Graduating Cal State LA student seeks to help pregnant women overcome nutritional deficiencies
27-year-old Los Angeles resident motivated by personal experience
By Myles Bridgewater-Jackman | Cal State LA News Service
For Amanda Allen, helping pregnant women achieve balanced nutrition is deeply personal.
As a child, she witnessed the pervasive effects of diabetes. Nearly every woman in her family, including her mother, was diagnosed with the disease. Her mother found out she had diabetes while she was pregnant with Allen’s younger brother.
Watching her family deal with diabetes sparked an interest in nutritional science and eventually led her to Cal State LA.
Allen, 27, who lives in the Del Rey neighborhood of Los Angeles, is graduating in May with a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Science from the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services.
She says she is determined to help pregnant women in underserved communities who are at risk of malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies. Her goal is for them and their children to live healthy, vibrant lives.
“Rather than treating chronic disease, we want to prevent it from happening in the first place,” she says. “I believe the best place to address that is through education and preconception nutrition.”
Allen recalls reaching out to Mandy Hillstrom, a faculty member in the School of Kinesiology, Nutrition and Food Science, about the program and a class that spoke personally to her interests and experience: Maternal and Child Nutrition.
That inquiry turned into a wider conversation, with Hillstrom encouraging Allen to apply for the program and seek out opportunities with groups such as the Student Dietetic Association (SDA).
Allen took Hillstrom’s advice. She joined the SDA and later became an executive board member of the association. She also worked as an ambassador for the Everytable restaurant on campus and secured internships with UCLA Health, as well as Allies for Every Child, where Allen would make nutrition assessments for low-income, at-risk pregnant women and families.
Through her studies and experiences with these groups, Allen has learned how to properly balance nutrition with her lifestyle. Her mission now is helping others take that step through dietetic consulting.
Allen finds her work most rewarding when she can enter a pregnant woman’s home for a consultation and see her get excited about nutrition and become interested in learning more.
“It’s really humbling,” she says of such experiences. “And it makes me feel like I want to do the best job possible for them.”
Allen works to teach others that economics doesn’t have to be a barrier to proper nutrition. “You just need someone with a nutrition education to guide you,” she says. “You can shop at the Dollar Store and eat really well.”
It’s this type of guidance, based in constructive communication focused on practical information, which Allen hopes to provide after she graduates. She notes that her mother could have benefited from similar guidance, but it was never provided.
Allen remembers her mother’s disappointment after a doctor told her that walking was not considered exercise.
“Walking is amazing exercise,” Allen recalls telling her mother afterward, explaining the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle.
When Allen conducts dietetic interviews, she thinks about these moments, how her comments can impact those she works with, and how to best motivate others to make the changes they want to see in their own lives.
Allen credits Communication Skills in Dietetics, a class taught by faculty member Suzanne Elizondo, with instilling in her the importance of proper interview techniques when assisting clients.
“When you’re out there speaking to the public,” she says, “you’re always making sure you’re giving the best health advice possible.”
After graduation, Allen hopes to continue her work with underserved communities in Los Angeles as a dietitian for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
One day, she would even like to open her own practice. But before she does, she plans to enroll in the fall at Cal State LA to pursue a Master of Science in Nutritional Science.
“It all comes back to my passion to serve women and children,” Allen says, “particularly pregnant women and women who want to become pregnant.”