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