Monique Piderit, RD (SA)

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for something nutrishus

Monique reached out on twitter so that we could get a South African dietitian into the series. She's an executive member of ADSA (the Association of Dietetics in South Africa), and part of  the marketing team of the ICDA (International Confederation of Dietetics) congress taking place for the first time in Africa in September 2020, so it's a perfect time to draw attention to her country and continent! The series continues to showcase the variety of career paths/choices of dietitians as well as how each day can be highly varied.

Why did you become a RD?

At the least, we eat three times per day. That is 21 times a week, 84 times a month, and just over 1000 times a year that we have the opportunity to impact on our health and wellbeing. When I understood this, it was one of those “aha” moments where I realised I had just fallen in love with my future profession and decided to become a registered dietitian.  

What area of dietetics do you work in?

I work in a private practice in Johannesburg. I see private patients, as well as consult to industry and corporate clients.

What are your ‘typical’ daily/weekly tasks?

The best part of being a dietitian is how the days and weeks vary so greatly. I generally spend a few days a week at the practice touching base with patients, mixed up with consulting for industry, corporate work such as canteen audits and nutrition assessments for employee wellness, consumer education with nutrition workshops and presentations, managing media requests, and now and then some more academic writing and literature reviews.

What has been your career path?

In South Africa, the basic requirement for a Dietitian to qualify and register with the HPCSA (Health Professions Council of South Africa) is a four-year BSc degree and one-year community service. Once graduated from university, South African dietitians complete a compulsory one-year community service working for a government hospital or clinic. Accordingly, my career started with me working at a TB (tuberculosis) hospital in Johannesburg. It was a rewarding and eye opening experience to work with patients with multiple drug resistance (MDR) and extremely drug resistance (XDR) TB (South African reported the first known case of XDR-TB in history). Sadly, most of these patients were HIV positive and severely malnourished from the high energy and nutrient demands of their illnesses. Here, I learnt to appreciate the weight gain struggles and poor appetite of those with illness and infection.

I then went on to open my own private practice and started to work in the private sector. My career has progressed exponentially over the past 8 years and I am now part of an incredibly dynamic and energetic team of dietitians at Nutritional Solutions, one of the largest dietetic practices in South Africa.

What advanced education or special training do you have?

I am an academic at heart and I am currently enrolled for my PhD at the University of Pretoria. I look forward to fulling a lifelong dream of completing my PhD in the next few years.

In an ideal world, what does the industry look like 5 years from now?

Five years from now, I envision a nutrition and food industry that holds high standards for sustainability. Published just this past week, a new study by PLOS ONE revealed that 150 000 tons daily of food is wasted in the USA each day, translating into around 0.5kg of food waste per person per day. Added to this, it takes 190L of water to produce 1kg of beef, compared to 19L to produce the same amount of plant protein. Our planet’s capacity for sustainability is close to maximising, and I dream of a planet culture of eating (and living) more sustainably.

Added to this, I think the future of nutrition is about going back to the past. As exciting as the progression of technology is, we have forgotten the basics of food and left behind the good, solid nutrition practices of our grandmothers’ days. Children who do not spend time in the kitchen are growing up into young adults whose meals are store bought, takeaways or from restaurants. The future of nutrition lies in Michael Pollan’s famous quotes: “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food” and “Eat food. Mostly plants. But not too much.”

What misinformation about RDs would you like to clear up?

·       Are you really going to eat that? Dietitians are humans and have taste buds and emotions like everyone else. When you have eaten well most of the time, your body can certainly enjoy a little cheat here and there, so yes, not only am I going to eat that chocolate or enjoy a glass of our beautiful local Cape wines, but also I am going to delight in every bite and sip along the way.

·       So tell me, what is your opinion on XYZ? The answer is I do not have an opinion, I have a position, a position that, like any other good healthcare professional is guided by science and is based on scientifically sound, evidence-based, high quality research. I do not have time for pseudoscience, anecdotes, and personal opinions.

·       Can you make me a meal plan quickly? Meal plans take time and effort and require an understanding of your needs, likes, dislikes, medical history, budget, lifestyle, etc. If meal plans were the ultimate answer, then one could simply download one of the thousands available on the internet and be healthy, happy, skinny, and fit. A meal plan is a guide to healthy eating, not the ultimate answer. Changing your behavior is key to long-term health.

What would you like people to know about RDs?

See Are you really going to eat that?  above.

What are challenges you encounter as a RD?

As a basic human need everyone eats, which means that everyone thinks that they are experts in nutrition. The truth is nutrition is far more complex than energy in equals energy out, and not as simple as just being about food. On a daily basis, people who (unknowingly) cannot discern evidence-based nutrition from sensationalistic ‘fact’ found on the internet confront dietitians, the nutrition experts who study for years to practice. It has been a personal challenge to learn how best to address the controversial questions posed by patients, family members and the public alike. in a friendly manner, always remaining true to the science.

Regardless, my immense pride to be a dietitian always helps me keep my head high in the midst of noise in the field of nutrition. While there may be challenges, there are also great pleasures. There are many dietitians that I look up to and admire in our profession, and when these dietitians express acknowledgement in the work that I do, it is hugely fulfilling. It is gratifying and rewarding when your mentors, dietitians who love and protect profession as much as you do, recognise and compliment you on your contribution to the profession. One such dietitian is my colleague, Claire Julsing Strydom. Claire has been instrumental in guiding our profession in South Africa as ex ADSA president, and is leading the marketing team of local dietitians in planning the ICD2020 taking place in Cape Town, South Africa, in September 2018.

What makes RDs unique/different from other nutrition/wellness professionals?

I love the versatility of our profession. People think dietitians just help with weight loss diets. The truth is almost every medical concern or disease condition can be managed, treated, or even prevented with good food choices.

In addition, I enjoy how impactful our profession can be. I work mostly in the corporate wellness space. Employees spend 1/3 of their time at work, making the workplace the ideal opportunity to promote and encourage healthy nutrition. I am involved in onsite nutrition consultations, canteen audits, nutrition workshops and article writing for corporates, all impactful yet undervalued ways to address nutrition.

What is your favourite meal?

There is something so romantic and magical about a simple bowl of traditional, tomato-based pasta. I am also not inclined to part with my beloved red wine (red grapes count as a serving of fruit, surely?).

More about Monique?

Twitter: @MoniquePiderit (our practice Twitter account is @NSDietitians).

Facebook: Monique Piderit Registered Dietitian (Practice Facbook is Nutritional Solutions).



Thanks Monique!