How I Studied for the RD Exam

I am not a good test taker. I was always the student that had to study A LOT to do well on exams. This time was no different! In mid-July I got the email that I was able to schedule my RD exam. There weren’t any test dates open for a few months, so I originally scheduled it for Sept. 8, which would give me a good few months to study. I had actually already started prepping to study back in June, but I started a new job and then went to Norway, so I really hadn’t started seriously studying until August. Finding time to study with a full time job was hard. I was used to coming home after the internship and either going to the gym/relaxing, but now I had to buckle down and study. I actually re-scheduled my exam date for a week earlier because I just wanted to be done studying and didn’t think one week would make much of a difference. I am so glad I did!

Here is what worked for me. Keep in mind everyone studies differently, so make sure you study how you’ve always studied, and do what works best for you!

Purchase Study Materials
I bought a copy of a 2014 Jean Inman Guide on eBay for $100. The full-price version is almost $300, and I just didn’t want to spend that kind of money on a bunch of paper! I still wish I hadn’t bought the one on ebay so early, because a few weeks later I got a scanned copy  for free. However, I did like having the physical copy to take notes on and refer to when studying. One of the other interns also sent us each digital files of the recordings, so I could listen along and highlight the study guide. In the end, I think the Inman guide was useful to refresh yourself on the domains, but the actual questions on the exam were not like anything I studied in Inman.  Weird, I know.

Study Software
I purchased Visual Veggies because I wanted to do as many practice questions as possible. I really like this software because it keeps track of your progress and tells you were you need to improve. You can also take full-length practice exams and I found these to be very beneficial! The only downside is that this program is expensive. However, it was worth it, in my opinion.

I also bought an app called Pocket Prep Dietitian for my iPad. I used it on my flight home from Norway (9+ hours on a plane and I knew I would get my moneys worth from it.) The app was about $20 and had hundreds of questions. These questions were harder than the Visual Veggies questions, but I found they were most like the questions on the actual RD exam!

Virtual flash cards were also very useful. I downloaded the Quizlet app on my iPad and iPhone and searched “RD exam”–someone had made up flashcards already! So it was a very quick way to study on the go. I didn’t use Quizlet as much as the first two, but they were helpful.

Notes
I also re-wrote out a lot of notes over and over again. I made flash cards too but hardly ever used them. I think just the act of writing out the flashcards helps. I find I need to write something out many times for it to stick in my brain. I had pages and pages and pages of notes that I carried around with me everywhere. I tried memorizing equations but in the end, I only had three actual questions on the RD exam that needed calculations!

Make a Schedule
For me, I had to have set days of the week so I would stick to it and study. I made sure to study for a few hours at least 4x week. Unfortunately it cut into my exercise time, but it was worth it. I also studied on my lunch break a few times a week since I get an hour break.

So, in the end, it worked! I passed the RD exam on my first try. If you are currently studying for the RD exam, just relax and take a deep breath–you can do this! You’ve worked SO HARD to get to this point, and you know a lot more than you think you know. GOOD LUCK!

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Blueberry Mango Protein Smoothie

I came across this great post yesterday written by Australian Sports Dietitian, Dietitian without Borders, entitled “Do You Need Protein Supplements?” – I tend to share posts like these on social media because they align with my views on supplement use. Overall I think most athletes and those that are active in “gym culture” tend to over-consume supplements–specifically protein supplements. There are so many products available these days, it’s overwhelming and mostly unnecessary, not to mention a waste of money, since many of these products claiming health benefits are way overpriced. The bottom line is that unless you have a hard time getting protein from actual food sources, you don’t really need supplements as long as you eat a varied, balanced diet. Another great article: “What Protein to Eat–And How”, is about protein sources for athletes written by a Dietitian for Outside Magazine. An article in Today’s Dietitian magazine called Ergogenic Aids — Competitive Edge or Hidden Danger? breaks down popular supplements such as whey protein, creatine, branched-chain amino acids (or BCAAs), and carnitine.  As athletes, we want to fuel our body the best way possible and the best way we can do that is by eating a variety of nutritious, whole foods.

If you love your protein shakes, but want to try a whole-foods alternative, ditch the protein powder and add Greek yogurt. With nearly 20 grams of protein in 1 cup, it provides the protein necessary to build and repair muscle after intense exercise.

This smoothie is a nutritious alternative to a a protein shake made with your typical protein powder. Not only are you getting about 12 grams of protein as well as calcium from the Greek yogurt, you’ll get additional vitamins and minerals from the fruit. Mango is loaded with Vitamins C and A, while blueberries are loaded with antioxidants. Tart cherry juice, also high in the antioxidant known as anthocyanin (which give fruits like cherries their dark red color), is also shown to improve exercise recovery! Additionally, mangoes and blueberries contain fiber that promotes healthy digestion.

Disclaimer: I’m a Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice Ambassador! Tart cherry juice has been a staple of my diet for the past five years -I love it! Not only does it taste good, research shows that it actually does help improve exercise recovery. In fact, I wrote an entire research paper on it last year for my Food Science class. 

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What It Takes to Become a Dietitian

  • 4+ years of classes in the science of nutrition and dietetics, including organic chemistry, biochemistry and nutrient metabolism
  • 1280 supervised, unpaid, practice hours
  • hours of homework, reading journal articles, and completing case studies
  • studying for (and passing) a registration examination
  • a passion for all things food and nutrition

These are just a few of the things it takes to become a Registered Dietitian, or a nutrition expert. It’s hard work. Seven years ago, I sat down at an info session at Sage College with interest in starting their nutrition science program. I had just lost 80 pounds and was really interested in food and nutrition. I learned then that in order to be a real expert in nutrition, I would have to become an dietitian. I took three years of required science classes at HVCC, followed by three years of full time coursework (while working!) in nutrition and dietetics on campus at Sage. Finally, last August I began my Dietetic Internship, a program of 1280 supervised practice hours required to become a Registered Dietitian. For 10 months, I was to work full-time, for free, under the supervision of  Registered Dietitians, a Food Service Manager, and a Food Access Team. I gave up my job with great benefits to work for free. I completed five rotations: food service management (10 weeks), long-term care (2 weeks), acute care and outpatient clinical (13 weeks) and community (7 weeks). Last Friday was the last day of my internship–it feels so surreal to be done.

The Dietetic Internship has taught me so much more than I could ever learn in the classroom. I went into it with preconceived notions of what I wanted to do once I was done and I’ve completely changed my mind. I thought I wanted to be a sports and weight management dietitian, but realized that’s not the path I want to take, at least not right away! I really enjoyed my clinical rotations–I loved long-term care, critical care, oncology and renal. I loved writing tube feeds and working with patients one-on-one, helping them improve their health through nutrition and working to combat chronic disease with medical nutrition therapy.

I also chose to become a dietitian because quite frankly, I love food. Not only is food needed to sustain life, proper nutrition can greatly improve a person’s quality of life. Being directly involved in a patient’s care is extremely rewarding. I’ve also experienced first-hand how one’s life can completely change with good nutrition. I’ve been working toward this goal for so long, it feels surreal to almost be done.  I am going to celebrate when I can finally write those two letters after my name.

What is the difference between a Nutritionist and a Registered Dietitian?
There’s a huge difference between a dietitian and nutritionist. Dietitians must complete science-heavy coursework in nutrition science, metabolism, food science, organic and biochemistry, as well as counseling and food service management—either earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition or a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Nutrition (if you have a Bachelor’s in something other than nutrition). To top that off we must compete the 10 month, unpaid dietetic internship. I can call myself a nutritionist now because I’ve completed all of nutrition coursework and internship, but to call myself a dietitian I must pass the Registration Examination. I can’t take the exam until successfully completing the internship along with meeting the set of competencies set by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Dietitians are nutrition experts! Anyone can take an online class and call themselves a nutritionist—but it takes a lot of hard work,  and dedication to become a Registered Dietitian. Remember, be wary of those handing out nutrition advice without the RD credential.

Dietetic Internship FAQs
What type of internship program were you in?
I got into the distance dietetic internship program at Sage College. They have two tracts-distance and onsite. As a distance intern, I had to find my own rotation placements. The only time this was difficult was when I was looking for a facility for my acute care rotation. Because I was a distance intern, I couldn’t utilize any of the hospitals in the Capital Region. I called about 15 hospitals within a 2 hour radius of Albany because I didn’t want to have to physically move for my clinical rotation. I also tried about 10 hospitals in Florida where my parents are in the winter, as well as hospitals near where my sister lives in New Jersey. Thankfully, my internship director gave me contact information for the Nutrition Director at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield. One of the RDs there decided to take me on as an intern! Pittsfield is only an hour from my apartment and my parents have friends who live in Dalton, MA, about 15 minutes from the hospital. They rented their fully-furnished house to me, while they were in Florida for the winter for three months, while I was interning at the hospital. Even though it sucked to pay rent in two places at once, it was convenient when the weather was bad, which was often as the hospital was in the Berkshires and my rotation was January – March! I came home on the weekends. Other than that rotation, all of my other placements were in the Capital Region and were easy for me to find.

Are you done with school?
The DI program at Sage is also a combined MS program. Since I had taken all but three of the required MS courses previously, I only had to take one online course concurrently with the internship (Advanced Medical Nutrition Therapy, which I took in conjunction with my clinical rotation). I only have two more research courses left until I have my MS in Applied Nutrition and will be graduating in May 2018! Then I can finally say that I’m done with school!

How did you live without an income for 10 months?
It was a struggle. If you are in school and you know you’ll be taking the RD tract then save as much money as you can! I really wish I had saved more to live on during my internship. But thankfully I have a good support system and family that helped me out when I needed it. I also relied on student loans much of the time. I also worked over the winter break, which helped. Working for nothing can be an inconvenience, but it’s worth it to gain the experience you need to become a dietitian.

Other Nutrition FAQs
I want to lose X number of pounds; can you create a meal plan for me?
Achieving your healthy weight requires more than just a meal plan. As soon as I’m an RD, I will consider private consultations—but at this moment I need to focus on studying for my RD exam! But if you have any nutrition-related questions, do not hesitate to send me an email and I will try my best to answer them!

What diet do you follow?
I don’t follow any specific diet. In fact, I don’t believe in diets. I eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, and healthy fats. I also have a sweet tooth and thoroughly enjoy ice cream and cupcakes! These foods can be part of a healthy meal lifestyle. I don’t eliminate anything. You shouldn’t have to restrict foods to be healthy–unless medically necessary due to allergies, intolerances, or a medical condition. There is no good food vs. bad food or clean food vs. dirty food. In fact, I despise the term clean eating because it gives the connotation that certain foods are “dirty”. I try to eat intuitively—paying attention to hunger cues and eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full—but it will always be a work in progress for me as I do have a history of obesity and overeating. If I’ve learned anything these past few years, no diet is perfect, it is not black and white.

Suggested reading materials – Interested in nutrition? Check out these books.
Body Kindness
: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out–and Never Say Diet Again by Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN – I have yet to read this one, but I know it’s going to be good. According to Amazon, “Body Kindness helps you let go of things you can’t control and embrace the things you can by finding the workable, daily steps that fit you best. Think of it as the anti-diet book that leads to a more joyful and meaningful life!”

Intuitive Eating by Ellen Tribole, MS, RD – Ellen Tribole is the pioneer of Intuitive Eating and her book is great–it focuses on how to let go of dieting and achieving a new and safe relationship with food and, ultimately, your body.

Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook by Nancy Clark, MS, RD – I’ve seen Nancy speak a few times and I love her Sports Nutrition Guidebook—it’s easy to understand and is a great resource for any athlete looking to improve performance or just maintain weight while training. I frequently turn to her book for information on sports nutrition.

Suggested Nutrition Blogs
Fannetastic Food
The Real Life RD
Nutrition QED
Summer Tomato
Nourish Nutrition Blog
Mind on Nutrition (a fellow Sage Alum!) 
Heather Caplan, RD
The Educated Plate

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How I Fuel for Long Hikes

Packing enough food for a long hike is so important. Fueling adequately beforehand is also key. It is not fun to “hit the wall” during  a long hike. Muscles need glucose (sugar) to form glycogen (the storage form of glucose) which serves as fuel during your hike. When you run out of glycogen, you “hit the wall”, which can lead to extreme fatigue (the same thing can happen during long distance running or cycling!)  Nobody wants to feel like that on a hike, so fueling appropriately before, during and after your hike is very important. Carbohydrates provide the body with energy for your muscles, while proteins provide the body with essential amino acids to help build and repair muscles. Making sure you pack enough quality foods for your hike is essential!

Breakfast

Before a long a hike, a mix of protein and carbs is best. Usually I have an egg and cheese sandwich on a roll. When I was hiking the 46, I was getting up before sunrise and didn’t have time to prepare breakfast. If I was really ambitious I would microwave an egg to have on a bagel to eat on the way up, but I rarely had time for that. Stopping on the way for a grab-and-go egg and cheese was usually my best bet. I knew I’d be expending a lot of calories and I wanted to eat something that would stick, keeping me full for a the first few hours of hiking.

Snacks/Lunch

If I was feeling a little bit hungry on the drive up, I’d snack on an apple or a mini cliff bar before starting the hike. Both of these provide carbohydrate. For lunch I would usually bring a bagel with cream cheese or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread. For other snacks high protein snacks, I’d bring hard boiled eggs, beef jerky, nuts, even some cheese to enjoy on the summit. Eating a snack high in protein helps repair your muscles after an intense climb. Sometime’s I’d even bring a Gu or another type of energy gel for quick and easy energy. They provide fast and easily digestible carbohydrate that can be eaten while hiking. Honey packets or applesauce/pureed fruit packets are also great options for quick, easily-transportable energy. In the winter, I always make sure to bring a thermos of vegetable lentil soup, which provides salt, protein, and some carbohydrate, plus–there’s something special about having a hot meal on a cold day in the mountains!

Hydration

Bringing enough water during your long hike is key, especially during warm weather. In the summer, during long hikes I bring 4 liters of water (3 L bladder + 1 L bottle) along with a water filter so I can filter water from a stream if it’s needed. When I hiked the Dix Range last summer on a hot day, I drank the entire 4 liters. If you find you are a salty sweater, it wouldn’t hurt to bring some electrolyte tablets, such as Nuun, a bottle of Gatorade, or even salt tablets. On a super hot day, I keep a frozen bottle of Gatorade in my pack next to my hydration bladder. It keeps the bladder cold and eventually thaws, leaving a nice cold beverage. Rehydrating (with something other than a craft beer!) after your hike is also extremely important–so leaving a cooler full of ice cold water and gatorade in your car for post-hike rehydration is a fantastic idea!

Hiking Snack Ideas

What are some of your favorite snack ideas for hiking?

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