Angela Birnie MEd, RD, RCC
PRIVATE PRACTICE &
REGISTERED CLINICAL COUNSELLOR
for something nutrishus
Angela has been following the series and came up as a great candidate for an interview due to her RCC designation, among other things. Private practice has allowed her to combine her specialties to better serve her clients, and the two fields pair so well together. She is definitely caring and compassionate and spends time with upcoming dietitians which is very valuable. Perhaps someday I'll get to attend a dietitian potluck with Angela!
Why did you become a RD?
I’ve wanted to be a RD since I was relatively young. I had the opportunity to see one as a kid, and she pulled food models out of her desk as part of her assessment. I was immediately hooked! I thought that anyone who got to keep plastic “toys” in their desk must have a fun job.
As I got older and started more formal career exploration, the RD role continued to seem like a good fit. It allowed me to blend my desire to help people with my interest in health and wellness.
What area of dietetics do you work in?
I focus on helping clients with eating disorders and disordered eating, though I also work with clients with chronic illnesses. Most of my clients know what they “should” be doing to improve their mental and physical health, and come to me because they feel stuck in trying to make those changes.
How would you explain what you do?
I work in private practice full-time, as both a Registered Clinical Counsellor and as a Registered Dietitian. Clients have the option of coming for nutrition counselling, therapy/psychological counselling, or integrating both.
What are your ‘typical’ daily/weekly tasks?
Most of my time is spent in individual appointments with clients. I also spend time liaising with other health care providers about the care of the clients we have in common, preparing for sessions by reviewing client files and the care plan, writing session notes, and reading/researching various things for professional development. And, when I can’t schedule an appointment with a new client because my practice is full at times, I spend time referring them to other providers who can offer them support right away.
I also agree to meet with students on a fairly regular basis, when they have questions about the field or various career paths.
What has been your career path?
I worked as a casual dietitian or in temporary positions in a hospital for a few years. I got a job in an eating disorder clinic as a dietitian and worked there for about 7 years, in various programs.
To develop my counselling experience, I worked as a counsellor in a residential eating disorder program. After finding the shift work difficult and ultimately not wanting to choose between working as a dietitian or a counsellor, I made the move to private practice.
What advanced education or special training do you have?
In addition to my B.A.Sc. in Nutrition, I completed a M.Ed. degree in Counselling Psychology, and am a Registered Clinical Counsellor.
In an ideal world, what does the industry look like 5 years from now?
I hope that psychology and counselling continues to blend with dietetics. I wasn’t exposed to very much psychology when I completed my dietetics degree. Early in my career, I focused too much on educating clients on what needs changing instead of how to change.
Stigma and fear of judgement from health care providers inhibits lots of clients from accessing health care as much as they need to, or at all. As dietitians and other health care providers are trained more in motivational interviewing, behaviour change strategies, and exploring our own biases and lenses (which we all have, even when we try hard not to), we will be even better at creating an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance and support for our clients. And this will allow us to be even more curious about their barriers, and to be even more creative in facilitating change.
What misinformation about RDs would you like to clear up?
That we’re here to be the “food police”, and that we only eat “perfectly” (whatever that is.) Dietitians understand and live the balance between wanting good health and wanting a good quality of life (including treats). We want to help clients with that balance too. People can be healthy in all shapes and sizes and with different lifestyles. We don’t treat everyone with the same recommendations.
What would you like people to know about RDs?
That we love food, and host the best potluck events around. The food is beyond amazing. If you’re ever invited to a dietitian potluck, accept immediately! :)
What are challenges you encounter as a RD?
Like lots of RDs, I really value professional development – reading, researching, learning from colleagues and attending workshops. Trying to keep up to date in two fields (nutrition & psychology) is definitely a challenge sometimes!
What do people think that you do for a living?
Sometimes people think that I only teach about Canada’s Food Guide. Food, nutrition, and the factors that impact why we eat (or don’t) or exercise (or don’t) are so much more complicated than that.
What are you passionate about in dietetics?
I’m passionate about helping clients re-learn how to listen to their bodies and identify their own needs. I also love helping people re-connect to the joy of eating, and to learn to be kinder to themselves when things don’t go as they planned or hoped.
What is your favourite meal?
I could never pick just one! Cheese is my favourite – it takes most things from “good” to “amazing”. And during the summer, I love barbecued vegetables drizzled with reduced balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with a bit of chive-flavoured salt.
What tip(s) would you give to our readers?
Self-compassion is crucial to change. Believing that we need to have “more willpower” or be harder on ourselves to meet our goals often sets us up to fail. Self-compassion isn’t about letting ourselves off the hook and rationalizing any behaviour. It’s about accepting that we aren’t perfect, being curious about why we might act in ways that aren’t aligned with our goals, and creating a kind and realistic plan to move in the direction of living the way we want to live. When my clients incorporate true self-compassion, they are better at making the changes they want to make.
And, if you’ve been “stuck” for a long time, consider incorporating some counselling into your life. You might benefit from just a few sessions to work through some stress, or may need longer-term support to work through some tough things that have happened. Often, if we’re trying something over and over and not getting to where we want to be, there’s a good and complicated reason for it.
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