Interview with Cheryl Strachan, Dietitian at Sweet Spot Nutrition
by Deana Levasseur
On a mission to share my love for delicious, real-life, heart-health-enhancing food.
Cheryl Strachan uses her 15 years of experience as a Registered Dietitian to help people optimize nutrition-related risk factors like high blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol while also honouring their right to enjoy eating and live their lives.
Cheryl believes that the most heart-healthy way of eating is one that doesn’t stress you out. She supports people in getting to what she calls the “Sweet Spot”; food that is delicious supports your health, and is right for you.
On to the interview with Dietitian, Cheryl Strachan!
What made you want to become a Dietitian?
After ten years in sales and marketing, I wanted to do work where helping people was more of a focus. Plus I’d always been interested in human health.
My first degree was in biology, and my first full-time job was selling medications for high blood pressure and cholesterol. I was living in the San Francisco area where almost everyone was in a love affair with food, myself included. So becoming a Dietitian was the natural marriage of my passions.
What area of dietetics do you work in?
My first real job as a Dietitian was with Calgary’s cardiac rehabilitation program. I loved how engaged and motivated the participants were, with most recovering from a heart attack or other cardiac event. So I stayed there for nearly nine years, and have focused on helping people manage cardiac issues since.
What led you to own your private practice?
I had a lot of ideas. Services I wanted to offer, programs I wanted to see come to life, and ways of supporting people.
Private practice gives you that flexibility if you can find customers who think those ideas are valuable too.
What type of advanced education or training do you have?
Although I grew up in Calgary, I went to the University of California, Irvine for my biology degree.
Then, before becoming a dietitian, I did an MBA at the University of California, Berkeley.
I did my dietetics coursework at San Francisco State University and then went back to Berkeley for a dietetic internship that was offered by their School of Public Health.
Since then I’ve done the Craving Change certification, which helps with emotional eating, and the Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management offered by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Tough call. I love the people. I learn from and am as inspired by my clients and community members as they are from me. But I really also enjoy the creative side of my work, from writing to designing workshops and talks.
As a successful Dietitian, business owner, author, and mother what are your tips for maintaining a healthy work-life balance?
Some weeks I’m better at this than others! When I have a big deadline, I do get a bit out of balance, but I’ve realized that I make much better use of my time in the early mornings than the late evenings, so I’ve worked hard to establish a consistent evening and sleep routine.
I try to turn work off by about 5 pm when I start making dinner. Trying to work after that means suboptimal work anyhow, and eats into sleep, so in the long run, it doesn’t pay off.
What is one thing you would tell dietetics students that hope to have their own private practice one day?
Start before you have kids! Establishing your business and your reputation takes a lot of time, and if you do become a parent, time will be in short supply.
The downside of that is, however, that you won’t have parental leave benefits. The other advice is to have realistic expectations. It’s not a quick path to easy money, but the work itself is rewarding, and as a friend likes to say, “We also get paid in flexibility and autonomy.”
What is your #1 tip for people wanting to improve their heart health?
I like to say that the heart-healthiest way to eat is one that doesn’t stress you out and one you enjoy! Don’t sweat the small stuff!
There are a few principles that almost everyone agrees on, and with the controversies, just practice moderation and focus instead on staying active, taking care of your mental health, and enjoying life.
What do you think is the most common misconception people have about Dietitians?
I think people expect us to give them a hard time about their eating habits. In reality, my office is a no-judgement zone. We’re all just doing the best we can with what we have.
What is your favourite food/meal?
That’s a tough one. I have so many! For meals, I think I would have to say pasta!
It’s so delicious and can be a delicious vehicle for vegetables, as well as other heart-healthy foods, like fish and nuts (think peanut sauce, cashew cream, or pine nuts).
The trick is to shift the proportions, so it’s not a giant pile of noodles like you’d get in a restaurant, but rather a bowl of flavourful veggies, maybe roasted or at least well-seasoned, with the pasta in there for energy and satisfaction.
More about Cheryl Strachan:
Author: Deana Levasseur is a Dietitian student at the University of Alberta. Cheryl Strachan owns her own practice, Sweet Spot Nutrition, in Calgary Alberta.