80 minute workshops to a class of 30 students with each workshop focusing on a specific food (e.g. beet, corn, dragonfruit, and apple). These workshops focus on developing the kids’ food identification skills, ways to describe food through their senses. The workshops are filled with fun hands-on activities for the kids to use their senses and explore the ‘food of the day’ further. It’s been a blast and I have really found my love for teaching in this position!

I understand you are still interested in becoming a dietitian – tell me about your plans.

I am finally at UBC to continue my education and career goal of becoming a Registered Dietitian. I am applying for the Dietetics Major this January with an intended fall intake into the program if my application is successful. After that, I would have two years of course work at UBC and a 36-week Practice Education at a registered health authority in BC. I would prefer to conduct my Practice Education in a rural community like the communities Northern Health and Interior Health support. I want to be able to use my knowledge to not only help improve our healthcare system but to improve the lives of those who are marginalized through food!

Do you know someone who is helping to improve the health of their community? Nominate them as a Community Health Star today!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of digital communications and public engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She manages NH's content channels, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots, or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)

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In focus: Robyn Turner, Clinical Dietitian, Vanderhoof

Robyn Turner standing on a hill above a valley and river.Robyn Turner never thought she would have the career she’s had working as a clinical dietitian in Vanderhoof. Learn what it’s like to work in a rural Northern BC community and what kind of work she’s most passionate about.

Tell me about your career as a dietitian.

I never really anticipated coming to the North, let alone a rural community. My career turned out different than what I first had in mind. Nonetheless, it’s been very exciting!

By taking the opportunity to come North, I’ve been able to be myself as a dietitian and get my feet wet in a lot of areas – including working with individuals admitted to hospital through one-on-one nutrition counselling, and those living in complex care.

I’ve been able to use creativity and initiative to improve nutrition in my area, and because it’s not as congested here in Vanderhoof, I can do more things than I could in a bigger centre. When I was just starting as a dietitian, I thought I would be working casual for a few years, filling temporary roles, and then naturally work in a specific area. That’s definitely not the case with my work now, which I enjoy. I like being able to do a little bit of everything.

What’s your take on what dietitians do?

A dietitian supports individuals where they’re at in reaching their health goals. Doesn’t matter if they’re told to go see a dietitian or are self-motivated to change something about their health. Wherever they’re at, a dietitian is there to help support them and achieve their goals to improve their overall health.

Could you describe a day in your life as a dietitian?

There is no “regular” day. Generally my day starts with rounds, or I might go to another community. In a day I may see someone for a diabetes consultation, or modify a tube feed or do a swallow assessment. Sometimes I see children who are having challenges with eating or chronic constipation. My day always varies!

I pull a lot of areas of nutrition together when I’m working. I never know if I’m going to be doing acute care, or focusing on quality and enjoyment of life in complex care, or advocating for someone. I have to be ready to use all my nutrition knowledge. Sometimes I’m pulled into community practice meetings, quality improvement initiative meetings with the hospital kitchen staff, or community projects with schools or local First Nations.

For example, I was working on a family food skills project at the Men’s Shed in Vanderhoof. The Shed is a space for men in the community with a kitchen and a place to hang out. I was part of a food skills program there for men who were living alone for the first time or had partners with a change in health. These men were all of a sudden having to cook for themselves for the first time and didn’t know where to start. If people don’t have food skills, it’s something they need to build. Building those food skills is something I’m really passionate about.

Basically in my job you never know what hat you’re going to be wearing – it could be a counselor or advocate hat or a clinical dietitian hat. It’s always different, which keeps it exciting.

What’s one thing someone might not know about your role?

People often don’t realize that advocacy is a big part of my job. I’m not always seeing individuals one-on-one. I spend a lot of time helping people understand nutrition issues. My role involves a lot of nutrition awareness and advocacy. There’s a lot of collaboration and quality improvement involved in the different health improvement projects I’m a part of. If there’s a primary care community project focused on health and I don’t go – that’s a big part of health that’s not present. I represent nutrition and health and can provide education to other people on my health care team.

What part of your role is the most rewarding?

When you have those moments of success – those clients who are dedicated to change, who come to all their appointments with you, and take your recommendations and apply them to their life and see positive results in their health – that’s rewarding. It might take six months or a year for them to see those results. When you have clients who can get off medications or see their numbers come down – that’s when you know the stuff you’re saying and the recommendations you’re giving are working.

It’s nice too, when there are people in the community that show appreciation for my work, especially in a small town. I’ve had people recognize and draw on the importance of my role. There’s also a lot of doctors I work with who are appreciative and will advocate for me. When I came to the North I didn’t expect to have as much interaction with doctors as I do. They’re present and invested and actually want to hear my opinion. Overall, it’s been great being in Vanderhoof. Three years later and I’m excited to see where else I can go in this job!

 

How to see a registered dietitian

Do you think you, your patients, or someone you know could benefit from talking to a dietitian?

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health – you might need a referral. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to talk to a dietitian.

 

Nutrition Month Eating Together contest

During Nutrition Month throughout March, we want to see how you eat together! Organize a date to eat together, show us, and be entered to win an Instant Pot! This could mean grabbing a coffee and scone with a colleague, organizing a lunch date with a friend, having a potluck with family – whatever this means to you! Set a date, eat together, and show us to win! See our Eating Together contest page for complete details.

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Adulting 101: How to eat properly

A selection of snacks and handouts from the dietitian.
Speaking to a dietitian made me re-think the way I snack. Combinations of protein and carbohydrates help me stay full and focused between meals. These are some of my favorite snacks for at work or on the go.

Most adults will agree: sometimes “adulting” is hard. Day-to-day tasks like walking, running, and eating can be hard to do! During the summer, I was feeling tired all the time which wasn’t the norm for me. Worried something was going on, I went to see my doctor. She recommended I see a registered dietitian (RD). Surprised and a little bit embarrassed, I wondered, was it that simple? Had I failed the most basic of tasks — feeding myself properly?

Learning how to eat — again

So off I went to see a dietitian for the first time. I had no idea what to expect but I figured that it couldn’t hurt. I knew that speaking to a dietitian is free (thanks Canadian health care!) and that they are highly educated on all things nutrition.

My appointment day arrived and I found myself fidgeting in the waiting room. My dietitian came out to greet me and as soon as I walked into her office, all my nerves disappeared. She was warm and non-judgmental and made me feel like she was really listening to my concerns. This helped ease my discomfort. It felt strange to discuss my eating habits and patterns to a total stranger. I’d never realized how personal my eating choices felt.

My experience seeing a registered dietitian

To start, we went through an extensive list of questions, some slightly mortifying. She asked about bodily functions, including the process of food exiting one’s body. I cringed but answered as best I could. She made talking about poop seem like the most normal thing in the world. I laughed later just thinking about it.  

She took a moment to analyze my answers jotting down a few notes here and there. Next she asked what a typical day of eating looked like for me. For the rest of my visit, we discussed some of my eating challenges and some ways to overcome them.

Haylee holding her bike above her head.
Thanks to my dietitian’s advice, I’ve learned that fueling my body properly helps me perform my best – both at work and during activities I love – like cycling!

What I learned

The biggest take away for me was that I wasn’t eating frequently enough. I was letting my body go into starvation mode between meals. I also learned I wasn’t eating the right things to feel full. We talked about protein and carbohydrate balanced snacks and meals. These suggestions seemed obvious but clearly I wasn’t identifying them myself. Having an outsider’s perspective helped me understand my eating patterns better. Plus, my dietitian gave me advice that was tailored to my needs. For these reasons, I found the visit very helpful!

Here are my five reasons why you should consider seeing a registered dietitian:

  1. Seeing a registered dietitian gives you free, evidenced-based advice on nutrition. In the era of information overload, I feel like I’m constantly bombarded on social media with harmful diet culture messages. It’s hard to know who to trust! A dietitian can help set the record straight with evidence-based nutrition advice.
  2. Registered dietitians are highly educated and regulated. The RD designation is protected and regulated in Canada. In BC, they’re regulated under the BC College of Dietitians. For this reason, you shouldn’t trust just anybody on nutrition advice. RD requirements include the following: completing a four year undergraduate degree, doing an approved internship, and successfully writing a registration exam. Plus each year, RDs must complete continuing education that is recorded and submitted to the College of dietitians. Talk about thorough!
  3. Registered dietitians personalize solutions for you. Doctors are amazing champions when it comes to your health but the reality is they’re limited in how much time they can spend with you one-on-one. An RD can spend much more time with you than your family doctor can in a ten minute visit. This means they can look into your case more thoroughly and offer solutions that are personalized to you and your health needs. I’m thankful my doctor recognized this and referred me.
  4. Registered dietitians look at nutrition holistically. One thing that surprised me during my RD visit was the scope of questions. We talked about things I didn’t expect to talk about ­– like my physical activity and bodily functions. I didn’t realize it, but all these things are connected. She never said “thou shall eat this and not eat that,” but instead helped me identify foods I enjoyed and how to enjoy more of them in a way that meets my needs.
  5. Registered dietitians can give you great resources. Another helpful thing I took away from my visit was some great handouts on snacking and fueling before and after exercise. RDs are trained to look at the latest research with a critical eye. In other words, they can help you find good sources of information for your nutrition needs.

How to see a registered dietitian

Do you think you or your patients could benefit from talking to an RD?

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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The 1970s world of Dietetics: reflections of then and now

They say a picture says a thousand words but they can also offer a peek into another world. In this case: the 1970s world of Dietetics.

When I first saw the picture, a handful of questions came to mind. What were the uniforms for? Why did the women in the photo look so triumphant? I spoke with the owner of the photo, Linda McMynn, a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health, to find out.

Dietetic graduating class photo.

The 1970 Vancouver General Hospital Graduating class of Dietetic Interns. Linda McMynn stands in the back row, second from the right.

Tell me a little bit about this photo.

This is the 1970 Vancouver General Hospital graduating class of Dietetic Interns. Our undergrad caps had a pink stripe (all white when we graduated) and were folded a specific way that was supposed to identify us as dietitians and not nurses.

We were the first class allowed to wear poly/cotton uniforms but they HAD to be at least 3/4 length “to indicate dietitians are not cooks or dishwashers.” The instructors (in the middle) wore the standard cotton starched uniforms at all times.

We, as a class, were tired of being mistaken for nurses so we rebelled and submitted a written request at a meeting to wear lab coats over street clothes (unheard of and the instructors were shocked, I think, and didn’t know what to do with us). Anyhow, within the next few years, the interns were allowed to wear the lab coats or the uniforms and the caps were gone.

What was required to be a dietitian back then?

You had to have your Bachelor of Science in Nutrition (you still need this today). There were two streams back then: the dietetic program and the teaching program. Quite a few of the interns went on to become Home Economic teachers. You had to do three years of chemistry and an internship. Dietetic internships are still done today. Back then, they used to be done through the hospitals. I was always planning on becoming a nurse. After the first year I decided to transfer into the Dietetic program.

What was interning like?

We got paid a small amount for doing the internship but most of our time was spent doing full shifts in the various areas working under the direction of a Registered Dietitian (RD), except every other weekend when we had to work on our own, taking responsibility for the unit.

Wednesdays were classroom days when we had lectures, homework to do, and regular exams. We graduated pretty knowledgeable about therapeutic diets, including diets for most of the metabolic diseases that were known at the time.

Tell me about your career as a dietitian

My first job was at St. Paul’s Hospital. Eventually I moved up to Terrace where I was the first dietitian. My closest dietitian colleague was in Prince George. In those days, we couldn’t use long distance phone calls. It was isolating at times but the benefit of being in a small community, and having to do everything, is that you become a generalist. I learned a lot and discovered I liked administrative and operational work. Being in Terrace worked out well for me. In 2014, I officially retired. Now I report on and work on various projects. In 2015 and 2016, I went to Fort St. John to spend time there to help. There were a lot of interesting projects and I worked on from home.

Lady sitting in chair.

In 2014, Linda (pictured here) officially “retired”. She now reports on and works on various projects.

How has the profession changed?

Back then there was a hierarchy, whereas now, it’s interdisciplinary and you work as part of a team. It was a very different world, very rigid. We would take orders from nurses or doctors and didn’t really ever get to prescribe a diet. Now doctors and nurses will leave it up to dietitians to prescribe diets which is pretty exciting. It’s taken a lot of years to get here. Working together now, we’ve made huge strides.

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends.
(NH Blog Admin)

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