We caught up with Kim Knipe, MBA, RDN, LDN, and Bariatric Program Coordinator for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Knipe has been a registered dietitian since 2009, and joined Penn Medicine's Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Program in November 2018.
What inspired you to become a registered dietitian? And more specifically, why did you choose to work with bariatrics patients?
Nutrition is my second career. My first undergraduate degree was in business, and I have an MBA. I spent about 15 years in technical project management, technical writing and marketing. But I had always been interested in food, nutrition and weight management.
My brother had Type I diabetes, my father-in-law and step-mother both had Type 2 diabetes, and so many of my friends and family were always struggling with their weight. I wanted to know more about eating for good health, and I wanted to be able to help others to be healthier.
After some soul searching, I decided to go back to school to get my degree in nutrition. After I realized clinical inpatient dietetics wasn’t for me, I spent 8 years at Chester County Hospital as a Community Nutrition coordinator and educator. I loved teaching weight management classes and talking to community groups about healthful eating.
As part of the bariatric program, I get to counsel people one-on-one and help them pursue their goal of a healthier weight.
What are some of the most common questions you receive from patients?
People that come to us have tried so many diets on their own. There are so many diet plans and strategies – some are helpful and some are not. With bariatric surgery, there are all new plans and strategies they have to learn. People want to know if they should follow some of the new, trendy diets and how much weight they might expect to lose after surgery.
Is there anything you have learned since becoming an RD that you wish everyone knew?
I have learned that the best diet is one that you can sustain in the long term – as long as it contains enough nutrients. There is not one best healthy way of eating, there is not one healthiest food. Food isn’t good or bad, but there are healthier patterns for eating that most of us would benefit from.
What’s your favorite part about your job, or what has been your most rewarding experience as an RD at Penn?
The patients that come to our office are just wonderful people. I love meeting them, working with them, and following them along their journey to get healthier.
I have also been learning so much since I started here, and I feel that I learn new things every day.
What’s the most challenging part about your role?
I came to the bariatric surgery program as a dietitian that specialized in community health. Since I am relatively new to bariatrics, I had a great deal to learn about the specifics of care for that population. As the program coordinator, I also have to learn things about program specifics such as insurance coverage, protocols, and standards.
When a patient first comes to meet with you, it’s understandable that he or she might be nervous. What is one piece of advice you can give to put new patients at ease?
I acknowledge a new patient’s concerns and explain the whole pre- and post-operative process they can expect. I remind them that our whole staff is there to support them, from the surgeon to the nurses, dietitians and administrative staff that are trained specifically in bariatric medicine. Rather than advice, I give them information and education so they will know what to expect. This gives people the confidence that they can accomplish the behaviors that support a successful and safe weight loss experience.
How do you get to know a patient in order to make a plan and set goals that are right for them?
When a new patient comes in to our office to discuss surgery, we ask them why they want to make this change. We ask questions about their lifestyle and support systems. There are specific recommendations we give to our patients, but people are individuals and need individualized plans to successfully adopt these recommended goals.
To some, nutrition can seem like an overwhelming and confusing concept — with advice on what’s best coming from many angles. How do you work with your patients to demystify good nutrition?
Yes!! In fact, nutrition is a rather “young” science in the grand history of science. We are still learning how different food and eating patterns affect different people.
That said, there is advice based on the latest good research, and then there is the advice that people hear from TV, the internet or their friends that may or may not be based on proven science. I try to give people only information and advice that can be backed up by research. I also try to simplify the information so it is not so confusing and overwhelming.
I remind them that we don’t have to be perfect, just strive to do better!
To follow up on that, what’s one piece of bad (or at least not-so-good) advice you hear regularly and would like your patients to forget?
Everyone thinks that all carbs are bad, unhealthy, evil foods! That’s just not true! Lean, high quality protein is important. Heart healthy fats are important. And yes, complex carbohydrates are also important.
The thing to remember is quality and quantity for each of those macronutrients. When it comes to carbs, select fruit, whole grains and beans in appropriate portion sizes for a healthy body. On the other hand, 12-inch white hoagies rolls, a large slice of layer cake or 6 cups of fettuccine alfredo are not the best carbohydrate choices.
How have you seen awareness for nutrition change since you started working in the field?
Everyone eats, and dieting has been popular for decades. Diet trends come and go and come around again. Today’s fad may be different from tomorrow’s fad, but there will always be a fad.
I always tell people that for the most part, what your mother used to tell you when you were small is usually the best advice – eat your fruits and veggies, get protein at every meal, eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and for goodness sake, go out and play!
What is your favorite, easy-to-make or grab-and-go snack that is appropriate for a bariatrics patient?
I make a dozen hard boiled eggs every Sunday, and my daughter and I eat them for breakfast all week. When my college-aged daughter is home, she adds one to her salads. They are a great, portable source of delicious protein. I also always have apples and bags of salad in the house as an easy way to get fiber, vitamins and antioxidants.
Anything else you think is important for current or future patients to know about you?
I believe you can achieve good health and be the best version of yourself. It’s not easy, but you can do it!