From pipetting her face off to practical application for human beings, Dr. Rachel Pojednic talks nutrition and the importance of getting real health science data out to the general public!
Rachele Pojednic, PhD, EdM is an Assistant Professor of Nutrition at Simmons College and a former research fellow at the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine, Harvard Medical School. Dr. Pojednic’s work has a specific focus on physical activity and nutrition interventions for the prevention and treatment of non-communicable chronic disease.
She is also the founder of the Strong Process Forum, a one day Boston-based wellness conference that includes three curated panels of scientists, farmers, journalists, athletes, clinicians and innovators designed to integrate evidence based knowledge into the health and wellness space.
Dr. Pojednic received her PhD from the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition & Exercise Physiology. Her research at Tufts was completed in the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, where she was awarded the Ruth L Kirschstein National Research Service Award by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
While at Tufts, Dr. Pojednic examined the molecular interaction between human skeletal muscle and vitamin D as well as novel contributions of speed and velocity to overall muscular power with aging.
NY Times Blog
Tamar Haspel- Washington Post Journalist
Katherine Pett @nutritionwonk
Kevin Folta @kevinfolta
Pema Chodron- "Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better"
L: Hi everyone and welcome to Two Pills Podcast! Today I am so excited to have Dr. Rachele Pojednic with us. She is the founder of the Strong Process Forum. One thing that makes her story a little unique is that we connected through a mutual friend who is the coach at my Cross Fit gym. Welcome!
R: Thank you! I am so excited to be here! Shout out to Dave Kim.
L: Welcome! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
R: I am an Assistant Professor at Simmons University here in Boston in the Nutrition department. I have a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry, so I think about how food affects our bodies at the molecular level. I also started a conference here in Boston, the Strong Process forum. It is an all-day conference where we bring together experts in their fields and all of the people that want the information that the experts are putting out. I always say that the academics suck at Instagram. We try to pull the two worlds together. The academics are then talking to the people in the Fitness and Wellness space. The Fitness and Wellness people are than informing the scientists. They are teaching them how to communicate their message to a lay audience. It is a nice back and forth. I also walk the talk and I am an indoor cycling instructor here at Flywheel Sports and I am an ambassador with Specialized Bicycles.
L: Can you expand on why scientists suck at Instagram and how we can improve our communication about what we are doing?
R: Half of my brain has been in pretty high-level research in academia. The other half of my brain has been in the Fitness and Wellness space with my undergrad degree in exercise physiology. I started out as a personal trainer and worked as a strength coach for a lot of teams here. I found that most people in the Fitness and Wellness space are getting their information second, third, and fourth hand. I really wanted to bring those two worlds together. We are so privileged in the academic space to go to conferences and get exposure to the people doing the best research at the highest level. How can we get that information to people who need it? They are the enthusiastic and passionate practitioners on the ground. How do we teach the academics to be the first hand source of knowledge for the Fitness and Wellness experts?
At Strong Process, we have three panels: move, eat, and rest. We fill them with three experts each. We design them like a TED Talk. The moderator is a wellness expert. We try to blend this idea of trust between both worlds. I wrote a paper that is under review that describes how clinicians do not trust personal trainers with their patients. We need to build this bridge of trust between those two worlds. I saw a huge gap and Strong Process is trying to fill that up.
L: I think this information is great, because my background is Pharmacy. I feel like the supplement and nutrition world is full of a great deal of misinformation. If it is not misinformation, it may be exaggerated or omitted to one side or the other. Before the show, we talked a little bit about the Cheerios example.
R: There was a new report that came out recently by the environmental working group. It sounds like an official government organization, but is actually an activist group. It promotes organic eating and farming. On its face, that is totally fine, but the problem is that a lot of the information they put out is skewed. In a recent investigation of oats and grains, they found a pesticide known as Roundup. It is present in some of these cereals. We know from years and years of science that Roundup is a pretty safe pesticide. You don't want to drink it, but you also don't want to take a full bottle of aspirin. Farmers use it as a tool to keep our food production safe. In independent testing, there were trace amounts. These trace amounts could even be blips in their testing methodology, since they don't release their data. We have no idea how they came up with these numbers. The media just took it and ran with it. I have mothers contacting me and emailing me in tears worried that they are giving their children poison. The reality is that we don't even know if it's in those foods because we don't know the testing methodology. Even if it is, it is well beneath the safety limits. It was interesting because I was running a retreat on an organic farm when this information came out. The stress that this is causing is significantly more harmful than the possible pesticides. We need to be careful with how we give information to the general public. If we do not take the time to talk about the nuance and context surrounding these issues, these headlines really terrify people.
L: So, with this conference, what have been some of the biggest takeaways?
R: At the conference, we require our experts to give their information within 15 minutes. So, you have to get really good at brevity. You have to get a complex topic across to a lay audience within 15 minutes. You have to hone in on your main message. As academics, we get caught up in things like p-values. That is valid information to include in conversation in our academic circles or when undergoing peer review. How do you take information and make it digestible to the general population? If we are not careful in the scientific world, we are going to lose this conversation to the click bait flashy headlines. We have to get good at saying this is what the data says, even if it is bland. We need to be out there talking about it, because there needs to be a balance.
L: Exactly. Our patients are not reading the table of contents of journals that come to our email. They are reading click bait and information from social media.
With all of your different hats, what would you say is your favorite part of your job?
R: I love teaching. I love communicating information to new and excited minds. I love being in the classroom and teaching food science. I get them after they have been through all of the science classes and they are ready to apply it. I see minds blown. We can talk about how an egg white becomes a meringue. I love when you can take information and make it real and applicable to people.
L: I always like to ask: What is a teaching strategy that you implemented that has been effective? And what is an example of one that has been less effective?
R: One of the first things I learned about being effective was inquiry-based learning. You asking questions and allowing others to ask questions. I leave 20 minutes at the end of every class just for questions. I encourage questions from the beginning of class. With this method, people are learning information that they want to learn. So, it sticks in their brains. The scientific method is all about asking questions. When we think about how we get information and get data, it is all about asking and answering questions.
The most ineffective way I have found is the complete opposite of that. It is where you stand in front of the room with a 90-minute PowerPoint and just truck through information. The students are falling asleep, checking their phones, and the information is not alive to them. You need to learn the terms and do self-reflection on your own. The classroom is for exploration, asking, and sharing information. That goes across the board. When I am teaching a flywheel class, I am asking people to reflect on how their bodies are doing and how they are feeling that day. The idea of asking questions is how people learn and grow. They begin to develop and understanding of whom they are and what they want to know.
L: If you could go back to the first time you try any of these settings, what insight do you wish you had on your first day?
R: There is a book called "Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better." As academics, we are all pretty Type A and want things to be tight. We all think in straight lines and spreadsheets. The classroom is not that kind of situation. You have to go in being flexible. If you get through everything, great. If you do not get through everything, you go through it with them next time or you tell them to go home and study. As teachers, we often beat ourselves up. Academics have an eternal do-over. You can always tell the students that you are going to look back over something just to be sure that you are clear. You can take 5 minutes and just correct anything. Learning about how you teach, including your flaws, learning, and building on them, is just as effective for you as it is for your students.
L: There are so many factors that go into a classroom. Are the students excited that day? Are they distracted by something else? Not going in thinking that you are going to have a perfect lecture.
R: Strong Process is actually a business term and I chose that years ago when it was still a blog and not yet a conference. The general premise is that you have a goal in mind, but you are not rigid and how you are going to get to that goal. You know that there will be pit stops and left and right turns. You are squiggling along that line to your outcome. That kind of flexible business will lead to long-term change and long-term benefit because you are not super rigid. If you are rigid, you could be missing important points or important question. In business, you could be missing input or information from the world around you. Our goal is the endeavor of excellence through health. This long and flexible pathway to your goal is not only acceptable but also right.
L: You mentioned one book, are there any other books, podcasts, or resources that have been helpful?
R: The New York Times well blog is awesome. A journalist Tamar Haspel is a really thoughtful voice in the nutrition and farming space. Katherine Pett @nutritionwonk is this incredible burst of energy and she has a podcast called n of one. She and a colleague of ours are trying out all of these diets. Those are three really great resources that I would recommend.
L: Who inspires you and where do you get your best ideas?
R: I am completely inspired by the high-level thinkers around me. People in the Fitness and Wellness space hustle and work so hard to be present for their people and to be amazing on social media. They are trying so hard to keep other people healthy and themselves healthy. In the academic space, I love people that are challenging and have their own viewpoints. It is great when they are willing to talk to other people who have differing viewpoints. It is so great to not be rigid and stuck in what you were taught at the time when you got your Ph.D.
L: My last question for you is what is your overall prescription for success and happiness in this job and in general?
R: My three pillars of health are move, eat, and rest. Outside of the grind of academia, figure out how to get those things into your life. We know that sleep is most important part, but there are also grant deadlines. The next Strong Process is all going to be about mental health. We are looking at move, eat, and rest in the context of mental health. The level of burnout can be overwhelming and we need to be cognizant of that. If we are not aware of when we are feeling burned out and we keep pushing, that is when bad things happen. This is not easy and there is not a magic pill. Figuring out how to incorporate all of this into our lives is part of the journey. There are some healthy behaviors that we need to pay attention to and get them into our day-to-day life.
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