“If I could start a change movement, I would work to increase access to affordable healthful foods along with basic nutrition and culinary education. People need to both have good food and know how to prepare that food so they will eat it. Changing the food landscape as well as increasing health and nutrition literacy would have a massive impact on the incidence and prevalence of diet related chronic illnesses.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Maya Feller Nutrition. I’m a registered dietitian nutritionist and work with patients who need weight management and those looking for nutritional management of diet related chronic illnesses with medical nutrition therapy. I’m a regular contributor on Good Morning America and have appeared on The Dr. Oz Show as well as contributing to outlets including SHAPE, POPSUGAR, NY Post, Well + Good and more.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thanks for having me share my story! I came to nutrition from my love of running. When I was training for the Boston Marathon in 2005, I had many long runs where I thought about human metabolism. I would run and refuel and run again, I pondered for many many miles, “what happens to all of the food I consume?” I applied and went back to school to study the science of nutrition. During my studies I became very interested in community nutrition and more specifically community nutrition programs with a clinical twist.
I started my career a dietitian working for a community based organization in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I was originally hired as a dietitian for the NYC DOHMH (Department of Health and Mental Health and Hygiene) funded program. On my first day I learned that I was the only RD hired and that the program needed to be developed and staffed so that we could serve patients. Our patients were homeless or unstably housed, many with documented mental illness and all with infectious disease. After a number of weeks of program development that included outreach to area public hospitals, hiring another RD, organizing dietetic interns, modifying the congregate meals menu to include healthier alternatives, as well as getting fresh and organic produce into the weekly food pantry, I was asked to become the program manager.
After a number of years as program manager, I moved on to start my private practice. Initially my focus was women’s health specifically perinatal and family nutrition. I wanted to work with mothers and families on balanced healthful eating from birth to reduce the risk of developing diet related chronic illness later in life. However, soon my practice was filled with adults with newly diagnosed type II diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Although I continued to see women and children it was clear that the health crisis in the U.S has produced adults requiring medical nutrition therapy for patient self care and management. I continue to see private patients focused mostly on medical nutrition therapy and for diet related illness and also have the extreme privilege of working in the media as a nutrition expert.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
This is the story of the first time I was in a studio for a nutrition taping. I had an injury and was unable to run so had to resort to swimming for exercise. I had just gotten out of the pool (as an aside I have natural hair so swimming usually requires a deep condition and moisture session post pool) and got a call saying are you available to come into the studio to go on tape about a new pediatric nutrition study? A car will be be at your front door in 3 hours. At that moment the panic that set in was quite real ,my hair what would I do? So I went with it and wore an afro and spent most of the three hours reading the pediatric study and preparing my talking points. I describe the initial feelings as terrifying and exciting all in one! That was the first time I taped and then saw myself the next morning on air.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In order to make my services available and affordable to people across the socioeconomic strata I signed on as a provider to accept insurance. I had yet to take a nutrition billing and coding class but had read the fine print or so I thought. I felt that I was capable of managing my own billing in addition to the other areas of running my practice. For months, I booked and saw every insurance patient with a plan I accepted. I quickly got denial after denial from the insurance companies. The paperwork for resubmissions mounted and the task became my part time job that took hours. At that point it was abundantly clear that I needed to reevaluate and find a clear solution. I signed up for and took a nutrition billing workshop. The first thing the presenter said is, “just because you submit a claim it is not a guarantee of payment.” After the billing and coding training I went on to modify my patient insurance policy verification systems. As my practice grew I could not keep up with the demands of self verification and now have a biller that manages that part of my practice.
I learned that it’s incredibly important to know what you don’t know and to understand when to seek out specialized help from a knowledgeable party. When I saw that I was unable to manage the volume of verifications and billing myself I reached out to other colleagues to ask their best practices. I listened, learned and took their advice.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are so many voices in the nutrition and wellness space and sometimes these voices are conflicting. As a woman of color in dietetics, I recognize that I am a minority. I also recognize and respect that we all have different stories, stories that are unique, stories that inform how we relate to food and think about health. In my work both with patients and on national platforms I work from the perspective that all stories are valid and therefore require a culturally sensitive patient centered approach. I also know that I am ethically bound to share evidence based nutrition recommendations that are grounded in science. I strive to bring all of these elements together in all areas of my work.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As healthcare providers we do just that. Provide care to others. In order to provide effective care we need to be well. In order to provide effect care we need to be abreast of current research. In order to provide effective care we need to meet our patients where they are, see them, listen to then, not pass judgement on them or be biased when treating them. All the while enjoying what we do. So, take time for self care, stay current on research and modalities of treatment, be a good listener, provide the care you would want for yourself and love what you do.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I honestly have to say my husband. When I decided to go back to school to study nutrition he supported me every step of the way. He worked and made it possible for me to immerse myself in study and focus solely on the massive undertaking of a career change. When I’ve expressed self doubt he champions me. When I go too long without taking some time for myself he reminds me that I need some self care. When I leave the house at 5am to go to work or leave town for work he keeps the balance and makes sure that our family still runs like clockwork.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
That’s such a big question. I do hope that I am able to share knowledge that inspires sustainable nutrition related behavior change in my patients and improve the health and quality of their lives. I work to make nutrition and the science behind nutrition digestible. And nationally I hope that when people watch me they too see that they can make intentional choices that impact their own health, the health of their family and maybe even their larger community.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When I dare to be powerful — to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” — Audrey Lorde
This quote reminds me that it’s important to live in my truth and continue to keep working in the areas of nutrition and health promotion day after day. It also reminds me that I can be comfortable with being uncomfortable and learn to bush boundaries in the work that I do.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
As a provider in an outpatient community setting I had to learn to recreate a network of specialty providers that I can refer my patients to. Often times patients come for nutrition first and during the initial intake I learn that they need to be referred out for a medical consult. I had to seek out and get to know specialists who provide excellent patient centered care. During my dietetic internship I was taught how to work within a hospital setting but didn’t have the experience or knowledge in the beginning of how to recreate in a private practice. It was a steep learning curve but well worth it as I now have a strong network of providers to refer patients to as well a colleagues to case conference with. It makes me a stronger dietitian.
2. Learn from your mistakes and know that you will make them
To make an error is human. Mistakes are teaching moments, moments where we can reflect on what a misstep was made and take the feedback for the next interaction. Knowing that mistakes can and will happen is important. Don’t let that hold you back or stop you from challenging yourself, rather move forward and learn.
3. Be a good listener and ask questions
Sometimes we are so eager to share our own stories we forget to listen. Yes, I have lots of great information to share but it’s important that I know and remember to listen and hear others. The opportunity to listen, learn and then ask questions is priceless. I have learned to listen and take in what people say so that I can provide more effective recommendations and care in a thoughtful manner.
4. Make time for self care and self reflection
Taking time for yourself can allow you to stay the course and continue to do what you love. When I make time to go for a run, get a massage, self manicure I am far more productive then when I don’t create space.
5. Plan, Plan, Plan then monitor and revamp the plan and then repeat
It’s important to have a plan but it’s equally important to take the time to see how your plan is shaping up and to then take the time to modify your plan. When I work with patients we create a nutrition plan and then implement the plan, monitor the plan and evaluate the effectiveness of the plan and when needed modify the plan.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could start a change movement, I would work to increase access to affordable healthful foods along with basic nutrition and culinary education. People need to both have good food and know how to prepare that food so they will eat it. Changing the food landscape as well as increasing health and nutrition literacy would have a massive impact on the incidence and prevalence of diet related chronic illnesses.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.
Originally published at medium.com