Get to Know Brittany Gorman, Consultant With Nutrition On Demand
A passion for cooking at a young age propelled Brittany Gorman into a dietetics career. What has kept her here are challenging yet rewarding roles reaching people of all ages. She’s shaped young minds via educating public school students on healthy eating, gave sound nutritional advice to older adults at a nursing facility, and developed meal plans for patients with disordered eating. That wasn’t enough for Gorman, who went back to school to obtain a master’s degree in Public Health-Nutrition. Ever since, she’s promoted nutritional tactics on a broader scale via roles with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Nutrition On Demand.
In our interview with Gorman, she discusses her unique career trajectory and ideas for addressing childhood obesity.
Q: When did you realize a career in nutrition best suited you?
As early as third grade, I knew I wanted to be a chef. I loved cooking for my family and friends, and I planned to go to culinary school after high school. When I was a junior in high school, our school system had the option to attend a vocational school. Naturally, I chose a culinary program. This is when I became more interested in how food worked inside our bodies and the importance of good nutrition. I also knew I prioritize sleep and a chef’s schedule would be my nightmare.
You started your career as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) at a nursing facility. What were fulfilling aspects of that job, and what did you find challenging?
I loved the residents/patients and the clinical aspect. After I moved to a different building, I was faced with the realization that not all health care professionals care about their patients in the same capacity as me. This is also where I discovered that I felt more passionate about preventing chronic diseases instead of treating them with medical nutrition therapy. That’s when I went back to school for a master’s degree in Public Health-Nutrition.
You also switched gears and went into food service management. What prompted the change?
Around the same time that I went back to school, it was also the perfect time for me to find my next role in public health nutrition. During this transition, I began working at a residential treatment center for eating disorders. It was a challenging environment, but I was able to develop my counseling skills in intuitive eating and promote Health at Every Size™ principles. [These principles recognize that everybody is different and health outcomes are not determined by one’s size but by social, economic, and environmental factors.]
This position was integral to how I work as a clinician now. I did not have extensive counseling training, let alone know what intuitive eating or Health at Every Size™ was as an undergrad, but this skill set is what now defines my approach when working with clients.
When the [School Nutrition Operations Specialist] position at Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) opened, it allowed me to get my foot in the door of school nutrition. Working with children seemed like the best place to start with the prevention of chronic diseases. The director allowed me to tailor the position to my interests and I took over nutrition education for the department.
Did you find it challenging to convince children in the ACPS system to choose healthier options at school? What was your and the team’s approach to help them make better food decisions?
ACPS participates in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs as well the Child and Adult Care Food Program. These programs, which are under the USDA’s purview, improve access of nutritious foods for children in our school systems. As a result of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, meal requirements focus on increasing whole grains, reducing sodium, and increasing fruit and vegetable intake. For students that participate in the meal program, they are required to select at least a half-cup of fruit or vegetable with their meal. The students also require regular education about what is considered a half-cup portion.
Despite the requirement, this does not necessarily mean that students will consume their fruits and vegetables. We implemented self-service salad bars in all the schools so the students could have a greater variety and get the opportunity to choose what was on their plate, thus increasing likelihood of consumption. Since nutrition education wasn’t occurring at ACPS at the time, I spearheaded the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, another USDA program in a few of the elementary schools which allowed for nutrition education-focused snack times. I also utilized grant funding to begin an education program for first through third graders that focused on exploring foods through the colors of the rainbow and how different color foods serve different purposes in our bodies.
In your opinion, how can the government and nutrition professionals better address the country’s childhood obesity epidemic? Have you seen anything in the field that’s making a positive impact?
I truly believe that USDA’s Child Nutrition Programs are working towards equitable food access and nutrition competency for all children. Our food culture focuses on what society perceives as “wrong” with school food and emphasizes a child’s body mass index (BMI). BMI is not an accurate indicator of child health. The focus should be on behaviors, nutrition competency, and accurate indicators of health (e.g., labs and other physical signs/symptoms).
The best ways to make a positive impact on our youth’s health is to ensure food security for all, foster and honor intuitive eating, and improve access to mental and health care providers. I know there are a great deal of individuals who, like me, are doing their best to prevent children from developing many of the chronic diseases that plague our nation. It will take time, perseverance, and plenty of nutrition professionals spearheading the way. Here’s a good research article echoing my sentiment towards school nutrition.
What are you up to these days?
I am a contractor for USDA’s Child Nutrition Programs. My primary functions are communications for my branch and technology support for two web-based resources available for program operators. I absolutely love providing technical guidance to operators to help make their day go a little smoother. It requires using critical thinking skills, and no day is the same.
How did you get involved with Nutrition On Demand?
[NOD CEO] Shelley Maniscalco and [NOD Nutrition Associate] Angela Leone came to ACPS to discuss a potential work opportunity with the team. I was intrigued to learn about their backgrounds, expertise, and what they were offering their clientele. When I got my master’s degree, I had some free time and thought that NOD would be an amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and provide my own expertise to their clientele.
For NOD, I’ve worked on one-on-one counseling; assisted with social media campaigns for Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters Program; helped develop COVID-19 resources for the Food Marketing Institute’s Family Meals Movement; and worked on a National Fruits and Veggies Month toolkit for the Produce for Better Health Foundation.
What do you find unique about NOD’s approach to nutrition consulting?
The well-rounded skill set we have as a team, which allows Shelley to take on a diverse clientele because she knows that she has a match in the NOD team. I love that I have been able to work with organizations who I believe in and admire the work that they accomplish.
Your career showcases the versatility of being an RDN, since it seems you’ve taken on various roles in various industries. Is job variety important to you?
This field is unique. I never thought that my career path would take me to where I am, but I am thankful it has. The variety is not the reason I chose this field, but it is what has kept me here. I am never bored!
—Interview conducted by Fred Durso, Jr. Fred is currently pursuing a master’s degree in food and nutrition and the necessary requirements to become a registered dietitian. Prior to heading back to school, he spent more than a decade working as a journalist/communications specialist.