Health Hero

Congratulations to Patricia Mendoza, selected as this month's Health Hero!  Patricia is a registered dietician currently contributing to the Century Health Study, a progressive 5-year study on lifestyle factors and their effects on coronary health.




Q: Can you tell us about yourself and your career?

I graduated in 2002 from the University of Houston with a Bachelors in Nutrition. Then, I completed the Dietetic Internship and Graduate School at Sam Houston State University in 2004. While in college, I started working at Baylor College of Medicine, primarily in Medical Transcription for the Pulmonary Pathology Department. Then, I transferred to the Department of Pediatrics at the USDA-ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center and started working with Principle Investigators focused on Pediatric Behavioral Nutrition Studies. After I finished Grad School and became a Registered Dietitian, I stayed at Baylor-CNRC coordinating research studies until 2008. At that time, I was hired at UT Medical School (Weatherhead P.E.T Center for Preventing and Reversing Atherosclerosis) because they were in the process of developing a protocol for a large Clinical Trial that looks at lifestyle changes to prevent or reverse Heart Disease.

Q: When did you first become interested in nutrition? What made you decide to make a career out of it?

I always knew I wanted to do something in the medical field. When I started college, I was a Biology major but I had lost interest in school. I had never heard of a degree in Nutrition until I spoke with a school counselor at the end of my sophomore year and changed my major to Nutrition. Once I started taking the Nutrition classes, I knew this was the field I wanted to pursue. I learned how food tied into how you feel and it just made sense!

Q: What types of patients do you work most frequently with? How often do you council diabetics?

I mostly see Research Patients over the age of 40 who either have documented heart disease (have had heart attack, stent, bypass, documented blockage by cath) or those people who have multiple risk factors for heart disease (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history of heart disease, smokers). I would say 80-90% of my patients are either diabetic or have family history of diabetes.

Q: If you could give newly diagnosed diabetics one piece of advice what would that be and why?

In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, the key is moderation. Most people don’t understand that concept though. My one piece of advice would be to pay attention to the larger picture of what they eat. Most patients will start discussing the food they eat and they have a long list of items that they only eat “once per week” or “twice per month”. It’s a real eye opener when you take out a monthly calendar and plot all these food items in different days of the week. All these “once per week” foods add up and can really make it difficult to reach goals.

Q: What is the most common myth you hear about diabetes from patients and what do you tell them to debunk the myth?

The most common myth about diabetes would have to be that “as long as it’s sugar-free I can have it”. We just have to remind patients that just because it’s sugar free doesn’t mean it’s calorie free or carbohydrate free. We commonly review food labels with the patients to help them make the best choices. We also compare their food intake patterns and the types of food they eat to their blood sugar logs. We review their eating patterns and have them think about their hunger and fullness cues.

Q: What is the most common nutritional myth you hear from patients?

The common nutritional myths are probably more “wishful thinking”. Patients want to believe in the latest fad diet or latest supplement that came out that will help them lose a large amount of weight without diet and exercise. Patients want to believe in that mythical “magic bullet”. Unfortunately it’s not so easy. Staying healthy is hard work and takes effort. Diet and exercise are the only ways patients are going to be able to lose the weight and keep it off.

Q: When did you first learn about ExtendSnacks and how are you currently recommending them?

Our staff is always bringing in new products and we conduct “taste tests” to see if we should recommend to patients. One of our staff members (who is diabetic) heard about Extend Bars and brought some in. Primarily, we were impressed with the taste. Our patients come in fasting for some of their visits and after we draw blood, we give them a snack. We purchase Extend Bars to hand out as snacks to all patients – whether they were diabetic or not. The feedback from the patients was positive and many started asking where they could buy them. We now have Extend Bars listed on our Grocery Shopping list and have coupons available in our diet consult rooms. Extend bars tend to be a perfect solution for our patients who are not used to consuming breakfast or don’t like to eat a lot in the morning. We also suggest patients keep them available at work in case they feel they need a snack during the day (as opposed to going to a vending machine).

Q: Do you have a success story about a patient using ExtendSnacks that you would like to share?

Many of our patients are having success and Extend Bars are definitely a part when combined with other healthy diet choices and exercise. I have several patients who use Extend Bars and state that they have better control of their hunger and blood sugar since adding them to their diet. They turn in food diaries for analysis and it’s pretty common to see patients meet their goals when they have Extend Bars listed. A few of our patients are utilizing the automatic shipment program available and it helps them make sure they always have a healthy snack available. I’ve also had a couple patients who have been able to decrease their dosage of glucose medications because their blood sugar is better controlled now.

Q: What do you think you have learned most from your patients that you utilize when doing consultations other patients?

I’ve learned that you can’t change everything at once. It becomes overwhelming for some patients so we try not to discourage them by doing too much at once. We try to only set smaller goals – pick 2-3 things that the patient should modify first. Once they get used to those 2-3 changes, then we look at what they feel comfortable changing next. Change is hard. We try to encourage slowly changing things so that it can be maintained. At times there will be set backs – and I’ve learned that patients really just need some encouragement and support to know that they can do it.

Q: Tell me a little bit about the research you are currently working on.

Enrollment for The Century Health Study started in February of 2009 and we will be enrolling patients for the next few years until we reach 1300 patients. Patients are enrolled for 5 years and we follow them in addition to their cardiologist (they do not change doctors). At each patient visit, they see a nurse, dietitian and a physician. We evaluate their diet and labs, educate them on what their labs mean, encourage lifestyle changes and set short-term and long-term goals. Progress is monitored by stress tests and P.E.T scans over the course of their enrollment in the study and we send reports to their regular physicians.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

The most rewarding part of my career is when patients realize that they have met their goals – whether it’s meeting a weight goal, improving their lipid panel or having better control of their blood sugar. To see how happy they are after all their hard work and efforts paid off – it’s a great feeling!