We caught up with Dr. Michael Tedeschi (GP) and Stefanie Lekkas (Accredited Practicing Dietitian) to find out more about their roles at the National Health Co-op at Kambri …
Stefanie Lekkas commenced her work at the National Health Co-op as an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) in 2014, having obtained both her Food Science and Nutrition degree and Master of Dietetics from Deakin University in Melbourne. She lifts the lid on what the job entails …
How did you get into your field of work?
I’ve always been interested in food – in eating well and being healthy. It all came about because one of my teachers at high school suggested it – I think I was in Year Nine at the time. I went on to do my Bachelor degree and my Masters and I’ve been working as a dietitian for about seven years.
How long have you worked at Kambri?
I’ve been here for around two years now, since March 2019. I did a full year face-to-face with clients, and then when COVID hit I started working from home doing phone and video consults.
Who are your clients?
I see staff and students, for a whole range of reasons. Anything you can think of that’s to do with food and anything you can think of that’s to do with the digestive system.
When I have new patients the first thing I tell them is that I’m not going to put them on a diet! I know the word ‘diet’ is in the job title, but I’m what you might call a non-diet dietitian. Unless of course there’s a specific reason why you have to be on a strict diet such as coeliac disease or a diagnostic diet for irritable bowel syndrome.
What conditions do you treat?
I get all sorts of conditions at all sorts of stages and ages.
I see students who have recently been diagnosed with something, for example, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a common one. Fatty Liver is becoming more common, even in our younger population. Hypertension or high blood pressure, prediabetes, diabetes.
I see people for what I would call disordered eating, which is not quite eating disorders, although there are some students with eating disorders that I do see as well, in conjunction with psychologists, because that’s not a one-man show.
I see students who have just moved out of home and they’ve never cooked for themselves before – they’ve found themselves with a small kitchen and they’re not quite sure what to do with it, or they’re finding that eating out every day is either not good for their hip pocket or not good for the blood test results that their doctors have ordered for them.
It’s about how we improve health outcomes in a practical kind of way.
How many patients would you see in a typical day?
I’ve got space for eight 45-minute consultations. On Mondays I finish early so I have seven, but usually it’s eight and it’s pretty well packed!
What’s your favourite part of the job?
Getting to talk about food is pretty fun! I love it. My favourite part, however, is when a patient has a breakthrough for themselves. I often talk about intuitive eating and mindful eating and being in touch with your own body’s cues, and you get those moments where someone comes in and shares how they have been able to connect with themselves and actually listen to what their body’s telling them, and that’s always really cool because they repeat to you what you were about to tell them. That’s really heartening.
Also I love the times when I get to be a detective. My role turns from educator and counsellor, which is the more classic interpretations of what a dietitian does, and then there’s this new thing that I get to do – to be a diet detective. Someone comes in and says, “I feel bloated in the afternoons and I have issues with x&y” and we go through what it is that they might be eating and we can do a bit of detective work to figure out whether it’s foods that are triggering these symptoms or whether it’s some other environmental factors, or stress.
You’re not just looking at what the person is eating but how they’re eating and why they’re eating, and how can we tweak that to be better for the patient.
What are some of your favourite foods?
Oh, I suck at picking favourites because I like so many things! My mum makes a traditional Greek Cypriot dish called Pastitsio. It’s like Greece’s answer to lasagne. It’s made with penne pasta, mince and bechamel sauce.
A lazy Sunday morning breakfast would be some crepes with some fresh fruit, or a savory crepe with melted cheese. And then, I guess it depends on the weather, we might do some slow cooked lamb shanks or go for a more Japanese-style meal – our take on sushi, with some fresh fish from the Farmers Market. It really varies at my place.
What do you enjoy about working in the Kambri precinct?
It’s so pretty. Number one, it’s just lovely to be around. We’ve got the creek right under our noses, and the building itself that we’re in is really new, so everything is shiny and fancy. We’ve got beautiful windows and I think that’s so important for wellbeing – working somewhere where you can see the outside world and get some natural light. I love working there because, depending on the time of year I can get away with not turning my lights on and doing my consulting with natural light, which is awesome.
I like that it’s close to things; it’s easy to get to. There are some great little shops to explore – it’s nice that we have variety and plenty of dedicated outdoor space for students and staff to hang around. I like to take a lunchtime stroll along the creek.
The National Health Co-op is located in the Health and Wellbeing Centre, on Level 2 of Building 156. ANU students receive free membership, allowing access to bulk billed GPs and other health services. Visit www.nhc.coop/anu for more information.