Nutrition Q&A With Dena Gershkovich
By Erin Garry
Dena Gershkovich is a senior at the University of Maryland, double majoring in dietetics and journalism. In addition to her busy school schedule, Gershkovich spends her time experimenting with recipes and writing blog posts for The Artsy Palate, a blog she started in 2015 while taking a gap year in Israel. She initially started the blog to keep herself and others in gap year programs healthy while experiencing the tastes of a new country. Almost five years later, The Artsy Palate is still going strong.
On her website and Instagram, you will find a range of original recipes as well as nutrition tips and advice. Gershkovich's approach to nutrition is, "I see each eating occurrence as an opportunity to nourish myself optimally, but dessert is also an essential part of my diet." I had the chance to chat with Gershkovich about her blog and gain her insight on what a "healthy" diet means. (Spoiler: a healthy diet looks different for everyone!)
EG: I see that you are double majoring in dietetics and journalism at UMD. What led you to pursue those majors?
DG: I decided that I wanted to be a dietitian when I was sixteen years old. My chemistry teacher mentioned briefly how calories are units of energy, and tenth-grade me found that incredibly interesting. I then started to think of careers to do with nutrition, and I quickly realized that I am wired to be a dietitian.
I love expressing my creativity, and dietetics provides so many ways for me to express it, whether it be through developing healthy recipes, writing or brainstorming ways to fit nutrition into peoples' busy lives. I also love helping others reach their goals. As a dietitian, I will be able to help others by providing them with the education, tools and strategies they'll need to help themselves eat healthier.
I hope to practice as a registered dietitian and also write books and articles about nutrition, which is why I decided to pursue a double degree in journalism. Coming into college, I knew that I wanted writing to be a major part of my career, and I thought, "What better way to do this than as a journalism major?" I knew that completing a journalism degree would really allow me to focus on improving my writing skills.
EG: How do those two majors work together to pursue your interests?
DG: As a dietetics major, in addition to my nutrition courses, I have taken six semesters of chemistry and three semesters of biology. This has given me a detailed understanding of the human body as well as the important bodily reactions that occur in response to the foods we eat. My journalism classes have taught me how to take all of that information and make it meaningful to the public. Nutrition is a science, and many see science as foreign and scary. Learning how to explain complex information in easy-to-understand terms through being a journalist has allowed me to make nutrition accessible, relevant and meaningful to those who read my work.
EG: What was the inspiration behind your blog's name?
DG: I came up with the name "The Artsy Palate" to depict the way that I hope to portray healthy food – as aesthetically pleasing, like artwork, as well as palatable and delicious. The name also hints to my love for all types of art. In addition to cooking and baking, I really enjoy painting, drawing and hairstyling.
EG: What has been the most rewarding part and the most challenging part of your blog?
DG: The most rewarding part of my blog has definitely been hearing positive feedback from followers. I am lucky that there has been a lot of that. When people tell me that they made my tofu and it's now part of their family's meal-prep rotation, or that they thought carbohydrates were "bad" and now think otherwise as a result of reading my post, it truly makes me so happy to know that I'm providing helpful information and making a difference. I believe that nutrition should be accessible, and when I hear that I've successfully made it accessible, it's an incredibly rewarding and meaningful feeling.
The most challenging part of my blog is definitely staying consistent about posting. When I'm busy with schoolwork and other extracurricular commitments, I don't always have time to post on regularly on The Artsy Palate. However, I know that this is hopefully a temporary struggle, since after I graduate, it will be easier to carve out time to focus specifically on my blog. Instagram has also been a great way for me to provide my followers with quick nutrition tips and healthy meal ideas when I am too busy to write longer blog posts.
EG: What are some of your favorite recipes?
DG: I really enjoy making farro with roasted tomatoes and zucchini. I also love putting together salads and coming up with ways to make baked goods more nutritious.
EG: What are the most common nutrition myths you see people our age following? What is the truth behind them?
DG: There are unfortunately so many nutrition myths that college students believe to be true! This is actually one of the main things that motivates me to continue posting on my blog and Instagram – I want to clarify as many myths as I can!
One of the most common myths I've heard is that carbohydrates are "bad." Nothing could be further from the truth. Carbohydrates are actually the body's preferred energy source, and we need them to function optimally!
Another common myth is that it's best to eat the fewest calories possible. This is most certainly not true and can be extremely dangerous if followed. The caloric values that many fad diets recommend are actually way below the evidence-based recommendations. For example, 1200 calories is the recommendation for a toddler, not a college student.
EG: What is your top advice for college students trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle?
DG: A "healthy lifestyle" looks different for everyone, so it's important to check in with yourself and really ask what healthy means to you. Be honest with yourself. Being too regimented about your eating isn't healthy, even if you are meeting your nutrient needs. Likewise, eating fast-food and ice cream all day likely won't leave you feeling too great either.
To truly maintain a healthy lifestyle, consider how you can honor your health while also honoring your preferences and sanity. Eating should be just one part of your life, it shouldn't take over your life. You shouldn't feel like you're revolving your life around a diet plan. By eating mindfully and listening to your body's hunger cues, fullness cues and your cravings, you're bound to find a healthy eating balance that works for you and suits your individual needs and preferences.
EG: What advice do you have for someone who has a negative relationship with food? Are there common signs of this for someone who may be unaware that they have this?
DG: If someone feels they have a negative relationship with food, I would encourage them to speak with a psychologist and/or dietitian and to be gentle with themselves. Self compassion is key to improving your relationship with food. I would also encourage them to think about why they may feel out of control around food and what caused them to feel this way. Both a dietitian and psychologist can help with this.
I would encourage people who feel they have a negative relationship with food to distance themselves from diet culture. We need to be eating a lot more than most influencers and fad diet companies lead us to believe! Unfollow accounts on social media that make you feel insecure about your body and/or your dietary choices, and make sure to only take nutrition advice from credible professionals such as registered dietitians.
Common signs of having a negative relationship with food include:
Feeling out of control around food
Turning down social invitations because you're scared of breaking your diet
Feeling the need to exercise to compensate for eating
Having rigid rules around food and eating
Diet culture unfortunately normalizes much of this, so it can sometimes be hard to identify if you have a negative relationship with food.
Gershkovich will be completing her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian starting this coming September. Be sure to follow her on Instagram at @theartsypalate.
All photos courtesy of Dena Gershkovich