Whether in person or virtually, Maika Luongo has counseled clients in a way that affects change. As a clinical dietitian, she’s worked at some of America’s top hospitals, including Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and NYU Langone Health in New York City. She now does virtual consults via Amwell, a national telehealth platform that links patients with the nutritional care they need without having to leave their home.
Looking for other opportunities outside of patient care is what led Luongo to Nutrition On Demand. As a bilingual dietitian, she has helped NOD clients expand their reach to Spanish-speaking audiences by translating education materials. That’s not all keeping Luongo “busy,” as she describes it; she just completed her term as president of the South Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, runs her own private practice, and is an indoor cycling and group exercise instructor. In our Q&A with Luongo, she discusses her many roles and the personal fulfillment she receives from each.
You have a pretty extensive career as a clinical dietitian. What led you to this branch of dietetics? I did my [dietetic] internship at the University of California, Berkeley, and I didn’t get to complete a clinical rotation. I was really upset about it. I told myself that my first job would be clinical because all of my peers loved the experience and I wanted to experience it as well. I knew it would be difficult because I didn’t get exposure to it during my internship. But I ended up getting hired at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York. They were willing to support and teach me.
What are some highlights from your clinical experience?
One thing I miss the most is the team aspect of it. I loved going up on the hospital floors. Besides seeing patients, I was able to communicate with doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners. I loved that nutrition was an important component to the team, and they always valued my input. I loved looking at a patient’s lab values, their medications, and calculating tube feed formulas.
How was it transitioning from in-person to virtual counseling? Was there a learning curve? The biggest shift was that you have no opportunity to prepare. You would get patients with any specific condition and you won’t know [what the condition is] until they’re in your virtual waiting room and you see what the topic is. You really have to think on your feet.
You are now doing something completely different for Nutrition On Demand, in that you’re creating content and translating materials for Spanish-speaking audiences. What has that experience been like?
Most of my career I’ve done inpatient and outpatient care. I really appreciate the different opportunities this field has to offer, including this role with Nutrition On Demand. I was definitely intrigued about doing something new that didn’t involve direct patient care.
Was patient care what initially led you to a career in dietetics?
When I was younger, my mother took me to see a dietitian in Mexico since I was obese. [Luongo was born in Mexico City.] That’s how I learned about healthy eating. I remember the handouts she gave us to take home [regarding] servings and portion sizes. Nutrition was something that became a part of my life for a long time. When I decided to go to Penn State and I was looking at [majors] they had available and saw nutrition, I thought this was something I could do.
What has been your counseling approach with clients?
The biggest concept I’m trying to push besides healthy eating education is taking a look at behaviors. A lot of patients want an easy fix, but it’s about looking at their current behaviors and seeing what changes we can make with those. For instance, if they’re eating out every day, are we able to minimize that behavior or help them make better choices?
A patient I recently counseled is in his mid 70s. He’s one of my best patients right now. He doesn’t see the progress as much as I do. He just sees the slow weight loss. We reviewed weight loss goals and body mass index changes. He went from [being classified as] obese to overweight in four sessions. I reviewed those numbers with him to demonstrate the overall impact of losing a few pounds gradually.
As a fitness instructor for both indoor cycling and group fitness classes, exercise also seems to be a big interest of yours.
Fitness plays a huge role in my life. I was always active growing up, playing soccer through high school. Soccer was something that I loved but exercising wasn’t. But now exercise is something that I enjoy and I love combining it with nutrition. Healthy eating and exercise can both be enjoyed if you find something that you love and if you understand how nutrition plays a role in fueling you properly for exercise and overall health.
Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Fred Durso, Jr.