This month, in celebration of National Nutrition Month and Registered Dietitian Day (on March 9), JF&CS registered dietitians, Alison Books and Kristen Pufahl, share their stories about why they chose the nutrition profession.
Standing next to my mom in the kitchen with pancake batter in my hair and all over my face, mashing overripe bananas to make banana bread, and watching her sweet and sour meatballs simmer are some of my first and most cherished food memories.
Once in middle school with some freedom, as typical teenagers do, my friends and I would finish bags of tortilla chips and Cheez-Its in one sitting without thinking twice. I started to think twice, however, when my 13-year-old “growth spurt” only shot me up to a meager 5’1 ½ (a height I remain today), and I gained enough weight to care about it in what seemed overnight. I was a soccer player and what I thought of as very active so I couldn’t figure out why I had gained this weight. In high school phys. ed. class, we were introduced to nutrition. Even though this class was coupled with the mortifying experience of my teacher calling me an endomorph in front of the entire class, meaning “big boned” (you can imagine what that did to a 15-year-old’s self esteem), I learned A LOT and changed some habits.
At the time, I didn’t know you could major in nutrition in college, but I did well in chemistry and physiology and enjoyed psychology. Little did I know this is the exact combination of disciplines that nutrition is made of: it’s the chemistry of food in the body with a human element thrown in. Once I learned it could be my profession, I never looked back. Now, I feel grateful to be able to help others find their own way with food.
Alison Books is the director of JF&CS Hunger & Nutrition. As a licensed, registered dietitian helping the community, she has a particular passion for making the choice to eat healthy foods easier for all.
As a product of an Italian family, “I love food” is written in my DNA. Many of my great childhood memories revolve around food: making homemade pizza with my grandparents, eating seven-course fish feasts on Christmas Eve, watching my grandfather make his amazing “gravy” (marinara sauce), racing lobsters on the deck before cooking them, whipped cream eating contests on the 4th of July, strawberry picking, and eating corn fresh from the farm.
Even though there was always a plethora of desserts at every family gathering - as my grandmother puts it “sweets are for the soul” – I was exposed to a variety of healthy foods at a very young age. I was a voracious vegetable eater, and loved foods like escarole and broccoli rabe that most of my peers had never even heard of, much less tried. We cooked with olive oil instead of butter, ate whole grains long before they became the norm, and steered away from fast food drive-thrus.
The summer I turned 14 I became a vegetarian and for the first time began reading about the connection between food and health. I started to notice that I was a much healthier eater than most of my friends, and developed a great interest in the health properties of foods. During high school, I developed a personal interest in nutrition, and thought it would be a nice complement to my planned career in medicine. But after spending my nights and weekends in the library as a biology major during my freshman year of college, I realized that medicine was not the career path for me and nutrition was not an option offered at my university. I graduated with a degree in business and spent a couple of years working for a top consulting firm before deciding I wanted a career about which I was truly passionate. I realized that helping others create optimal health through food was something that could make me feel fulfilled.
Kristen Pufahl is a licensed, registered dietitian working in the JF&CS Nutrition Services program. In addition to her work counseling clients, training staff, and running groups, she chairs the Healthy JF&CS committee. She received her BS in business administration from Georgetown University and her MS in nutrition from Boston University.