We spoke to Moloko Mehlaphe, a young woman from Limpopo. She is changing the face of the dietetics industry. Even though she did not always want to be a dietician, let alone know what the field entails, she now cannot imagine doing anything else. She has fallen in love with it.
BD: You were born in Limpopo…. .
MM: I was born in Uitkyk number 3 in Limpopo, however, I grew up in Ga-mamabolo Tshoare where I was raised by my grandparents whom I will always be indebted to for laying my educational foundation. We did not have much but, growing up in the dusty streets was fun.
BD: Dusty streets must have been a lot of fun for a child?
MM: My earliest childhood memories are going to the river to fetch water with my aunt. We always got excited because we knew we were going to play with water.
BD: But you obviously had to make time for school!
MM: I was one of the confident and bright kids in all the school levels. The teachers were very fond of me. I didn’t have many friends at school because I was the teachers’ favourite.
BD: Have you always wanted to be a dietician?
MM: Dietetics actually chose me. I did not even understand what dieticians do when I enrolled into the course. I wanted to be a pharmacist, but because I had applied late in varsity, dietetics was one of a few courses available. I did not want to sit at home for the whole year and so I opted for dietetics. I did not understand what was going on in the first two years of studying and only started falling in love with the profession when I was in my 3rd year of studying. Right now I wouldn’t choose any other career. I am so passionate about the profession that everyone who knows Moloko knows ‘Moloko wa dietician’ (Moloko the dietician), I live, breathe and preach nutrition wherever I go.
BD: So, a forced choice became a love affair then?
MM: The dietetics profession was a calling for me, I am fascinated by how food can affect one’s health by preventing different chronic diseases of lifestyle and managing many other diseases. Sometimes I feel like a magician when I see positive results on patients.
BD: You have taken your dream a step further, and are involved with various public health initiatives, why was this an important step for you?
MM: I am passionate about having a positive impact in people’s lives, through nutrition. I have realised that most people who develop different disease complications lack the fundamental nutrition knowledge needed to prevent and manage different diseases and be healthier. I have pledged to equip patients with the nutrition knowledge needed to live their healthiest lives for as long as I live.
MM: Dietetics is the most invaded profession. There are many self-proclaimed dieticians and nutritionists who mislead people with unscientific health and nutritional gimmicks. That is quite a challenge because by the time a person comes to you for help, they have already tried all the internet treatments and trying to change their mind-set regarding the right nutritional ways. The profession has made me grow as a black woman, it has taught me the value of persistence, passion and confidence to grow as a person and a professional.
BD: Dieticians have been predominantly been seen as doctors for white people. How has the back community responded to you and your career?
MM: Most black patients I see are excited to be seen by one of their own as they believe I can better understand their food culture and beliefs.
BD: What would you like the general registered public to know about your industry?
MM: That dieticians and nutritionists registered with the Health Profession council of South Africa (HPCSA) are the only recognised experts in the field of evidence-based nutrition. No one must be misled by the internet nutrition consultants. Again, most people only associate us with weight management, but we actually deal with different disease conditions and help with prevention and healing. Every disease condition has its nutrition requirements and recommendations.
BD: What has being a dietician taught you?
MM: It has taught me the importance of having the right skills, personal traits and clinical competence as the backbone of my work. I get most of my referrals from the patients I have seen because of these 3 ingredients.
BD: What kind of a person would you advise to see a dietician?
MM: Everyone in all the growing stages of life, from a pregnant woman to an infant, a growing toddler, an adolescent child, adults to elderly people who can lead a healthier life through nutrition, and prevent the development of chronic diseases and malnutrition that may be caused by unhealthy eating.
BD: Why should one visit a dietician?
MM: To get the right scientific-based nutritional knowledge needed to lead a healthy life.
BD: For many black families, seeing a dietician is for persons in a certain social class, what is your opinion on this?
MM: We are a growing profession. Most people don’t understand what we are all about. However, the onus is on us to emphasise our role in our black communities
BD: To a young person looking at studying dietetics, what would you advise them?
MM: It’s not an easy field to be in because every day there is a new diet on the media that is not really scientifically sound. You will need a lot of confidence and trust your abilities to get the job done and well done. You also need to love the profession and stay clear in their vision
BD: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
MM: I see myself being one of the nutrition consultants working with big organisations like the World Health organisation and UNICEF, changing the world through nutrition.