Top Calgary dietitian Andrea Holwegner talks about her career path as a nutritionist Print

Read this interview by Mario Toneguzzi for Calgary’s Business magazine to talk about how our practice director and top Calgary nutritionist Andrea Holwegner started our nutrition consulting practice at Health Stand Nutrition specializing in nutrition counsellng, corporate wellness, nutrition seminars and online nutrition courses.  

Calgary Business magazine Article originally appeared in Calgary’s Business online magazine

 

Tell me about your business and what you do?

Holwegner: We specialize in achievement of health without guilt or complexity. We don’t just give you advice on what to eat, we also show you the system of how to do it. We help take the guesswork out of what to do and in what order to boost your success.Andrea Holwegner, RD

No nonsense here. No forbidden foods or weird extreme eating plans that you won’t sustain. As a registered dietitian for close to 20 years, every aspect of my business is grounded in practicality, science and sustainability.

I’m known as the chocoholic nutritionist for my approach to balanced living. We provide this guidance through individual nutrition counselling, workplace wellness initiatives, professional speaking engagements, media relations and online education/courses.

I have hand-selected a team of experienced dietitians who work with our clients individually in specific areas ranging from practical meal planning skills (even for people that don’t like to cook), weight concerns, emotional/stress eating, eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder), pediatric issues, sports nutrition, high cholesterol, diabetes, IBS and other digestive issues.

When it comes to workplace wellness initiatives, we work with companies to improve employee productivity, health and wellness. Through consulting projects, professional speaking engagements, webinars, nutrition counselling (onsite, by phone or through video conferencing), we work to help insanely busy people eat better both at work, for travel, for shift work and at home.

Our client list is diverse, ranging from employee nutrition initiatives for Imperial Oil or the City of Lethbridge to speaking engagements and webinars for associations, corporations and the federal government. As a consultant on health trends and spokesperson for the food, grocery and restaurant industry, companies such as the healthy smoothie franchise Jugo Juice work and AG/Buy-Low Foods work with us for our understanding of health-conscious consumers and to enhance credibility of marketing initiatives. We are also the nutrition consultant for Brightpath Early Learning Inc., a publicly-traded company and leader in Canadian childcare.

More recently, I’ve also had the opportunity to widen my personal impact to a larger audience through the creation and facilitation of my one-of-a kind online nutrition course, The Pursuit of Healthiness. This has been the coolest thing I’ve done in my career. This program focuses on helping busy people and time-strapped employees in companies achieve better health, meal planning success and move towards their personal best weight.

I had no idea what it would be like to teach online but I can say I love the impact I can make for people regardless of where they live. I also love seeing how my community members support one another. It has been super rewarding work.

Why did you start this?

Holwegner: When you are on a mission to make a difference, but don’t like any of the job options available in public health, naturally you decide you must create your own opportunity. I founded Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. in 2000 straight out of university when dietitians didn’t really work much in private practice.

I was a broke student and had moved back into my parents’ home. I remember borrowing their car to see my first clients and spending long hours like many entrepreneurs trying to figure out your systems and where you could provide the most impact to grow. But I was passionate about the role of nutrition to fundamentally shift health.

I’d watched my grandparents pass away with health issues and my dad struggle with advanced cardiovascular issues at a very young age. Nutrition played a role in all of these situations and since I had always loved science, I became fascinated with understanding how and why what we eat impacted wellness.

I had also grown up in a home where my mom cooked yummy family meals and taught me the way around the kitchen. While others in university were partying, my best friend and I (who was also a foodie) were making homemade noodles and other geeky things in the kitchen. I have fond memories of long strands of noodles draped across bed sheets drying in our little apartment.

It was from this passion of marrying my love of food and natural curiosity for nutritional science that my business was born.

What’s your general sense of the eating habits of today’s society?

Holwegner: People often ask me “What is the best diet to follow?” The answer is actually quite simple. The best healthy eating lifestyle is the one you can sustain for life. If we break this down further, there are a couple of  key words to look at here. First of all, our goal is to have you think about the best lifestyle you can follow rather than the best diet (after all, the word diet has the word die in it and often brings about negative feelings of deprivation).

Building a lifestyle means you have thought about eating fully. Eating fully is the balance between eating healthfully (foods chosen for geeky nutritious reasons that improve health) as well as eating soulfully (foods chosen purely for fun, social enjoyment and taste). One without the other leads to imbalance in either wellness or quality of life.

This brings me to the second word that is really important in the statement “the best healthy eating lifestyle is the one you can sustain for life.” Another important word here is sustain. Ideas of what to follow are endless but actually being able to stick to an eating plan is difficult.

Any short-term cleanse, detox, rigid plan or diet that will end in a matter of days or weeks simply lacks benefit in your long-term health and often leads to feelings of failure when you’re unable to follow this. Time and time again we see ‘food rebel’ behaviour happen when our clients go off a rigid diet plan (aka overeating forbidden foods). The worst part is the heavy emotional toll our clients feel when feelings of guilt, shame and failure creep in.

As with most things in life, one size does not fit all. Be wary of any eating plan that says there is one way to eat that is superior. Scientific evidence does not suggest this is the case. You can be healthy following a wide range of eating plans (including both eating meat or as a vegetarian).

When we look at nutrition from a workplace perspective, what role does it play in people’s ability to perform to their capabilities?

Holwegner: I can think of no more important factor that impacts workplace energy, productivity, creativity, stress and health than simply eating good food. Yet many organizations don’t have much of a corporate wellness program and those that do often have minimal focus on nutrition initiatives and fail to walk the talk with healthy workplace food choices.

When employee health and nutrition is not maximized, employers have higher health benefit costs and experience more employee absenteeism, safety concerns and lost productivity. Studies repeatedly show that healthier, less stressed out employees are happier, more creative and ultimately more productive.

There are five components of healthy workplace nutrition:

  • Leadership and management team buy-in, education, commitment and vision.
  • Employee and family education in diverse learning styles (online education, hard copy resources, group learning and individual counselling).
  • Offer diverse healthy food choices in the workplace (beverages, vending machines, catering, retailers and events).
  • Provide a healthy environment and culture for eating (kitchen, equipment, eating area and appropriate breaks to encourage healthy eating).
  • Support health charities, food donation and nutritious fundraising initiatives.

Organizations that are interested in the full details on how I think about healthy workplace nutrition can fill out my free Workplace Nutrition Scorecard.

What is your key piece of advice for people who want to lose weight?

Holwegner: Shift your mindset to balanced, not clean. Food choices do not need to be thought of as good or bad. Food is just food.

We eat for different reasons, not simply to add nutrients into your body. Live by the hasthtag #balancednotclean. There are no bad foods, only bad diets. Nothing is off limits. You can eat anything, just not everything. It’s all about being intentional about your choices.

Just like budgeting your finances, you need to develop the skill and awareness of spending and saving where it counts. Similar to our bank account, what we choose to spend on is highly individual. There will always be key basic needs we must spend on (similar to a basic level of nutritious foods that need to be consumed for health and productivity in our day). Then we have some money left to spend on fun stuff (just like we have some calories left to spend on soulful foods chosen for taste and enjoyment rather than any type of nutritional need).

So how do you know if you are truly eating well?

The answer to this question is complicated since no one food causes health issues and there is not one single eating style that is best for health or weight concerns. There are, however some clear nutrition factors that are best known to help and you can find out more about them by filling out our Personal Nutrition Scorecard.

 

Contact us for more information on personal nutrition counseling with our team of Calgary nutritionists or to discuss nutrition seminars or workplace wellness options of your organization.

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. Andrea and her team really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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