Isabelle Fry is a registered dietitian with over 15 years clinical dietetic experience in the NHS.
After leaving the NHS, Isabelle worked with Oviva for a year, specialising in remote diabetes and weight loss support. At the end of 2019, she decided to take the leap and go fully freelance as a dietitian.
Isabelle is passionate about nutrition; health; and providing support and evidence-based recommendations to clients to help them achieve their health and nutrition goals. She aims to ensure that she keeps herself up to date with the latest research and evidence and she loves to learn.
Hi Isabelle, thanks for joining us today. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi there, and thank you for having me! I live in Fetcham, Surrey with my partner, and we have 4 boys between us (as well as our gorgeous dog, Harley)! I am originally from South Africa, where I grew up, and my parents are from Mauritius. I have lived in the UK for 19 years – so I feel that my roots are truly spread out!
I am currently working freelance and I offer 1:1 consultations as well as workshops, group education, and consultancy. The freelance journey has been a rollercoaster of much learning, some disappointments, and plenty of satisfaction!
Where and why did you train as a dietitian?
At school, I loved the sciences and was fascinated by the human body.
I knew I wanted to be involved in the medical world in some way…the hook for me was my love for food!
So, once I had finished school, I studied dietetics at the University of Natal in South Africa.
Many of the specialised subjects we covered, and cases we saw a lot of were ones I have seen very little of in the UK (severe burns, breastfeeding in HIV; and teaching people how to optimise their health by growing their own vegetables at home in the rural areas!)
Which clinical areas do you specialise in?
I specialise in gut health (IBS, low FODMAP diet, IBD etc); diabetes and weight management.
When you worked in the NHS, did you prefer working in community or acute settings. Why so?
That is a really tough question! I loved working in the clinical setting because things were always moving fast; and it felt like I was learning ALL the time; I learnt from the multidisciplinary team; from the varied cases; and from my colleagues. My favourite clinical job was working at Guys and St Thomas’, as although it was tough – that is where I learnt the most.
In the community setting, the pace was a bit slower; and it felt like there was more paperwork and admin to be done– but the work felt really rewarding and I felt valued by the patients/ care homes that I was able to help. My favourite community job was working in the learning disabilities team in Wandsworth – amazing clients, fantastic team!
What led to you becoming a freelance dietitian?
Last year meant a lot of life changes for the whole family and I felt that I needed to be more available for my children. I had been doing freelance work alongside my clinical work, and as my freelance workload was increasing and I had increased responsibilities for my employed work– I did not have much time for my family or for myself! The fact that I was working most evenings and weekends made my mind up!
How did you settle on the name ‘Positive Family Dietitian’?
Positive Family Dietitian is my Instagram handle, and I feel that it accurately represents what I aim to do – I aim to help mums, parents and families optimise their health and manage conditions through nutrition. I chose the adjective ‘positive’ because I am a generally positive person; there is so much negativity around dieting and food in general - I try and make my social media posts as positive as possible! My company name is Diet Matters…because as we all know, diet does matter..:)
Could you tell us about how your freelance dietetic work has been affected by COVID-19?
My freelance dietetic work took a real hit initially after the lockdown was announced. The number of enquiries reduced and people cancelling their existing appointments increased!
Obviously the main reason for the cancellations was that meeting people outside of your household was not allowed, and clients were unsure of going ahead with virtual/ phone consultations. Another reason could be that perhaps people were feeling unsettled and uncertain, and everything normal was put on hold.
Over the last two weeks or so, there has been a sharp increase in enquiries and bookings – these consultations are being held virtually of course. The reason for the increase, in my opinion, is that potential clients have come to terms with that fact that this could be a long-term situation and that their health and nutrition concerns are a priority that shouldn’t be ignored.
Have you had to change your dietetic practice in line with public health and government advice? How did you go about doing so?
The main change has been changing all the consultations from face-to-face to the virtual world – I had been offering virtual consultations previously, so this wasn’t too much of a change – the main concern being my kids wandering into the office looking for home-schooling support during a virtual appointment; or making sure that there isn’t laundry hanging up in the background!
Due to the change in work settings for so many employees, I spoke at a webinar (as part of my work for a wellbeing company) to office workers (turned home office workers) about the role of nutrition in mood and energy levels whilst working from home. Next week I will be speaking (via Zoom) about Nutrition in the Menopause at a Wellbeing Workshop, which will be fun, I am sure!
A couple of workshops that I had planned during the lockdown period have been put on hold…I look forward to delivering these when normality resumes.
We understand that you have been using your spare time to help out in your local community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Could you tell us more?
Initially, I felt very strange about not working for the NHS and not being involved in the national crisis that was unfolding. I came to terms with the fact that going back to the NHS was not feasible due to my family’s needs. I also knew that there would be many people who were in need of help and thought that helping the local community would be a great way to share my time and energy.
Could you tell us more about the organisations you’ve been volunteering with?
The organisation was started by a local man, Paul Barker – all he did was put out a question to a local Facebook group asking if anyone would be interested in helping out in the community during the Coronavirus crisis – he had a fantastic response, as a result the group grew and grew, and was named the Community Coronavirus Care group.
There is a subsection within this group for volunteers with DBS clearance – these jobs require more contact with clients in need, and that, along with the Mid Surrey Community Fridge, is where I have been helping out.
I have been dedicating 3 volunteering sessions per week – these jobs have ranged from taking bins out for the elderly; to helping an elderly lady clear out her house prior to moving; to driving a partially sighted client to hospital in Guildford; to picking up prescriptions; to dropping off Food Bank deliveries to those in need; and doing groceries.
Have you made any nutrition-related observations during your time volunteering?
It definitely has been a time of learning and raised awareness for me.
I have been made aware of poverty and food insecurity issues that I was not fully aware of before working with the food banks. The amount of food donated by the supermarkets has been unbelievable – I have learnt that a lot of this food would be expiring soon and would be thrown out if not redistributed – what a great way to use it up – helping out those in need who would normally access their food bank!
I have done groceries for diabetic clients, and from their list of requests, it definitely showed me that there is a gap in diabetes knowledge in certain demographics.
Do you have any positive or uplifting memories to share with us from your last few weeks/months spent volunteering?
Most of the people that I have helped have been elderly, and normally I have done these groceries/ drop offs etc without my kids. Today, however, I took my son, who had finished his school work early, and I thought an extra pair of hands would be helpful in the heat. Well, the elderly, who we were dropping the Foodbank parcels too, were so happy to see a young smiling face! They all commented and seemed extra happy. He might have to come every week!
All the clients are appreciative of the help given, but there is one elderly gentleman in particular, who has a very low income, who told me that he didn’t think he would be coping without the weekly food drops from the Food Bank.
I haven’t done all that much compared to some others, but I feel proud to be part of this worthwhile cause.
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