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Nutritionist dishes out advice on healthy eating

In the obesity equation, it’s not one cookie that makes a difference, but the continual habitual gorging of calorie-laden brownies, chips, and soda.

Nutritionist Hillary Wright calls it the 80/20 rule.

“Any nutritionist will tell you that healthy eating doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s what you do most of the time that affects your health, not the occasional bowl of ice cream,” says Wright, an Arlington registered and licensed dietitian who has more than 18 years of experience counseling clients on diet and lifestyle change. “I help people understand that eating well doesn’t equate to the numbers on a scale.”

Wright provides nutrition care for oncology patients and cancer survivors at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Just yesterday, Wright counseled a woman diagnosed with breast cancer, who came in with a long list of questions about supplements and proposed dietary changes. She wanted to know if there were certain foods she should avoid; if it was OK to exercise, and other health dilemmas. “

These days, I spend a lot of time clearing up confusion with patients who read a lot of information on the Internet,” says Wright, who also is a nutritional consultant for the Domar Center and BodiMojo.com. “This particular patient was happy to be let off the hook as far as taking a lot of different supplements. I recommended a food-first approach, with Vitamin D, calcium, and fish oil supplements to improve the diet.”

It’s apropos that tomorrow (March 10) is “Registered Dietitian Day,” created by the American Dietetic Association to remind consumers that the best source of reliable nutrition information is a registered dietician (RD), not just a “nutritionist.” The RD credential, like Wright possesses, requires a bachelor’s degree, completing a supervised practice program, and passing a registration exam.

“I have met people who wouldn’t dream of changing the oil in their car by themselves but will follow advice from a total stranger in a forwarded e-mail when it comes to losing weight,” says registered dietitian and American Dietetic Association spokesperson Sari Greaves.

Q: How did you become interested in nutrition?
A:
I grew up in a family where two of my brothers had Type I diabetes. My mother met with a nutritionist at Children’s Hospital, who empowered her to feel like she could take care of her diabetic children. My mom was already a good cook and homemaker, and now she was educated about nutrition. It trickled down to all of us.

Q: When people think about nutrition, they think about food, but there’s more to it, correct?
A:
Training for a registered dietician is heavy in science, chemistry, anatomy and physiology. Nutrition also has to do a lot with behavioral sciences, including psychology and anthropology, since we have to do a lot of behavioral modification.

Q: You have three sons – how do you get them to eat healthy?
A:
I have the same struggles as other parents. I don’t cater to my kids’ special whims; this just encourages picky eating. We try to eat family meals together and keep junk food out of the house. I’m a huge fan of the Crock-Pot – we’ll have chicken breasts and sauce, and add steamed rice and vegetables.

Q: What’s your big food weakness?
A:
I don’t worship at the chocolate altar. But I do like home baked desserts. I love making birthday cakes for friends.

Q: Do people apologize if you’re present, and they’re eating unhealthy food?
A:
Yes, they do. But I’m not analyzing them. And we’re all entitled to an occasional cupcake once in a while.

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