For this weeks spotlight, I interviewed a new RD that I met while working at Shane Diet & Fitness Resort in New York this past summer. Sheena Pradhan works as an outpatient community RD and recently started her own practice, Nutritious Balance.

What’s a typical day in the life of Sheena?

During the week, I am normally up around 4 AM – 5 AM to workout (swim, bike, run or lift – hooray for triathlons!). I have two hardboiled eggs with fruit and plain yogurt almost every morning for breakfast. Monday through Friday I will then leave to catch the subway for the Community Healthcare Network clinic in the Bronx, where I work as an outpatient dietitian. If I am not speaking to patients during a counseling session, I am designing education materials for the organization. Our department is quickly growing, which is pretty exciting! After work, I am sometimes relaxing in my apartment, attending a web design seminar, working on my website, catching up on emails for my private practice, Nutritious Balance, writing a blog post, or preparing for my participation in the Miss New York USA pageant in January 2015.

Sheena competing in the Miss New Jersey USA competition!
Sheena competing in the Miss New Jersey USA competition!

On weekends, I try to take some time for myself, although working on my private practice and preparing for my pageant sometimes take over. I enjoy escaping New York City to go hiking, explore new neighborhoods and restaurants in the city, spending time with friends and family, reading, and working on the occasional art project—I like refurbishing my furniture and have had a lot of fun decorating my new apartment in the city.

What got you interested in the field of nutrition?

There was a specific day when I realized that I was interested in nutrition. I ran track and cross country in middle school and high school. My usual after practice routine was to come home to a microwavable meal and various snacks in front of the TV while I iced my shin splints (or other running ailment – of which were many), which was followed by a “healthier” meal with my family. On one particular day, I decided to eat a tomato instead of a microwavable meal and actually felt amazing afterwards. After that day, I was very curious about how different foods made me feel and affected my performance with running. During the same time period, I also became very interested in personal training and exercise physiology. I even considered going to school for physical therapy. When I finally made the decision to go to school for nutrition, I was a sophomore in college, had recently switched out of the architecture program at Drexel University and was deciding where my career should go. I took a nutrition class and loved it. The rest is history!

What is pushing you to start your own practice and become an entrepreneur?

I think it’s in my blood. I’ve always had a very independent and entrepreneurial way of thinking. I love having a million things going on at once. It feels very natural to me, like there is nothing else that I am supposed be doing. I find that I get bored just doing one thing for forty hours a week. Being able to also work in counseling, corporate wellness, providing cooking demonstrations and grocery store tours diversifies my “nutritionist” work. My first love (before nutrition and fitness) was design. With running my own practice, I get to experience design, business, nutrition, fitness, and writing – all of my passions. I’m living my dream and paving a path for myself, which is wonderful.

Sheena mixing ingredients for a caramel flavored yogurt dip for apple slices in one of her cooking classes.

What is your favorite part of your day as an RD?

The best part of my day is when a client exceeds her expectations of herself. The only thing better than seeing a client’s lab values (for example, cholesterol or blood sugar) go from being completely abnormal to normal or to see successful weight changes is when a patient or client knows how much progress she has made and can be proud of herself. The most important part of making lifestyle changes for better health is that the client not only achieves her goals, but also that she feels better about where she is in terms of her own health and fitness.

What is the biggest challenge of being a dietitian in your field?

I work in two settings: clinical outpatient nutrition and private practice. The biggest challenge in the clinical outpatient setting is reaching out to patients who do not realize that they could benefit from nutrition counseling. It is easy to counsel a patient that wants to make changes. It’s harder to help someone that does not want to make changes. The biggest challenge of having a private practice is finding new clients. Marketing in today’s world is easier because of social media and internet marketing firms like Yeah! Local who work the internet for you. However, running a private practice means I am a marketing professional every day. Twitter is just the beginning. Finding businesses to market my services to and maintain a presence there is my current challenge. That being said, creating a relationship with a client and maintaining it is extremely rewarding.

The question everyone wants to ask an RD: do you follow any certain diet?

No diet – I just try to eat a balanced diet full of different types of fruit and vegetables. I do allow myself to indulge every now and then also.

What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?

My most memorable meal was when I was in college. I hadn’t had any of my favorite home–cooked Indian foods in a few months. When my mom visited one weekend she brought me some homemade shrimp curry (cooked Oriya style – my favorite!), naan and ripe mangoes. It was absolutely delicious.

What diet fad do you wish would disappear?

The juice cleanse. I get asked about this every day, at my clinic and in my private practice. I have a stock answer. I always try to educate my clients on balanced meals, snacks and eating schedules and emphasize the importance of eating protein at mealtimes on this “diet” since the juice cleanse is essentially fasting.

What food or nutrition related book or documentary do you think everyone read or watch?

I like Food, Inc. Although this movie pertains more to food system issues than nutrition issues, it is important for people to understand our current food system and where our food comes from. A vast majority of our society’s nutrition problems branch from a disconnect between where food comes from (plants and animals) and our plates.

Food, Inc. is available on demand from Netflix– I also highly recommend it to anyone who’s at all curious about where their food comes from.

Sheena, what is the top tip you give your patients/clients/friends?

The best tip is the most basic one: everything in moderation. “Can I eat grains? Can I eat avocados? Can I eat coconuts?” are common questions that I get asked. My response is usually, yes, but not too much. Portion control and balanced meals are the two most basic and most essential rules of healthy eating.

Sheena teaching community cooking class for 7- 12 year olds. They made chocolate and pistachio covered bananas and chocolate bark with pistachios-- yum!
Sheena teaching a community nutrition class for 7- 12 year olds. They made some treats of chocolate and pistachio covered bananas and chocolate pistachio bark — yum!

What is your favorite place to go or thing to do in your city?

I have a strange love for the financial district (FiDi) in New York City. It is bustling during the weekdays because this is where all of the big banks are located. It is pretty quiet on weekends. FiDi is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York City. You can see historic “New Amsterdam” in the way the streets are laid out – it is very European in style – winding streets and cute alleyways. I love the architecture and grandeur of the buildings in the financial district. It is wonderful to take in the hugeness of it all without the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city on a late Saturday morning. Despite there being “less to do” in this neighborhood, there are some cute bars, restaurants and the bay to look out on. FiDi is definitely an underrated neighborhood of New York City, in my opinion.

What would you say to someone interested in becoming an RD or getting into the field of nutrition? Any advice or caution?

My advice to anyone looking into any career path is to follow your passion – what is it that makes you most excited. If it is nutrition, then go into nutrition, if it is something else – than that is what you should be pursuing.

If you have doubts, research the entire process of becoming a dietitian. It is a lot of hard work, science classes and takes 5 years (4 years for a Bachelor’s Degree and 1 year for a dietetic internship). Be clear on what you are getting yourself into. If you love nutrition and see yourself as a dietitian, then it will be worth it in the end.

Thanks Sheena for showing us what its like to be an RD in NYC!