By Laura Burak, RD, NLC
When you’re a nutritionist and people in your community know it, this happens all of the time: I’m out living my life and someone comes up to me and announces that I would be horrified to see what they’re eating.
In fact, I’ve got no judgment. Instead, whether I’m driving carpool and eating a few pieces of my kid’s candy or at a restaurant ordering a totally worth-it pasta, I’m like, “Oh yeah, check out what I’m eating!”
I may be a registered dietitian, but I am far from a picture-perfect eater. If I had a Real Housewives tagline, it would be, “If wine had no calories, I would drink it all day.” And while I feel responsible for helping my clients make healthy food choices, it’s also empowering to demonstrate that it’s absolutely possible and normal to incorporate all foods into your life without falling victim to vicious cycles and beating yourself up every Sunday night.
Food, and how it relates to someone’s weight and overall sense of worth, is often a fraught topic with negative connotations. My approach is to help brighten an individual’s view of food and sense of self, and presenting myself as the authority—the person who “always has it together”—doesn’t help do that.
The struggle is real for me too. I lived it before I was a nutritionist and I live it now, and although I have learned to balance everything, I still sometimes feel defeated and isolated when it comes to food.
Here’s how I navigate my own journey of making balanced food choices while being an example for my clients.
My Nutrition Education
I had a love of food from a pretty young age, and my primary interest when applying for college was to study nutrition. Or so I thought. Back then, there were just a handful of bachelor’s programs in nutrition, so Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development was my top choice.
However, once I started college, I was on track for a double major in nutrition and partying. Like many college students, I lived the typical life of fraternity parties, excessive cheap beer (hello, Natty Ice), and a nightly junk food overload.
At times, due to my chosen major, the irony of my double life would make me feel hypocritical. More often than I would like to admit, I would first go out and then come home and attempt to pull an all-nighter with a stack of organic chemistry books, a diet coke, and a bag of Swedish Fish.
Finding Balance as an Adult
That college life is far behind me, but nevertheless, the unhealthy experiences of my past have shaped how I practice today. They help me relate to people who not only struggle while in college, but at any age.
I have taught myself to live the best of both worlds by working hard to stay in good shape, appreciating healthy foods, and listening to my body, while at the same time allowing myself to enjoy amazing eats and occasional adult beverages. Even though I appreciate my body and health, I’m human. Sometimes I wake up feeling badly about what I ate or drank the day before or about not getting enough workout time in, but it’s all part of the journey.
Now, as an actual grown-up and mom, I am a role model for my kids. Even though they still won’t eat anything green except gummy bears, every day is another chance to set a positive example.
The same is true for my clients. Instead of beating myself up for being human, I recognize that part of what makes me a successful counselor is that I can relate to my clients. I am not afraid to voice my own struggles to friends and even clients, because we’re all in the same boat, and even the captain can occasionally fall off course.
It’s a tough balance, but when I go through my own ups and downs, I can rely on the tools I suggest to others, because I have developed them from my own struggles. I am proud to be an example for my clients and the people in my community who are still far from appreciating the magic of a healthy diet. It is okay to admit and validate that it’s hard for health professionals too, especially a dietitian like me who loves food (and will still always love a good party).
Laura Burak, MS, RD, CDN, NLC has been providing nutrition counseling to clients for over 15 years. She graduated from Penn State University with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and completed both her master’s degree and dietetic internship at New York University (NYU). Laura is now the founder of Laura Burak Nutrition, a busy private practice in Roslyn, NY. Before to moving to the suburbs with her husband and two kids, Laura lived in NYC for 10 years and most recently held positions at Joy Bauer Nutrition and The Hospital for Special Surgery. Prior to that, she was a critical care dietitian at Beth Israel Medical Center and an adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU. She specializes in a realistic and tasty approach to healthy eating and weight management for all age groups. Laura has also worked extensively with clients to prevent and treat chronic diseases and ailments including diabetes and blood sugar management, hypertension, high cholesterol, gastrointestinal disorders, and much more. Visit lauraburaknutrition.com for more information and follow her on Instagram at @getnakednutrition.
(Photos: Shutterstock, Laura Burak)