I had the pleasure of sitting down with Trinique Stallings, a wonderful dietitian in the Philadelphia area. She let me in on her story and answered a few questions on her journey to becoming a Registered Dietitian!!
Tell me a bit about your journey into dietetics?
I am from Baltimore, but came to Philly to attend La Salle University in 2012. The great thing about La Salle is that it has a coordinated program, so compared to most other students, I would say I had a pretty easy time getting into my internship. There was still an application process, but there was a slim chance that I would not be in their program. Also, because of their coordinated program, I was able to complete my internship during my senior year of college., which saved me a good amount of time and money. La Salle’s nutrition program has an urban health focus and offered five different placements for rotations. My first semester was at a long term care facility and with The Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, the second semester was Einstein and HPC and I spent the summer semester at Einstein again, but on the food service side. It was a great experience being placed at several locations and having the chance to network with so many professionals. I completed my internship late July/early August of 2016 and my initial plan was to study for a month straight and take my exam in September. I did take the Jean Inman course, which was a great help. My plan to study vigorously and take the exam as soon as I could fell through once I started to enjoy my freedom post-internship. I ended up rescheduling my exam for October, studied really hard for two weeks, took it and passed! Those two weeks were definitely the roughest two weeks ever and while taking the exam, I knew 100% that I failed. Thankfully, I didn't! A couple months later, I obtained my state license. Last year, I started working to obtain my IBCLC (international board certified lactation consultant) certification at Drexel, but because of a few personal reasons, I'm not actively working on that at this time. I do plan to obtain my Master’s degree at a later time, as well.
What got you into nutrition? How did you get involved in (field of expertise)?
I was lucky to have exposure to dietetics in high school. At my school, I was involved in the Health Science Technology Magnet (similar to a major.) I spent my junior year interning at University of MD Medical Center, rotating through different departments. I followed cardiologists, neurologists, pharmacists, nurses, etc,. I quickly realized that nursing was not for me and I knew I didn't want to be in school for as long as it takes to become a doctor. At one point, I had the opportunity to shadow the dietitians at the hospital and I instantly fell in love. I just thought it was so cool how food can affect someone's health in such a simple, but powerful way. I knew I wanted to study nutrition in college and once at La Salle, I became even more excited about the field. There is like a never ending list of things someone can do as a dietitian, which is definitely my favorite part of the field. You can work in hospital, a school, a gym, for a magazine as as writer or food photographer, you can be in research or work for top food companies. I just love how versatile the nutrition field is.
What does your day-to-day look like?
Currently I work for one company, but at two different locations. Three days a week, I'm at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. The other two days, I am at a long term care facility. At the LTC facility, I attend many meetings, morning meeting, clinical, and care conference. Unfortunately, they can take up almost half the day sometimes. But during the other time, I am seeing residents who were just admitted, maybe after a fall and they're for physical therapy, or residents who have been in an accident and are stable enough to leave the hospital, but not ready to go home yet. I also see residents there on a quarterly basis, or sometimes monthly, if their weights need to be watched closely. When I'm at the drug rehab, I see clients based on consults. Either they came in with diabetes, hypertension, or they've had significant weight loss and I provide nutrition education and counseling. I also run groups at the rehab. On Monday, I have a diabetes group, on Friday, I have a small nutrition group on where I cover various topics. I also monitor monthly weights of the long term rehab clients. I enjoy working with the other residents at the LTC facility and I wish I didn't have to spend so much time in meetings because I'd like to spend more time with them. At the drug rehab, the workload is not bad at all, but sometimes the clients are not the easiest to work with. But wherever I am working, it's hardly ever boring and I appreciate the diversity in environments that I work in!
How do you see our culture of wellness, dieting, and food trends affecting your clients?
I see the wellness culture impacting the clients at the drug rehab more than the residents at the LTC facility. I do have many people with these ideas that certain foods are bad for them and they can't anything that's "processed". In my groups and in my one-on-ones, I try to meet people where they are at. In the beginning, I try to let them know that food is not bad. Especially in the cases of clients who have lost 50+ pounds and you can see muscle/fat loss in their face. The priority is building their strength and their bodies back up so I try to get them to understand that food is their friend. Building off of that, I touch on fad diets and food myths and try to, again, meet people where they're at. I talk about how to make healthier choices at a fast food restaurant, the difference in organic vs conventional produce, the key nutrients that all food groups provide us with. I try to help them see that you don't need to follow a specific diet, cut out a food group and restrict yourself in order to people healthy.
Thoughts on thin privilege?
I don’t see thin privilege come up too much among the clients I work with. Many come in with weight loss and are honestly pretty horrified at how much weight they've lost. Even if their BMI is normal upon admission, many of them see themselves as being underweight. I do occasionally get questions about whether being thin or skinny equates to health. Many understand that isn’t the case though, as they understand unhealthy weight loss. Unfortunately, I do still receives consults based on BMI greater than 24, which I understand to not be a helpful indicator of health.
What are some of the challenges of your job that others might not realize?
The biggest challenge at the LTC facility is definitely meetings. The time that meetings take up is time that I would rather give to the residents. The biggest challenge at the drug rehab is definitely all of the different personalities that I come into contact with. The clients have such a wide range of life experiences; some have master's degrees, some didn't finish high school, some have been battling addiction for decades and some had a wild night that got out of control. Some clients are ready for the help and want to obtain all the tools to live their healthiest lives. Some clients don’t care about nutrition. Some just want a listening ear. There are also many sad stories and I have shed a tear or two during a few one-on-ones. I've met a few people who were admitted, were doing great, I wished them the best, but then they came back in three months later. That can be hard to handle as well because I want the absolute best for everyone who comes in for help. But the fact that they return means that they haven’t given up yet, which is something to appreciate.
Fun question, because dietitians are human too. What is your favorite fast food restaurant and meal?
I love a Wendy's #1, Dave Single, with no onions or ketchup, with fries. I'll add a fruit cup (which no one seems to know that Wendy's has) and I'll have either a fresh lemonade or water to wash it down!