Hélène Charlebois BSc, RD
HC NUTRITION INC. & WASTING AWAY
for something nutrishus
Hélène’s is a name I have known in Canadian dietetics, although I have yet to meet her in person. As you read about her career, you’ll see that she’s a trailblazer and continues to advocate for access to RD services in Canada. I love her take on being experts and specialists, as I agree, and we need to continue to promote each other and our individual strengths, rather than trying to do it all as a generalist.
Why did you become a RD?
Becoming an RD was not part of my plans when I was finishing high school. I wanted to follow a path toward sciences but not medicine. My best friend suggested ‘why not become an RD’. Of course, my response was ‘what does a dietitian do?’
I decided, why not! And here I am 30 years later as an RD. The early part of my career focused on budgets, money, managing with the thought of private practice which was unheard of 30 years ago. What happened to steer me in this direction? Corrections Canada food services was looking to ‘clean up the prison kitchens’ by hiring the first ever RD. It was a contract position to work with the kitchen staff and inmates to develop federally mandated menus. My experience of 12 years with Corrections Canada brought me not only admin expertise but also clinical (inmates get sick too!) and community nutrition.
What area of dietetics do you work in and how would you explain what you do?
The vast scope of my experience in the past 30 years of nutrition consulting & private practice has brought me to a variety of ‘outside the box’ areas of the profession, starting with Corrections Canada… who knew!
I am a nutrition consultant first and foremost, taking contracts in media, writing, communications, presentations, webinar development, education, to name a few. PLUS I have a private practice where I see clients on a one-to-one basis. My specialties are in weight & health with focus on PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and diabetes. Now, I am slowly becoming a food intolerance or simply ‘eating better’ go-to person.
What are your ‘typical’ daily/weekly tasks?
My daily, weekly, monthly and yearly agenda involves constant change. That is what being a nutrition consultant is. I have 2 days per week of private clinic with 3 to 5 days per week of consulting (yes, sometimes I work all weekend long). Being a consultant, you work when work is there; you take your free time when things are slower.
What advanced education or special training do you have?
I believe RDs are experts in food and nutrition but we still need to specialize in specific areas. Our chosen specialty can morph over the span of a career, as mine has, but to truly call ourselves an ‘expert’, let’s be experts.
I have special training on Adult Weight Management that I completed in the USA back 20 years; I keep my credentials up with continuous education. I have also been involved with various national diabetes projects which keeps me up to date with diabetes and weight with health.
I have also taken bookkeeping courses to help manage my practice. Understanding money is crucial if you are going to venture out on your own.
In an ideal world, what does the industry look like 5 years from now?
The future of our profession depends strongly on becoming part of all workplace medical insurance plans. Many Canadians have limited access to our expertise via the traditional routes of being part of our tax paying health care system which is cutting RD positions due to lack of funding. Let’s all advocate to making sure RDs are included in every medical insurance plan in Canada. Accessibility is key!
What misinformation about RDs would you like to clear up?
Enough already with ‘I did not know there was a difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist’. This is so old… we need to get our provincial colleges to educate not only the public but first and foremost our fellow HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS like doctors, nurses, physios, etc… let’s look in our own backyard.
What would you like people to know about RDs?
Our well rounded education and experiences truly make us experts in food and nutrition; not only for the sick and diseased but in health for life.
What are challenges you encounter as a RD?
My challenge as an RD is trying to convince people that Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating (CFGHE) is not our bible of health care. We are so much more than that (if at all!). I don’t know where we went wrong but we can change this with advocacy, marketing and advertising our profession in a more positive light.
What do people think that you do for a living?
I count carrots :) Seriously! They think that I dictate CFGHE… nothing can be further from the truth. This becomes apparent once my style of health promotion is experienced but to seek me out and to ask questions, clients are ‘afraid’ of our profession.
What are you passionate about in dietetics?
At this point in my career, I am passionate that our profession be truly the area of experts. Daily, I encounter clients and or patients and or business-industry colleagues who get frustrated with ‘all RDs think they are experts in all areas’. I often refer to other RDs if the scope of practice is not mine. We should support each other in our individual expertise. When an individual seeks our nutrition help, they want a true expert.
What is your favourite meal?
Pasta, pasta, pasta in all shapes, sizes, sauces, textures. I am truly Italian at heart but French Canadian born.
What tip(s) would you give to our readers?
Health comes in every shape, color, age and size. This is not cookie cutter medicine. RDs can truly help you in your personal quest toward better health and living with vitality and energy. Dr Google is not always flexible!
Anything else you’d like to add that you feel would be valuable:
Recent CTV clip: ‘healthier chip’ alternatives
Professional memberships include: College of Dietitians of Ontario, the Canadian Obesity Network, Diabetes Canada, Canadian Nutrition Society, the American Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, International Affiliates of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics as well as the Dietitians of Canada, where I sat as a board member and continue to volunteer on various projects.
More about Hélène:
LinkedIn: Helene Charlebois