Meet Erin McCarthy (MS, CSSD, RD, LDN), a certified dietitian with a wealth of experience in the field of health and wellness. She sheds light on the nutrition industry as well as shares her thoughts on why working as a dietitian is a job worth doing.
- What experience do you have in the nutrition and wellness profession?
- Why did you decide to pursue a career in this field?
- What interests you most about health and nutrition?
- Are there any drawbacks to working in this field?
- What do people look for in a nutritionist or a dietician?
- What skills do you consider to be essential to work in this industry?
- Do you have any advice for students interested in studying nutrition?
- How has nutrition awareness changed since you started working in the field?
- Do you see a shift happening in public perceptions of nutrition?
- And something fun: What is your favorite healthy snack?
I received my undergraduate degree in Nutrition from University of Illinois. I completed my dietetic internship and masters degree from Rush University Medical Center in 2005.
I have 10 years in the profession. I initially was a clinical dietitian for Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago working with inpatient nutrition and nursing home patients. I then went on to be the bariatric dietitian at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago. There I was Bariatric Ambassador for Morrison Management Specialists and I instructed as well as researched bariatric patients. I currently work for Northwestern Medicine in the center for lifestyle medicine department. I am a board certified sports dietitian and am certified in weight management for adults via the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. I specialize in bariatric surgery, weight management, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and sports nutrition. I have published articles in Nutrition & Metabolism, Practical Diabetology, Journal of the American Dietetic Association and Chicago Athlete magazine.
I was always interested in nutrition and health for myself. My parents both advocated for health and fitness and I used to take group fitness classes with my mom and aunt in high school. I then shadowed dietitians in college and saw how much of an impact they can make on each individual’s health and nutrition.
The fact that what you eat can determine not only your weight but also your health/risk factors for each disease state. What you eat is related to your health both physically as well as mentally.
I love what I do on a daily basis. The only downside is that dietitians do not get recognized properly in the media or public. We are often the last source of information that people seek for health and diet-related questions or help. For example, Dr. Oz is more of a nutrition icon and database than a certified dietitian.
Also, there is no differentiation in the public’s eye between dietitians and “nutritionists”. A registered dietitian is licensed and certified whereas a nutritionist is not. There are new credential requirements through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (RDN = registered dietitian nutritionist) which highlight that all registered dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians.
People look for a personable, educated person who is a knowledgeable and reliable source of nutrition information. They look for someone they can talk to and rely on not only for nutrition-related information but also their personal struggles and barriers that are related to nutrition. For example, some individuals have underlying emotional eating that stems from a family love of food or always being comforted by food as a child. A dietitian has to recognize and relate to these individuals to address both issues- food and emotional eating.
You should have skills of being personable, always willing to learn and be open to new information. It is essential to keep up to date on research but also be accepting of new data that is constantly emerging. It’s also essential to have an interest in chemistry as well as science. You will have to take MANY chemistry, nutritional chemistry and biochemistry courses throughout the years. It is good to know the science behind the rationale of each nutrition recommendation.
Also, it’s good to have an interest in both health and fitness considering nutrition and exercise go hand-in-hand.
Do what you love and never give up. If you love nutrition stick with it and pick the specific (or general) area of interest and try to do your best to get into that field.
For example, if you love sports nutrition, volunteer for a high school team passing out Gatorade or volunteer with the athletic department to organize healthy meals and snacks. Get your foot in the door by contacting your local dietitian or local health organization (such as a hospital or gym).
Nutrition awareness has somewhat changed. The government is now focusing on childhood obesity and recognized obesity as a health-related “disease” and epidemic. There are more health and fitness organizations than ever and places of employment are starting to recognize the value (and cost-saving effects) of having a dietitian and/or healthy nutrition as an incentive.
I think that the public is more aware of nutrition on a general basis but people still view healthy food as expensive and hard to access. They view convenient food as junk food and fast food which is not always the case. There is much more awareness now but also I think that the media and awareness may confuse more people than help. For example, gluten free diets or fad diets are emphasized in the public instead of general, healthy eating recommendations. Luckily, there are new label requirements which are going to be enforced in 2014 for front-label packaging and all chain restaurants will have to post nutrition information at each location.
What I’m eating right now a protein bar! It’s not too exciting but it keeps me going mid-afternoon when I want something to get me through my workouts.