For this week’s Spotlight Series, I’m featuring Carrie Zisman, MS, RDN, CHC, a Health Promotion Manager at a large aerospace and defense company. Carrie is responsible for managing the strategic plan and operations for the Health Promotion team. Her goal is to improve the physical health of employees and their dependents as well as the physical environment in which they work. Prior to her current gig, Carrie worked for 15 years on developing and implementing award-winning health communication and education programs within both the public and private sector. She got her Bachelors of Science in Dietetics from the University of Vermont and completed a joint Dietetic Internship and Masters of Science in Nutrition at Tufts University. She’s also earned several additional certifications in Adult Weight Management and Health Coaching and is a trained Corporate Athlete Facilitator.
I love the idea of dietitians being on the forefront of corporate wellness. This is such a booming market right now and will only get bigger. How did you break into the wellness field?
I had always been interested in nutrition and health promotion in general. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been reading Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, etc. for health news and about how entrepreneurs were incorporating wellness into every aspect of home and work.Throughout college and my internship in the early 90’s, I researched other fields that dietitians could work in besides clinical and tried to meet/network with as many different people as I could. I was also fortunate to have met several trailblazing RD’s in non-traditional career paths who were invited to speak at my undergraduate program at University of Vermont which helped to shape my career before I even applied for internships.
My very first job out of graduate school was working at a Social Marketing firm in Rockville, MD. If you’re not familiar with social marketing, it’s the practice of using behavioral science to influence a health behavior change. I worked on the USDA Team Nutrition program creating and marketing nutrition education materials. I continued to work for about 15 years as a consultant/contractor on other Federal health programs for NIH, CDC, and USDA, including the NHLBI’s We Can! Program and CDC’s LEANWorks. I also worked for several years at a public relations agency in NYC, which helped to refine my communications and marketing skills. These jobs provided me with essential on-the-job business skills in project development, management, implementation, and evaluation.
When I saw the job posting for my current position as a Corporate Wellness Manager, the listing didn’t mention the word “Dietitian” anywhere. However, I knew that I could do what they wanted and that they’d benefit from also getting an RDN.
How do you start off your day and what are some typical tasks your job entails?
My day always starts with a banana and good strong cup of coffee (grind and brew Peets) and then exercise at about 5:30am. If I don’t do it first thing in the morning, it won’t get done and I will feel terrible. I either run, walk my dog, or do a high intensity internal (HIT) training DVD at home. I have two small kids (7 and 3) and with an active husband too, so we take turns getting out for exercise. Once I get the kids off to school and finally get to work, a typical day includes lots of meetings and writing and some travel to our other offices. I participate on several Boards, including the Nutrition Entrepreneurs DPG and the National Business Group on Health Institute on Innovation and Wellbeing. In Corporate Wellness, we “walk the talk” and often get to do fun things at the office too, like participate in walking meetings, coordinate 5Ks, health fairs, Lunch & Learns, and smoothie events. I then leave at 5pm to do my other important job again, being a mom to my two small kids and 8 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback. I usually get back online after they’re in bed and work for a few more hours!
What first got you interested in nutrition?
My father is anorthodontist and as a child of the 70’s, I remember him getting into jogging, as well as putting wheat germ on everything, making natural peanut butter and yogurt, etc. My mom is also very health conscious too, so I just sort of grew up that way and never knew anything else. For the record, since my dad got bitten by the health bug in his 30’s, he is now 75 years young, still works full time, and has run 35 marathons, including Boston (1), New York (3), and Marine Corps (17), and is a 4 time Senior Olympian and medalist in race walking. My mom has also run a marathon, participated in two 3-day breast cancer walks, plays tennis daily and does Pilates and yoga. My brother and I were raised to be very active…he is an Ironman triathlete and personal trainer and I’m the dietitian, of course, and a Half Marathon junkie. Must be in the genes?! And, of course this continues in my married life with a husband who has completed 4 marathons and too many Century (100 mile) cycling events to count. We all continue to eat healthy to fuel our hobbies! Now, my 7 year old daughter says she wants to become a dietitian.
I love that story! Such a great testimonial on the importance of treating your body well– what you put into it is what you get out! What is the biggest challenge of your job?
Convincing business leaders and managers that ‘health is business relevant’. Most of them are worried about other things besides health. However, when you pitch it to them that our programs can reduce injury, improve performance, reduce sick days, etc., they can understand that better and support it.
Do you follow any certain diet?
I choose to eat whole unprocessed foods, for the most part. Though, I have my weaknesses (ahem…French fries and ice cream), but enjoy them in moderation so I can eat them regularly. Though I am not 100% Paleo, I have gotten really into making Paleo-style desserts lately. I find them to be satisfying, but not overly sweet. To me, the most important aspect of nutrition is what is going to give me the most energy and keep me healthiest to do all that I want to do.
Is there any food that you won’t eat?
I don’t like liver, root beer, ice cream soda or root beer floats, runny eggs, or black licorice. Pretty limited list I think.
Is there any food or nutrition related book or documentary that really changed the way you think about what we eat?
I like the simplicity of Food Rules by Michael Pollan. It’s hard to argue against his logic. And I just love Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink – I practice these techniques regularly and recommend them.
What are your thoughts on organic foods? Do you feel strongly one way or another?
I don’t really have any strong feelings about it except that it’s personal choice. I’d rather someone eat healthier conventional foods than not eat those foods at all, especially if price is an issue.
Do you believe in calories in vs. calories out or is there more to it?
I generally believe in calories in vs. out, but I do believe there’s more to it than that. I’ve recently gotten into Integrative and Functional Medicine and looking at the whole person to determine what personalized approach they may need.
If you weren’t a dietitian, what would you be?
Ha, I think about this all the time and I really really like being a dietitian at the core. What I like most about nutrition though, is that you can (and should) mix it with other skills. Dietitians can be in the driver seat for so many things – we have the ability to be leaders, movers, and shakers in the health and wellness field.
What is your favorite place to go or thing to do in your city?
I live in Bethesda, MD just a few miles outside Washington, D.C. The entire Washington, DC Metro area is great for so many activities. I like anything from running along the Potomac River, walking on the National Mall, hiking in Shenandoah National Forest in Virginia, or being on Maryland’s eastern shore…eating Maryland crabs, of course. The food scene has gotten quite good in the last 10 years too, so I love to try to new restaurants.
What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?
In the next 5 years, I’d like to see where my career in corporate wellness can take me, complete my training in Integrative and Functional Medicine, run my first marathon, go on at least one awesome vacation a year, both with and without my kids! The next big trip is a ski trip to Whistler, Canada for my 10th wedding anniversary.
What would you say to someone interested in a career in nutrition?
Good for you – this is such a great field with so many opportunities. I would also say: study all that you can, keep an open mind, don’t limit yourself, anything is possible, network like crazy, be active in State or local Dietetic Associations, join at least one Academy Dietetic Practice Group and consider being an active Board member as well. Though I have been a member of several DPG’s over the years, the one I have stayed loyal to and benefitted the most from is the Nutrition Entrepreneurs. I just find their enthusiasm, creativity, and trailblazing attitudes to be awesome.