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Nutritionist Grows Healthy Eaters

Gila Daman, MS, RD, CDN
Gila Daman, MS, RD, CDN, is a dietitian at Jacobi Medical Center

It’s one thing to sit in a room with overweight and obese children and teach them about the nutritional value of an eggplant. It’s a whole other case when a child grows the eggplant himself, transplants it into the ground as a tiny seedling, and watches it grow and develop through the season.

“When a child harvests the eggplant, exclaims ‘So big!’ and discovers he loves the taste of eggplant in flavorful recipes, I know a seed has been planted for a new pattern of healthy eating,” said Jacobi Medical Center dietician Gila Daman.

Daman provides nutritional counseling and education sessions to the gardeners, ages 6 to 12, who are participants in the Family Weight Management program at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx. She also leads curbside cooking demos with fresh local produce from the weekly farmer’s market at the hospital, where she introduces healthy taste treats like smoothies with farm-fresh berries or a just-picked cucumber dunked in hummus.

Gila Daman and young gardeners on Jacobi campus.
Gila Daman and young gardeners on Jacobi campus.

Last May, the warm and outgoing 27-year-old dietician led children and their families in growing vegetables and herbs in the garden plot on the hospital campus at 1400 Pelham Parkway.

“The marvel on the children’s faces as they saw the sprouting and growth of a vegetable in their very own garden is indescribable,” said Daman. The children, unfamiliar with many types of vegetables and hard-core fans of sugary soda and high-carb cereal snacks, were dazzled by their direct connection to the earth and to food. Daman hopes a transformation of a family’s food habits may start with a child’s delight in the natural sweetness of a carrot pulled with their own hands from the earth.

“I don’t like being the one to say, ‘Do you know how much sugar is in this bottle of soda?’ As they taste their veggies and herbs from the garden, it’s a much more positive way to create changes. Now they’ll associate healthy eating with this joy!”

Daman, who has an M.S. in Applied Physiology and Nutrition from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a B.A. in Psychology from Brandeis, first began volunteering at North Central Bronx Hospital in March 2011, where nutritionist Gloria Bent mentored the recent graduate, noting her passion and dedication. Daman remains grateful.

Around the same time, Daman began leading the Tuesday afternoon Family Weight Management group nutrition education sessions at Jacobi, counseling overweight children and adults. Then the position of dietitian in the pediatrics program opened up, and she became a full-time HHC employee in June 2011.

Working in the Bronx, Daman is on the front lines of the child obesity epidemic. Dr. Adriana Groisman-Perelstein, program director, notes that Daman brings something special to the task.

“Gila cares about each patient. She takes into consideration their cultural, religious and personal food preferences, even personalizing the recipes for them. She is that open,” Dr. Groisman-Perelestein said.

When Daman isn’t teaching healthy eating, the certified yoga and Pilates mat instructor enjoys listening to music and days at the beach.

Proof that Daman’s hands-on approach to nutrition is working? The excited 9-year-old who greets her at a recent Tuesday nutrition session with the cry, “I had carrots!”


October 2012

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