Food for thought

Teen Health Center intern offers a new mindset on nutrition education

Rachel Halmrast, Staff Reporter
Originally published November 20, 2015

This year, the Teen Heath Center welcomed many new members to its staff. Among them is Grace Lautman, a health education specialist at Swedish Hospital, who is currently studying for her masters degree in nutrition and clinical health psychology. Although she will be primarily seeing students as a therapist, she will also be advising the Nutrition Club, which meets on Tuesdays at second lunch in the Teen Health Center.

Lautman believes that nutrition education is especially important for high school students. When people think of preventative healthcare, they usually think of vaccines and screenings, but rarely think to include nutrition education. Lautman believes that it’s time that they do.

“I guess I see nutrition as medicine, in its own sense,” she said. “I think a lot of the time we forget how important what we’re putting in our bodies is, but it has a really big affect on our mood, our ability to do well in school and really all the things that we want to do well in.”

Not only does she hope to teach students about how nutrition affects their physical health, but how it relates to their mental health, an aspect that is often overlooked. “I really want to approach nutrition in a way that’s maybe not how you’d imagine a normal nutritionist or dietitian to, like ‘oh, we’re counting calories.’ I don’t see that as healthy, so I think part of this is how we can start to learn from an early age that our relationship with food is more than just about the health specifically. It’s about how we feel about what we’re eating and enjoying our food, and that these parts are also important.”

Lautman discovered the importance of nutrition in her first years of college at University of Wisconsin at Madison. As a rower, she knew that her food was important for her athletics, but she quickly learned that it had a much larger role to play in her life. Not only did it change how her body felt, it changed her mood, emotions and general mental well-being.

This revelation was what led her to an interest in nutrition, an undergraduate degree in dietetics and, eventually, the Teen Health Center. “It’s been kind of a long road,” she said.

Although Lautman has studied nutritional education for years, she is prepared to take some-what of a backseat in the Nutrition Club. “I want to be there to give accurate information and perspective, but I really want it to be the students who get to take it where they want to,” she said. For the past few weeks, the club members have been working to solidify both their definition of healthy eating and the club’s mission statement. They’ve also been brainstorming different projects to start, like organizing a food drive, teaching some cooking classes, or working with the Ballard Food Bank.

Even though she wants the club to be mostly student-run, Lautman still hopes to teach as many students as possible about nutritional care, while also learning from the process herself. “The more people I work with, the more I understand how I can be a support to people,” she said. “I want to learn how I can support students that are in this time of life, and help them to feel their healthiest.”