Chattanoogan: Pam Kelle – Responsible Eating

Sunday, February 9, 2014 - by Jen Jeffrey

For those who hit the ground running with a New Year’s resolution to eat healthy, only to find themselves now lacking motivation, Pam Kelle discusses responsibility in eating and becoming more aware of what we put into our bodies, whether you are a child, a teenager, an athlete, you have a busy life-style or you are a senior.

Born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Richard and Elizabeth Cannoy, Pam was the middle child of her two sisters. Brought up in a small town where they walked to school and most of the community went to the same church, it was a culture shock to Pam when her father moved the family to Nashville during a company transfer.

Having been involved in sports in her private Catholic school in Iowa, Pam then attended a public school and had to understand the ‘Southern accent’. Her whole world changed. What didn’t change was her innate passion for healthy foods. From a small child to present, Pam has always had an interest in health.

“I used to play with food models and look at colors of foods and I remember having a poster with all the different food groups when I was a kid. I really have been interested in nutrition since I was a child,” Pam insists.

The move to Nashville taught her independence and Pam was fairly young when she moved out of her parent’s house. She had worked two part-time jobs and found that she excelled in sales while working as a sales rep.

“That taught me to overcome objections and really listen to people. It laid the ground work that allowed me to pursue what I really wanted to do – nutrition,” Pam says.

Pam was still attending college, yet was successful in the advertising arena. She went on a cruise with her friends and met John Kelle - the man she would marry three years later. John lived in Chattanooga and he and Pam had a long distance relationship for a few years as they traveled back and forth to see each other.

After Pam moved to Chattanooga, she obtained her degree in nutrition and took a year off to have her son Jack.

To be a registered dietician Pam had to do a year’s internship. “I was very fortunate to be accepted at Vanderbilt in 1994 in their dietetics program. I drove to Nashville, and took my son with me, lived in my parent’s basement while working 60-70 hours a week. Then I drove back on weekends so John could see his son. Then I drove back to Nashville,” Pam says.

“Looking back on it I don’t know how I did it, but when you are in the middle of doing something with an end goal in mind, you can do anything you put your mind to,” she encourages.

As Pam and her husband endured their long-distance relationship, it helped the couple to later withstand the time apart as Pam furthered her education and worked toward her goals. John was very supportive and encouraged his wife to pursue her dreams.

“We have always appreciated our time together and we built on those first few years of being separated and, while having good parental support, my internship flew by,” she says.

Working in clinical dietetics, Pam learned about disease and about food and medicine. She says she never stops learning and there is something new to absorb every day. Pam worked at Siskin Rehabilitation Center for about four years and during that time she witnessed patients with diabetes, stroke patients and the effects of poor diet.

Pam knew right then and there that she wanted to be in private practice. She began practicing on the side while still working clinicals. After working at Siskin, everything became contract work.

“I worked at Parkridge Diabetes Care Center for a few years and became certified as a Diabetes Care Educator which was incredibly valuable because I learned about the endocrine system and how sugar affects the body,” Pam says.

As a teenager, she doesn’t recall ever having body image issues the way many girls do today. While active in physical education classes, sports or riding her bike around town, Pam stayed active.

She and her husband John like to be outdoors and have land in Dayton on the Tennessee River. They hike, boat and kayak and are very involved in outdoor activity. Pam has also pursued an interest in yoga for the past several years.

Pam, who is now certified as an Eating Disorder Specialist, started working for Focus Healthcare Center in the nutrition department on a part-time basis. Later, she worked at Solace Clinic - an outpatient clinic for eating disorders. Eventually Pam bought out a founding partner and in 2003 she became one of the co-owners of Solace.

“My passion for working with those who have eating disorders stemmed first from my interest in Sports Nutrition and Wellness. I would work with athletes and tried to develop meal plans for them. They were petrified to eat the foods I had planned for them - especially women. The topic of size and weight came up more and more, and an athlete cannot be on a diet. Unfortunately, they do it all the time,” Pam says.

“With the girls, I noticed a lot of them started losing their menses and then there is the athletic triad where they had bone fractures and lost weight rapidly. It is very dangerous and that opened the door for me in specializing in eating disorders. I witnessed a lot of people who were saying the wrong thing to these girls and I became very protective over them and this became my primary goal,” Pam maintains.

“Now, we have ‘foodies’, ‘food perfectionists’ and even ‘food snobs’ coming onto the playing field. We have people who try to eat perfect, eating all organic, all low fat. The negative message is not only coming from media, bullies or the body-image judgment that girls put upon each other; it is also coming down from parents who are dieting and they are part of the problem in creating eating disorders in their children,” Pam acknowledges.

Pam says that disordered eating is not only Bulimia or Anorexia, but a disorder that has become more common is ‘Binge-eating’.

“If you think about the fight against obesity, a lot of shame is coming from teachers and peers of those who are overweight - so much to the point that their self-esteem and self-worth is in such jeopardy. And, because of the obesity crisis a lot of them eat in secret, which is followed by guilt and remorse and there is a lot of shame attached to that. We are thinking now that many people with diabetes may very well have an eating disorder, but they are too ashamed to explain to their doctor what is going on and the doctors keep throwing more and more medicine on them to control their blood sugar, when, in fact, it is usually a mental problem with over-consumption of food,” Pam reveals.

There are various concerns people have with eating - even children who may suffer allergies or have a fear of choking or have texture issues. It is so individualized there isn’t just ‘one answer’ for every person.

“Take veganism,” Pam says. “There is absolutely no animal product of any kind in the food supply. That person might have a true emotional and moral commitment in staying away from animal products and we can help them have a healthy diet within that framework. But if a person chose to be Vegan because they were trying to cut calories and they had seen someone who was a vegetarian so they want what they have; they end up cutting out certain foods and not replacing it. That person should not be a Vegetarian or a Vegan. There are also those who have carbohydrate metabolism difficulties. Those tend to be pre-diabetic and they do a lot better if they are careful about the amount (and type) of carbohydrates they eat. They might actually do well with the Paleo diet which allows several vegetables and meats, but they would not do well at all with a Vegetarian diet that would be really high in carbohydrates,” Pam says.

Pam also gives an instance of the busy person who travels for work and does not cook at home. She explains that trying to get that person to eat home-cooked meals would be ridiculous and would not be in the framework of their reality.

“That person needs to be educated in how to make the best choices when they do dine out and what foods to carry with them when they can’t have access to the foods that they need to have,” she says.

“People who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (often related to anxiety) I will find that they tend to eat rushed or they sit at their desk and it might not be what they eat at all… but how they eat,” Pam suggests. 

“Those who exercise a lot seek energy when they come home from a workout and may eat from seven o’clock until they go to bed. Diet is the most simplistic thing in the world but it has become the most complicated part of life for some people. Many of the clients who come to see me are very successful professionals who have everything in their life figured out …except for food. Either they go home and secretly overeat or eat when they are stressed-out or they don’t eat enough or they have a fast-food addiction and these are really intelligent successful people,” Pam asserts.

When people try to eat healthier or lose weight, Pam says that the most common mistake they make is to have unrealistic expectations about what they want to see happen.

“When someone wants to make a change - they want it now. Most people go for quick fixes. This time of year you will notice the infomercials for diet pills, or diet programs and people are convinced, ‘This time I am going to do it’ but they didn’t make a plan or make it specific and they didn’t make it measurable or realistic,” Pam says. “I tell them we start one pound at a time. Slow, steady weight-loss gradually changing their habits and being very compassionate to self… those are the changes that will stick,” Pam maintains.

“But a lot of people don’t want to hear that. They say, ‘No, I will start this diet to jump-start me and after I lose 20-30 pounds I will come to you and let you help me clean it up a bit.’ Eating healthy is a lifestyle change - a slow change over time. For those who eat fast food three times a day, we will slowly cut that down to three times a week. Or instead of drinking Coke every day we’ll switch them to sweet tea and eventually work in unsweet tea and then let go of those colas over a period of time. Get rid of the French fries… if you are going to order a hamburger do it, but leave off the fries – in baby steps,” Pam insists.

Poor eating habits are not just an issue for teenagers, over-eaters or busy career people, but the elderly also struggle to keep good habits.

“So many things happen with our elders. Their tastes do change and monotony sets in. All food tastes the same to them so they really are not driven to eat. We encourage them to try new foods, spicy foods, cold foods, crunchy foods, smooth food, colorful food and even Thai food …anything to encourage variety. Senior citizens often suffer in depression and loneliness. We need to try to get them involved in some sort of activity through church or Senior Neighbors or even a small neighborhood group to get them involved in eating with other people. They also need a schedule,” Pam says.

“With six small meals a day, they can eat at eight in the morning, have a snack at 10 and a sandwich at lunch, and then perhaps snack on apples and peanut butter at three… they fall through the cracks so quickly and the less they eat the more depressed they become and they’ll continue to eat even less. It can be a tailspin,” Pam warns.

She tries to encourage people to eat real food, but she also doesn’t want to scare them. “Our generation now doesn’t seem to have a clear balance of moderation and everything is black and white to them - ‘This is good and that is bad’,” Pam says.

Pam says she is more interested in meeting someone where they are and helping them make better choices for themselves rather than have each person on one plan, but she does promote eating more seasonally, buying from our farmers, buying local and buying things in season.

“We are a steward of our own body. There is so much in our lives for which we have no control. How we eat and how we care for ourselves is a given right we need to pay attention to,” Pam says. “If we filter it down, so much has to do with what we put in our mouths - I really believe in the power of good nutrition.”

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