Why I do What I do

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Everything started 22 years ago when I moved to the U.S. Growing up in Peru, food was hardly a concern or even a passing thought. Food was practically a reflex and preparing and eating a meal was as normal and necessary as, well, breathing! It never occurred to me to plan when or how to breathe nor when or how to eat. I woke up,I ate breakfast. I got hungry, I ate lunch. I got hungry again, I had a snack. The day ended and I had dinner. Plain and simple.

Enter the American way. The bustle of the city was exciting and new. Swept up in all things American, the social dining etiquette was extremely fascinating to me. Food was not a reflex here. Suddenly, there were all sorts of food I had to avoid including meat, rice, potatoes, bread, sweets, chocolate and sometimes even fruit! For discipline’s sake, I wasn’t supposed to eat when I was hungry and not only did I have to start scheduling meal times, but they should also be last priority on the to-do list. Empty refrigerators and convenience stores, sandwich shops, cafes, and restaurants were shockingly common fare. No longer was going out to eat a celebration, but rather, cooking was a special event. But no matter how hard I tried to acclimate, I just couldn’t bare to have a cold sandwich for lunch or even restrict myself from the sustenance I soon realized I cherished. What was a Peruvian boy to do?

From childhood, I always knew I wanted to help people. I entered UC Berkeley to complete an undergraduate degree in pre-med and knew I wanted to continue on this healing path. Learning to cook for myself throughout college, food became the forefront of my interest while simultaneously learning all about the body. Almost naturally, the two worlds collided. I knew at that moment that what we ate was at the root of form, function, and disease, the cause and the cure, and that my healing quest would come through food. It was my AHA moment! It is then that my medical path took a turn towards dietetics.

My last 16 years in private practice and years before that in clinical, have truly humbled and taught me an enormous wealth of knowledge. I have not only witnessed a physiological manifestation of a starving fat nation, but also the strength of the human spirit to endure through exhaustion. Time and again, my clients tell me what they don’t eat, what they’ve cut out, what they eat-on-the-go, and how well they can survive on nothing. Astonishingly, the food which nourishes us is covered in guilt and fear.

With the momentum of thousands of successful clients behind me, I have developed a dream and a goal to bring food back! The current degraded state of our health demands a return to hand-picking our fruits and vegetables, grains, and lean meats; chopping, slicing, cooking, putting love into foods; and smelling, tasting, and savoring the palate of flavors before us. Through the launch of a national movement, Eating Free, eating will no longer be a chore, a practice in discipline, a guilty pleasure, or even just a reflex.

Just as I learned nearly 22 years ago, mindfully selecting, preparing, and eating whole foods should be cherished as the air we breathe.

Photo credit: Photo.com

About The Author

Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian (RD) and certified specialist is sports dietetics (CSSD) with more than 16 years of experience. He was recently appointed national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, which identifies him as one of the United States’ leading weight loss and nutrition experts. Villacorta is the owner of San Francisco-based private practice MV Nutrition, the recipient of two consecutive “Best Bay Area Dietitian” awards (2009 and 2010) from the San Francisco Chronicle and Citysearch, and the creator of the Eating Free™ weight management program. Villacorta also developed MV Professional Nutrition (a software suite designed to assist RDs with their own private practices) and created www.eatingfree.com (an international, Internet-based weight loss and weight management program). Villacorta is a compelling, charismatic communicator—a public speaker, who is often praised for making audiences feel, heard, motivated, and engaged. His warm, approachable style, alongside his strong bilingual proficiency in both English and Spanish, have made him an in-demand health and nutrition expert on both local and national television and radio, and in articles in print publications and online. Villacorta worked closely with Dr. Nancy L. Snyderman, chief medical editor of NBC News, to provide expert nutrition advice on a number of topics for the BeWell network. He is often invited to speak at annual state and national conventions such as The Oregon Dietetic Association (where he was the keynote speaker), and The American Dietetic Association (where he spoke to other dietitian professionals about his successful private practice). Villacorta has acted as a media representative for food companies such as Foster Farms (one of the largest chicken producers on the West Coast) as well as for such California statewide health campaigns as the “California Latino 5-A-Day Program” and “Got Milk.” Prior to setting up his private practice, Villacorta worked as a public health dietitian for California Children Services and the Prenatal to Three Initiative, where he offered prenatal, infant, and childhood nutrition consulting. He has worked as a clinical dietitian for Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco and has held a faculty position with the School of Nursing at the University of San Francisco. Villacorta received his bachelor of science in nutrition and physiology metabolism from the University of California, Berkeley, and his master of science in nutrition and food science from San Jose State University. He has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards for his research, including the Outstanding Master of Science Degree Award from San Jose State University’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science.

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