Susie Burrell is one of Australia's leading dietitians; her unique training in both nutritional science and psychology helping thousands of adults, children and athletes reach their health and nutrition goals without diets or deprivation.
Susie completed both her dietetics and psychology degrees at Wollongong University; her Honours Project investigating the relationship between childhood obesity and parenting styles. Since graduating, Susie has held the position of specialist Weight Management Dietitian at The Children's Hospital at Westmead (www.chw.edu.au) in which she develops and evaluates programs aimed at managing and preventing child and adolescent obesity.
In her private work Susie specialises in fat loss and sees clients each week in her private rooms at Kogarah in Sydney's south. Susie balances this clinical work with consulting to key food industry groups; groups who have the ability to positively influence the food supply with her primary love, writing for both print and electronic media. Susie currently has a weekly column in The Daily Telegraph's Simply Food lift out as well as columns in Good Health & Medicine, ALPHA and Dolly magazine. Susie is also a regular guest on FRESH television and The Today Show.
In a past life, Susie was a prominent sports dietitian and has consulted to a number of elite sporting teams including the Super 14 winning 2007 South African Blue Bulls, St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney University Rugby. Susie is currently consulting to the Parramatta Eels to maintain her sports nutrition skills.
Susie offers a range of consulting services to meet the needs of busy professionals and their children. Susie understands that while good quality food nurtures optimally functioning bodies; the vast majority of people need their nutrition and fitness advice to be delivered via a supportive nutrition program that fits each person's lifestyle. Susie draws on coaching psychology models to ensure that health and nutrition changes are self directed and do-able, to ensure each persons health and lifestyle goals are met long term. Nutrition coaching may be done through individual consultations, email or via the phone to ensure each person meets their targets.
Interview with Susie Burrell
How did you come to be involved in the food / dieting industry and in completing a degree in dietetics and psychology?
I clearly remember making the decision that I wanted to be a dietitian - it was just after the 1990 Commonwealth Games and Hayley Lewis had won 5 or 6 gold medals and there was an article about her dietitian in a women's magazine. I thought it would be a great job and planned to study nutrition from that date. So, while the nutrition was always planned the psychology was just by chance. On the day I enrolled at WollongongUniversity, Professor Heather Yeatman, a respected public health nutritionist reviewed my HSC marks and asked if I wanted to do a double major in psychology. I thought, why not and it turned about to be the best decision of my life.
What have been some of the initiatives you have undertaken to positively influence food producers, the media and regulatory authorities about healthy products for consumers?
Working with food industry is frowned on by some health professionals but I do not see there is any other way to make a significant impact on the nutritional intake of a country. I am extremely careful with the industry groups I associate with and see my role as Weight Management Dietitian at The Children's Hospital as one to really push the agenda of developing better foods nutritionally for kids to ultimately aid in obesity prevention. Projects I have worked on to date include The Healthy Kids Unit at The Powerhouse Museum, calorie controlled, nutrient dense snack foods with Unilever Foods and diet reviews for CHOICE magazine.
What are your observations about the status of obesity in Australia and the challenges to shift mindsets?
Physical inactivity coupled with a rather blasé attitude to health are the common traits seen in overweight and obese families. Early education and obesity prevention are the two areas I feel are not being approached correctly at present by government organisations. The monopoly held by our two major supermarket chains too makes things difficult in terms of food availability and pricing.
How do you envisage the role of women in influencing change in the food industry?
Women can give amazing insight into food and the family, the habits of kids and the challenges of busy working women which are all factors which need major consideration when reshaping dietary habits long term. The power of these insights from a sales and marking perspective cannot be underestimated.
What are the barriers that women face in your industry?
No doubt it is the daily struggle of balancing the desire to be a partner and mother with the demands that develop when you are aggressively pursuing career goals. It can be done, but requires unbelievable organisation, time management and most of us are still left exhausted at the end of the week and wondering how we are going to keep going!
From your experience of nutrition coaching, what do you see as being the key to enabling individuals to eat well and keep fit in their busy lifestyles?
It may sound harsh but basically it has to be seen as a priority. How can you possible compete in daily life if you do not have a fit and healthy body that you are proud of to do it? Men have no issue in prioritising their needs but women need to be constantly reminded of the benefits of doing so. There is no secret to maintaining fitness and a healthy body weight. Those who do schedule their training sessions in, promote health and fitness within their family context and make a concerted effort to eat well every single day.
How has coaching elite sporting teams developed your skills and understanding of motivation and self discipline?
For 5 years I have had the amazing opportunity of working with some of the best league and union teams in the country, which has been challenging to say the least but also an amazing opportunity to observe the characteristics of elite level athletes and the brilliant coaches that direct them. Champions, true champions, not the good ones but the great athletes have a number of characteristics that stand out. They are intrinsically motivated, have clear personal goals and coaches who develop these players create a team dynamic which engulfs the players and energises them to achieve far more than they physically would be able to do on their own. This is extremely interesting work despite the challenges that comes from working with lots of testosterone driven men who live their lives within a pack mentality where sport and mates are religion and everything else comes second.
What leadership qualities do you utilize in your work as a nutrition coach?
I am not sure if I would call it leadership but I think my primary skill is being able to relate to each person that crosses my path professionally on an individual basis. This interpersonal skill then allows the coach or clinician to identify each individual’s interests and motivations early in the relationship and build on it. I also think that having a lot of energy and drive automatically motivates those around you which I am blessed with.
What strategies do you use in terms of planning your personal career progression?
Early in my career I utilised a number of coaches my self and still spend a significant amount of time and money on my own personal development which is a crucial thing for clinicians working and counselling individuals to be doing. At the moment I see a chiropractor which does NLP and also a Buddhist Meditation teacher for Mindfulness Meditation Training. I have to say it also helps having a coaching and clinical psychologist as one of my closest friends! I also read an enormous amount of self development and business books and perhaps the most important thing, which I learnt from real estate guru John McGrath is "surround yourself with people who inspire and motivate you" - I an extremely ruthless with my time and actively seek out those who have similar energy levels and drive as I do. I also actively avoid energy drainers, which can be tough, but life is too short and too busy to spend time with people who do not energise you.