Meet the Health Initiatives Dietitians

Did you know Health Initiatives has two dietitians on campus? One holds a culinary degree and the other is a graduate from Georgia Tech! Both are equally equipped to help you better understand what healthy and nutritious intuitive eating looks like while also providing delicious nutrient-packed recipes you can make in any style kitchen.

Nutrition plays a large role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Six in ten adults in the United States have a chronic disease and poor nutrition is one of the largest risk factors. This March celebrate National Nutrition Month by meeting dietitians Amber Johnson and Leah Galante at any of the month-long events. You can find all events listed at healthinitiatives.gatech.edu/nutrition.  In the meantime get to know Amber and Leah better and find out why they love doing what they do every day!

Q: Where did you go to school?

Amber: I did my undergrad here at Georgia Tech (BS Chemistry), and grad school at Georgia State (MS Health Sciences, Emphasis in Nutrition and Urban Health)

Leah: I completed my BS in Culinary Nutrition from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI and my BS/MS in Dietetics and Coordinated Program required for Dietitian Training from D’Youville College in Buffalo, NY

Q: What would you say was your “A-ha” moment that made you realize you wanted to be a dietitian?

Amber: After spending several years in a lab, I realized I wanted to connect more with the people I was trying to help.  I’ve always loved the logic of how different foods can affect our health and wellness, so it was an easy and natural switch for me.

Leah: I have always loved cooking and baking, and that’s what lead me to culinary school. However, I missed the academic challenges of science and math. While I was in culinary school I had to take a nutrition course that was taught by a registered dietitian. While taking that course I realized that I wanted to pursue becoming a dietitian to combine my passions for food, cooking, science, and math. 

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Amber: I love working with students!  You all are so dynamic and fun to talk with.

Leah: I enjoy using food, cooking and nutrition knowledge to help and teach others.

Q: If someone wanted a consultation with you, what would they expect? 

Amber: A student will fill out a brief questionnaire before their appointment.  Once they arrive, we go over the questionnaire to get an idea of what barriers they face and goals they have.  We do a snapshot of how a day looks in terms of eating and physical activity.  From there, we discuss meal patterns, food choices, ideas for physical activity—whatever the student needs to help with their relationship with food.  I try to keep it student-driven and very nonjudgmental.

Leah: They could expect to have nutrition questions and concerns addressed in a one on one appointment, where I would assess current eating habits and nutrition concerns. Together, we would create an action plan to set and address nutrition goals.

Q: Many students find it difficult to fit exercise and wholesome meals into their busy schedule. Do you have any advice on how to find balance?

Amber: I think for most students it boils down to time management.  As much as possible (and I know it’s easier said than done!), try to make academics an 8am-6pm(ish) job.  Focus on classes, labs, homework, etc during your workday.  Once your workday is done, you’re able to focus on yourself—being active, talking with friends, reading a fun book—anything that helps you feel like “you”.  Take time on the weekends to meal plan, grocery shop, and do some meal prep, so you have less to think about during the week.

Leah: For fitting in exercise I recommend finding a type of movement that you enjoy. Then, look at your schedule week to week to find the times that would work best for you to fit in that enjoyable movement. Also, wholesome meals do not have to be complicated or a huge investment of time. Minimal meal prep on the weekend or a day when you have more time can help make putting together meals during the busier school week easier and less time-consuming. For wholesome meals think about creative minimalism. You can get started with 2 types of protein, 1-2 grains such as rice or pasta, canned tomatoes, dried spices and two long-lasting vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots or any variety of frozen veggies. Vary the proteins, herbs, veggies, and grains to keep it simple and interesting. There are also options for finding wholesome meals on campus. Students can also check out recipe ideas for meals and snacks on our social media pages an on our website: http://healthinitiatives.gatech.edu/well-being/nutrition/tuesday-tastes

Q: Let's talk "DIETS"!  Give me some feedback on some of the trendy diets of the day: KETO, Whole 30, Paleo, Carb Cycling, Intermittent fasting, Cleanses, etc. and how is intuitive eating more successful against these trends? 

Amber: Honestly, I can’t stand diets.  They are designed to restrict food, usually your favorites, for a temporary drop in weight.  95% of people who go on a diet end up regaining even more than they lost.  Diets teach you to ignore your body’s internal cues of what, when, and how to eat, and, rather, to adhere to many external rules that don’t make much sense when it comes to nutrition, health, or just being a human.  Intuitive eating is based on choosing foods that satisfy you physically and mentally.  Nothing is off limits- you eat what, how much, and when your body signals you to.  Once you take foods like chips or sweets off a pedestal, they become much less enticing, which allows you to eat in a balanced manner that serves your health best.

Leah: The trendy diets of the day typically focus on using external cues or measurements to help us decide what should be eaten on a particular day and several of them recommend avoiding entire food groups. Taking an intuitive eating approach shifts the focus from external to internal and encourages that all foods fit making it an approach that is more specific to individual needs and sustainable long term. Research continues to show us that dieting with a weight loss focus does not yield long term successful results and in many cases has the opposite effect.

Q: Now, we know that dietetics is a science. But behind that science, there are multiple philosophies. What would you say is yours?

Amber: I’d say my philosophy is that food is an integral part of our diverse cultures, how we socialize, celebrate, and love.  Food isn’t an enemy, it’s there to nourish us physically, mentally, and socially.  Food is to be enjoyed and shared!

Leah:  I would say to stress less about every eating and food choice made throughout the day.  Learning to trust your body, your individual hunger and fullness cues and feeling satisfied with food choices will guide you to eating to meet your specific needs.

Q: What would your “last meal” be? 

Amber: Easy.  My mom makes the best lasagna ever.  I would eat it every meal if I could!

Leah: Pasta and sauce preferably made by my grandmother and with my family.

You can learn even more about intuitive eating, fad diets or how to prepare your favorite satisfying snacks to get you through a long day at the National Nutrition Month events. All events are free of charge for both students and employees. Learn how to set aside the shoulds and the should nots and consider taste, texture, aroma, temperature, appearance, volume and choose what will be most satisfying to you. Go to healthinitiatives.gatech.edu/nutrition for a full schedule of events.

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