In celebration of RDN Day, we felt there was no better way to celebrate than sharing about an inspiring dietitian, Mary Purdy, MS, RDN. In addition to hosting The Good Clean Nutrition Podcast, she has also presented webinars as part of Orgain’s Professional Education Webinar Series, is a respected author, and continues to lead numerous efforts toward educating others on nutrition practices that support human and planetary health. Learn more about Mary’s journey toward becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist, some of her professional interests, and which podcast episode has been her favorite thus far!
- We would love to hear about your journey toward being a registered dietitian nutritionist. Why did you decide to pursue this profession?
I was actually making my living as a performer in the theater in NYC and was at a bit of a crossroads, when my dad got very sick with a disease called Meningococcemia. His illness ignited a passion I already had around the concept of food as medicine, especially when I noticed what he was being fed at the hospital! I immediately started taking all my pre-reqs to get a Master’s Degree in Nutrition with the goal of understanding the many root causes of chronic illnesses and helping individuals to prevent, address and even reverse disease with integrative dietary strategies. I completed my Master’s degree and internship with Bastyr University and launched into clinical practice working with patients of all kinds using a personalized medicine and functional nutrition approach which I did for well over a decade. About 3-4 years back, as the climate crisis started to feel more urgent and as my understanding of the role that our food and agricultural system plays in greenhouse gas emissions grew, I shifted directions to focus more on being an “Eco-Dietitian” who teaches, speaks, podcasts, writes and consults around sustainability, our environment and their relationship to human health.
- What inspired you to become a nutrition educator?
One reason is that I thrive on learning which inevitably happens in the “classroom”! Additionally, teaching is like growing a garden where you plant these seeds and then get to watch the plants grow and bloom into teachers themselves. I also love helping students build confidence and think critically and adore seeing light bulbs going off for them as they connect the dots between what they are learning and how to apply it. My background in performing made the classroom feel like a natural stage where I could convey information in a way that felt dynamic and entertaining, which I believe helps to serve learners when it comes to both enjoying the topic and retention of information.
- What are some of your professional interests?
For better or worse, I am way too interested in way too many things as it relates to the nutrition profession. Ultimately, I am interested in saving the planet one bite, conversation and policy at a time. I relish helping individuals find their way to wellness via improved diet and lifestyle habits in a way that feels inclusive and meets them where they are at. I am also devoted to amplifying the role of dietitians and health professionals in working to transform our food system to mitigate issues around the climate crisis. And I am committed to embracing diversity, equity and inclusion principles both personally and professionally, as well as speaking up in every role I take on to ensure that the voices of marginalized and Black and Indigenous people of color are recognized and included in the offerings and conversations.
- Considering your interest and expertise on environmental health, can you please share any advice for healthcare professionals that are looking to support their clients in improving planetary health?
Absolutely! Everyone and anyone working in healthcare has an opportunity (and an obligation, truly) to be involved with engaging in dialogue, activities and actions that support planetary health. Increasing awareness and education around the role that the industrial food and agriculture system plays in environmental degradation and greenhouse gas emissions is a great start. Plus, we can tap into the very strong connection between the health of the environment, the nutritional value of the food and the resulting human health status. Encouraging patients to eat more plant based, minimally processed and packaged foods, that are local and seasonal and grown with fewer chemicals using “soil-building” practices is one way to have an impact. Consumer demand can make a difference in what gets produced and served. However, this isn’t always about consumer choice, as many communities simply don’t have access to these foods. But healthcare providers, because they understand the role that poorly produced food has on health, can be advocates for reimagining and transforming the food system, by working to shift what food is served in hospitals and other institutions and where it is sourced, to promoting community gardens, farmers’ markets and local food systems. And we can be active on the policy front too, banding together to urge representatives to pay attention to bills that are working to promote more plant-based, planet-friendly meals for school lunches, or reduce plastic production, or work towards increasing food sovereignty and food justice. I’m only scratching the surface here, but I see healthcare professionals as having enormous potential as change agents!
- What is one of the most frequently asked nutrition questions you receive from your clients?
It’s usually something along the lines of “Is _ bad/good for me?”. My answer, almost always, to this question is “It depends”! On you, on your history, your current health status and medical issues, how the food was grown, processed, prepared; how much you are eating, how often etc. If we are talking about processed soy “chick’n” nuggets versus organic tempeh (fermented soybean patty), my answer is going to be different. Additionally, thinking about how that food was grown is also now a big component of my answer. Most people want a clear “yes” or “no”, but as we know, food and people just ain’t that simple!
- What is the most rewarding part of the work you do?
When people tell me that I made a difference in their lives with nutrition or lifestyle counseling or inspired them to “think differently” about a topic on which I taught, especially related to sustainability in the food system. I feel like I am on this planet to help make it a healthier and more equitable place so any indication that I achieved this, even with one person, makes my heart dance a little jig.
- What interested you in partnering with Orgain as the host of The Good Clean Nutrition Podcast?
After witnessing way too many patients being prescribed poor quality “nutritional shakes”, discovering Orgain was like finding a little treasure in the nutritional waters. Long before I took on the podcast role, I was recommending Orgain to patients and even a family member who was really struggling with keeping on weight post stomach cancer treatment. I appreciate the commitment Orgain has to creating quality products with a focus on organic and minimally processed ingredients. Plus, I knew this would be an opportunity for me to not only learn about a number of interesting nutrition related topics but to hopefully create dynamic conversations with guests that could help to dispense this key information for consumers and healthcare professionals.
- Which episode has been your favorite to-date and why?
I have truly enjoyed interviewing all the guests! If I must choose, I will say that my favorite so far has been Dr. David Katz because of the work he does making those connections around human and planetary health and how very much it aligns with my philosophy and values. Plus, he loves to infuse poetry and creative language in his education which touches my creative spirit! He recited a Shakespeare soliloquy as a warmup before we started recording which was a first for me in my years of podcast hosting. I may need to make that a habit myself!
In addition to listening to The Good Clean Nutrition Podcast, learn more from Mary by watching her most recent webinar presented as part of Orgain’s Professional Education Series, Meet Your Microbiome: Eating for Gut Health: Watch Now!