Mastering the art of dietetics

Thursday 10 May 2018

The dietetics staff in the SPW building kitchen facilities.

The dietetics ‘dream team’ will be teaching with state-of-the-art kitchen facilities at Swinburne’s Hawthorn campus.

In summary

  • Swinburne’s inaugural Master of Dietetics starts in July
  • Students will get hands-on experience in MasterChef-like kitchen
  • Facilities purpose-built for the degree including 12-station kitchen, lab and consulting rooms

Walking into the new kitchen purpose-built for Swinburne’s soon-to-begin Master of Dietetics, you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled onto the set of MasterChef.

It is a cook’s dream with 12 stations each with its own sink, dishwasher, oven and bench full of new kitchen appliances.

Right next to the kitchen is a food science lab, built exclusively for dietetic students to evaluate and measure the energy, nutrition and composition of the prepared food.

Then there are ‘consultation rooms’ complete with two-way mirrors and video capabilities as well as mobile sensory tasting stations.

In July, the inaugural Master of Dietetics student cohort will be the first to use all the equipment.

Serving up the main course

Leading the charge is acclaimed Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, Regina Belski, headhunted by Swinburne to design, lead and launch the new Master of Dietetics.

“We are focused on training individuals that are job-ready and can confidently contribute to society,” says Associate Professor Belski.

“We have deliberately built a course underpinned by high-quality research skill development for students because it’s really important that dietitians understand the evidence and are comfortable working with it and contributing to the evidence base rather than just being reactive to it.”

Regina Belski preparing food.

Associate Professor Belski is a powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm and passionate about raising the next generation dietitians.

“We want to train dietitians who are able to advocate really well. We need to get rid of the old reputation that dietitians had back in the day of just telling patients to eat lettuce and carrots.

“It’s about training dietitians to have a really good understanding of food and dietary relationships and how to relay that to patients or clients, focusing on building healthy relationships with food, not prescribing ‘diets’.”

Changing perceptions in the industry

Associate Professor Belski is also determined to use the current crop of dietetic students to help change long-held industry perceptions about dietitians who work in the food industry.

“One of the challenges we have had in dietetics is that dietitians who have gone to work for the food industry have often been judged and, quite often from within the profession, as having gone to the `Dark Side’ – that they are selling out,” she says.

“But as dietitians we should know that the best way we can change people’s dietary habits is if we can change what goes into their trolleys at the supermarket.

“The easiest way for us to do that is to work in and with the food industry to ensure that the thing that is on the supermarket shelf is healthy and appropriate.”

A high-profile career

While teaching the next generation of dietitians is her passion, Associate Professor Belski has built a highly-successful and high-profile career outside academia as an Advanced Sports Dietitian.

It’s hard to imagine the diminutive and well-spoken clinician in the rough and tumble world of elite sport, but that’s exactly where she has been.

“I never intended to be a sports dietitian,” she says.

“When I was a PhD student, one day out of the blue as I was walking home, I got a phone call from a young boxer who was having a lot of trouble making his weight for his weight category and he wanted to see if I could give him some advice.

“I started working with him. He had wonderful results and before I knew it I was seeing quite a lot of amateur boxers.

“That’s how it began.”

The boxing ring soon led to amateur football, then AFL football, elite soccer and finally working with athletes preparing for the Olympics.

“I have practised as a clinical and sports dietitian for close to a decade and in that time worked with a range of elite and Olympic level athletes.

Associate Professor Belski’s experience in sports nutrition has led to the inclusion of sports nutrition in the curriculum of the course, helping students be best prepared for working with a variety of clients and patients, from athletes on the running track to patients in the hospital bed.

Building the ‘dream team’

The dietetics staff in the SPW building kitchen facilities.
L to R: Associate Professor Regina Belski, Leah Dowling, Robyn Delbridge and Dr Annie Lassemillante. 

She has also built a ‘dietetics dream team’ of staff, including award-winning Community and Public Health dietitian Robyn Delbridge who brings over a decade of experience working in Aboriginal health to the mix, as well as experienced clinical dietitian Leah Dowling leading Clinical and Individual Case Management in the degree.

“It is very exciting to have such a great team paired with these brand new specially built facilities specifically for dietetics, as this means we can be very innovative in our teaching delivery,” she says.

“Students get to work within these specialised facilities from their first week in the degree, getting them ready to join the dietetics workforce and make a real difference to the health of Australians.”

For more information about the Master of Dietetics at Swinburne, see: Nutrition and Dietetics