Zach Breeding MS, LDN, RDN is truly a jack of all trades: in addition to being a fantastic RD in Philadelphia, he’s a professional chef, author, and clinician at the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at Drexel University. Learning about his career, his inspirations, and approach to patient care has been simply fantastic. We strongly encourage RDs just getting started to read this post for some inspiration and helpful tips too.
Why did you decide to focus on nutrition as a career?
For as long as I can remember, food has always been my passion. My first food memory is helping my mother in the kitchen make mashed potatoes at the age of two. It wasn’t long before I jumped into my first job at a crab and seafood establishment in my small town of Bowley’s Quarters, Maryland; I baited trout lines to catch live crabs for steaming. I received my Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts from The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, and I ventured my way into nearly every position within the food service industry, with all the burn marks and scars to prove it. It wasn’t long before I was working as a chef at Wegmans Food Markets and noticed that my field was changing. People began asking me more about nutrition: “Are the crab cakes gluten free?”, or “I’m diabetic, can I have the fruit soup?” I had never thought about nutrition in this way before, and I honestly had no idea how to answer their questions. Soon after, my mother underwent gastric bypass surgery. She lost a significant amount of weight too quickly, experienced dumping syndrome more often than not, and suffered from vitamin deficiency symptoms. She was not required to see a dietitian post-operatively and never received the education needed to meet the needs of her new GI system.
I began to realize food can help people, too. I entered a Masters program in Clinical Nutrition at NYU with only a culinary arts degree to support any knowledge I had and left feeling like I was ready to take on the world. Now, I can use both my knowledge about culinary arts and nutrition to help those suffering from chronic or acute diseases without sacrificing taste or cultural preferences. Food has always been my art, but now it is also my medicine.
What did your family teach you about food?
My mom taught me the importance of cooking and family at the age of 2. I walked into the kitchen and never left. We always ate together as a family, always had to eat our vegetables, and hardly ever ordered out or drank soda. To this day, I believe there is a strong correlation to my upbringing and why I became a chef and a dietitian. Food encompasses my soul. It allows me to deal with stress and is how I show love to someone. As I grew older, I came to understand that I have been very fortunate in this respect, and now I love that I get to help people now try to improve their relationship with food.
What is your favorite part about being in private practice?
My business, The Sage: Nutritious Solutions, is a venture I started that is now a personalized nutrition and off-site catering company. My favorite part about this business is being able to do all the things I can do as a chef and dietitian that I can’t do at my job in Ambulatory Care. Other services I offer include grocery store tours, pantry makeovers, cooking classes, and corporate/group nutrition education. I hire interns, volunteers, and other dietitians to research current journals in nutrition and nutrition-related sciences to create news briefs for the public or create and post recipes with complete nutrient analysis and useful information/tips. In addition, I record nutrition briefs and cooking demonstrations in a live video format for users via YouTube and answer user inquiries via an open forum of “question and answer” based nutrition and cooking discussions. My website provides resources for people. These are evidence-based research articles (basically literature reviews) with references that talk to people in “real talk” about anything: Is red wine good for you? What do I do if I have acid reflux? What are nutritional considerations for colon cancer? – we cover it all. We provide recipes that teach moderation; I’m a chef, so there are fried foods. However, we also discuss moderation and exactly what that means for someone. This is supported by cooking demos, live question-and- answer responses, and an active social media presence.
How do you like to spend your free time?
If you can believe it, I love to cook. I really do. I recently bought a house and love to have guests over, so of course I feed them. I also have a corgi puppy named Riley (he is all over my Instagram @zcooks) who I take on hikes, to the beach, and even (recently) pumpkin picking. I am a big horror movie buff and am also really into the Netflix show Grace and Frankie.
What advice do you have for dietitians just getting started in the field?
For new dietitians, I recommend finding a mentor. Get under someone’s wing and soak up the glory that is the knowledge of an experienced RD. Work in the clinical setting for at least one year before exploring other areas. The abundance of skills one can learn in the clinical atmosphere is second to none. Second, network and connect with dietitians in your area. Being able to bounce ideas, case studies, and operating practices helps to hone your own personal skills as a dietitian while promoting a community of like-minded health professionals. Last and not least, do not stop working. The first couple years of being a dietitian are the most important to shaping the kind of dietitian you want to be. Have your 9-5 job, volunteer in the community setting, work with dietetic practice groups, join a local health coalition to improve the lives of those living in your state. The more you do, the more versatile and skilled you will be at knowing exactly how to care for any kind of client or patient.
How do you think technology is changing the way dietitians are practicing care?
Technology is changing healthcare in general. People utilize technology so much in their daily lives, it only makes sense that those who help manage their care hop on board as well. When someone can download an app for any fast food restaurant, pre-order calorie rich coffee drinks on their phone, and order takeout without speaking to a human, we as dietitians have a lot to be up against. Understanding how technology works and how to effectively use it to promote health is one very important tool of which all dietitians should be knowledgeable. By using various forms of technology, we can improve how we communicate with our clients, increase our value as health care providers, and track a client’s progress to improve adherence and reduce frustration when goals are not achieved.
Why are you excited about using Healthie? Why do you think dietitians should adopt Healthie in their practices?
Healthie is the electronic medical record (EMR) for the dietitian. So many EMR systems do not take into consideration all of the various tools that dietitians use as part of their care. With Healthie, clients can take photos of the food they are eating before and after they eat (which is a necessity when assessing eating disorder clients) while allowing for the dietitian to comment on each picture. It’s truly the Instagram for nutrition and health. In addition to this, clients can personally message their dietitian (and visa versa) to discuss anything – from labs to recipe ideas. Charting, billing, uploading documents, sharing information, and communication are all staples of Healthie. The program makes all of the things possible in the clinical world available to the dietitian who is paving their own path. The look and feel of Healthie is attractive, user friendly, and has already adapted new features to accommodate the needs and wants of the user. Incorporating Healthie into the daily lives of practicing dietitians will ultimately mean more time spent with clients, which means increased revenue and efficiency of work. I cannot think of an EMR system I would recommend over Healthie.
Visit his practice website to learn more about Zach and his story.
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