Visionary Insights with Joyce Haddad

by | Nov 5, 2020 | Interviews

In case you haven’t noticed, food, nutrition, health and climate change are pretty political topics.

For those of you who haven’t been acquainted with Joyce (yet), Joyce is a huge advocate for creating healthier and more sustainable food systems, has worked across many different domains in the nutrition and dietetic industry – including private practice, research and communications, and is currently undertaking a PhD in digital public health nutrition messaging!

I hope you get a lot out of this one!

Chantelle x

Our careers often have their own unexpected twists and turns. What led you to study nutrition and dietetics, and how would you describe your career journey so far?

In my last year of school, I signed up to study “Accounting”. At the beginning of that school year, those of us who wanted to study the subject got told there wasn’t enough interest in it, so the Vice Principle at the time asked if I wanted to study “Nutrition” instead, as that class still had space for extra students… I don’t think I have to finish that story. Here I am.  

I would say my career journey has been about riding the wave of fate. I have been open to a diverse range of opportunities which have all led to where I am today.

You recently spent an exciting six months interning with The World Health Organisation (WHO), Geneva Switzerland, at the start of a global pandemic! Tell us, what was your role at WHO? What were some of the things you achieved, highlights, lessons, and personal or professional challenges faced while living and working overseas?

My role was within the newly structured Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, in the Unit of Multisectoral Actions in Food Systems, which aims to support Member States in reducing the burden of diseases caused by unsafe food, unhealthy diets, and malnutrition in collaboration with United Nations partner agencies, international organisations and stakeholders.

Part of my role was supporting the WHO COVID-19 Nutrition and Food Safety Working Group. Once the pandemic was declared, we were inundated with queries, as Member States, organisations worldwide and media sought guidance on a very wide spectrum of issues related to COVID-19, nutrition, food safety and health. To me, this pandemic really highlighted the key role food and nutrition has across so many sectors.

The first few weeks of teleworking were challenging, both personally and professionally – as I was still learning about the processes at WHO, establishing relationships with colleagues, while also learning to be indoors all day! Nonetheless, I couldn’t complain. I felt grateful every day to be a part of the WHO family, especially during a pandemic – and contributing to public health like no one ever has before.

The biggest lesson was that the world is not as easily “fixed” as I once thought. I realise now there is no longer such a thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in the world – everything is relative, so I see things as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ – so instead of seeing things as black or white, trying to fix something broken, I will just endeavour to do better. Work towards better leadership, for better nutrition, for a better world.  

I came into WHO thinking I will learn everything about public health and nutrition, but I have come out realising how much knowledge I am yet to gain. I will continue to seek never-ending opportunities to keep learning every day.

It absolutely stands out to me from following you on social media over the years, that one of your greatest passions is advocating for, and creating a more sustainable food system and planet. What are some small but significant steps we as individuals, communities and/or governments can take right now, that will lead us out of the very real and devastating climate emergency we are facing?  

As a nutrition advocate, I have a passion for teaching individuals how much power, through food, we have on improving the health of our planet. One simple act that everyone can start practicing is not over-purchasing food. We live in a highly consumer-driven world. We all need to take a breath and think about what we really NEED, not what we WANT, before we purchase anything, especially food.

For communities, there needs to be greater discussion about the negative effects of over-purchasing of food. We all need to socially normalise buying and wasting less – for our health, and planet.

COVID-19 has highlighted and worsened the limitations of the food system, including its inequities, its unsustainable supply chains, its high dependence on earth’s resources, and its lack of resilience to sudden shocks. Governments need to appreciate that the food system needs an overhaul. Policies must be developed to build and maintain much more sustainable food systems. Key policies, like agricultural subsidies, need to be re-orientated away from harmful practices and towards incentives to produce sustainable, safe, healthy, and nutritious foods. The conversations about transformational food system change need to happen and keep happening, allowing everyone, everywhere, to imagine and ask for a more equitable, nourishing, and regenerative food system. We need ‘food’ to be ‘food’ again.

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Food facts we need to stop ignoring👇 - 25% of the world’s fresh water supply is used to grow food that is never eaten. Hint: we’re running out of fresh water. - 28% of the worlds agricultural area is used to produce food that is never eaten. Hint: Earth is running out of land. - The yearly value of food waste globally is $1 trillion. - The yearly weight of food waste globally is 1.3 billion tonnes (1 300 000,000,000kg) - All food wasted in the world could feed the world’s hungry 4 times over. - 70% of the food we throw away is perfectly edible. - Food waste creates 4.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (the same amount created by 1/4 of cars globally) What does a photo of me in the Great Barrier Reef have to do with food production and waste? Here’s the link: Deforestation and land clearance (tree-cutting) happens for more agriculture (food growing/livestock farming). Trees have the ability to suck up the bad/toxic stuff from rain fall and the environment, so this stuff doesn’t go into waterways. Without trees to do this, the bad stuff runs into, and pollutes waterways. This causes damage to coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. In Australia, this type of pollution from ‘run-off’ is threatening the health of the Great Barrier Reef. Australia is in the top 10 land clearing nations in the world. The whole world is interlinked like we can never fully understand. One bad action has so many consequences on many other things. So let’s focus on wasting less food - by eating less & buying less (definitely wont hurt us to do so). This puts less pressure on food production. Less pressure on land clearing and water use. Happy(er) world.

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As a nutrition professional with many years of experience working in different domains (e.g. private practice, media and communications, public health, research…), what excites you the most, and how do you think the nutrition and dietetics profession will, or needs to evolve in the future?

The biggest thing for me is that any person passionate about evidence-based nutrition knows how challenging it is keeping up with the confusing and contradicting nutrition fads, which are usually communicated by non-accredited personalities. As a health professional, the challenge is mainly being able to get my voice heard amongst all the differing opinions that currently exist. Simultaneously, dietitians, nutritionists and health professionals themselves currently have different approaches to communicating health – there are those who are passionate about the Health At Every Size (HAES) approach, while others are still focused on weight as an important health determinant; while others have differing opinions about different types of diet approaches. Every approach can be justified and there is no wrong or right way when perspective is taken into account. I am therefore hoping that soon, all health and nutrition professionals can respect different approaches so we can work in harmony and ensure the public see us as a united entity, and not a competing profession.

Cultural sensitivity and cultural safety are sometimes tricky areas for nutrition and health professionals to navigate, especially because food often has incredibly strong ties to our culture and identity. What is your advice for healthcare professionals when working with people from a range of cultural backgrounds?

Working with people from diverse backgrounds comes naturally for me, as I myself was born and raised overseas. As professionals wanting to work with people, we need to appreciate that every person uses food in culturally defined ways, and the meaning of food for some people is much more than just nutrition. Cultural food patterns are defined by what foods are eaten, when, how and with who. How food is prepared, the timing and frequency of meals, are all different between cultural groups. Foods can also be used in symbolic ways, such as during religious ceremonies and social events. Food isn’t and shouldn’t be a black or white topic – it is emotional, sentimental and much more than a Harris–Benedict Basal Metabolic Rate equation. Professionals need to be open to different perspectives and find the balance between ‘science’ and ‘lived experiences’ when discussing nutrition and health.

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LEBANESE CUISINE 🇱🇧 ⁣ Lebanese food is not only delicious, it's one of the healthiest cuisines in the world! - Traditionally, all ingredients used are local. Families would exchange goods from each other’s farms before cooking meals. This means Lebanese people grew up with fresh food, packed full of nutrition, due to the minimal transportation needed. - Spices and herbs are used instead of sauces. This means the food served is packed full of antioxidants, and low in salt, saturated fat and preservatives. - Instead of cooking with butter, cream or other dairy products, Lebanese food relies heavily on olive oil, which has been shown to do wonders for lowering cholesterol, control blood sugar levels and boost overall heart health. - Lebanese food has a huge focus on vegetarian meals. From hommos, to baba ghanoush to a whole lot of herbs like basil, zaatar and mint. This means each meal is filled with fibre and other beneficial elements for gut health. ⁣ Here is a showcase of all the lebanese meals I’ve made recently! Let me know if any of them look amazing enough and I’ll be happy to provide a recipe. ⁣ The Lebanese culture is way too underestimated. I recommend finding a Lebanese restaurant (or family) to dine at, you won't regret it!

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You are currently undertaking a PhD, which aims to better tailor public health nutrition advice that is provided the digital world. Tell us a bit more about your project, why it is important, and what you are hoping to learn and achieve from it?

My research focuses on establishing the need for tailored, digital public health nutrition messaging. Personalised or tailored nutrition holds a lot of promise in improving dietary behaviours, and technology allows us to integrate personalisation into dietary intervention trials to reach a large amount of people. The evidence on the efficacy of communication and messaging to improve dietary behaviour within these interventions is limited. So, I have merged the two research streams together to find out how effective digitally delivering tailored nutrition messages would be on improving the dietary behaviours of Australian adults. The fact that digital technology can be harnessed in multiple ways to improve population health and wellbeing is very exciting. Apart from efficiency and convenience, using the internet to deliver specific and evidence-based nutrition advice to a large number of people, holds promise for advancing public health efforts, including policies and laws.

Like myself, you also have a special interest in eating behaviours and psychology. From your many years of professional research and practice as a dietitian and health coach, what is one thing you wish more people knew about making significant changes to their health and wellbeing habits?

The majority of people are focused on the “what” (objective goal) and not enough about the “why” (clarity, meaning, and fulfillment of actions). This isn’t just in regard to food, it really applies to many factors in life, but simultaneously, it has a huge impact on the way we think about food. When we try hard enough to find our true purpose of why we want to do what we want to do, our whole approach to the way we live relaxes, becomes clear and allows us to identify what we need to do to meet our goals. Once we reach internal clarity, the purpose and meaning, eating truly becomes a peaceful, controlled and sustainable behaviour.

As qualified master personal trainer, you are literally on-the-go all the time. As nutrition and health professionals, we are so dedicated to caring deeply about our patients and clients, that it can be easy to neglect or forget about our own personal need for self-care. What are your tips for prioritising our own self-care as health professionals, and avoid burnout?

Sleep, good food, and movement are priorities in my life, in that order. If I don’t have those three right, I wouldn’t be able to “do so much”.

Speaking of doing it all… what words of wisdom do you have for ambitious students and new graduates in the nutrition and health industry trying to stand out and make their mark, in what is becoming a very saturated job market?

Open mindedness is so important – we should be confident that if things don’t go our way in the short term, something better will eventually happen! Patience is a virtue.  Being actively involved where and when possible. Take on opportunities that arise even if they’re not 100% what we want at that time. Have the trust we will gain something from them. Finally, comparison is the thief of joy. Run your own race and make sure you’re focused on enjoying your own journey.

As someone who dreams and achieves big, who or what inspires you to do what you do every day?

The health of future generations. If we don’t try to improve the world for them, who will?


Follow Joyce Haddad on Instagram @adietitiansmission and on Facebook for your evidence-based nutrition fix. You can also connect with Joyce on Twitter @joycehaddad_ where she communicates about nutrition research and politics. You can also check out her impressive array of achievements and publications on LinkedIn.

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I’m Chantelle Vella a.k.a The Visionary Nutritionist. 

This is my fresh take on food, nutrition, public health, and health communications. 

Quals: Master of Health Communication. Bachelor of Science (Nutrition) (ANutr.) 

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