Courtney Puidk has found successful ways to prioritize both nutrition and physical fitness. This CrossFit/Pilates/cyclist/weightlift enthusiast knows a healthy body can’t live on exercise alone; what fuels the body is equally important. Her drive and effervescent personality have made this registered dietitian nutritionist an effective motivator and health advocate in both areas.
In our chat with Puidk, she discusses fitness regimens that work, her passion for holistic nutrition, her unique career path, and what happened when she stopped drinking soda.
When did you realize a career in nutrition best suited you?
I grew up in Missouri, and my family drank a lot of soda. And when I stopped drinking soda, I lost 8 pounds in 10 days without changing anything else. That was my catalyst into the nutrition world.
Physical fitness is another passion of yours. What’s your approach for trying to educate people on how nutrition and fitness go hand in hand?
Yes, I love exercise! I have been certified to teach Spinning and Pilates for 11 years. I also love cycling, swimming, weightlifting, and CrossFit. As a dietitian, I know that the adage “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet” is the truth for most people. Nutrition comes first. But exercise is so important for mental health, food digestion and absorption, and supporting a healthy weight.
My perspective is this: find something you like doing for exercise. Maybe it will lead to new adventures, or maybe you’ll love that one form of exercise forever. But the most important thing is making exercise a habit and not relying on motivation. Motivation can be so flaky, while building habits sets you up for long-term success. For example, if a person doesn’t feel motivated, they might skip their workout. If a person has made exercise a habit, they’ll do the workout even when not motivated. At the end of the day, exercise should be a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate.
It does seem you have a strong interest in food’s impact on health. You have a master’s degree in holistic nutrition at a school specializing in naturopathy. How have you tried to incorporate this approach into your nutritional roles?
I encourage people to eat real food and to use supplements as sparingly as possible. For example, in my first job as a dietitian at a gym, people would bring me their supplements and we would review the labels together. We’d discuss more natural alternatives to whatever they were taking. For example, if someone was taking a pre- or post-workout supplement, I would recommend some tart cherry or beet juice if they wanted antioxidants and B vitamins. Unfortunately, I couldn’t convince the gym to ditch selling “sports” drinks with artificial colors and ingredients at the smoothie bar.
Throughout your career you’ve pursued an interest in public policy. What were the issues you were trying to get people to act on?
My interest in policy was sparked in graduate school, and I moved to Washington, D.C., to complete my dietetic internship, which focused on maternal and child health with an emphasis in policy and communications. I became a policy and advocacy leader for a member interest group for dietitians who are part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and noticed that Academy members were eager to engage in federal advocacy for such issues as the Food Safety Modernization Act, the Farm Bill, Child Nutrition Reauthorization, and so on.
Some issues I’m currently passionate about are changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to encourage healthy food behaviors and online ordering and delivery for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Speaking of WIC, you’re currently a WIC project manager with DC Health. What does that entail?
I wear many hats. I am involved with the Nutrition Services and Vendor Management team overseeing policies, procedures, and training. I also orchestrate monitoring and evaluation measures for program integrity.
WIC participants must be low-income and at nutritional risk to be on the program. During the pandemic, it was unfortunate that this population still had to go to the grocery store to buy food since there was not an option in place for them to spend their WIC benefits remotely, hence my passion for online WIC ordering and delivery. What I really enjoy about WIC is that participants are prescribed foods tailored to them by a WIC nutritionist, and the food packages are scientifically backed. WIC has proven to result in positive health outcomes for participants including longer pregnancies with babies who are full term, healthy weight, and thrive through infancy; higher breastfeeding rates; better infant feeding practices and more nutritious dietary patterns for children and women; and children with higher mental development and reading assessment.
You also have your own nutrition consulting business. Any stories you care to share?
I’ve had some fun experiences doing corporate wellness days for larger companies. For instance, I once did a “how to stock a healthy fridge” session at an employee wellness day for a huge contracting company and the employees were so engaged.
There are several bits of advice that I give almost every client (e.g., every meal should consist of 3-5 food groups because pairing foods helps your body absorb nutrients and keeps you fuller longer), and when I run into them again, they say, “Those two things I learned from you have really helped me change my habits.” It makes me feel good that the priorities I have people focus on actually work. To know that if I’ve seen someone once or 12 times and they remember some of my advice and it’s made a difference, that’s pretty fulfilling.
How did you get involved with Nutrition On Demand?
My dietitian friend, Cat, introduced me to Shelley Maniscalco [founder and CEO of Nutrition On Demand]. I have worked on a variety of projects, my favorite being writing blog posts. The client we assist is a grocery store alliance who is fun to work with and wants fresh, fun content. I also consulted for a food manufacturer providing insight in labeling laws, how to formulate products to be able to make specific claims, and how to create those formulations holistically by using real ingredients.
Another project was creating content for an organization’s lessons on school-based initiatives and how to support these initiatives using federal and state guidelines and resources. Brittany Gorman, another NOD dietitian, and I split this project, and it became a nice collaboration between us and the organization.
What do you find unique about NOD’s approach to nutrition consulting?
The variety of projects we take on is a lot of fun and keeps all of us busy. I love that NOD includes six dietitians that have interesting, diverse backgrounds and a healthy wealth of subject matter expertise. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I think NOD offers a top-notch service considering our distinctive team.
—Fred Durso, Jr., is a Nutrition On Demand intern currently pursuing a master’s degree in food and nutrition and the necessary requirements to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. Prior to heading back to school, he spent more than a decade working as a journalist/communications specialist.