In this week’s Dietitian Spotlight Series, I’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN, LD, a trailblazing entrepreneur I met in Dallas, TX. She is the chair for the Nutrition Entrepreneurs Dietetic Practice Group (which I highly recommend joining if you have any interest in starting your own business!) and is a huge advocate for and asset to our profession.

Neily (as she’s known), tell us a little about what you do as an RD and how you got where you are today. 

After receiving a B.S. in marketing from Northern Illinois University, I enjoyed being in the corporate business-world based in Chicago. Nonetheless, the pull of my intense interest in nutrition, healthcare, and healthy living led me back to school.

I received my M.S. in Exercise and Sports Nutrition from Texas Woman’s University and found my calling during my dietetic internship. After graduation I was employed for seven years as a clinical dietitian by Dallas’s Parkland Memorial Hospital. The rock-solid foundation and profound experiences I had there were invaluable as I made my next career move to the world-renowned Cooper Clinic in Dallas. Focusing on wellness and disease prevention, for the next five years I provided nutrition therapy and coaching to over two-thousand patients.

Now as a Dallas-based registered dietitian nutritionist, I provide science-based advice through nutrition counseling, coaching, public speaking, consulting, writing, and teaching. I became a Wellcoaches® Certified Health Coach and have loved expanding my business to include more wellness and nutrition coaching.

What got you interested in the field of nutrition?

I was a chubby kid and went to Weight Watchers right after 8th grade. Ever since then I’ve always had more than a passing interest in nutrition but never considered it is a career because of my own struggles. Plus I smoked—a lot. It wasn’t until I gave up that nasty habit that I truly felt I was a healthy person—I ate right, was physically active, didn’t drink or do drugs and finally became a non-smoker! That’s when I decided to go to grad school and study nutrition after 10 years in the business world.

What is your favorite part of going to work every day?

Going to work for me is grabbing my coffee and, weather permitting going to my office out on the back porch. I love working for myself and enjoy the variety of my work. There are about 3-4 main sources of my revenue—nutrition coaching, consulting, teaching, writing/speaking. I’m also very active in social media and connecting with people from many areas of life is rewarding. You can find me @JenniferNeily on twitter and on Facebook as NeilyonNutrition. My philosophy is built on the foundation of sound science-based nutrition principles.

What is the biggest challenge of being a dietitian?

It’s amazing how many self-prescribed experts there are. Just because someone has lost weight or become a fanatic about the diet du jour and it has changed their life they preach like it is the only way and if you’re not on the bandwagon, something is wrong with you. That’s so frustrating to me. Everyone is an individual. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Although I follow a plant-based lifestyle for the most part, I love low fat and nonfat dairy like milk and Greek yogurt and frankly could not live without it. I would never shun anyone following a vegan lifestyle and not consuming those foods, so why would they shun me for eating them? I don’t know, but some do.

The same for those following a Paleo lifestyle—no dairy. Although I don’t particularly get the Paleo way—who’s to know how our ancestors ate. And why did they not have the longevity we have today? Why embrace a way of eating when life expectancy was half what it is today? Call me crazy but I just don’t get it.  I can’t argue with many of the components—more protein, fewer carbs, no refined sugar, and of course, no processed food. But, eating Paleo can’t really be defined.

Personally, I’ve done a great job over the years balancing my checkbook, does that make me qualified to be an accountant or bookkeeper? No.

I’ve done some remodeling on my house—heck I was even a core volunteer for years working every Saturday for Habitat for Humanity—but does that make me qualified to build a house? No.

I’ve read books, blogs, etc on how to be a better speaker. Does that make me qualified to teach workshops on speaking? No.

So why is it that someone reads a book or tries a program that all of a sudden they’re an expert? David Katz, MD wrote a great article last year for the Huffington Post entitled Opinion Stew. It’s an excellent piece—well worth reading.

Couldn’t have said it better! Now, do you follow any certain diet or way of eating?

Yes, I follow the 80/20 diet.

What is one food you couldn’t live without?

Milk. For almost my entire adult life I rarely drank it preferring to eat my dairy versus drink it. But a few years ago my taste buds changed and now I crave it. A half gallon used to go bad in my fridge but now I could buy two gallons without a problem. I’m challenged to get protein in my diet and at 8 grams per 8 ounces milk is an easy convenient source—especially for the morning. I use a lot of milk in my coffee. Who knows, my tastes may change again in a few years but for now, I’m enjoying it. (And yes, occasionally I’ll drink it right out of the carton!)

I also could not live without fruits and veggies. A number of years ago I participated in a research study of the Atkins diet. Due to the nature of the study diet I was limited to a few celery sticks per day. It was the most miserable 8 weeks in my life.

What is the top tip you give your patients/clients?

That’s an easy one—eat more fruits and veggies.

Thank you Neily for being part of the Dietitian Spotlight Series! Be sure to connect with Neily: