Estes Park Health introduces new Registered Dietitian

Leah Gardner is Estes Park Health's Registered Dietitian.

Leah Gardner is one of Estes Park Health’s newest employees. She got into the Registered Dietitian field the same way many people find their way to the career.

“I feel like a lot of people who get into nutrition start out similar to the way I did,” Leah explained. “I was 16 or 17 years old. I wanted to lose weight. I wanted to change my body.”

She began her journey by going to the gym and becoming more physically active. Then she started doing her own nutritional research because she wanted to know how she could eat better and lose weight.

“I realized that nutrition is a big part of that,” Leah said. “What you eat definitely impacts the way you look and feel. The more research I did, the more I realized I really liked nutrition. I like the science behind it. I thought it was fascinating that nutrition plays such an important role in our lives and that most people don’t realize that.”

When Leah went to college, she chose the University of Kentucky in Lexington where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Human Nutrition. Her classes included subject like physiology, organic chemistry and specific nutrition classes that involved medical nutrition therapy. Those classes included lessons about the broad spectrum of diseases and how dietitians can help each of those as it relates to nutrition.

After college, Leah continued with four professional internships in Kentucky. She completed a clinical rotation at a hospital, a food service rotation at a public school, a community rotation at a WIC (Women Infants and Children) Clinic and finally she chose an elective rotation at an outpatient eating disorder clinic.

She passed her credentialing exam on the first try and moved to Colorado where she was started her job last month as Registered Dietitian for Estes Park Health.

“It’s important to have a registered dietician in a clinical setting because we can provide medical nutrition therapy,” Leah stressed. “I help patients understand how nutrition affects their health. I encourage them to make lifestyle changes to support that and to carve out their own goals.”

Leah works on the Med/Surg Unit where she provides nutrition counseling to patients with various conditions like diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease).

“I often suggest diet modifications,” she explained. “Perhaps I can outline a carb control diet for a person with diabetes or a low sodium diet for a person with cardiac issues. I could be participating in designing tube feeding for nutritional support.”

Eventually, she plans to offer outpatient nutrition services as well.

“I think this is something that is going to be helpful for people here in Estes Park,” Leah emphasized. “We will start by working with cardiac rehab patients and diabetic patients to help them make lifestyle changes. Eventually, we will broaden our services to cater to more people here in Estes Park. We may work with weight loss and allergies. The plan is super exciting.”

Noting Estes Park’s demographics, Leah pointed out that as people age, they start having more chronic conditions and nutrition becomes even more important in managing disease.

“Everybody is different,” she noted. “What may work for me may not work for you.”

Registered Dietitians say all of us can benefit from being mindful about what we eat and examining our relationship with food. Do you eat for pleasure? Do you eat for fuel? Do you eat because you are bored or lonely or stressed? Knowing what triggers your eating can help you manage it.

Leah lives in Fort Collins. She has enjoyed her initial experiences in Colorado.

“I absolutely love it,” she said brightly. “It’s been a lot of fun. Also, Colorado is beautiful. I’ve gotten to go on so many hikes. I got to ski for the first time.”

Later this month, Leah will be starting a regular column in the Estes Park Trail-Gazette newspaper to share her many insights on diet and nutrition with Estes Park readers.