How She Got There: Tracy Conder, Registered Dietcian

  • Name: Tracy Conder​
  • Age: 48​

  • Job title: Registered Dietitian and Certified Sports’ Specialist Dietitian

  • Alma Mater/Major: James Madison University/General Dietetics

  • Social Media Profile(s): I don’t have one! I’m too old for social media, but I am listed in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

HC: What does your job entail? Tell us what a typical day looks like.

TC: “My job involves meeting students one-on-one or small group sessions. Also, I visit academic classes and talk about healthy eating on campus. Other than that, I do major programs, so I would do Monarch Kitchen Wars and Monarch Fruit and Veggie Festival. We  have a new upcoming event in April called the Polynesian Festival, the Spirit of Aloha at ODU.”

“And my typical days are from eight to five. Mornings are usually for seeing students individually and then around 12:30-1:30 p.m., I would do table events around the SRC [Student Recreation Center] every Wednesday. Once a month on a Thursday, I would focus more on sports’ nutrition specifically. I also help teach the personal training program they have here at the SRC. I’d come in and talk about the nutrition aspect of personal training. It’s really helpful. They have lots of good questions, really.”

HC: What made you want to become an RD?

TC: “I grew up in a fitness center that my family owns, so I was like a ‘fitness center brat.’ [laughs] If we weren’t at home with the family, we were at the business. It was a small fitness center in Petersburg, VA. I was really wanting to do something other than being in a fitness center. In high school, I drove all of my counselors crazy because I didn’t know what I wanted to be! I started to teach group fitness classes at my parent’s fitness center, and I met a dietician. I was going through my first year of college, VCU, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. During my first semester, I met this dietician and fell in love with what her job was. I saw the variety then, and that’s what kind of sparked me to be a dietician. Then, I applied for the dietician program at JMU.”

HC: How did you attain your job as an RD?

TC: “After I graduated, I did my internship. First off, there were only--not sure if they [the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics] still have it--95 internship opportunities in the country and they only took 12 students each. There was a huge influx of dietitians, so I actually worked in the field a little bit as an outpatient nutrition coordinator at a hospital in Richmond to get more experience and then I applied and got into MCV Hospital [Medical College of Virginia]. I worked with the dietitians there. They were really nice. They knew I really wanted to be a dietitian, so they let me let me come into their weight loss programs and teach part of it. Pretty much, whatever I could do without having to be specifically a dietitian. They did help me get a lot of experience, so that when I applied for my internship and I got right in. Due that time while interning at MCV, I made connections with Riverside [Riverside Health System]. They had a Riverside health and wellness center and they came and spoke to all the interns about the different jobs available there. When I graduated from the internship, there was a job at Riverside in their wellness and fitness center in Gloucester! Everyone was just like, “Tracy, that’s your perfect job!” and I was like, “No, I don’t wanna do that [whines sarcastically]!”. Then, I was like, “wait, this is the perfect job for me.” and I applied and that’s where I started.”

HC: What is the best part of your job?

TC: “Oh wow! Hmm...I love my job, that’s a hard question! [laughs] I think the best part of my job is the variety, I can literally be doing programs out in table events outside and just the variety of meeting people all around campus. I think I would be bored doing the same thing every day, all day long. [laughs] One other thing I love is doing math because doing the calories’ ratios sports’ nutrition is very important for success. However, I do like all the different aspects of food. My table events tend to focus on something that a student can create in their dorm room or with the recipes that they can use from their home over the summer to eat healthily. Most of the time, I give out food sample that I make myself. I also love teaching kids, especially teaching them to eat healthy when so young, so that way they can keep up the habit. It’s really fun!”  

HC: What is one mistake you learned in your career and how did you learn from it?

TC: “Hmm...mistake, I don’t think I have any mistakes [laughs]. I’m thinking hard! I don’t think I made any mistakes because I wanted to be really sure that I wanted to be a dietitian. Then, I was really thoughtful about where I went. I didn’t just grab what kind of job I could get, I really just kept matching the positions to my personality and what I wanted. I didn’t wind up taking any jobs I didn’t want or didn’t love. I was always surrounded by supportive people and supervisors. I don’t really have regrets at all.”

HC: How did your family influence your job?

TC: “I went part-time when I started having babies! They’re 17, 19, and 21 now! My oldest one is in his third year in Virginia Tech and my youngest one is about to graduate high school. My middle one is just doing his thing, he’s going to be an electrician. They’re all really healthy, athletic, how to eat right. [laughs]. So I was part-time in the evening, home with the kids, while my husband would come home with them at night. Two to three nights a week, I would go to the fitness center and work. When they went to school, I wanted to be home at night. I looked a job that was during the day and couldn’t find one, so I created one! I started my own business! It’s a nutrition consulting business and it went really well, I joined a business networking group. So I didn’t make any wrong turns. I was in the middle of a consult and got a phone call that said, “Hey, we got your name from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and was wondering if you can consult astronauts for Langley Air Force Base.” and I said, “Maybe”. I then call them back saying I’m interested in this job and I got it.”   

HC: What would you say to your 20-year old self?

TC: “Enjoy the journey, no matter where your path is taking you. If you decide to change your major, just enjoy the process at whatever you’re doing at the time. If you’re going to class, find some way to enjoy it. Don’t just let time pass you by like a checklist. Wherever you are in your life, don’t blink! [laughs] It will be gone because I would love to go back to college! I had the opportunity to study, but I think most people in life are just like way over college in order to get to the other side and get to that career. College is such a wonderful unique experience that sometimes you really wanna stop and take a look around and enjoy every possible as much as you can. Pay attention to all the little details that are around you and just absorb it and live in the moment. Don’t be afraid to change your mind about where you’re going in life.”

HC: What would you say to young women who are in or willing to be nutrition and wellness field?

TC: “The sky is the limit, really. Everything is possible now, you can create the job that you want. You never have to settle for something that isn’t sparking your passion. You can go work in a doctor’s office to seeing patients individually. You no longer have to just go into the hospital and let that be an extent of what a dietitian does. You can do anything that you wanna do. Go for your goals, don’t settle for something that is not your dreams or your passion. Think big and never take your eyes off of the surprise. You work hard to where you want to be and of course, use your networking. Make lots of friends, sometimes dieticians can be lonely. So you want to have connections with colleagues. I’m the only dietitian on this campus working with 25,000 or so students. I do call up my other dietitian friends that I can bounce off ideas from. Keep looking for the position that you want and if you can’t find one, don’t be afraid to create it.”

HC: Aside from being an RD, what do you do on the side?

TC: “I’m a dancer! I’ve always danced. When I went part-time as a dietitian, I also taught dance classes as well for the city of Newport News. Right now, I am part of a hula and Tahitian dance group, which stimulated the idea of a Polynesian festival at ODU. I still do ballet, modern, tap and hip-hop. I do everything, it helps keeps me young.” [laughs]

HC: Recently, social media influencers have shown to encourage their audiences with healthy living, do you think the rise of a health-conscious society in America will last?

TC: “Yes, I do think it will last. I think that social media has given more people an outlet to be heard. I’m always amazed here is how hungry and thirsty people are for knowledge for nutrition. They would ask some of the greatest questions. I feel like as we provide more outlets, the more people will question about nutritional information that the word gets out there. It’s always existed [a health-conscious society], but social media just makes it easier. I definitely believe being health conscious is definitely going to stay. I feel like people are still going to try and some will succeed into really living a health-conscious life, especially nutritionally and some will struggle. Everybody is different and their approach to food is different. The who, what, when, where, and why plays a big role into how they eat and what they eat. People will always try to find a way to be healthy. I don’t think a health-conscious society will go anywhere.”

HC: What are your thoughts on different diet trends such as vegan, paleo, juice diet, etc…?

TC: “My opinion is that--in my world--I can find something good in every single diet you mentioned. Do I think that each one is a standard diet? Probably not, because they’re missing an element or an imbalance to it. For example, the paleo diet, they empathize healthy fats. Well, there is nothing wrong with that, but when I looked at the sample of the paleo diet, they took the normal recommendations of fat grams in a day and then they added healthy fats to that. It didn’t replace healthy fats, it ended up being 100 grams of fats every day. So the idea was good, but the way it was implemented was not exactly healthy. Most people don’t need 100 grams of fats every day. People feel like they can do it. They want to be part of a group, it’s a trend, it’s hip and it’s happening. And that’s great because they’re thinking about their nutrition, but I doubt that they will do it consistently and people will go for a long period of time and then can’t follow it anymore. Then, that’s when it’s a great time to say, ‘you’ve done all this great work, let’s balance that out and give something you can do consistently.’ I don’t want to put down all the diets because I can’t say across the board that every diet is something that you shouldn’t do. I just want to pick out all the good pieces and then turn that into a healthy diet also known as the ‘Tracy Conder Diet’ [laughs].”   

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