Chatting with a Functional Dietician - Ryan W.
You’re a Functional Dietician and Nutritionist. What does that mean to you?
It means that my job is to help people who need help getting healthy again through diet and dietary changes. Oftentimes, we think we know what we need to do in order to get better, or Doctor Google can help us, but my job is to help people in a way that they’re able to make changes, and help them to facilitate these changes.
How long have you been doing this?
I’ve been a dietician for six and a half years, but I have been in private practice officially for three and a half years. Before I even went into private practice I was seeing people on the side here and there just to gain some confidence. At the same time I was working for a food service company and I was also working at a hospital doing per-diem work for them, so I was doing that for a few years before I made the leap into private practice. I’ve been there ever since and am enjoying it. Now that I’m in private practice, I also teach a class at a university for a master’s level course, so that keeps me busy as well.
What interests you most about nutrition?
Originally, I was never interested in nutrition at all, believe it or not. I could’ve cared less about it and never gave it a thought. It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties when a number of things happened. A friend of mine mentioned she was seeing a nutritionist at her gym. The next day at my gym I saw there was a sign for a nutritionist that I had seen so many times but never actually noticed, so I thought “I should go see this nutritionist and see what she can do for me.” My goal was to gain weight. I didn’t want to be a big guy, but I just wanted to put on some muscle because I’ve always been very lean and thin. The thing that I liked about her is that she got me to try a lot of foods I had never eaten before, which was great. Believe it or not I had never eaten an egg before! That was the good thing. The bad thing was, although I was able to gain 30lbs, very little of it was pure muscle; it was mostly fat. I gained 30lbs of fat and I didn’t even recognize myself. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I had spent all of this money and didn’t have a six-pack to show for it. That led me to think “what did I do wrong?”. I researched her background and I realized she called herself a nutritionist but in New York state, where I was living, anyone can call themself a nutritionist and practice. So, anyone in New York state can call themselves a nutritionist even if they don’t have a background in nutrition, and as it turns out, her background was in environmental science, so I was working with someone who didn’t really have the background to do what she was doing. That propelled me to go back to school to then become a dietician.
How has nutrition changed since you began working in the industry?
I feel like when I got into it in 2012, holistic health and nutrition was a thing and people believed in it, but it was still on the periphery of nutrition. Now, I think holistic nutrition and holistic therapy is taking more of a front seat in a person’s treatment plan as opposed to a back seat. I think more people are turning to diet as a way to help them overcome whatever issues they have. Honestly, most conditions, especially the top 7 out of 10 leading causes of death in the United States today - heart disease, cancer, stroke, lung disease, accidents, pneumonia/influenza, diabetes mellitus, suicide, kidney disease, and liver disease/cirrhosis – seven are linked to diet and lifestyle and I think more and more people are turning to diet as opposed to medications because they realize medication may help with the symptoms, but it’s not addressing the root cause. I think more people are having that mind shift, which is great because more people are opting to go the more natural route.
What makes you different from other dietitians? What is your specialty?
I do something called food sensitivity testing. I focus on hypersensitivities relating to the diet that are not allergies. The reason I do this is because our bodies can react to anything, except water, baking soda, and salt. So, I work with people who are ill and have been suffering for a long time and can’t figure out why. With food sensitivity testing we figure out which foods their immune system is reacting to and take them out of the diet. Why this makes me so special is that I am one of less than one percent of dietitians in the country that offers this type of service. It’s a very niche thing. There are a lot of opinions about this. When it comes to food sensitivity most practitioners will use IgG (Immunoglobulin G) testing for food sensitivities and that is not a good way to do it. Many other dietitians don’t offer what I offer so it’s something special when a person who works with me gets this kind treatment because chances are they’re not getting it from anybody else.
Are there any questions that you as a dietitian/nutritionist wish people would ask you?
Yes! There are a lot of questions I wish they would ask me. The question they always ask is “How much?” But they never seem to want to know what that includes. So, if I say to you, and I am just throwing a number out there, $10,000 for a pair of shoes, $10,000 for a car, or $10,000 for a house, you’re probably going to think “what’s wrong with the house?” and “why are the shoes so expensive?”, but with the car it’s “oh, well $10,000 doesn’t seem so bad. What kind of car is it? How many miles are on it?” People ask those types of questions when it comes to consumer goods, but they don’t ever really ask those questions about the services a doctor or a dietician will provide. They just want to know the price, but they don’t want to know what’s included. I think when you know what’s included it gives you a better understanding of what you’re getting when you pay a practitioner to help you. So, to answer simply I would say patients should ask more questions about what they’re getting for working with a practitioner like myself rather that “what does it cost?”.
What are some of the ways you help people in their workplace?
I work with Welnys and I also work with some other companies, and one of the things we have done in the past are “Biggest Loser” style challenges where the employees can come to my lectures and support groups and we can talk to each other to see what has worked for one person and what hasn’t worked. We will do metabolic testing on site, which is a really cool way to figure out someones metabolism because believe it or not there are times that people don’t eat enough and wonder why they can’t lose weight. They think “I’ve been eating so little and working out yet I haven’t lost any weight.” Believe it or not, it’s because they’re not eating enough to fuel their body, so we test their metabolism and see that they’re only eating 1200 calories daily, but they need 1800 calories daily. It’s a really cool way to see everything quickly and have objective data in your hands telling you what is going on with your metabolism at that point in time.
Do you see a shift happening in public perceptions about nutrition?
I do. I am starting to see more of a shift. I’m not saying this to disparage doctors in any way, but I often find a lot of resistance from patients who say they’ve never heard about this from their doctor, and they want to know why I am the first person they’ve heard this from. Even though doctors don’t study nutrition in depth, they study medicine which is a very different field. A lot of times doctors will understate the power of diet or nutrition which is scary because they may be telling their patients “Don’t worry about your Crohn’s disease, eat whatever you want, diet has no effect.” and I’ve actually heard that before. Patients will come to me and say they would love to get tested for sensitivities but their doctor had never mentioned it before. There are still some people who still believe that what their doctor says must be true and therefore they will not question it. Then there are others who think it doesn’t seem right and they will reach out to me. They know their doctor is good at XYZ but when it comes to diet they’re not buying it. I’m finding more and more of those patients are coming my way. I hope practitioners like myself can help to bend the curve over the next decade or so to really get people to change the way they think about diet and health and how food plays such an important role.
Something fun: What is your favorite wellness related activity and why?
I have two of them. One of them is sleeping, it really is so much fun! Besides that, during my waking hours it would be yoga. I absolutely love yoga. It makes me get out of the house and it makes me use my body in a way I don’t usually use it. It’s a great sense of community, and you can meet a lot of wonderful people there. I think that is something that today we are missing. We are missing a lot of face to face contact. Everything is on social media and virtual, which has its place, but there’s something to be said for that face-to-face contact, and I think yoga gives me that community. It’s also a time for me to clear my head and let things go.