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In their own voices: What Registered Dietitian Nutritionists do to inspire health, wholeness and hope

Health and Wellness, Nutrition, Community Wellbeing

March 9 is National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day. At Adventist Health, we celebrate both our inpatient and outpatient RDNs that serve critical and uniquely different roles for our patients in need of food and nutrition services. These dietary experts, who have advance degrees in nutrition, dietetics and public health, are widely known for their outpatient care, supporting patients who are looking to make healthier lifestyle decisions about their eating habits. More information about what an outpatient RDN can do for you is available in a blog post we’ve shared previously in recognition of World Food Day.  

For inpatient care, Adventist Health RDNs are frontline associates that treat patients who are in the hospital and rely on them to make sure they receive the right nutrition to help them heal or, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, determining what nutrition intubated patients should be receiving.  

We reached out to all of our inpatient and outpatient Registered Nutritional Dietitians across Adventist Health to share their story, what motivates them and what inspires them to succeed in this important role.  

How do you best motivate others to make healthy diet choices? 

I often use visualization techniques to move patients into a place of confidence with living their healthiest. We visualize what life looks like when you don't do anything, then we visualize what your life is like if you eat healthier, exercise, rest appropriately and focus on being healthy. Most of the time they have never done this before, making this a pivotal practice for them. – Lori Tolleson, RD 

What personal success story examples do you have that you draw inspiration from? 

We have a couple success stories that showcase the struggles of patients that come in critically ill and require specialized nutrition support in the form of tube feeding or IV nutrition (parenteral nutrition). One was a young patient that was unable to eat regularly for months. After a prolonged admission and intensive therapies and nutrition support from tube feeding and parenteral nutrition, she was able to finally leave the hospital eating on her own. Another was a patient that required a fat restricted diet and tube feeding. The dietitian team worked closely with this patient and their family in navigating the restrictive diet, dietary restrictions/allergies, and their oral intake. After weeks in the hospital, they also were able to graduate completely off of tube feeding and go home. Watching how specialized nutrition care can impact a patient's recovery is extremely rewarding! – Melissa Panasuk, RD 

What is your most successful meal recipe for getting people to start and stick with a healthy diet? 

Reduced fat stovetop mac and cheese with added veggies – Carly Lugo, RD 

Bowls. Easy for prep and consistency during the week. Pick a protein, whole grain, several veggies, a fat and voila, you have meal! A favorite of ours is baked/seasoned tofu, cooked brown rice or quinoa, veggies and fruits of choice (salad mix, peppers, tomato), avocado, and a Thai peanut dressing or Italian dressing. – Melissa Panasuk, RD 

One pan chicken parmesan with chickpea noodles. Everyone seems to like this one. For my non-veggie eaters, getting them to eat veggies at lunch and dinner is a success. – Lori Tolleson, RD 

What are some things people don't know about the role RDNs play in the patient journey? 

Many people wonder what a dietitian's role would be in an intubated and sedated patient positive for COVID-19. The dietitian calculates a patient's estimated calorie, protein, and fluid needs, recommends the most appropriate tube feeding formula (an intubated patient cannot eat by mouth), and monitors the formula to make sure that the patient is tolerating it and meeting their nutrient needs. Nutrition is vital to a patient's outcomes, and research shows that nutrition support should be ideally initiated in the critical care population within 24-48 hours of admission to the intensive care unit. Registered dietitians are commonly thought of as the "food police," but we are actually real scientists who know the workings of the human body. – Daryl Goldes, RD 

What inspires you in your role as an RDN? 

Many different experiences inspired me to become a Dietitian. I am passionate about empowering and educating people, clients and patients about diet , food and healthy living. I believe that nutrition plays a vital role in prevention of most chronic diseases. – Lala Sarkissian, RD