My RD Journey

From Undergrad -> Internship -> RD -> Private Practice!


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5 Tips for Running a Nutrition Support Group

Have you ever sat through a meeting, group discussion, or any class for that matter and thought, “I really wish ___ would stop talking and give someone else a chance?” This is one of the exact situations you want to avoid in leading group discussions within a support group (or class).

After running multiple weight management support groups and nutrition classes, I found the most effective sessions were those that had a designated topic and were gently guided. Below are 5 of the key tips that will help you run an effective support group style class!

1 – Come Prepared
Having a topic for your group discussion is absolutely key! This gives the class direction and focus. I would also suggest creating an outline with estimated time frames and talking points. I also had “extra” notes on my outline in case the class was smaller and/or a bit more quiet. Think also about 1 relevant topic handout you could provide and a recipe or two.

2 – Set Ground Rules
In the beginning of the first couple of classes, I laid out the ground rules for all of the participants. I made it a point to say that everyone is in a different place in their health journey and to be respectful of others’ viewpoints and struggles. You would be surprised how many times I had to remind adults of this. I also outlined the flow of the class (see below), noted the time constraint, and asked all phones to be put on silent or turned off.  

3 – Be Aware of Group Dynamics
During the first class or two, you will start to see different personalities emerge. I usually had a small group of participants who were the most engaged (i.e. always giving feedback/input), a handful of really chatty ones (who I often needed to cut off), a few silent listeners (some of which preferred to ask questions after the session finished), and maybe one (if any) aggressive or very negative participant. While you don’t want to put anyone in a “box” necessarily, being aware of the dynamic will help you facilitate more effective discussions and know when you might need to intervene. There are a ton of resources online that can help you in managing certain group dynamics if you feel stuck.

4 – Take Charge of the Discussion
After leading quite a few group classes, I began to realize that the most positive feedback I received was in regards to how I kept “in control.” Taking control of the class means allowing meaningful discussion, yet redirecting when needed. This also means (politely) cutting someone off who is chatting too much. This also means spinning negative comments into positive and actionable ones. If you feel like the class got a bit off track, don’t be afraid to redirect the discussion. Often I would say things like, “Suzie, you make a great point about exercise being a struggle. I will make note of your comments so we can focus on them when we get to that topic.” Avoid getting too far off track during every session since many of your participants could be really looking forward to the topic originally planned and may feel upset that it didn’t receive adequate time/attention.

5 – Create Actionable Goals
At the end of every group session, I would take about 5 minutes to have all participants write down an action goal for the week. I would give everyone the opportunity to share their goals and provide encouragement and support for others. I felt like this tied the discussion topic together and gave participants something positive to work towards (other than just weight).

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Sample Class Flow (1-hour)
I have run 45 and 60-minute support groups before. I always did the weigh-ins prior to the class (optional) and avoided talking about weight during the class discussion in an effort to keep things positive for all.
-Optional weigh-ins prior to class
-Introduction to myself (2 min)
-Ground rules/reminders (3 min)
-Discussion of last week’s topic/goals – what worked, what didn’t, questions (10 min)
-Topic introduction from Dietitian – why this topic is important, what I want to discuss (2 min)
-Main topic – Dietitian has talking points, ask class about struggles (8 min)
-Class input on topic – strategies that worked well for them (10 min)
-Additional questions/Dietitian recap (5 min)
-Goal setting + sharing (10 min)

Sample Support Group Topic Ideas
Be specific when choosing a support group topic. I tried to avoid broad topics (like weight-loss) and instead focus on particular habits or health attributes.
-Healthy snacks – components, samples
-Reading labels – what to look for, samples
-Eating on-the-go – can be broken into eating-on-the run and eating out
-Mindful eating – what is it and how to incorporate
-Tips for incorporating more fruits/veggies
-Incorporating exercise into a busy schedule
-What is meal balance – i.e. what should be on your plate
-Strategies for eating well: on vacation, over the holidays, at BBQs, etc

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5 Tips for Running a Cooking Class

Welcome back to MyRDJourney and a hello to all of my new followers! It has been a crazy few weeks with finishing a short-term teaching contract and balancing 30 clients with my practice. To be honest, I was also in a bit of a blog rut. Some of you reading this may have been here before. You feel like there is just nothing left to write about (although there is). Sometimes it just takes one conversation with a fellow RD (or in my case an RD-To-Be) to get those creative juices flowing again. Needless to say, I’ll be back on schedule with my bi-weekly Sunday postings!

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For all of 2016 and most of 2017, I was working with a contract company to do in-person cooking classes. This was a huge learning experience for me since I had only done food demos/samplings and not an hour long class before. I’ve since shifted gears to doing more individual cooking lessons as apart of my home-visit sessions; however, I wanted to share with you some great tips I learned after doing 3-4 classes every month for almost 2 years!

1 – Tailor Your Recipes
Before you even choose your recipe for a class, make sure you know what equipment will be available. If you are not given a full kitchen, think about how many outlets you have and the worktop space. Once you have that squared away, think about the audience you will be working with. Are these experienced adults, beginner cooks, or even children? Knowing your audience will not only help you to choose an appropriate recipe; but will also increase the likelihood of them actually making it once they are home.

2 – Test Your Recipe and Flow
Before the cooking class, test out your recipe and get a sense of the flow and how that relates to how much time you have. By flow I mean, how long did it take you to chop up the vegetables? How long did it take you to cook the soup? One of my biggest mistakes when I first started was not testing a recipe before class. I would think that I didn’t need test it since I made it a hundred times at home; however, making something at home is way different then doing it in a cooking class. It might take you longer to make a 20-minute recipe since you will be explaining every step and maybe having time for questions. Remember to also keep in mind the taste-testing part of the class. I typically allotted about 10-15 minutes for tasting at the end. You don’t want to be rushing your audience out the door with their plates.

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3 – Make Use of Downtime
When planning your flow, think about the downtime too. What will you be doing when the cake is in the oven? Will you have questions? Will you make something else? One of my back-up plans for unexpected downtime was to make fruit-infused water. I would bring a little shaker bottle, some fresh fruit, and fresh herbs. I would make 1-2 combos and have everyone taste to fill any gaps in the class.

4 – Create a Recipe Outline
One of the best things I did for my classes was to create a recipe and time-flow outline. I would include recipe steps, measurements, estimated time, and key talking points. This helped me stay on track during the class since I would often get questions that diverted my attention.

5 – Set-up Your Space
Before every class, I would measure out all of my ingredients into colorful bowls of different sizes and place them on the counter in the approximate order of use in the recipe. It was so much easier to just dump out a bowl versus take the time to measure out everything in front of the audience. If I did everything during the class, I would have much more downtime and would have had to make sure I had double the measuring cups or stopped to wash things in between (which is not an efficient use of time).

When measuring out your ingredients, also think about pre-chopping some. One of my first cooking classes, I made a mango-tomatillo salsa. The recipe turned out great; however, I actually stood there and chopped 10 tomatillos and 3 mangos (talk about awkward silence). In hindsight, I should have chopped about 8 tomatillos and 2 mangos prior to make for a better class flow.

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Often, many of my clients are afraid to try a new recipe or even new ingredient for fear of the unknown (how to make or how it will taste). Running a cooking class can be a great way to show clients how healthy eating can be simple and delicious!

Make sure to check out the PorrazzaNutrition Facebook page since I have a LIVE mini-series going every Friday at 4:00pm EDT with tips on starting your private practice. Post a comment below if you have questions about running a cooking class or have another tip to include!


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Reasons Why I Love My Job

I just realized it has been waayyyy too long since my last post. Whoops 🙂 Today as I was driving home from work, I had one of those moments where I thought about my day and said to myself, “I really love what I am doing.” I always hear from friends or coworkers how much they hate their job or hate what they are doing in life right now. I feel really lucky to say not only do I love my field, but I also love working as a Retail Dietitian.

One of the first things I love is all of the connections I get to make with people. Even if it is just a passing by conversation with the same customer every single Tuesday, it is nice to think that they swing by my desk just to say hi. It is great to have other employees walk by and ask me nutrition questions or pick my brain about something. I feel like I am much more settled in my new job and people are starting to see that I really do know what I am talking about 🙂 Today, I had one employee come by and tell me she lost 5 pounds since talking to me. Wooohoo!

Earlier at work, I did a food demonstration with hummus, veggies, and crackers. If you haven’t been reading my other blogs, part of being a supermarket RD is healthy food demos. Sometimes I will make a healthy recipe in the kitchen; other days I pull products from the shelf and try to match them with coupons I have. Today happened to be Sabra hummus in my heart healthy snacking demo. As I am giving out samples, I get the few people who walk by and make a face at the mention of hummus. I also get the people who never tried hummus before and love it their first time! I had this one mom come up with her child and asked if she could take one. I was like of course, thinking it was for her. She reaches down to her child and goes, “Here, it is hummus, your favorite.” It gets me all excited when kids are excited about healthy foods! Win!

Probably the most rewarding part of my day was a counseling session I had. It was a late in my shift and I was burnt out from working 10 hours already. My client was so motivated and already making lifestyle changes that it made me super excited to get to work with her. She got into some personal issues she had with food and used some of my listening and reflecting skills. We went on to talk about a few new nutritional changes she could make and I really encouraged her to keep up what she was already doing. So, as we near the end of her time, she goes on to tell me, “I just need to tell you I really appreciate all the advice you gave me. I feel like you covered everything really well. You truly listened to what I had to say and allowed me to get some things off of my heart. It feels really nice to be able to talk to someone about my health and I really appreciate you listening.” Day made. That is the best part of my job. Working one-on-one with people is so rewarding for me. I get into such a groove for a counseling session that I feel like I am walking on air when I am done (I know, it is weird). I love seeing clients for follow-up and tracking the progress they made. It is so awesome to be a part of someone’s journey to health.

There are a ton of other things I could go on and on about with why I love what I am doing; however, these were just the few little things that happened today that I felt the need to share 🙂 Hope you had a great Monday as well!


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What Nutrition Counseling Is REALLY Like (A Dietitian’s Perspective)

In my field of work, I do nutrition counseling with a lot of people (about 10 per week on top of my other duties). More and more, I notice people have this skewed idea of what counseling is like. Some examples: “So, you’ll tell me what to eat right?” or “You make diet plans, right?’ or when non-clients state, “Your job must be so easy” or when co-workers say “Don’t people know this stuff already?” The truth is, I won’t tell you what to eat (exactly), I don’t typically make a “diet plan,” my job isn’t always the easiest, and people certainly do not know this stuff (to put it simply).

So, if nutrition counseling isn’t any of those things, then what is it? Counseling is not only an assessment of the person’s diet and health history, but also their emotions towards food. Counseling is establishing a rapport with the client so they will trust your suggestions. Counseling is working with clients to figure out how they can be motivated to make changes (and see them through). Counseling is not only being the credible knowledge source, but translating that knowledge into practical strategies that will work for various clients. Counseling is….. well you get the idea 🙂

Besides being all of those things I mentioned, doing one-on-one nutrition counseling can be a little intimidating when you first start out (whether it is inpatient or outpatient). When I first started doing outpatient counseling, I would stumble over what I was explaining. I was nervous about clients asking crazy questions and me not knowing the answer. I brought every handout I owned JUST in case. I was constantly saying to myself, “I wish I had said this instead of _____.” I had a lot of bumps in my early stages of counseling; however, I began to find my own rhythm (trust me, you will too!) and things ran much more smoothly. It seemed like the information just came out so easily when I needed it to! Just a side note here, if you ever do any courses or credits for counseling, it seems like so much to learn (being empathetic, saying key words, phrasing properly, etc); however, once you get practice, these strategies become so natural!

One of my greatest pieces of advice is that it is perfectly okay to say, “I don’t know much about the research for ______, but I can find out and get back to you.” People look to you for credible information and yes they can Google it themselves, but lets face it, they don’t/probably won’t. Plus, most of the people I see in counseling say they get overwhelmed and just don’t know where to look. Again, where the Dietitian comes in 🙂 Just an example, I had a client come to me looking for the Vitamin K content of edamame. This person had to watch their intake because of the medication they were on. I certainly do not know how many micrograms of Vitamin K are in edamame (41mcg for frown unprepared in case you were dying to know). So, I said to this client that I wasn’t sure off the top of my head, but I could get back to them about it. They were very happy with that and came back later for a print-out. Again, MOST people just want the information handed to them and know that you are the credible source to give it. Just a side note, the USDA has an awesome database for this!

Another thing I learned in nutrition counseling is that you can PLAN for what you want to cover; HOWEVER, always be prepared for a curve ball.  Like a client who brings you a list of 15 supplements they are taking or a client who doesn’t have time for snacks because they exercise for 2 hours between meals (aka 10000 crunches, push-ups, etc) or a client who has an underlying pre-occupation with food or a client who said they would be bringing their family and that meant 6 other people. And if you are wondering, these people exist because I have counseled them! Don’t let situations like these rattle you! Go with the flow and just make do with what you have. Again, situations like these will get way easier with more practice.

The way I handled the first person in counseling consisted of me mostly asking about the supplements and the reasons for use. I didn’t tell the client to stop taking them, we just discussed ways of spacing them out or how combining a few into one pill would be better. You are not going to change people’s mind by telling them they should or should not do something. It is best to give them all the information and allow them to have tools to make a more science-based decision. With the second client, we talked about bulking up the meals for more calories instead of having snacks. The third client, started off talking about sports nutrition and turned into obsession over calories. This client was a lot more rational than the typical eating disorder patient; however, they did have a history. That being said, I didn’t refer out since the client was focused on being healthy and eating enough for both exercise and the potential carrying of a baby. The last client(s) was a bit chaotic, since I have a small counseling space; however, it worked well to have most of the family sit while I stood in front of the “U-shaped circle” to talk about nutrition.

With all that being said, hopefully you have a better idea of what nutrition counseling is like as a client or Dietitian. Feel free to leave a comment or send a message of your experience with nutrition counseling 🙂


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Top 10 Dietitian Misconceptions

“Dietitian…that means you make meal plans, right?” (Said by someone I encountered at my one job). If you are a fellow Dietitian (or Nutrition major), you have probably heard that phrase, or something like it, before.  If you haven’t, just wait and see 🙂

Here are my top 10 things I hear and chuckle at (I’ve gotten over being annoyed) that are complete misconceptions (at least for me)!

#1 Do you only eat salad?
Nope. I eat meat, veggies, fruit, etc. I do enjoy a salad and I will often eat from the salad bar at work. And by salad I mean a small amount of lettuce with a crazy amount of toppings (mushrooms, broccoli, croutons, chicken, chickpeas, etc). But again, I don’t just eat it because I am a RD, I actually like it.

#2 I am not judging what you eat.
People will literally say to me, “Oh, I know what I am eating is bad for me, I was just really hungry.” I could care less what you eat! I just came into the room to make phone calls for work. Along with me not judging what you eat, you can refrain from hiding your food from me. One day at work, I was walking down the hall and a lady with a bag of fast food literally put it behind her back when I walked by. After I said hello, she looked genuinely embarrassed and hurried off. TRUE STORY.

#3 Please stop judging what I eat.
I love the occasional ice cream (with my Lactase pills of course) or chips. Who doesn’t?! I really don’t like when people see me eating something “unhealthy” and say, “Wow, you’re eating chips?” Yes, I am human and do enjoy these pleasures once in a while.

#4 Now that you are a RD, can you write me a meal plan?
Much to what people think, I don’t just write meal plans. Actually, I rarely write out a meal plan for someone. I generally like to give people the tools to be able to choose foods that fit their dietary needs. Plus, if I told you what to eat for each meal, chances are that would become very boring. I also don’t like putting people on “diets” or talking about them for that matter. I am all about healthy lifestyle changes, which do not fall in line with a meal plan.

#5 So, you are not going to tell me to cut out my favorite foods?
This goes along with my whole no-diet-thing. Generally, when you cut foods out, you tend to miss them. This can lead to binge-eating and “going off the diet” wagon. In my experience, with both counseling and my own life, it is better to keep in your favorite foods and just eat them in small portions.

#6 Yes, I did go through 4 years of school, an unpaid internship, and a final exam.
A lot of people I talk to think that I became a RD once I graduated. I wish! After getting my bachelors, I had to apply to internships, get accepted, pay large amounts of money, and then sell my soul for 9 months (not counting the lack of life for the 2 months I spent studying to take my exam). Dramatic enough for you? But seriously, becoming an RD is not easy and props to anyone who is embarking on the journey.

#7 Dietitian and Nutritionist are not the same.
Nutritionist is not a licensed term, at least in PA. Basically, anyone could call themselves a Nutritionist. A Certified Nutritionist has more credentials than a regular Nutritionist; however, Registered Dietitian trumps all 🙂

#8 I don’t know everything and I am not afraid to say it.
It surprised me how people are shocked that I don’t know something specific about a food. Example: “What are baby romanesco good for?” First of all, I have never even seen one until now. Second, I don’t know all the nutrients in every fruit and vegetable. Yes, green leafy veggies have Vitamin K and red/orange veggies have Vitamin A; however, I mainly just tell people to eat fruits and vegetables. You don’t really need to focus on eating specific ones for specific nutrients. That is so complicated! Make it simple and just choose a variety. In the words of many RDs, “Color your plate.”

#9 Every counseling session should be standardized to cover the same thing. 
I don’t know where people got that idea from; however, none of my counseling sessions are ever the same. You don’t talk to a 60-year-old the same way you talk to a 12-year-old. You can standardize the process (aka you have the same introduction of yourself, similar forms, same waiver, etc); however, what is covered in a session is completed client-centered. I not only learned that in school; however, leading counseling sessions has taught me to be super flexible. I might want to cover protein with someone (seeing as they don’t eat enough), but they get into their binge eating habits. That last bit of information is more important to cover first. Counseling is all about getting to know your client and helping them to reach the goals they want to set.

#10 “You don’t need to see a Dietitian because you are not fat.”
Just because you are thin does not mean you are healthy. As a Dietitian, I help people gain weight (if they are underweight or looking to gain muscle), lose weight, and maintain their weight. People come see me for all different reasons. Plus, a skinny person might have horrible eating habits that lead them to become Diabetic or deficient in certain nutrients. Again, I am here to help the client reach their goals. I never judge by body size because it is such a horrible indicator of actual health.

These 10 items are all things I have encountered between my jobs, friends, family, community, etc. You may have more to add to this list or things to change (depending on your situation).

Hope you enjoyed the read. Stay tuned for my next blog “10 Tips for Conducting a Recipe Demo.”

PS: This is a Baby Romanesco. Tastes and looks like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower!


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Top 10 Dietitian Misconceptions

“Dietitian…that means you make meal plans, right?” (Said by someone I encountered at my one job). If you are a fellow Dietitian (or Nutrition major), you have probably heard that phrase, or something like it, before.  If you haven’t, just wait and see 🙂

Here are my top 10 things I hear and chuckle at (I’ve gotten over being annoyed) that are complete misconceptions (at least for me)!

#1 Do you only eat salad?
Nope. I eat meat, veggies, fruit, etc. I do enjoy a salad and I will often eat from the salad bar at work. And by salad I mean a small amount of lettuce with a crazy amount of toppings (mushrooms, broccoli, croutons, chicken, chickpeas, etc). But again, I don’t just eat it because I am a RD, I actually like it.

#2 I am not judging what you eat.
People will literally say to me, “Oh, I know what I am eating is bad for me, I was just really hungry.” I could care less what you eat! I just came into the room to make phone calls for work. Along with me not judging what you eat, you can refrain from hiding your food from me. One day at work, I was walking down the hall and a lady with a bag of fast food literally put it behind her back when I walked by. After I said hello, she looked genuinely embarrassed and hurried off. TRUE STORY.

#3 Please stop judging what I eat.
I love the occasional ice cream (with my Lactase pills of course) or chips. Who doesn’t?! I really don’t like when people see me eating something “unhealthy” and say, “Wow, you’re eating chips?” Yes, I am human and do enjoy these pleasures once in a while.

#4 Now that you are a RD, can you write me a meal plan?
Much to what people think, I don’t just write meal plans. Actually, I rarely write out a meal plan for someone. I generally like to give people the tools to be able to choose foods that fit their dietary needs. Plus, if I told you what to eat for each meal, chances are that would become very boring. I also don’t like putting people on “diets” or talking about them for that matter. I am all about healthy lifestyle changes, which do not fall in line with a meal plan.

#5 So, you are not going to tell me to cut out my favorite foods?
This goes along with my whole no-diet-thing. Generally, when you cut foods out, you tend to miss them. This can lead to binge-eating and “going off the diet” wagon. In my experience, with both counseling and my own life, it is better to keep in your favorite foods and just eat them in small portions.

#6 Yes, I did go through 4 years of school, an unpaid internship, and a final exam.
A lot of people I talk to think that I became a RD once I graduated. I wish! After getting my bachelors, I had to apply to internships, get accepted, pay large amounts of money, and then sell my soul for 9 months (not counting the lack of life for the 2 months I spent studying to take my exam). Dramatic enough for you? But seriously, becoming an RD is not easy and props to anyone who is embarking on the journey.

#7 Dietitian and Nutritionist are not the same.
Nutritionist is not a licensed term, at least in PA. Basically, anyone could call themselves a Nutritionist. A Certified Nutritionist has more credentials than a regular Nutritionist; however, Registered Dietitian trumps all 🙂

#8 I don’t know everything and I am not afraid to say it.
It surprised me how people are shocked that I don’t know something specific about a food. Example: “What are baby romanesco good for?” First of all, I have never even seen one until now. Second, I don’t know all the nutrients in every fruit and vegetable. Yes, green leafy veggies have Vitamin K and red/orange veggies have Vitamin A; however, I mainly just tell people to eat fruits and vegetables. You don’t really need to focus on eating specific ones for specific nutrients. That is so complicated! Make it simple and just choose a variety. In the words of many RDs, “Color your plate.”

#9 Every counseling session should be standardized to cover the same thing. 
I don’t know where people got that idea from; however, none of my counseling sessions are ever the same. You don’t talk to a 60-year-old the same way you talk to a 12-year-old. You can standardize the process (aka you have the same introduction of yourself, similar forms, same waiver, etc); however, what is covered in a session is completed client-centered. I not only learned that in school; however, leading counseling sessions has taught me to be super flexible. I might want to cover protein with someone (seeing as they don’t eat enough), but they get into their binge eating habits. That last bit of information is more important to cover first. Counseling is all about getting to know your client and helping them to reach the goals they want to set.

#10 “You don’t need to see a Dietitian because you are not fat.”
Just because you are thin does not mean you are healthy. As a Dietitian, I help people gain weight (if they are underweight or looking to gain muscle), lose weight, and maintain their weight. People come see me for all different reasons. Plus, a skinny person might have horrible eating habits that lead them to become Diabetic or deficient in certain nutrients. Again, I am here to help the client reach their goals. I never judge by body size because it is such a horrible indicator of actual health.

These 10 items are all things I have encountered between my jobs, friends, family, community, etc. You may have more to add to this list or things to change (depending on your situation).

Hope you enjoyed the read. Stay tuned for my next blog “10 Tips for Conducting a Recipe Demo.”

PS: This is a Baby Romanesco. Tastes and looks like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower!