Meet the Expert: Jacqueline B. Marcus

To see some aging athletes, media stars, political figures and cultural icons soar to new heights despite their ages is encouraging. Perhaps their lifestyle choices reflect the fruits of our labor through the healthy messaging we convey.
— Jacqueline B. Marcus, MS, RDN, LDN, CNS, FADA, FAND

For Day 2 of our week of life-cycle experts, we're featuring Jacqueline B. Marcus, MS, RDN, LDN, CNS, FADA, FAND! Through the organization TheFitFoodPro, Jacqueline and her associates provide food and nutrition counselling through a mix of cooking, nutrition, and fitness. Jacqueline also serves as a judge for the International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Awards, and a reviewer for the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. She has won many awards for her work and serves as an esteemed member for the ADA. Join us today to learn more about how she got her start and about her work in nutrition while aging!

Healthy Bytes: Hi Jacqueline- we're very excited to be talking with you today! We'd love to know why you became a dietitian to get us started.

Jacqueline Marcus: I became a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist by accident.  I returned to my alma matter, Northern Illinois University, to get a degree in food, not nutrition. I learned that this was not possible and that I required a cooking school instead.  

Since I am so academically oriented, I settled on a degree in Food Science and Nutrition.  But I did not want to be a Clinical Dietitian/Nutritionist.  Ironically, I was hired as the Registered Dietitian of the first community hospital-based corporate wellness program in the US.  As a result, I still feel very much at home in a hospital.

It's funny how things work out! As an established dietitian, what is your niche area of practice? What would you say makes your practice special?

Today my niche area of practice is Culinary Nutrition, so I have done a full circle since the start of my career in corporate wellness. I blend my love for food with my expertise in nutrition and food science. I translate the science of nutrition into tasteful food and drink, artfully prepared and displayed.  I write about food and nutrients, create original recipes, perform nutritional analyses, prepare dishes for photography, stylize the settings and promote the finished products.

My practice is special because it crosses three disciplines:  food science, nutrition and the culinary arts.  There are few RDNs who wear all three hats.  I’ve spoken at national and international meetings in each area, published in journals representative of each discipline and consulted with clients in each specialty. My clients seek my multidimensional approach since it is one-stop shopping for technological, nutritional and gastronomical expertise.

That's such a great approach, especially since cooking is such an important part of nutrition education. Let's switch gears just a little bit. We would love to know more about how the idea of focusing on aging/gerontology came to you?

Just as becoming a RDN was so random, my specialization in aging/gerontology was also accidental.  About 20 years ago, while I was Chairperson of Food & Culinary Professionals DPG, I was approached by a major international ingredient company to learn about their products and address their use in diets throughout the lifecycle—particularly when chemosensory changes exacerbate eating problems.

The research that connected taste, aging and disease was just coming into the forefront.  I simply was in the right place at the right time because RDNs were taught very little about chemosensation and aging in their degree programs. Subsequently, I became the go-to RDN who addressed taste and smell, aging and flavor enhancement for health, well-being and enjoyment.

That must be great to become the "go-to" dietitian in an area of nutrition! Can you tell us more about your Certification in Gerontology?

My Certification in Gerontology from the University of Illinois was also an accident.  About six months before my 5-year registration cycle elapsed, I was faced with an urgent need for about 25 hours of continuing education credits. 

The U of I offered a Certificate in Gerontology at a site about two hours from my office.  I traveled back and forth for a semester’s worth of credits that satisfied 45 hours of education in Gerontology and resulted in this certificate.  The course was multifaceted, comprehensive, high quality and illuminating.  It strengthened my interest and dedication to the field of aging healthfully and tastefully.

When you were seeing patients, they paid out of pocket for your services. Do you have any tips/tricks for smart billing practices that you might provide?

Before I accepted a new client, I carefully and specifically covered my services and charges to ensure understanding and avoid payment issues.

I thought it was important that my clients received more than my advice during our sessions. Consequently, I provided a summary of our session; handouts that supported my recommendations, goal sheets and action plans for future appointments. These useful tools provided a convenient segue to present my bill. I closed with a physician’s letter of recommendation of my services and receipt for insurance submission.  

As an experienced dietitian in the field, what advice would you give a new RDN? 

It is important to establish both passion and satisfaction in dietetics.  One can be passionate about food (like I am), but find the most satisfaction in communicating the benefits of healthful eating. 

What is so exciting to me is that the profession of dietetics is so broad and deep.  A new RDN may start their career in one field—say sports nutrition, gravitate to diabetes education, then turn to pediatrics, or in my case, aging.  

You need to have your eyes wide open, ears attuned at all times and seize the moment when opportunities arise.  Don’t worry if you are not an expert.  Learn what you need and do what ever it takes to become “The Best” in your chosen field of dietetics.

I am Treasurer of the Nutrition Entrepreneurs Dietetic Practice Group (NEDPG) and the newly appointed Public Policy Co-Coordinator (PPC) for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (IAND).  Budgets and policy were never on my radar but they are now.  These disciplines make me a well-rounded RDN and more beneficial to my clients. I am proud of where my career in dietetics has led me and what the future holds.

You've had such a wide range of experiences! What’s the most fascinating you’ve learned during your career in nutrition and dietetics? 

I am very, very proud to be a RDN and a leader in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  I am an appointed member of the Committee for Lifelong Learning and Engagement (CLLE).  In this role, I review all of the proposals for the Academy’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Exhibition (FNCE) and help select and formulate this foremost national meeting.

Working on this team has been quite eye-opening.  I have learned so much about the entire field of dietetics and not just my preferred areas of interest.  I am amazed at all of the cutting edge research and programs and the accomplishments of my fellow RDNs.

As a committee member, I have learned how I fit into the bigger picture of food and dietetics within our nation and world.  My involvement in this committee has demonstrated the dignity of my profession and how important my work is to our society and the future.  Doing good work and being impactful translates into a meaningful life for me.

Since you focus on nutrition while aging, what changes do you hope to see in the field of nutrition and dietetics for seniors?

As a society I don’t think that we embrace aging.  Frankly, aging is not sexy. Most discussion about aging revolves around preventing or delaying its inevitable effects. Few efforts address aging positively. This mindset is far behind other countries where aging is embraced, such as in Asia or Scandinavia.

To see some aging athletes, media stars, political figures and cultural icons soar to new heights despite their ages is encouraging.  Perhaps their lifestyle choices reflect the fruits of our labor through the healthy messaging we convey. So many challenges still await.

What’s your favorite piece of advice you have received in your career? 

My Master’s advisor told me that I should sit for the RD exam despite the fact that I did not aspire to work in a hospital.  I took a six-month review course and scored very well—thus, I quickly acquired RD credential.

Years later I was chosen as a test item writer by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and as a Charter Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics I reviewed prospective Fellow portfolio applications.  I would never have had these experiences if I ignored her advice and skipped the RD exam.

It seems your career has gone down a path you never expected! What’s your favorite success story with a patient throughout your career? 

I consulted with an anorexic woman who wanted to become pregnant but couldn’t because her body weight and body fat were so low.

A few years later she called me from a hospital where she had just delivered her first baby. It took slow and steady increases in both body fat and weight, but well worth the efforts.  I consider her baby my fourth child (and my international award-winning text, “Culinary Nutrition: The Science and Practice of Healthy Cooking” Elsevier, 2014 my “fifth baby”)! Another text on aging may soon be on the horizon.

Before we end, is anything else you’d like us to know about the path you have taken as a dietitian? 

My mother always wanted me to be a teacher.  I think that she was somewhat disappointed with my first career in Advertising and Public Relations since she wanted me to have a professional track.  

My mother would have been very proud of my most recent award.  I was honored with the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Health and Human Sciences (CHHS) of Northern Illinois University. This award acknowledged how my NIU education touched my numerous and varied roles throughout my dietetics’ career.  

Mother really did know best.

Thanks, Jacqueline, for such an inspiring conversation!

Parts of this interview have been altered and shortened.