Monica: Wendy and Jess, thanks so much for sharing your story with us! There’s such a strong sense of community that stems from your message, can you tell us what first influenced you to do the work you do now?
Wendy: When I was a child, my parents would have me accompany them to medical appointments to translate. They are native Spanish speakers, and although I did my best to translate, it was obvious that language was a huge barrier that affected their care.
When they finally found a provider that understood their language and culture, they were much more open to listening to the recommendations that were given to them. This inspired me to focus on cultural competency in my nutrition practice.
Monica: I really appreciate you bringing that up, because culture plays such a big factor in our everyday health decisions. How did that experience shape the way you currently help others?
Wendy: In my clinical practice, I work mainly with Latino immigrants, many who are undocumented. I try to be as present as possible when listening to their experiences and stories, and use that to inform our counseling sessions. This acknowledgement goes a long way in developing a strong relationship with clients. When that trust is built, the education we provide is so much more impactful. Aside from getting affirmations from patients about my work, it’s also rewarding to see their measurable health improvements.
Monica: That must be incredibly rewarding to see the positive impact you’re making. How does that keep your own health and life in perspective?
Jess: Working in a primary clinic means that you have seen it all when it comes to health and nutrition. I have so many patients that struggle from GI issues, disordered eating or chronic disease. I try to give 100% to every patient that I see but that can take its toll.
This is why it’s so critical that I try to take care of myself – first.
If I do this well, that I can give to others. If I don’t, I start to become chronically fatigued and get sick easily. I know that if I don’t take the time to practice the self care that lifts me up, I’m essentially doing my work at a deficit, which leads to burnout.
Monica: I couldn’t agree more, it’s so important to be at your happiest and healthiest before helping others. What are ways that you try to do that for yourself?
Wendy: When it comes to health, I like to think of what I’m doing most of time. Am I eating nutritious, balanced meals most of the time? Am I getting some type of movement in most of time? That’s the goal. If I have fries or decide to sleep in, instead of working out, it’s all good—I’m not doing that most of the time. Most of the time, I’m doing the best that I can—without compromising my sanity—to live a healthy and balanced life. And I have come to learn that this is all I can do.
I’m not going to ditch the mac and cheese and ice cream, because I simply don’t want to. This stuff makes me happy, and most of the time, I’m eating foods that provide me with balanced nutrition and energy. Health and happiness, to me, means caring for yourself in ways that make you feel good and bring you joy. As a dietitian, I’m constantly talking about food, nutrition, and health. This doesn’t mean, however, that I have it all figured out. It’s taken years to get to a place of balance with health and happiness, and it’s an ongoing process of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
Monica: That’s such wonderful insight, finding that sustainable approach to health and happiness really is a continual learning process. If there’s one thing that you want others to know that will help them reach that, what would it be?
Jess: Figure out what works for you. We spend so much time trying to make “healthy” diet and lifestyle changes that ultimately end up making us feel worse. By taking the time to discover what self care practices actually make us thrive, we can focus on strategies that we get excited about. For example, I know that my body does best when I try to move it most days, but if I were to attempt to run everyday, I would feel like crap. My body prefers brisk walks, dancing, gentle yoga and strength training. Since these are the activities that make me feel good, they are also the activities I get excited about.
On the other hand, some of my clients feel amazing when they do a 5 mile run first thing in the morning. Others may incorporate fitness into their everyday life by riding their bike to and from work. The point is, wellness is so individual and there is no one-size-fits all. I try to push my clients to take some time to really think about what truly makes them feel their best (and balanced), mentally and physically. Then do that.
Monica: I really appreciate how much you focus on helping people reconnect with themselves, through food and in life. How much of it drives the purpose behind your work?
Wendy: I find purpose in connecting with people. I get so much from listening to people’s stories with a curious ear, and learning about their experiences with joy, pain, love, disappointment…all of it. This is why I love the work that I do. I listen to people talk about the challenges they’ve had with food. But it goes beyond that.
Food is really a gateway to everything else. Through food, we talk about family, culture, immigration, self-esteem, mental health, and other topics that many would never directly link to food. It all just comes out, and every day I have the opportunity to learn through others.
Learn more about Wendy & Jessica at www.foodheavenmadeeasy.com.