We caught up with Shruthi Mathew John, MS, RD, program coordinator for Penn Medicine's Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Program, on topics ranging from what inspired her to become a dietitian to lessons she has learned to help her patients set attainable dietary goals. Ms. Mathew John has been a registered dietitian since 2019.
What inspired you to become a registered dietitian?
My desire to become a dietitian began in high school. As a student athlete, I struggled to improve my performance largely due to an inadequate diet. During my senior year, I learned the importance of a balanced diet, and the roles that carbohydrates, proteins, and hydration played in fueling one’s body.
By the time I understood these concepts it was too late for me to implement changes in my diet to improve my athletic performance, as it was already the end of my final season as a student athlete. However, this experience inspired me to dedicate my career to becoming an advocate for nutrition. I get to pursue my passion of helping others to create sustainable lifestyle changes with evidence-based nutrition through my role as the Bariatric Coordinator Dietitian.
What are some of the most common questions you receive from patients?
I often educate patients not to label foods as it can promote feelings of guilt and shame and can ultimately influence our relationship with food and diet choices. I encourage patients to view food as a source of nutrition and fuel for the body. All foods provide nutrition, and all foods can fit. It Is important to get a balanced diet which incorporates all the food groups.
Is there anything you have learned since becoming an RD that you wish everyone knew?
I wish that more people knew that there are various factors that affect weight, and that diet/exercise are not the sole factors that influence weight. Sleep, age, stress, and hormones are some of the things that can impact weight. I like to encourage patients to focus on non-scale victories like when clothes fit looser or increased energy.
What has been your most rewarding experience as an RD at Penn?
My favorite part of my job is having the opportunity to support patients throughout the entire bariatric process. It is truly rewarding when patients achieve their goals and start to experience the benefits of the lifestyle changes, they have been able to implement.
What is one piece of advice you can give to put new patients at ease?
My focus is to create a comfortable and non-judgmental environment for all patients when they come to see me. My job is to gather pertinent information in order to create realistic goals with the patient to work towards for the next visit.
How do you work with your patients to demystify good nutrition?
I like to use analogies to help simplify nutrition concepts. I find that its easier to understand and the more unique the analogy, the more the patient remembers it.
What’s one piece of "bad advice" you hear regularly and would like your patients to forget?
I have heard health care providers tell patients to eliminate foods or food groups from their diet. Unless a patient has a food allergy or a medical reason requiring them to do so, then I would not recommend this. I like to educate patients on how all foods can fit, and all foods provide different nutrients that the body needs. Macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are all essential for the body as they each play different roles in the body.
How have you seen awareness for nutrition change since you started working in the field?
I have seen more awareness of weight bias especially in healthcare setting. Many health care professionals are now participating in educational trainings and reflecting on their own practices to help prevent weight bias from occurring. Although there is much more work to be done, I appreciate that there is more of a light being shed on this issue.
What is your favorite, on-the-go snack that is appropriate for a bariatrics patient?
My favorite snack is actually good culture cottage cheese. It is high in protein, and leaves me feeling very satisfied.