This week we'll be highlighting Kelly Ahearn, MS, RDN, CDN! Kelly is a dietitian in New York City who runs her own company, Indigenous Nutritionist. She's also a pilates instructor and an entrepreneur. Her focus on helping clients build a healthy relationship with food is absolutely inspiring. Join us to learn more about Kelly's experiences as an dietitian!
Healthy Bytes: Hi Kelly- we're excited to speak with you today! To get the ball rolling, we'd love to know more about why you got started in nutrition.
Kelly Ahearn: In 2003, I moved to Germany and was amazed at the food culture and how much healthier the relationship with food was compared to in the United States.
Upon my return to the States, I started my education in exercise physiology and had to take a nutrition course. It was there that I first learned about epigenetics (gene-nutrient-environment interactions) and was in awe.
From then on, I delved deeper into nutritional studies. I applied to NYU for grad school to become a dietitian after speaking with a professor of mine at The University of Southern Maine who counseled me that this would be a great career choice and open a lot of doors.
Is there any advice would you give to new and future dietitians?
Be curious. Focus on building relationships and rapport with clients and colleagues. Be authentic, as this will let others know they can trust you.
When you build your business from your own true character and are passionate about what you do, it will get you through the tough times. This will put you in the spotlight as not only a nutrition expert, but also as a pleasant person to work with.
As a dietitian that takes insurance, has accepting it benefit your practice?
Accepting insurance has opened up doors literally and figuratively. Doctors are more interested in referring to me when they know I take insurance. Patients have found me directly from their insurance company, such as Cigna. It provides me with a chance to help those who do not want or have the means to pay out- of-pocket costs, and helps me continue to grow my practice and help more people, so its a win-win!
What has surprised you the most about taking insurance?
How fast it was to actual file a claim on Healthy Bytes!
It's great how much taking insurance has helped your practice! What else would you say makes your practice special?
I think what makes my practice special is how I relate to my clients. I am growing a brand, and I want to be recognized all over the world as I love to travel and explore other food cultures. I am combining this into my company, Indigenous Nutritionist.
I work with my clients on a personal level to optimize their nutrition status and their relationship with food. Whether I am working with an athlete who wants to improve running time, or a woman who is trying to get pregnant, I aim to make food fun. The key is educating instead of dictating.
I apply what I learn from other food cultures as well. At Indigenous Nutritionist build a foundation to facilitate clients meeting their goals.
What change do you hope to see or are excited about in the field of nutrition and dietetics?
Dietitians are an important part of the medical team in the hospital. It would be great to see more direct follow-up with patients once they leave the hospital. By working with an out-patient or private practice dietitian after a hospitalization, patients can learn to create life-changing habits.
Another area that I am passionate about is tele-health and doctor-dietitians direct connections and communication. I think telehealth has a strong future ahead, along with mHealth (mobile health).
There are so many cool settings for dietitians: employee wellness, communications, entrepreneurship, menu development... just to name a few.
You've had such a variety of experiences in the field of nutrition, what's the most fascinating thing you’ve learned as a dietitian?
I will have to bring it back to the day in 2007 when I first learned about epigenetics and the influence of our environment on gene expression. By creating a healthier lifestyle by changing our environment, we may be able to prevent some diseases or delay their onset.
There is a lot to be said for preventative care. Insurance companies realize this now and ARE reimbursing for it- which is awesome!
Parts of this interview have been edited and shortened