These days, it seems everywhere you turn someone is trying to tell you what to eat – or perhaps more accurately, what NOT to eat – how to eat it, where and when.
Suddenly, everyone is a fitness and nutrition expert.
There are social media influencers getting rich by peddling protein power, detox teas and cleanses. Gym owners pushing members to manage their macros. Celebrities boasting about dropping some unbelievable about of weight in a blink of an eye simply by eating nothing but bacon and avocados in a six-hour “window.”
You could go Paleo or Keto. Low-carb or no-carb. You can carb cycle. There’s the Mediterranean diet and the Dukan diet. Or maybe you should be vegetarian? Vegan? Pescatarian?
So much information, much of it of questionable origin. It’s exhausting, and feels easier to just chuck the whole enterprise and east Cheetos while binge watching Netflix.
Thankfully, there is someone who can help you make sense of it all. Her name is Laura Spanbauer, and she’s a registered dietician. She’s a real person, not some surgically-enhanced, muscle-bound cyberspace cipher. She’s here to answer your questions, and – bonus! – she’s funny as hell.
I’ll let her introduce herself to you…and then, if you want to know more about her, there’s a little Q-and-A we did that appears after the jump. Post any questions you might have – something at all that food or metabolism or nutrition related – and she will do her best to answer.
And if you have no questions, that’s OK, we’ve got quite a few of our own brewing.
CM: What made you decide to go into this line of work, was it always something you wanted to do, or something you discovered along the way?
LS: I chose Nutrition as a major after transferring to SUNY Plattsburgh. I attended “Transfer Orientation” one weekend in August, and two students were manning the “Welcome Transfers” table – I affectionally refer to them as Jake and Tina. They asked me what major did I want to pursue. I was dumbfound and clearly stated: “I don’t know.”
Even after my lame answer, Jake and Tina didn’t give up on me! They persisted! Tina asked the question that would forever change my life.
She asked: “What do you like to do?”
I thought about it for three, maybe four seconds and confidently responded: “I like to do Jane Fonda aerobics.”
That is when Jake, with his third eye of oracle powers said, “Oh, we offer a Nutrition major; the table is over there.” Absolutely true! I am amazed I found such an incredible profession to be a part of. I really love what I do!
CM: Where did you go to school, and what kind of training is required to get your level of certification?
I earned a BS in Human Nutrition from SUNY Plattsburgh. The undergrad curriculum, approved by the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition, consists mainly of Biology, Chemistry, Food Service and Production, in addition to Nutrition courses.
After I graduated, I worked as a diet tech in a hospital and as a nutritionist for the Regional Food Bank of NENY. I knew I wanted to become a registered dietitian, so I applied for an approved Diadiatic Program (like an internship). This was 12 months of clinical, community and food service experience…no pay!
During this time, I figured I wasn’t making any money, so I might as well go “all in” become an adult and go into debt by completing my masters degree. Within two months of earning my MS in Health Education from Sage Graduate School, I was eligible to sit for the national credentialing exam. Every five years, I submit a portfolio to The Academy documenting a minimum of 75 continuing education hours.
Because I am a registered dietitian, I am licensed through NYS as a CDN – a certified dietitian nutritionist.
CM: What do you do when you’re not 1) knitting, 2) doling out nutrition advice online, 3) CrossFitting, or some combination of the three?
Professionally, I have my own consulting business and I work with developmentally disabled adults in a residential setting. Several of the individuals I consult are diagnosed with Prader Willi Syndrome (PWS). PWS is a genetic condition that affects the hypothalamus portion of the brain. The individual with PWS does not experience a sense of satiety and will eat uncontrollably.
Most individuals with PWS require constant supervision, locked kitchens and very low calorie meal plans in order to manage the drive to eat and ultimately, gain weight. If left unchecked, morbid obesity and the development of nutrition related chronic disease is common. A few years ago, I presented at “Scientific Day” for PWS USA’s annual conference. It was an absolutely surreal experience!
I have three children who are avid long distance runners. My husband and I enjoy cheering them at at cross country, indoor and outdoor meets. And, no, we aren’t cow bell toting cheer parents.
I love tennis, but don’t get to play much any more. CrossFit and hot yoga have pretty much taken over any court time I once had! This past January, I started a YouTube channel – Nutrition Power by Spanbauer – it is my snarky take on the craziness of my life with a splash of nutrition education!
Finally, I taught myself how to knit so I could recreate an Outlander cowl neck warmer. Yep, it doesn’t take much to captivate my attention!
CM: What’s the strangest nutrition question someone has ever asked, and also the most frustrating misconception you have come across – perhaps one that is purposefully perpetuated by the diet/fitness and/or mass produced food industries?
LS: LOL! After I first passed my national certification, I worked in a cardiac care unit. I was giving a patient discharge instructions when he asked how much cholesterol was in squirrel. Unprofessionally, I laughed and asked about how many would he have in one sitting and were they BBQ’ed or braised.
I quickly realized he was serious! After apologizing profusely, I excused myself and returned 15 minutes later with the info he requested.
An FYI for all of you, 3 oz of squirrel has approximately 80 mg of cholesterol. That is one bit of trivia I have never forgotten.
I am easily annoyed by the misinformation that is so casually spread and, in turn, believed. I encourage people to take charge of their nutritional well being and be skeptical if something sounds “off” – and yes, blood type dieting would be a red flag. Ask questions, read articles from reputable publications and submit questions to me for top notch information!
CM: What are your favorite and least favorite foods? Do you have a “cheat” or “guilty pleasure” food?
LS: My favorite food is sweet potatoes while my least favorite is salmon. I know! I know! I believe a dietitian, not enjoying salmon, is grounds for banishment from the Academy!
My guilty pleasure is homemade bacon my husband prepares! Who would have thought? It is magical! I am vested in the entire process from start to finish…purchasing pork belly, curing for a week, time in the smoker and then a few samples to make sure they are up to par! Again, banishment from the Academy is probably in my near future!
CM: What’s the one piece of advice you offer people who are just getting started on a journey of trying to eat healthier and take better care of themselves?
LS: I feel people should start slow and focus on one or two changes/adjustments to their food intake. Taking on too much or setting lofty goals seems like a great way to ‘bite the bullet’, but it can become overwhelming. Very quickly! A few small changes incorporated into your diet plan encourages small successes. These little triumphs help you gain momentum toward larger goals.
CM: As a nutritionist, do you find that people pay more attention to what you’re eating, and give you shade when they think you’re not practicing what you preach?
LS: Overall, I eat pretty well and encourage my family to eat a variety of foods. We are an active family, so my husband and kids want healthy snacks and meals. I have just as much anxiety about eating as everyone else.
Sometimes, I feel it is worse because I can do the math in my head and figure out how many calories, fat and cholesterol (approximately) are in any food option. So, while you’re digging into that delicious Buffalo chicken dip, I’m figuring out calories per serving in my head, and quietly deciding if I should forgo the tortilla chips…hmmm, are they baked AND whole grain??
Damn it, I should have eaten before I got here!