For this week’s spotlight, I’m featuring Niki Strealy, RDN, LD, an experienced dietitian, author and mom of five who has no problem talking about poop. She specializes in gastrointestinal disorders and provides outpatient counseling for people suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), post-surgical complications, constipation and what she likes to call “garden variety” diarrhea, a chronic condition where no cause has ever been determined. Niki really enjoys trying to solve the tough cases, sorting through food allergies and intolerances and helping people live better lives with less symptoms.
Niki, tell us a little about what you do and how you became interested in nutrition.
I was a very active athlete while growing up; I broke five major bones and was always in the doctor’s office! I started college with a pre-med major because I thought I wanted to be a doctor but I also knew I wanted to be a mom someday and thought that being a full-time doctor and a mom would be a challenge for my perfectionist personality. I started to search for other careers that would allow me the flexibility to work part-time while raising children and shifted my focus to public health. One afternoon during my junior year, I wandered into the office of the public health department head and explained my story. She looked at the science classes I had already taken, coupled with my interests, and suggested I switch my major to dietetics. “There aren’t many jobs in public health right now,” she said. I had never even heard of the field of dietetics, but lucky for me, the only dietetic program in our state was just across campus. I met with the head of the nutrition department, who explained to me the role of a registered dietitian in disease prevention and management. I was SOLD! I could tell right away this career would be a perfect fit. I dove into my dietetic classes headfirst, graduating in 4 yrs with my bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Management from Oregon State University. The following year I completed my dietetic internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. I returned to my home state and got my first job in a local hospital two months after finishing my internship and passed my RD exam the following month. At my first job, I worked ten different positions at three different hospitals for 14 different people! I had to carry a notebook around to keep everything straight. A year later, I got my dream job working in critical care and surgery. After six years in that position, I had my first child and cut back to part time. In 2002, while still working part-time as an inpatient dietitian, my manager encouraged me to open an outpatient nutrition program focusing on GI issues one day a week. I did, and continued as an outpatient RDN for ten years. Then in 2012, the hospital system closed my my outpatient department so I took the plunge and started my own private practice, Strategic Nutrition, LLC. After almost 18 years, I still work on-call in the same hospital system, occasionally working as an inpatient dietitian, but primarily doing media work, such as tv, radio, and newspaper interviews.
Niki and her grandma, who just turned 93. Niki says she is her role model, the perfect
picture of health and longevity which continuously motivates Niki to take care of
herself and her body.
What is a typical work day like for you?
I’m a mom of five (including two foster children), so no two days look alike. I meet with clients while my kids are at school or in the evenings when my husband is home. When I’m not meeting clients, I spend a good deal of time on the computer, charting, writing, blogging, researching, or connecting with colleagues.
Niki stays active and is very passionate about exercise and fitness. This photo is from a recent
half marathon where she placed 1st in the women’s category!
Did you ever think you would be an author? Tell us a little about your first book writing experience.
I was always a good writer, but never felt called to write a book. Back in 2006, I decided to put together a pamphlet for my patients because I felt like I was repeating myself over and over again. The pamphlet “grew” over time and eventually I had to admit it was going to be a full book! My first draft was in 2006, and I finally self-published my book “The Diarrhea Dietitian: Expert Advice, Practical Solutions, and Strategic Nutrition” in May 2013. My next book is already in the works. It’s going to be on “Runner’s Trots”.
I love the double meaning of that title. What do you think is the biggest challenge of being a entrepreneurial dietitian?
I am a very self-disciplined person, but it is hard to keep up with all the secretarial work, including forms, printing, billing, returning phone calls, etc. I don’t think my college or internship fully equipped me with enough skills to start and run a business by myself. The Nutrition Entrepreneurs (NE) dietetic practice group has been instrumental in helping me get my business up and running. I am so passionate about NE, I was recently elected to the executive committee.
I couldn’t agree more about Nutrition Entrepreneurs. I was in the same boat as you, trying to start a business without any business education and NE really helped to get me up to speed and “in-the-know.” Do you follow any certain diet?
Nope, I’m all about variety and moderation. However, I am planning to try the FODMAP elimination diet for 2-3 weeks so I can see what my patients are going through.
Is there any food that you won’t eat?
I do not like onions or peppers in any way, shape, or form. But I like garlic. Go figure!
What is your favorite meal or recipe to make at home?
I used to jokingly call myself the non-cooking dietitian, but I don’t think that’s true any more. With a family of seven, you can’t fake meals! My homemade pizza and chocolate chip cookies have won rave reviews from family and friends.
What are your thoughts on organic foods?
I do not go out of my way to purchase organic foods from the grocery store. That said, we get eggs from our own chickens and fruits and vegetables from our own (organic) garden and local farmer’s market. Fresh is best!
Three of Niki’s chickens (she has a total of seven).
How about GMO’s?
I believe that not all genetic modification is bad. However, I do think people have a right to know IF their food has been modified so they can make their own decisions.
If you weren’t a dietitian, what would you be?
Great question! I have been an RDN for so long I cannot imagine anything else. After almost 18 years in dietetics, I can honestly say I still love my career choice. But if I had pursued medicine, I would have made a great gastroenterologist.
What is your favorite place to go or thing to do in your city?
I live in Lake Oswego, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. Portland is quirky and random. Going downtown to people watch is a favorite past-time. Eating at the food carts is awesome!
What would advice would you give someone interested in starting their own business?
This career has given me room to explore my interests, expand my knowledge, and work as much or as little as I need to during the different seasons of my life. A few tidbits of advice from my years of experience:
· Never be afraid to ask questions. Ask your manager for a raise, a doctor why he is prescribing a particular treatment, or how you can help your clients/patients meet their goals. · Nutrition doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Ask your patients about other areas of their life that are preventing them from reaching their goals. · As the nutrition experts, we have value. We should never sell ourselves short or feel bad for charging for our services. · Find the area of nutrition you are most passionate about, then do everything you can to learn about that topic, whether it is diabetes, heart health, oncology, eating disorders, pediatrics, community health, etc. Even if you have to take a job that is not in your desired area, stay focused and continue moving toward your goal. My final thought: I think everyone should write a book. Going through the process has re-energized my passion for helping others through nutrition. In addition, it has opened new career doors I didn’t know existed!
Thank you Niki for being part of the Dietitian Spotlight Series and sharing your experiences!
Be sure to connect with Niki:
Facebook: Diarrhea Dietitian
To check out more interviews with RD’s from around the country, check out my Dietitian Spotlight Series page.