Once you get Registered Dietician Liz Westinghouse talking about food and nutrition, her passion becomes clear. Westinghouse has lived in Saugerties since she was six and attended Russell Sage College in Troy where she earned a degree in nutrition science. She currently works in both Poughkeepsie and Hudson for North American Partners in Anesthesia, where she runs wellness programs for different local populations. Also the dietician for Cerebral Palsy of Ulster County, she lives in Saugerties with her husband and daughter.
How did you get into this line of work?
I started in nursing school at SUNY Ulster right out of high school. I realized right away that it wasn’t for me. I withdrew very quickly but still desperately wanted to be in healthcare. I started looking at other healthcare avenues and discovered nutrition. I fell in love with it. I grew up in a family where healthy eating was important, I just never realized I could make it my career.
What exactly does a dietician do?
There is an incredible amount of facets of what you can do. They don’t just give a simple suggestion of buying garcinia cambogia and drinking lots of water. Many work in the hospital as a clinical dietician. They visit patients that might need a nutritional assessment because maybe they are higher risk or they can’t eat through the mouth or they have a wound. Some dieticians work in nursing homes, which is nice because you get to know your patients and can establish relationships. It’s also harder because there are a lot of state regulations and nursing homes are generally understaffed. However, if you want to make money as a dietician, it’s in the nursing homes. Dieticians can also do food service. You look at people in charge of university or hospital cafeterias, they are generally dieticians. There are lots of other areas dieticians can work in too, such as dialysis units or outpatient care. Those jobs are few and far between because insurance reimbursements are terrible and there aren’t a lot of people who are willing to pay that salary because they aren’t getting compensated by insurance companies. I got lucky working in wellness. My boss sees the industry shifting and he really wants to incorporate wellness in the healthcare world in a proactive way. At NAPA, my program is called Thyme Retreat. It’s currently open to the public and it’s 90 minutes long. The first session is free. You get 30 minutes with me, 30 minutes of yoga and a 30 minute massage. We are trying to assess how well this type of proactive wellness healthcare works and what to do with this type of information. We also do staff appreciation, Thyme retreats and per-surgical Thyme retreats.
If someone were to come see you, how would that go?
It all depends on the person. I like to know what their goals are, not just what their medical history says. They could come in and be morbidly obese but what they really want to know is how to adjust their diet to the new medication they are on. I want to be able to help them with that. So then I can break it down for them into what they are eating, drinking, and what supplements and medications they are taking. Once I get all that information I can really help them achieve their goals in a realistic attainable way. There is no measuring, weighing things, counting almonds. Unless there is a specific need for that, of course. I may be a little less regimented then other out patient dieticians but I’ve learned a lot in my experiences and I’ve learned that people really need goals broken down in realistic steps.
What sort of person makes a good dietician?
Dieticians are classic Type A. You sort of have to be. We aren’t as respected in the healthcare field as other specialties. You need be assertive and stand up for yourself to establish respect. You need make a name for yourself. You also need to be organized, flexible and motivated.
What is a common misconception about your job?
That anybody can be an expert. It is a very trying job in the sense that everyone seems to have an opinion. Everyone has to eat, so everyone feels like they are an expert. There are so many books and TV shows out there, it’s hard for people to sift through the massive amounts of information available. Dieticians, as experts, know how to sift through all that information.
What makes for a really good day?
When someone who I’ve been working with comes in and says they are able to come off their medication because they’ve lost weight. It makes my day. Many people want to get information but they don’t do anything with it. When they actually put the dietary and lifestyle changes into motion and reach their goals, it’s really cool.
What is one dietary tip that people should know or is often overlooked?
People often overlook hydration. Most Americans are dehydrated. Nothing in your body will work properly if you aren’t hydrated. People often get annoyed at me when I tell them the first change they need to make is to drink more water. It’s such a simple step but so very important. While it doesn’t apply to everyone, my rule of thumb is to take your body weight, divide it in half, and drink that amount of ounces in water each day.
What is one fad diet that drives you crazy?
The gluten-free diet. People automatically think that gluten-free equals healthy. Those that are truly gluten-sensitive or who have celiac disease deserve a tremendous amount of respect because that is a challenging diet to stick too. However, for the rest of the population, gluten is not bad. Often all the additional ingredients added to gluten-free foods to make them taste good, aren’t good for you.
Do you see yourself at this same job ten years from now?
No. I still see myself as a registered dietician, but I’d like to work for myself. My husband and I are in the beginning stages of starting a whole food supplement line aimed for children. There is nothing like that out there right now and it is so important. We are hoping to launch our website later this month and have product soon after. We will have a blog as well with information and education in a fun way. We are going to call it Rooted Nutrition. If it takes off, it will be great but if it ends up as a side thing, that is okay too. This is our dream and passion and we are going to pursue it.