Like many healthcare professionals, Amanda Bontempo entered the world of nutrition through a common interest: food. “Growing up, I really enjoyed learning about the culture of food and food systems,” says Amanda. She describes her interest in nutrition as something that grew organically. “I watched the women in my life navigate numerous diets. It was confusing yet normalized. It took me a long time to realize the profound role society and culture play in nutrition and wellness.”
Amanda pursued her interest in nutrition at New York University (NYU), where she earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food and a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. She is currently the Survivorship & Wellness Program Manager at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health and believes that the challenge facing modern nutritionists is the fact that in a world where everyone eats, everyone has opinions.
“A significant part of our roles as oncology dietitians is to address not only food, cancer, treatment and research, but headlines that compete for our attention. Unfortunately, misleading information and pseudo-science has found a great home on the internet, which leads to confusion and misinformation that we must address with patients.”
You can tell quickly how deeply Amanda cares about the intersection of health, nutrition and education. She speaks passionately about how she and her team help cancer patients navigate treatment and recovery by leveraging educational resources, including AICR’s. “AICR materials are everywhere (at NYU)” Amanda tells us. “The team of dietitians frequently share patient education pamphlets and online resources, and we regularly refer to the New American Plate and AICR recipes.”
When we spoke with Amanda recently, she provided fresh insight of how oncology dietitians and other clinicians use clinical research to improve patient health and wellness. “It’s important to validate emotion first and use data as a secondary tool,” she explains.
Q: What drew you to working with cancer patients and survivors?
A: I unexpectedly fell into the world of nutrition oncology. I was considering untraditional professional avenues when the opportunity presented itself. I was excited to work with a population for which nutrition could have a real impact and I was motivated to learn, but it was daunting. I am very lucky to have had thoughtful nutrition and medical mentors from the very beginning and I stand on their shoulders. To this day, I have people in my career who I consider invaluable mentors that I owe a debt of gratitude.
Now having been in this field for over a decade, I am grateful for the privilege to work with this population, which demonstrates an unparalleled daily grace.
Q: Can you tell us about your work at NYU Langone Health, and how it serves the cancer community?
A: As the Survivorship Program Manager, I am very lucky to have creative latitude. We have been able to build wellness resources for patients both at the institution and in the community to help support individual health outcomes. We’ve formed effective internal partnerships to create oncology rehab and cardio-oncology programs. We’ve also generated invaluable partnerships with the community to offer patients supervised high intensity interval training, tai chi, rowing and hands-on nutrition and cooking classes. These programs are free to the patient due in part to in-kind donations and benefactor support.
Q: How did you discover AICR and our resources/research?
A: It was instrumental to have AICR’s resources for patients. One of the components that I value most as a dietitian in oncology is AICR’s Third Expert Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer and the subsequent Continuous Update Project (CUP) reports. Partly because they are comprehensive, but also because they very clearly consider the level of evidence. It’s a great example of movement away from black/white and towards more reasonable gradients. These resources challenged me to form opinions, but also moderate my language.
Q: How do AICR’s resources help NYU Langone fulfill its mission?
A: At NYU Cancer Center, we believe that patients come first. We practice a team approach that focuses on patient-centered care, which means we strive to individualize interventions for each person. AICR’s resources provide room for us to tailor nutrition and lifestyle recommendations as appropriate for the individual with the goal of achievable and lasting change. It’s important to me to provide nutrition counseling and support along with recommendations, and AICR’s resources provide room to do that.
Q: How do NYU Langone’s staff benefit from using AICR’s resources?
A: AICR resources are used not only in patient and community education, but also staff in-services, journal clubs and continuing education events. The Interactive Cancer Risk Matrix has been a powerful and compelling tool.
Q: Is there any one story in particular that you can share about AICR’s work helping a member of your community?
A: During my time focusing on patient transitions from a sole focus on cancer care to survivorship and wellness, I used the New American Plate Challenge (now known as the Healthy10 Challenge) regularly. It was simply impossible to follow up with so many patients every week and providing them with a trustworthy tool was paramount. Patients provided great feedback on having one topic to focus on per week as they went through the New American Plate Challenge. This program has taken what can easily feel like an unsurmountable task for dietitians and breaks it down into small, achievable goals that patients respond well to.
Q: Have you seen AICR’s resources impact the community outside your organization?
A: The work that AICR has done has provided a sturdy foundation for NYU Cancer Center to position nutrition and lifestyle as vital interventions both during and after treatment. Much of what we’ve been able to achieve in the community has been built on the groundwork that the AICR reports created. One of the great liabilities of public health data is the ability to lose the human element. Luckily, people usually love talking about food. This is how I strive to call for action when using AICR’s data and resources while giving talks in the community. One thing we learn as dietitians is that in healthcare, we can help control the ship and the sail, but never the wind and the wave. We can’t control everything, but food and nutrition can still have a powerful impact.
For more information on the NYU Cancer Center, visit their website here.
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