Growing up, Katie Cavuto’s passion for gymnastics made an interest in nutrition a fundamental byproduct of her athletic journey. But when a severe injury in college cut her gymnastics career short, she was unexpectedly forced to go back to the drawing board and find a new passion. Fast forward to today, where Katie has leveraged her experience and affinity for nutrition to build a successful career as the dietitian for the Philadelphia Flyers and the Philadelphia Phillies. Katie, a culinary nutritionist and registered dietitian, also provides customized nutrition services – we’re talking in-home cooking classes – along with general wellness inspiration on her blog, Healthy Bites.
The Path: How did you eventually realize that nutrition made the most sense as a career path for you?
Katie Cavuto: After my career-ending injury in college, I took some time off school to travel and heal emotionally. My travels re-ignited my passion for food and led me to culinary school. I graduated with a BS in culinary nutrition from Johnson and Wales University–a path which felt more in line with my healthy living philosophies. From there, one thing led to another. I followed my heart, became a registered dietitian, and after years of clinical work, took the leap to start my own practice so that I could inspire others, in a more tangible way, to be well.
TP: Were you always interested in cooking, or did that kind of come about as a component of trying to live a healthier lifestyle?
KC: Honestly, when I was a high-school aged gymnast, I did not have the healthiest relationship with food. I began cooking so I could better control the food I was eating. Fortunately, after my gymnastics career ended and I ended up in culinary school, cooking positively transformed my relationship with food. It was an emotional outlet for me and a way to express love–both for myself and others. Now, in my practice, I aim to inspire others to find comfort and joy in cooking as a way to redefine their relationship with food.
TP: Does working with athletes pose any unique challenges?
KC: No, it’s so fun! I keep the focus on the fact that what they eat can directly impacts their athletic performance, which is a clear motivator. But at the end of the day, the nutrition messages are the same: eat foods that nourish your body, and whole foods are best.
TP: When you’re working with the Flyers and Phillies, do you create meal plans on an individual basis or for the team as a whole?
KC: I wear many hats. I work with players individually as their needs vary. I also work closely with the staff to ensure that the meals provided at the rink/clubhouse, as well as on the plane, train and on the road, are nutritious.
TP: How do you think that your blog, Healthy Bites, inspires people to live a healthier lifestyle?
KC: Mindfulness is the foundation of my wellness philosophy, as are my intentions to choose joy and gratitude! Mindfulness allows us to appreciate beauty in the simplest of situations. Take our relationships with food for example. “I love food” is a common sentiment, yet many people are not really allowing themselves the space to truly love their food experiences. I do not promote dieting and I encourage my clients to abandon their ideas of perfection. Instead, I encourage them to be real, to be vulnerable and to be aware. I teach my clients to focus on the concept of eating to nourish their bodies, as this creates a space where it’s natural to feel more reverent about food – for without food, we would not have life. I teach them to savor each bite and to celebrate the food on their plate. These intentions allow us to truly love food. When we’re grateful for the nourishing nature of food, we’re more likely to choose foods that are whole, pure, and unprocessed. Less nutrient-dense foods are naturally crowded out in a way that lacks deprivation.
TP: “Nourish. Breathe. Thrive.” is the motto on your site. Do you believe that eating right and treating your body with health in mind is the key to a happy lifestyle and overall wellbeing?
KC: Years of working as a wellness advocate along with a lifetime of self-discovery have provided me with the foundation to empower people to live healthy lives. I came to the realization that wellness is about more than what we eat; it is about nourishing our mind, body and spirit in a whole way. The foundation of happiness and overall well-being is gratitude, which includes self-love, self-care and an appreciation for all aspects of our lives, including our beautiful imperfections. “Nourish. Breathe. Thrive” speaks to this. I aim to inspire my readers to nourish their body and soul. To reflect often, as we cannot change if we don’t know when we are beginning. In order to reflect we have to take the time to pause and to breathe. This allows us the space to appreciate the present moment. Gratitude lives there.
TP: Your work has you constantly evaluating the nutrition choices that are best for your clients and the individuals that you work with. What is your regular diet like?
KC: My diet mirrors the messages I relay; it’s important to be authentic in this way so my clients and players respect and trust me. A normal day is comprised of whole foods – lots of veggies and the occasional indulgence in which I savor every bite! I find joy from food as it nourishes my body and, of course, tastes so good! Frittata or some sort of eggs, avocado and tomatoes for breakfast. I may switch it up and have something like toast topped with almond butter and fruit slices or the occasional smoothie. Currently, my favorite lunch is a quinoa chicken and vegetable soup or a salad with tons of vegetables, beans, sweet potatoes, apples and chicken. Dinner is simple – a protein like chicken or fish with vegetables. I have been eating a lot of root vegetables as they are in season. For snacks, I have been packing an orange (so delicious this time of year) as well as some almonds as the healthy fats, protein and fiber are really satisfying. Plus, who doesn’t love to munch and crunch. I also love potato chips! I usually enjoy a small bag at least once a week. And by enjoy I mean I truly love on every single bite, guilt-free!
TP: Can you explain (as you would to someone who doesn’t value nutrition) how what you eat affects your mind/body connection and your overall health?
KC: Many people have accepted that they are supposed to feel like crap all the time, and that is just not the case. It’s not fun to feel bloated, sluggish and generally icky after you eat. You have no idea how good you can feel! What we eat and the ways in which we care for ourselves can radically change this. Think about the way a food makes you feel while you are eating it and in the hours that follow it. Some foods feel gratifying in the moment but make you experience physical and/or emotional discomfort later. Aim to nourish your body with foods that make you feel good during and after your meal.
TP: What are your top tips for people who are trying to live a healthier lifestyle to keep in mind when they’re at the grocery store?
KC: Buy as many whole foods are possible. Fruits, vegetables, nuts – foods without labels or packages. Quality counts! Avoiding packaged foods is unrealistic and unnecessary, but some are better than others. When wrangling the packaged food aisles, keep these thoughts in minds:
1) Don’t shop hungry!
2) The front of the box is advertising. Ignore it. Head to the ingredient list.
3) Can you buy all of the ingredients in the grocery store?
4) If you made this item at home, what ingredients would you use? Buy products that contain those ingredients.
5) Perfection doesn’t exist. Be gentle with yourself.