Featured Member: Dan Fenyvesi, MS, RD

July 2, 2018

dan fenyvesi

We are thrilled about this month's featured member Dan Fenyvesi, MS, RD, a Fulbright Scholar and author of Food Sobriety who has spent several years in Nicaragua working on nutrition and chronic disease. Growing up with the influence of French- and Hungarian-immigrant parents imbued Dan with an endless curiosity about the intersection of diet and culture. That curiosity developed into a life long passion as a result of a half dozen or so trips to Nicaragua, Mexico, Peru, and Hungary where he studied the varied approaches to diet, lifestyle and health.

Diversity has been Dan's teacher.  He has learned from those in the developing world, the struggling working class, and the wealthy and well educated. These experiences, along with his love of science, have shaped his philosophical approach to nutrition and health. When Dan is not immersed in the medical world, he enjoys playing music and being active in the great outdoors.

What is your area of practice and how do you incorporate integrative and functional nutrition into your work?

I work in three main areas: weight management/chronic disease, global health, and teaching (college nutrition and stress management). In weight management I incorporate integrative nutrition by stressing a whole foods diet and lifestyle changes including learning to cook, mindful eating, stress management, and work/life balance.

In my work in global health I study traditional diets and lifestyles and have worked on developing strategies to preserve the most impactful of those traditions in the modern world. My work in global health also incorporates issues of social justice. It is key to think about healthy communities as part of the larger goal of a more humane and ethical world.

In my work with college students I have developed assignments that encourage students to explore whole foods and to think critically about both what they put into their body, the many different ways disease develops and is treated, and how different agricultural systems work.  One example of my approach is an assignment where I have students go through their cupboards and pick out foods with ingredients that they can’t pronounce. I then have them go to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Chemical Cuisine site and research the food additives for an investigative paper.

Dan Fenyvesi

What are some of the results you have seen since integrating functional nutrition into your practice area?

In the weight loss work I do my clients are relieved to learn that they can achieve their goals with easy to make recipes and simple whole foods. Additionally relatively modest steps such as mindful eating, guided meditation, and improved sleep hygiene have made big differences for patients.

In my global health work (mostly in Nicaragua) my work has helped Nicaraguan nutritionists and public health officials develop a framework for treatment of obesity and chronic disease using inexpensive traditional diets, namely the “three sisters diet” (corn, beans, vegetables). As part of this project I wrote a book Food Sobriety and put out a short film on YouTube.  Educators as well as Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua and Peace Corps Nicaragua are using the film to raise awareness about the impact of changing diets.

In my work as college professor, my students often report to me by the end of the semester that their exposure to integrative nutrition has opened their eyes to new strategies for common problems such as acne, depression, insomnia, allergies, obesity, indigestion, and low energy. Sometimes the connections students make are incredibly simple (“When I stopped drinking soda my energy levels picked up”); however, the larger lesson they report to me is that they realize that every decision matters and they have a far greater power to affect their lives and their health than they previously realized.

How does your culture influence your work?

My parents are European and though they came to the USA as young adults they kept many of their traditions. My father is Hungarian and is a passionate organic gardener, and my French mother taught me how to cook. My childhood neighborhood in Washington DC was also highly diverse, having witnessed that there are so many ways to live (and eat) influenced me. I believe that there are no “one size fits all solutions” and that each culture has something to offer. In particular, my years in Latin America taught me that there are so many sensory delights to enjoy and there can be a great advantage in lowering one’s standards for (gourmet) food, i.e. eating beans and rice works out just fine when you are focusing on (non-consumption based) sensory pleasures such as dance, music, and art.

Where have you completed most of your training in integrative and functional nutrition?

I went to graduate school at Bastyr. My schooling there gave me a wonderful foundation in integrative nutrition. I consider integrative nutrition a lifelong learning experience, and I am always trying to expand my knowledge via books, workshops, webinars, and of course my own work experiences.

What advice would you give anyone interested in learning more about integrative and functional nutrition?

I recommend starting off by deciding on one specific application of integrative and functional nutrition you want to learn more about. For instance, perhaps you want to learn more strategies for treating digestive disorders. You can always post DIFM’s Facebook page asking for tips on good resources. You can also search for leaders in the field who have published a book or have webinars or other resources to offer. (Again DIFM will likely have at least a few resources to start you off with). I advise checking the credentials of any source carefully. My preference is for people who have both years of clinical experience and at least a master’s degree. Keep an eye out for any conflicts of interest (recommending a specific line of supplements or retreat center). Generally any expert will have at least a few easy to access (free) articles or blog posts, read them with a critical eye and make sure they ring true before investing more time in learning their strategies.

Thank you so much, Dan, for sharing about your fascinating experiences and helpful insights!