#gamechangers // McKenzie Caldwell
We're already halfway through June, can you believe it? This month's #gamechanger on Taste & See is McKenzie Caldwell, an RD-to-be that I met through Instagram back when I first started my blog. She was one of the first people to introduce me to the concepts of Health At Every Size (HAES) and Intuitive Eating. In fact, she helped me write one of my first pieces for Glow Gathering, which you can read here. Without any further ado, I'd like to introduce you to McKenzie and allow her to share more about who she is and the work that she does, in her own words.
So, can you tell us a bit about who you are?
I am originally from Los Angeles, CA but have been all over the US for my undergraduate and graduate degrees! I am studying to be a master’s level registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). California (ok, mostly my mother) is calling me home for the fall and then for good after I graduate. My favourite foods are chocolate, cheese, fruit and tacos.
How have you got to where you are today in your studies/career?
I did my B.S. in Nutritional Sciences at Cornell in Ithaca, NY, After studying public health for a semester in Argentina, I became really interested in the social determinants of health, or, what affects a person’s health outside of their individual behaviour on a larger scale. So, upon graduating in 2016 I made my way down south to do my Master of Public Health/Registered Dietitian training at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. I’m currently in my last bit of graduate school – just my clinical internship, advanced nutrition internship, and my master’s paper to go before graduation in December. I’m so close to being an RDN, I can almost taste it! My interests are women’s health and maternal nutrition. I hope to work in outpatient nutrition counselling as part of a women’s health care team.
How has your relationship with, and approach to food and nutrition changed over the years?
Throughout my teen years and into college, I had a difficult relationship with food. Part of this had to do with my interest in dancing ballet, but most of it was due to diet culture seeping into my family life in the midst of tough financial times where we didn’t always have access to the best quality foods. As I learned more and more about nutrition, food rules morphed a bit into something that was a little more evidence-based, but still restrictive nonetheless! It wasn’t until 2 years ago that I discovered Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size.
My science-driven mind wouldn’t let me fully believe it all until I dug into the research, and I was surprised to see the wealth of research backing up the non-diet approach to health. This was a major turning point for me. The next step was throwing out my scale and giving myself permission to truly honour my hunger and seek food freedom. The most recent step I’ve taken is going to therapy – this has been really crucial in giving me tools to work through my perfectionism in general, not just around food.
What are some of the most difficult things you have faced as a dietetics student?
Organic chemistry! The bane of my existence in undergrad. But, C’s get degrees! My main academic struggle in graduate school has been nutritional biochemistry – I was well prepared for the class but simply not interested and had to sequester quite a lot of energy to get through my studying. Graduate school is also when my major shift towards HAES happened, which made it often difficult to sit through clearly fatphobic and diety lectures. I try to focus on asking respectful but challenging questions in these situations.
What are some of the things that you have enjoyed most about your course/career thus far?
I absolutely loved working with pregnant/postpartum women and young children last summer. My placement was at WIC (Women, Infants and Children), a US nutrition program for low-income pregnant and postpartum women and their children up through age 5. This solidified my interest in women’s health. I also really enjoy teaching, delving into nutrition issues in the context of social justice, facilitating networking in places like the Killing it at HAES Facebook group, and getting creative on social media.
What are three of your top tips for staying healthy physically, emotionally, and mentally?
Learn to cook! And then eat a combination of food that is both home-cooked and not for your meals and snacks when you get hungry, but before you get ravenous.
Take lots of breaks to move and look away from your computer screen, and enjoy movement of your choice during your free time.
Go to the doctor/dentist for your regular checkups, and try out going to therapy.
What is your favourite go-to meal to make after a busy day?
Lately, I have really been loving pasta and salad. I can chop my veggies and make my pasta sauce beforehand, and then simply boil pasta and throw my salad together. Easy peasy, delicious, and satisfying!
What do you enjoy doing for fun?
I love doing yoga and hiking! When I get a chance, I really love taking ballet classes. Reading and baking are also at the top of my list of hobbies.
Any last words of advice for girls & guys who want to live healthier, happier lives?
Don’t let food or exercise have power over your life, you are meant for so much more than having a perfect body!