When Leeann Simons was in her 20s, she lived above a health food store. She remembers looking at the supplements, reading various health claims, and asking the owner where she learned this information. “She said, ‘I went to a weekend workshop on how to run a health food store,’” says Simons. “I thought, ‘What garbage.’” Intrigued by the subject, Simons earned a master’s degree in health and nutrition and became a registered dietician. Now as an adjunct lecturer, she teaches students about the science behind well-being.
What is your approach to nutrition? Be flexible. I used to do weight-loss groups when I worked as an out-patient dietician, and people would say, “Oh, I was bad.” I would say, “Did you rob a bank?” They’d say, “No, I had cake at my nephew’s bar mitzvah” or something. That’s not bad. Foods aren’t inherently good or bad. If you’re a diabetic whose blood sugars are tanking, you need candy. It’s the situation. One of the things my students hear over and over again is it’s the dose that makes the poison. It’s not what you eat; it’s how much you eat.
What attitudes trouble you the most? I’ve become interested in something called orthorexia, which is when healthy eating becomes unhealthy. I’ve added it to my classes, because I think people are becoming obsessed with food. They’re not enjoying it anymore. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take care of yourself. It’s when you won’t go out to eat because it might not be the right food that it starts to interfere with life.
What’s your goal when preparing a meal? For it to taste good. I don’t deprive myself of things.
Do you have a favorite meal? I love when my husband makes tortillas with beans and eggs and chicken, and he sautes the tortillas and folds them over, and then we have them with apple sauce. There’s something about apple sauce that I really like. The taste in my mouth is like a party.
What do you like to do? Travel. We’ve been to the Galapagos. We went to Antarctica. People think they’ve seen icebergs in Alaska, but you haven’t seen anything until you’ve been to Antarctica. We’re going to the Baja Peninsula in March to watch the great whale migration.
Do you have a hidden talent? No, I’ve been told that everything is out there—I have no secrets. Lately, after this election, I’ve been really sad. But usually what I try to do when I’m in a new situation is find what makes somebody smile, because then I can connect with them. You know, make them laugh. A stand-up nutritionist, as my husband says.—DC