Heart disease has been around in my family for generations. I come from a line of genes that support high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart attacks.
I have always had a hobby interest in nutrition – eager to learn about my mother’s diet programs as a kid, collecting healthy eating books and magazines in high school, and determined to like salad in college when I finally had my own kitchen and learned how to cook. When I was in college my father became one of the millions of Americans to undergo open-heart survey. I remember the hospital dietitian handing him a 10-pound binder about the DASH diet, and it finally all clicked. I needed to be a nutrition educator – a registered dietitian.
My first year as a dietitian, I worked a job that incentivized health. Healthy results from an annual biometric screening could put cash in my pocket. I was thrilled – I thought “I’m a dietitian, I’ve GOT THIS.” I’ve never been overweight, always exercised and tried to eat healthy most of the time. Except for the fact that I was a young, broke college student. So “tried” and “most of the time” might have been an overstatement. But I did run four half marathons during this time, so I figured that had to account for something, right?
The morning of my screening I waltzed into the clinic with a grin on my face ready to make some money. Weight – Good. Blood Pressure – Good. HDL Cholesterol – Good. LDL Cholesterol – High? Total Cholesterol – High? Wait a minute…I was 25 years old and clearly did not LOOK like someone who would have any risk factors for heart disease. Reality check. And no extra cash for me that year.
I blamed my high total cholesterol on the fact that my good HDL cholesterol was high and carried on with my life with minor changes. I made small dietary improvements as I began mastering my cooking skills as a part of my new “adult life”. I even joined a cross-fit gym to ramp up my exercise.
Biometric screening came around the following year and I was READY. Weight – Good. Blood Pressure – Good. HDL Cholesterol – Good. LDL Cholesterol – High! Total Cholesterol – High! I was honestly convinced that my results were mixed up with a different patient. This couldn’t be right.
Life eventually got in the way – a wedding, a new job, a new apartment. My blood work results got buried and I began to forget about them. I focused on my career, exercised when I had time, cooked healthy meals during the week and indulged on the weekends.
After living in Chicago for over a decade, I moved to San Francisco. I was excited about a new city to explore and better winter weather. Maybe it was the general healthy mindset of Californians, my new found love for hiking and rock climbing, or the fact that I had too many weekend nights at home to my own thoughts, but the move inspired me to revisit my blood work numbers – the ones that implied that I too might be one of the many Americans on a path toward heart disease, just like the family members before me. And it was time to get serious about prevention.
Genetics may not be on my side, but ultimately I’m in control. There are no excuses and every day is a day to take action. I’m a heart-healthy dietitian on the road to prevention. And I hope you’ll join me!
Amari Thomsen, MS, RDN is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian nutritionist, heart-healthy diet expert and nutrition communicator.
She is an experienced freelance writer, graphic designer, kitchen organizer, recipe developer, and public relations expert – building nutrition marketing and communications programs for leading food and beverage brands and commodities around the world.
Amari is the author of Idiot’s Guide: Autoimmune Cookbook, has contributed articles and recipes for Food & Nutrition and Today’s Dietitian magazines, and has been referenced as a health expert in numerous consumer health publications including Shape and Women’s Day.
She is the founder of Eat Chic Chicago, a nutrition coaching and corporate wellness private practice, which has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Women Magazine and Voyage Chicago.
Her website, HealthyHeartRD.com translates complex nutrition recommendations into useful infographics, everyday recipes, easy-to-follow meal plans and real-world tips and tricks for leading a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Amari graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and later completed her dietetic training at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Master of Science degree in nutrition science.
When she’s not inspiring people to eat and live well, you can find Amari making a mess in her own kitchen, tackling DIY home projects, hiking outdoors and spending quality time with her husband at their home in San Francisco.