Could you start with a little intro? Where did you grow up? Was food a big part of your childhood?
I am Aziwe – a registered dietician based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Growing up, food played a massive role in most of my childhood memories. Even though I was quite the fussy eater, I looked forward to birthdays and family gatherings the most because I knew that these kinds of gatherings always meant that there’d be plenty of my favourite foods. One of my favourite early food memories would have to be my mom’s approach to any family gathering. Children usually get food last at most events but my mom would always make sure we were first in line. She’d always sneak us into the kitchen so we could have the pick of the juiciest drumsticks, the freshest slices of steamed bread and the freshest servings of all the chakalaka and other salads.
What encouraged you to get into nutrition and to become a dietician? Was it something you were always passionate about? Tell us about your journey.
My parents were a massive inspiration in the career path I chose. I feel that the environment I grew up in was very health-oriented. Because my father was a vegetarian, I grew up eating a mostly plant-based diet. A multitude of cookbooks and books centred on various nutrition topics were all within reach. So my interest sort of grew from there. Because I was always in the kitchen with my mother, I grew a passion for making fun nutritious meals to the point where my friends in high school always were interested in what I was having for lunch. The more I learnt about the link between nutrition and sports performance, preventing certain chronic conditions and reducing hospital deaths and stays, the more my passion for nutrition grew. After job shadowing some amazing ICU, hospital and food service dieticians and seeing how crucial the role of nutrition was in a hospital setting, I knew that the diversity of the profession was something that would make me thrive.
What does a day or a week look like for you? What do your patients approach you for? What’s something you’d like people to know about the work you do?
I work for a company in the corporate wellness sector so most days actually don’t involve patients for me. I think that’s probably the biggest shock for people because they aren’t aware of just how diverse the field of nutrition is and how useful it is to have a contracted dietician to support the health of their staff.
While most days consist of corporate work, I see patients part-time over the weekend. Most approach me looking to lose or gain weight or to support their exercise journey. But I think I would want people to know that the scope of a dietician is much bigger than that! If you have any food allergies, are pregnant, have children, any chronic conditions, suffer from women’s health-related conditions (such as endometriosis or PCOS), or even just have questions about nutrition you want answers to, these all fall within the scope of practice s that a practising dietician can provide. And the work we do is both in hospital and on an out-patient basis.
You have such a cool presence on Instagram, could you share a little about how you come up with your entertaining and insightful content?
Thank you so much! I think of what I would like to see or what I’d find cool, entertaining or useful. Sometimes I’ll jump on a trend and apply a nutritional concept to it in a fun way. Or I’ll create content that is useful to the current struggles most people face, or if it’s a specific awareness day or week. I think it helps that I try to rely on my creativity for an infographic or show more personality when coming up with content for Instagram reels.
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What’s the response been to your content?
So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive, which I am so grateful for. Of course, some people will always have a difference of opinion but I don’t take it to heart. My aim is to give people the latest nutritional science to help them to make more informed decisions regarding their health. I get feedback from people who really appreciate how straightforward and easily understandable my nutrition content is, so that motivates me to keep doing it.
How do you manage the misconception that as a dietician you only eat salads? How do you encourage people to eat things that make them happy, while ensuring it’s not all ‘junk food’ all the time?
I try to show it in the meals I educate people about or in the kind of content I share. As a person who isn’t the biggest salad eater, the meals I share on my platform are quite versatile so people see that there are plenty of nutritious vegetables to choose from to incorporate into your diet. I am quite the foodie so by sharing an Instagram story at a market enjoying a milkshake or any of my favourite foods, I hope to convey the message that it’s okay to have your favourite foods now and then. Moderation is truly the key. I also try to convey the message that the main aim of eating shouldn’t only be nourishment, but also enjoyment. Food also brings us together so you should never feel guilty for enjoying a bit of cake at the occasional birthday gathering. It’s all about the bigger picture of your diet and also allowing yourself to enjoy moments through food.
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What’s your absolute favourite comfort food?
Umngqusho or samp and beans and a wholesome stew always brings back many memories. Growing up, my parents always made the best food when they cooked together. The smell of my father’s freshly baked bread and a wholesome stew prepared by my mother is truly what made the coldest winter’s days better.
What can we look forward to seeing you do next? Any projects you’d like to share?
I started doing virtual/online consultations recently so I’m looking forward to continuing that! I have also started working with some brands, which is exciting. I look forward to sharing and doing more of that kind of work in future.
Keep up with Aziwe by following her on Instagram.