Nutrition Therapist Sue Zbornik and her book Find Your Happetite

Hello!  I’m Sue Zbornik.  I am a Nutrition Therapist, though a term I like better comes courtesy of my cheeky friend Martina: “psycho-dietitian”.  I call the work I do nutrition therapy.  My expertise is in the area of symptom management for eating problems, in particular, eating disorders and in helping clients learn how to trust their bodies – and appetites – again. I work as part of a team in an outpatient eating disorders clinic in Sydney, Australia.

Watch my interview below and contonue reading.

As a student I had my doubts about being a dietitian.  I’d enrolled for the joy I found in helping others and in preparing, serving and eating nutritious food.  Preparing food was a creative outlet for me, but the course work didn’t seem to reflect what I’d hoped for.

Academically, however, I was up to the task so I stuck with it until my third year when I nearly dropped out midway.  One of my clinical supervisors took me aside in a private meeting and said that I needed to lose weight because I didn’t look like a dietitian.  “What is a dietitian supposed to look like?”  I silently thought to myself…my mind wandered back to childhood:

I grew up on a family farm in Iowa, not far from where the Mississippi River slices through the glacier-leveled fields of the Mid-west.  My five siblings and I were intimately connected with nature and the cycles of life.  We worked hard and played harder. Mealtimes were always family affairs.  With eight of us in total there were never any short orders, we ate what we were given, or waited until the next meal or snack.  We ate big breakfasts after morning chores, had hot lunches during the September-to-May school year or meals of sandwiches, homemade sweets and freshly made lemonade in the summer. There was always a snack in the afternoon and noisy meals before the evening milking.  All the girls learned to cook from our mother, who was very adept in the kitchen.  We ate to our appetites and never worried or thought much about eating, or weight, even though growing, harvesting, preparing and eating nourishing and delicious food was a big part of our life on the farm.

I brought myself back to the immediate conversation unfolding in the fluorescent-lit room on campus. I’d always liked and admired my professor; I knew she had good intentions. I’m sure she only wanted the best for me and my career.  And she was telling me I needed to lose weight.  So my silent pondering of what a dietitian was supposed to look like was replaced with something much more judgmental, “There’s something wrong with how I look and I’d better lose weight.”

Though I had a strong connection to my natural appetite, I had not yet developed a strong sense of myself, or a healthy self-esteem, so I did what she suggested and I lost weight. Soon I started feeling physically and emotionally deprived and very quickly (and without much effort) regained the weight I’d lost, plus an extra kilogram or two.  I felt a huge sense of guilt and failure.  I also felt like a hypocrite (a dietitian that couldn’t diet) and I lost track of the reason I’d enrolled in the course in the first place.

Despite these setbacks I decided to finish the course and see what life would serve up.  Even though I didn’t ‘look like a dietitian’ I was allowed to graduate with my degree in dietetics.  However, the events of that year weighed heavily on me during my first years of work, influencing my eating and prompting occasional halfhearted attempts to ‘look like a dietitian’ by dieting. Like any well-trained dietitian I could translate prescribed diets (for example an 1800 Kilocalorie low cholesterol diet) into a meal plan along with menu ideas.  I understood food composition and could outline exactly what foods to eat during a day to fulfill the required Kilocalorie and nutrient needs as understood by nutrition science at the time.  I highlight these words because anyone who reads scientific articles knows the only constant is change.  Year-by-year various nutrients are touted as necessary for health and fitness – and others are put on the suspect list. The list of the do’s and don’ts of nutrition fashion change as rapidly as clothing and accessories. At the time, polyunsaturated fats were the miracle cure (monounsaturated fats barely had a mention back then) and carbohydrates were to be avoided if you were any kind of fad diet aficionado.  But no matter how scientific I was about what I wanted to eat, my appetite always won. I always ended up back at my normal weight.

Around this time I attended a workshop on natural eating by Ellyn Satter in Madison, Wisconsin.  Ellyn is a registered dietitian and a licensed social worker.  She is well known for her “division of duties” and recommendations for parents in regards to helping teach children how to eat.  She suggests parents be responsible for what, when and where to eat, offering a wide variety of foods.  Children are responsible for how much and whether they eat.  She is also known for developing the Ellyn Satter Eating Competence Scale.

I remember standing at the back of the room during the afternoon and feeling a sense of “Ah-ha!” about what had been missing in my education:  it was the role of normal eating and the pleasures of food.  I also remember Ellyn telling the audience that by using the skills of normal eating, dietitians could have a container of ice cream in the shopping trolley without feeling hypocritical if they ran into a client at the supermarket.  How strange that I’d been practicing as a dietitian for several years and hadn’t reminded myself about the reason I’d become interested in the field of dietetics – to help others and to carry on my passion for food, cooking and eating.

Soon after this discovery, and with some effort on my part, my eating and weight started to normalize again. Within a year I’d enrolled in an educational counseling course at the University of Wisconsin and started on-the-job training in the field of eating disorder treatment.  My weight and clothing size has remained relatively stable for nearly 25 years since then. It has taken a little longer to accept and love the body that was lent to me for this life and there are some days where that is still a struggle, but by and large I can appreciate all the delights of the amazing machine that is my body. I became passionate about helping others live a life of freedom around food, eating and weight issues. Find Your Happetite is the result of those twenty-five years of personal and professional practice and research.

About Sue Zbornik: A dietitian with a Master’s Degree in counseling, Sue trained and worked as a Registered Dietitian (RD) in the U.S. for ten years before moving to Australia in 1992. She is now an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (the RD equivalent), and an Accredited Nutritionist working and living in Sydney.