Maxine Lipinsky, Heidi Wilk and physiotherapist Paul Jonah
Toronto Rehab patient Maxine Lipinsky (C), pictured with registered dietitian Heidi Wilk and physiotherapist Paul Jonah, says a better understanding of her diet has helped prepare her for a transition from rehab back to home. (Photo: UHN)

Maxine Lipinsky says a registered dietitian has helped bring control and enjoyment to her life.

A patient at Toronto Rehab, Maxine says the dietitian has not only helped her understand a new low lactose diet and protein and electrolyte needs "in simple and practical terms," but also helped prepare her for a transition from rehab back to home.

"Nutrition has helped my energy levels and provided me with a sense of control and enjoyment when my life felt so out of control," Maxine says. "On top of making changes to my current diet in rehab, the dietitian has taught me how to eat at home, something I am not sure I would have been able to figure out on my own."

March is Nutrition Month. This year, UHN dietitians, clinical diet technicians and nutrition assistants want everyone to know that healthy eating is about so much more than food.

Across all of UHN's acute, rehabilitation and ambulatory care areas, the Clinical Nutrition Team is committed to using their specialized knowledge and skills to support healthy living and ensure that patients receive the nutrition they need to support their recovery.

Being an expert in clinical nutrition, registered dietitian Heidi Wilk knows that healthy eating is about so much more than food. And working with patients in a rehabilitation setting, she helps them to understand that getting the proper nutrition will provide the energy they need to participate in and progress through their recovery.

Heidi works at Toronto Rehab in the Musculoskeletal and Complex Medical Unit where she works with a diverse patient population, who often arrive from acute care post-surgeries including organ transplants, bone fractures or tumor resections. These patients present with a variety of nutritional needs, including managing chronic illnesses and medication side effects.

"Some patients are not ready to eat by mouth and part of my role is to develop a nutrition support plan to ensure they continue to meet their nutritional requirements."

Other members of Toronto Rehab's care teams understand the importance of having a registered dietitian involved in patient care.

Good nutrition is key in the healing process

Dietitians assess patient needs and develop a nutrition care plan specific to the individual. This ensures patient diets are optimized to provide the calories and protein they need each day.

"The dietitian not only helps to improve patient's energy levels but ensures the correct foods are provided to match their specific conditions such as electrolytes, fluids or macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats)," says Mike Tanner, a speech-language pathologist at Toronto Rehab. "We see it all the time … that good nutrition helps improve a patient's mood and overall sense of well-being."

And good nutrition is about more than just mood, it's also a key in the healing process.

"Patients might not realize that their calorie, protein and nutrient needs are increased during this healing period and the dietitian helps to explain, educate and manipulate the diets to ensure this happens," says Dr. John Goldsand, who works at Toronto Rehab.

Knowing that eating in isolation can sometimes have a negative impact on mood and overall food intake, Toronto Rehab staff also encourage patients to eat meals in a common dining room in several of their patient areas.

Eating together creates a chance to connect with others – to talk about family, friends, and personal journeys.

"I enjoy eating in the dining room, it makes me feel less institutionalized and I enjoy chatting with other patients and hearing their stories," says Toronto Rehab patient Justin Kelly.

"Not only do I eat better but it helps me mentally to know I am not alone."

Dietitians also help to prepare patients for their transition home. After illness or injury, patients may need assistance with grocery shopping and meal preparation. Dietitians work with care team members to ensure patients have all of the resources and supports they need before discharge.

"Eating and meal preparation are important functional activities often addressed in rehab," says Sneha Kekre, an occupational therapist at Toronto Rehab. "We work alongside the dietitian to come up with appropriate meal plans for patients once they return home."

Nutrition Month graphic

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