The world is filled with a lot of misinformation about food and nutrition. A new business locally – Alaska Elite Nutrition – recently opened to address that. Licensed Registered Dietitian and Family Nurse Practitioner Sally Coburn is passionate about helping Alaskans to use diet and lifestyle changes to improve their diet, lose weight, improve sports performance and ultimately be healthier. Live Breathe Alaska recently interviewed Coburn about her new business, her background, and some examples of the people who have benefitted from her services.
What is your background and what led to opening the doors at Alaska Elite Nutrition?
For the last 25 years, I have been a nurse practitioner in a specialty weight loss clinic in Anchorage. I love doing that, but I really missed working with kids. I started my career in the pediatrics unit at a hospital and then was a school nurse, so I am really passionate about working with our youth.
My work at Alaska Elite Nutrition really has two branches. One is to work with young people to help them eat well for their specific sport. I help athletes determine what types of food are important to their physical development and to their performance. The other half is working with youth who have weight challenges, food allergies or intolerances, or other medical diagnoses that could be helped with nutrition.
I am the only Board Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management (CSOWM) in Alaska through the Center for Dietetic Registration of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). This certification includes adults and children. ACEND is the professional organization that certifies and monitors registered dietitians.
What do you love about your job?
It is thrilling to be able to see people get healthier and be able to do things they haven’t been able to do for a long time, or have never done before. I love helping people feel better and good about themselves. It is really rewarding when you see someone accomplish life-changing health. My approach is to give people healthy, science-based information and then allow them to choose what to do that moves them toward their goals. We work together in a non-judgmental team relationship to offer a system of eating that develops a workable plan to address short and long-term goals.
Diet and nutrition seem to be a very confusing issue for most of us, what is your approach to finding success with clients?
Many people are looking for a quick, simple solution and then they want to go back to their old habits. My clients are ready to make changes because they’ve realized that what they’ve been doing hasn’t been working, but they don’t know where to start. I offer personalized meal and snack ideas to get their nutrition on track with sustainable ways to eat for lifelong health and fitness. I try to help people get to the point where they are thinking before they eat. Is that piece of cake worth the calories – and if you really want it, can you just have a smaller portion? It’s not about giving up everything you love, it’s about looking at the big picture and trying to be balanced. We all want a vibrant and energetic life as we live and age. Good nutrition is the best foundation for that and a hedge against chronic diseases later in life.
Tell us more about your work with nutrition for sports performance.
My kids played competitive soccer and I, unfortunately, was a little dismayed at what I saw competitive athletes eating. Now, I am trying to help middle school, high school, and college-age youth to come up with sports-specific strategies to support their best performance in a sport. If you are a sprinter versus a cross country runner, you need to fuel differently. I talk with my young clients about the types of foods they like and why some foods are important to them. We try to answer questions such as, “should I have a snack prior to running a race?” or “How do I eat the night before a competition?” Nutrition really can make a huge difference in the success an athlete achieves.
Who are some of your typical clients?
Several of my clients have gone from the couch to a 5K. They started off very obese, lost weight, and then started exercising. Pretty soon, they work up to doing a running race or even a marathon. One woman came back and told me “I did it, and I even tucked my shirt into my shorts!” Another one has completed multiple marathons and increased her time with weight loss close to 50 pounds.
I have a client who has now become an Ironman competitor. I helped him with sweat calculations and calorie compilations so that he could make a plan for fueling for races. He has now developed a great system that is customized for his needs. He completed the Alaskaman race a couple of years ago and will do four or five Ironman competitions this year.
What other advice do you have for Alaskans who are interested in improving their nutrition?
One thing I have learned along the way is that it’s important to get the whole family involved, especially when I am working with someone who is trying to lose weight. It’s not fair to ask someone to stay away from unhealthy foods when they are surrounded by other people who are eating potato chips and cookies. With children especially, improving nutrition needs to be a family commitment and a supportive atmosphere is key to success. Another thing is that athletes can have a really satisfying and effective diet with wholesome foods and not have to feel separated from their peers for what they’re eating.
Another thing I am seeing a lot is a growing interest in plant-based diets. Many people seem to be very interested in this topic and turn to me to help them make sure they are still getting a good balance of protein. Gluten-free eating is also getting easier as we are finding better recipes and more options for gluten-free foods that don’t taste like cardboard. I have a lot of experience with gluten-free and food allergy diets that can help people with a need to avoid specific foods, but still provide excellent nutrition and tasty options.
How long have you lived in Alaska?
I was born and raised here and have no interest in living elsewhere. I have two adult children and two cats. I love to play outside whether it’s fishing, camping or bike riding. I appreciate that there are so many options to stay active here in Alaska. We also have great access to healthy foods from our gardens, fish, and berries. I love what I teach and try to be a good example to my clients of how nutrition and activity go together to build a healthy lifestyle that is also fun.
Coburn offers individual, family, small or large group format services – in-person, by phone or videoconference. Learn more at www.alaskaelitenutrition.com or call for an appointment at (907) 854-8840.