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Aww Shift

Apr 4, 2023

In today’s episode, our guest is Tamar Samuels. She is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the co-founder of Culina Health. Her unique approach to nutrition care integrates functional medicine, positive psychology, and behavioral change techniques pulled from her training in clinical nutrition and coaching science. She's helped countless people transform their relationship with food and their health to overcome various health conditions.

[2:35] Why should I listen to you? 

I think we should listen to everyone. It's interesting because as I have become busier as a startup founder and a mum, I tend to want to listen to people less. But what I do for a living is to listen to people, so that is why you should listen to me. 

[3:50] What compelled you to implement your big idea?

Well, of course, it was not an intentional choice. The timing was just an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. I have been a registered dietician for about 10 years, and I met my co-founder early on in my career. Her name is Vanessa Roseto. She is also a black dietitian. We met each other at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and we just kind of instantly connected but we then never really followed up with each other until 2020 to grab a coffee. She messaged me on Instagram and we both had shared passion and frustration about the same things in the nutrition space and we decided to create a group nutrition practice that took insurance. A couple of months later, the pandemic happened, I got pregnant and so it was really serendipitous in terms of how I got to this place where I have a startup and a toddler at the same time. 

[5:40] What are the things that frustrated you? 

The nutrition space is really fragmented and confusing and inaccessible to most people. Most people think that nutrition is an elitist service that is only reserved for people who can afford to pay, you know, 1000s of dollars for personal nutrition who gives them a customized meal plan and works with their private chef to execute that meal plan. A lot of people who are not clinically trained and who aren't healthcare professionals are giving nutrition advice and then nutrition advice is not found. So we created Kulina so we can solve those problems, the problem of misinformation, the problem of lack of access, and the problem of lack of culturally competent care.

[8:30] How do you guys enter into the conversation knowing that sometimes people might already have skeptical views on things?

Yeah, and they should be skeptical, skeptical because the information has changed over time we used to vilify fat, and that then sparked the food industry to create all of these low fat highly processed products that were very high in carbohydrates, which then sparked the conversation that actually like we need to do low carb and high fat that then cause people to completely eliminate carbohydrates and vilify carbs. right. so the information is confusing because of all of the stakeholders that are profiting from nutrition. right and ultimately, that's a big part of the problem.

[9:58] How do you get people to understand nutrition? 

Yeah, such a great question. Ultimately, it's through science and personalization. We have research, a large body of research on different topics in nutrition that changes all the time, and as Registered Dietitians, we're responsible for always being on top of the research and disseminating that information in a way that is no pun intended digestible for people. So we have science and we have research, but we also need to work with individuals on their particular goals and their lifestyle. There're so many things that are intertwined when it comes to nutrition as it relates to stress, physical activity, mental health, our gut microbiome, lifestyle in terms of demands, with caretaking social life. All of these components are really important when we're working with people to change their health outcomes because they're unique. What works for me probably isn't going to work for everyone and so we need to take all those factors into account.

[14:00] How do you address the accessibility portion?

I think the most important way that we address accessibility in multiple ways, but most importantly, is by taking insurance. We also provide access by doing telehealth, so working with people virtually allows us to meet them where they're at. The work that we do requires regular meetings you don't change and a lifetime of habits in a one-hour session with a dietitian. It takes consistency and support, so insurance allows us to see our patients pretty frequently. 

[16:42] How do you navigate the aspect of people taking care of their health seriously? 

I think a lot of that is about having support for self-advocacy. Self-advocacy for your health is one of the most difficult things that people can do. Whether it's self-advocacy to your loved ones or your healthcare professional, it can be really uncomfortable and difficult for people to advocate for their health. There are several reasons why some of them are related to systemic racism and sexism. I have patients who tell me they have a very high nutrition IQ but they are terrified to go to their doctor and get labs done because of previous experiences with medical racism. Empowering people to prioritize their health is so important and one of the mindset shifts that we really work with our patients is advocating on their behalf. We also empower them to advocate for themselves in these difficult situations by giving them tools to support. 

[21:20] How do you approach the health and fitness aspect?

We can definitively say that physical activity is important for disease prevention and overall longevity, stress management, and a number of different health outcomes.  So in the work that we do at Kulina health nutrition is obviously we're registered dietitians. Our expertise is in nutrition, but we really work with our people on establishing routines. around health overall, within our scope of practice, and so we do have some registered dieticians who are also certified fitness instructors. One of our RDS is a yoga instructor. Another one is a personal trainer. And so there are some dieticians on our team who do specialize in physical activity, but with all of the people that we work with, we are encouraging healthy, balanced movement that is sustainable for their lifestyle. And so we're really working with people on not just changing the way that they eat the way that they eat, but also changing the way that they move.

[25:30] Do you recommend wearables? 

There  is a small body of research that talks about wearables and whether or not they have meaningful impacts on people's health overall. I think that pedometers can be super helpful from a behavior modification perspective. Some people really lean into the data and appreciate having benchmarks that are measurable, albeit most of them are not accurate, but at least they convince themselves that they're accurate or even just having a benchmark can be motivating from a behavior modification perspective. 

[32:45] What triggered you to step into this kind of world? 

It’s interesting because I actually always wanted to be a therapist. I always knew I wanted to help people if I shifted from mental health to physical health. When I had my own personal experience managing a GI condition that really impacted my quality of life, I did what I just told everybody not to do, which was to try to self manage.  I worked with well intentioned physicians who didn't know anything about nutrition, but also didn't refer me to a dietitian and  so I ended up in this place where I was just chronically unwell.

[41:47] What promise did God make to the world when he created you? 

I'm good at understanding people and I think that helps me to be more empathetic, and to use that power for good. 

Key Quotes

[9:24-9:28] Sometimes it's easier to fool someone than to convince them that they’ve been fooled. 

How to connect with Tamar Samuels