Meet the Dietitian: Melissa Varela
Melissa moved to San Diego from the San Francisco Bay Area in 2000 to pursue her undergraduate degree. In 2005, she graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor of science in food and nutritional sciences. She became a registered dietitian in 2007 and has been working in the community ever since.
In her spare time, Melissa enjoys visiting the beach with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Sophia. When they aren't splashing around in the ocean, you can find them visiting the animals at the zoo, hiking and playing in the park.
How did you become interested in the field of nutrition?
An interest in health and wellness was instilled in me from an early age, having been raised by a mother who was a licensed nurse. I first became interested in nutrition after working at a gym that had a nutritionist on staff. I loved the idea of helping others become healthier, and I think it's so interesting that the food you eat can affect your health and even your blood work!
What is your particular focus area as a registered dietitian at Sharp?
I started working as a per diem staff for Sharp Memorial Hospital in 2010. After 8 months, I started working at Birch Patrick Convalescent Center (at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center) as the only dietitian of the 100-bed skilled nursing facility. At Birch Patrick, the clinical staff use an interdisciplinary team approach. We meet with newly admitted patients and their families every week for care conferences. This gives both the patient and family an overview of how the patient is doing with physical therapy, nursing, pharmacy and nutrition. It allows the patient to see how we're working together to provide them with excellent care.
What is most satisfying about your role at Sharp?
I enjoy watching my patients get well and making a difference in their healing process. Some of my favorite patients are those that rely on tube feeding to get their nutrition after a stroke. I enjoy encouraging these patients and watching them regain their strength. With the help of speech therapy, many of these patients are able to swallow and eat again.
What is your favorite piece of nutrition advice?
My favorite piece of nutrition advice is to plan your meals and cook your own food whenever possible. I use Pinterest to collect recipes for the whole week before sending my husband to shop! I aim for a plant-based diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. I also enjoy eating meat, yogurt, sharp cheddar cheese (or any type of cheese) and baking healthy "cupcakes" (muffins) for my daughter! I can never turn down salmon, Mexican food, a big salad or dessert.
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