The Argus recently spoke by email with Sue Gebo, Consulting Nutritionist at Davison Health Center. Although Gebo works somewhat behind the scenes, she plays an important role in directing campus nutrition, especially for struggling students. She’s also a veteran of the Davison Health Center, having worked there for over 25 years. In her conversation with The Argus, Gebo discussed her background in nutrition, her consultations with students, and how she integrates her profession into her daily life.
The Argus: Why did you decide to become a nutritionist?
Sue Gebo: After struggling with my own weight and eating issues earlier in my life, I felt driven to help others overcome their struggles.
A: What first brought you to Wesleyan?
SG: I had already been in private practice for a few years when a colleague with whom I had worked in another setting years prior, Sandy Frimel, who was and still is working at Wesleyan as a physician’s assistant, called me because the prior nutritionist was leaving. The Wesleyan nutritionist…[had] decided that she had her hands full with her fulltime job and wanted to pass the baton to someone else. [Sandy] asked me if I was interested. I interviewed and was offered the position. It has been a great experience.
A: How long have you been working at the Health Center?
SG: I have been with Wesleyan since 1988. As you may be aware, most of the practitioners and other staff at the health center have been working here for many years. It is a wonderful group of colleagues and friends, and we work with a very interesting student population.
A: What does your job at Wesleyan entail?
SG: I provide individual nutrition counseling services to students that are either self-referred or are referred by another practitioner at Davison Health Center. I am on campus one afternoon per week.
A: Do you see faculty and staff as well as students?
SG: No, not while I am on campus at Wesleyan. If non-students want to work with me, they can consult with me in my private office in West Hartford.
A: What’s the most rewarding part of working with students? The most challenging?
SG: The most rewarding part of my work with students is seeing those that are struggling with food issues find their way to changing their mindsets and habits around food in a way that makes them happier and healthier. It is also very interesting to learn about the students–where they are from, a little about their interests, etc. Wesleyan has very dynamic students! The most challenging part is when students find it too difficult to make healthy changes and find themselves suffering as a result.
A: What advice do you have for students trying to eat healthily at college?
SG: Eating on a regular schedule, or at least eating every few hours, can be a very powerful way to enhance intellectual and physical performance. Students may find it hard to make regular meals a priority, so carrying around healthy snacks is a great option. Stocking the dorm room with fruit, nuts, nut butters, whole grain crackers, yogurt, etc., is a great approach. In the dining halls, choosing balanced meals is important; assembling veggies, fruit, protein, and starch at each meal can ensure a satisfying and nutritious meal.
A: How would you recommend a student approach a friend hir suspects is suffering from an eating disorder?
SG: This can be a delicate path to travel. Voicing your concerns to the friend, in a caring way, can be a good start. Telling the student’s RA about your concerns can also be helpful. We have a program called HEP (Healthy Eating Program) at the Health Center that includes one of our MDs, the CAPS practitioners, and me as the nutritionist in a multidisciplinary team to help those that are struggling with these issues. If the student sees one of the practitioners at Davison, s/he will be referred to the other members of the team to support the recovery process.
A: What kind of feedback is most likely to help someone change their diet?
SG: There are many paths to healthy eating. In my work, it is important to look at where people are starting from and then find some inroads to support changes in their eating habits. People are always at different places in this journey. Helping connect recommended food habit changes to something important—health, energy, ability to focus—can be an effective way to inspire change.
A: How does being a nutritionist affect your food-related interactions outside of the office?
SG: As I mentioned, I currently practice in many settings outside of Wesleyan. All of these experiences have helped me to be less dogmatic about food and more flexible with my own eating. I truly believe that all foods can be included in a healthful diet, that there really are no “bad” foods, and that enjoying food is an important part of life. So I make healthy food decisions most of the time and allow room for treats and “fun” foods some of the time.
A: If you had to consume only one food for a week straight, what would it be?
SG: Wow! What a concept! That would be hard to choose…maybe oatmeal made with skim milk and dried fruit, with nuts on top. But I would get sick of that at some point and want something savory.
A: Anything else you’d like to add?
SG: If students wish to work with me, they need to call the Health Center. The staff will help them set up an appointment. There is no charge for this service at Wesleyan.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.