You might think about becoming a dietitian or working in a community clinic when you study nutrition, but how about working for a tech company that scans your dinner plate? Salt Lake City native Rachael Clark recently graduated with a master’s degree from the Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology and now she’s working for Opsis Health, a start-up nutrition tracking platform. We caught up with her to learn more about how she transformed her views on healthy eating and her passion for food as medicine.
Why did you choose the College of Health and what were your educational goals?
The University of Utah has a great reputation for health sciences and medical programs, which was a big reason I wanted to go there. I also liked that they offered a master’s degree in nutrition. I wanted to have a well-rounded perspective and holistic view on health, so I chose an undergraduate degree in Health Promotion and Education.
I wanted to go into nutrition specifically because I’ve struggled with my own relationship with food in the past, and I want to help others improve their relationship with food and minimize disordered eating. I also see nutrition as medicine – it can be preventive and healing for many conditions which is such a cool concept to me.
My husband also has a rare nutrition disorder that developed in adulthood. We went through a long process trying to figure out what was wrong with his gut, and we eventually learned that he can’t digest many starches and carbohydrates. He’s now restricted to certain foods, and it turned our lives upside down. We couldn’t go to the restaurants we loved anymore, and he couldn’t eat yummy foods at social events. But we learned over time that we could substitute ingredients and still make food that was delicious, healthy, and didn’t upset his stomach. Being on this journey with him made me want to help people with similar conditions find freedom and joy in eating again.
Tell me about what you do for work now. What are your long-term career goals?
I work for Opsis Health, a healthcare technology company. We’re in a startup phase right now: we’re creating an app called Plateful where you can take your phone camera and do a 180 scan of your food. It will capture 200 plus nutrition markers and your portion size. The cool thing about our app is that we assess the quality of your diet and give you a numerical value to understand how healthy your overall eating patterns are and how this correlates with health outcomes. It’s called the Diet Quality Value (and we base it on the Healthy Eating Index, which assesses adherence to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans). Research suggests that a high diet quality over time lowers the risk of diet-related chronic conditions, so we encourage users to strive for a high Diet Quality Value to improve their health outcomes. Our goal is to help people understand how nutrition relates to their well-being and lifespan while nurturing a healthy, balanced relationship with food.
My official title is Nutrition Content Specialist. One of my main roles is writing behavioral nudges that help guide the user to form small healthy habits that will last a lifetime. I also develop educational snippets that pop up on the app, such as mindful eating cues or information on how to get enough iron on a vegan/vegetarian diet.
I never imagined myself in this position, but I’m so happy to be here. It feels weird that this is my first job because it seems like a job I’d want to have forever. As the app develops it will encompass some of my other interests, like nutrition counseling. I’d love to work one-one-one virtually with clients.
Any favorite professor or memory from your time in the College?
Lisa Joss-Moore was one of my favorites; she is funny and engaging and created a good learning environment for us. Anandh Babu Pon Velayutham did a great job explaining a difficult subject, Micronutrient Metabolism. He provided tangible examples and a safe space for students to ask questions. And Dr. Kary Woodruff was incredibly intelligent and skilled in Medical Nutrition Therapy. I felt like there was never a question she couldn’t answer.
How did the College prepare you for life after graduation?
Obviously, the nutrition education part was key. But practically speaking, toward the end of the program the department did a resume building workshop, and gave us tips on job interviews, how to negotiate a salary, and professional attire. They were very helpful, practical things that I might have learned the hard way otherwise.
Any advice you’d give to current students studying nutrition?
During school, I didn’t know which direction I wanted my career to go. I would encourage those who are in a similar situation to get a variety of experiences – I found this helpful in deciding what I wanted to do. Another suggestion I would give is to get experience communicating nutrition information to a variety of people. In my line of work, it’s important to be able to communicate nutrition concepts to people who may not be an expert in nutrition (software developers, customer service representatives, business entrepreneurs, etc). Having experience communicating nutrition information to a variety of people has proven very useful to me.
My last piece of advice is to be kind and professional in your interactions with others (professors, fellow students, internship coordinators, and everyone else you interact with) as a student. You never know who you are going to meet that may have an impact on your career or you might run into again. The world of dietetics is tight-knit and it's important to build good rapport with people.
What does more health, less medicine mean to you?
I worked as a pharmacy technician for several years and realized that we were giving medicine for a lot of things that lifestyle changes could fix. It is common to give medication for diabetes, blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, etc. but oftentimes, these conditions can be prevented or reversed with lifestyle medicine. This is one of the reasons I’m so thankful to have the job that I have now – because our focus is on prevention and reversal of disease through healthy living. This can liberate people in many ways: physically, financially, socially, mentally. Food is one of the best medicines.