Dietitians…. we came. we saw. we conquered. Today I’m back with a full recap of my trip to Chicago for FNCE, the Food & Nutrition Expo & Conference. If you’re not familiar with it, FNCE is the huge annual dietitian conference- this year over 10,000 dietitians came!
I had never been to FNCE but have always wanted to go… two years ago my work approved my trip but then couldn’t find coverage for my shifts at my hospital, and last year my boss denied my request to go because she said it wasn’t relevant enough to clinical. So needless to say, this trip was special and a bit symbolic of how I’ve transitioned into being my own boss.
The opening guest speaker was Sanjay Gupta, and I will go ahead and admit that I have a huge RD crush on him. Unlike many other medical celebrities (cough cough Dr. Oz), I think Sanjay Gupta is a great advocate for sound nutrition advice and navigating the ever-changing world of health, wellness and chronic disease.
I loved his speech so much. He talked about being surprised that he received very little nutrition training in school when nutrition plays such a huge role in health. I’m glad he mentioned this because I never realized until I worked in a hospital that physicians generally don’t get a lot of training in nutrition.
Sanjay (yep, we’re on a first name basis) told jokes throughout his speech and you could tell that he really valued our profession. He even poked fun at the paleo diet when he told a story about how the hunter-gatherer Tsiamine tribe in the Bolivian Amazon have the healthiest hearts in the world and actually consume grains as their primary nutrients :)
I took a lot away from his speech. He reminded dietitians that we need to be intentional in our advice to others rather than being wishy wash and giving people too much irrelevant information. This made me reflect a lot about my own nutrition practice and how I approach education with clients. His speech was a great way to start off the conference.
I talked to a lot of dietitians prior to coming to my first FNCE since I’ve heard it’s easy to get overwhelmed there. I got mixed feedback about networking and going to sessions. Some people went to all of the sessions and networked in between, and others told me to focus on networking and forget about the sessions. I really love learning and hearing about new information, so I didn’t feel like it would be a good fit for me to completely skip all of the sessions. Instead, I made networking a priority on my schedule and then went to some of the sessions that I felt like would directly benefit my practice and patients.
One of the most interesting sessions I went to was all about your circadian rhythm and how that affects your metabolism, weight and hormones. So many clients ask me about whether it’s bad to eat at night. My main takeaway from the session is that its SO important to get 7-9 hours of *quality* sleep every night so that your hunger and satiety hormones can function properly. They also discussed research showing that you may be metabolizing things quicker in the morning, so it might be beneficial for you to front load your nutritional intake (rather than eating a huge dinner).
Something really fun about the conference was the food expo, where hundreds of food vendors set up booths and provide information and free samples. From games to a cranberry bog, there was a little bit of everything. Only at FNCE could you come home with both a UTI testing kit and pack of granola bars in your bag :)
One of my favorite booths was hosted by the US Highbush Blueberry Council. They had a photo box with props set up and you could style your own blueberry photo shoot. Not one of my strongest skills but it was fun to play around with it!
I used to work in school food service so a food expo like this was something I’ve been to a dozen times. I was pretty thoughtful in the samples and handouts I picked up, just because I didn’t want to have to travel and carry things that I didn’t really care about saving or using.
Fun times- I ran into one of my fellow classmates, Stephen. We did our dietetic internship together through Utah State!
I really tried to use my time at the expo to speak to brands that I felt like I had a connection with and learn more about their products. I brought some business cards, but I was also sure to pick up their business cards as well so that I could follow back up with them after the conference.
Nutrition Entrepreneur Networking Events
I am a member of the Nutrition Entrepreneur Dietetic Practice Group (NEDPG) and I attended their networking event on Sunday evening and their lunch sponsored by Schar on Monday. There are SO many types of RDs out there and it was fun to be around so many other private practice RDs. I learned so many things from each one :)
The only bummer I will say about the NE events is that both involved presentations related to GI disorders, which I don’t see in my practice. But it was still so great meeting people!
Simple Mills Lunch
I went to a lunch sponsored by Simple Mills and hosted by Alexis from the Hummusapien. I honestly had not followed her blog but she seemed very friendly! I really loved hearing from the CEO of Simple Mills, Kaitlin Smith. She spoke about creating a line of products that really represented what was important to her, and she was very inspirational!
Thoughts on FNCE
A big regret I have is not attending FNCE sooner, especially when I was an RD student. I was so wrapped up in classes and working that I passed up on the opportunities to network and meet other dietitians.
I loved the experience of going to FNCE this year and I hope to be back next year. It was so inspiring to be around other dietitians and to see all of the amazing things that everyone is doing. Sometimes I think with blogging that it can be easy to get caught up in blog stats and social media numbers, and FNCE was a great reminder about how really being an RD is about helping people live healthy, happy lives.
The next time I go to FNCE, hopefully I will be able to tag along with another RD friend (or two!). I reached out to so many RD friends and none of them were going to this specific conference, so I flew solo for mostly everything. It would be fun to have a few pals to do things with, like wade in a cranberry bog
Advice for others
I felt really nervous going to FNCE for the first time and the experience can be overwhelming! Here are some tips I have for FNCE newbies:
- Dress- I would recommend dressing business casual for the most part. Things definitely started out more dressy and became more casual as the days went by. Bring layers to be comfortable in the conference center and wear comfortable walking shoes. There was so.much.walking.
- Bring business cards everywhere- I got business cards made specifically for FNCE that included my name, photo, email, phone and social media handle. From talking to a brand to sitting beside someone in an uber, you never know who will ask for your info.
- Register for extra events- I registered for almost everything extra that came through my inbox and those events were where I got to speak 1 on 1 with people. I really think you can learn something new from anyone you’re speaking with so these events were great for me.
- Secure housing early, close to the conference- I stayed at one of the conference hotels but it was about 3 miles away from the convention center. The conference shuttle was not great so I had to take a $16-22 Uber/taxi back and forth. It would have been nice to go back and forth to my hotel room as I pleased, but it was too expensive and inconvenient to do that. Someone told me this isn’t typical of FNCE and there are usually lots of hotels around the conference site. I’ll have to scope that out for DC. I may look for an Air BNB.
- Be Yourself- It’s really easy on an online space to feel the need to conform to what you see is working for other people. Something I realized by going to FNCE is that it’s OK to just be yourself and march to the beat of your own drum!
For all of the non-dietitians out there, this conference made me realize how important it is to build relationships with people in your industry. You can only go so far on your own.
Hopefully I’ll see you guys next year in Washington D.C. for FNCE 2018!