Jessica Beacom and Stacie Hassing, are the Real Food Dietitians, registered dietitian nutritionists who have built an incredibly resource-full platform to share their nutrition insights as well as healthy recipes for everyday life.
They hold Bachelors of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics degrees. Jess received hers from Montana State University-Bozeman, and Stacie’s is from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Based in Boulder, Colorado, Jessica has been involved in nutrition for more than 15 years and has long been an advocate optimal health can be derived from following a real food diet. Stacie, who lives in Minnesota, loves being able to help people develop a healthy, more mindful relationship with real foods.
ButcherBox had the chance to catch up with Jessica and Stacie recently to find out some of the stories behind the founding of The Real Food Dietitians and their relationships with food, diets, and, most importantly, high-quality meat.
ButcherBox: How did you first connect and what has it been like growing The Real Food Dietitians together?
We met in June 2014 in New York City at an online business conference — that, interestingly, we both almost didn’t attend at the last minute.
We were both working in private practice at the time and decided to be ‘accountability’ partners for projects we were both working on. It wasn’t until six months later that we had our first phone call and we decided to collaborate on a 10-12 recipe eBook that we could use as a lead magnet for each of our websites.
Well, that little project turned into a 96-page, full-color book and program. We run our business via Google Drive, email, phone, and text, with quarterly ‘work-cations’ at each other’s house or a conference, etc.
BB: Your role as registered dietitian nutritionists informs a lot of your eating choices and the advice and recipes you share with others, how did you end up going down that career road in the first place? When did you first realize the importance of being selective with the foods you consume?
I’ll be honest, I never planned to get a degree in anything other than skiing, whitewater kayaking, and other outdoor pursuits but somehow I ended up in a freshman nutrition course in the fall of 1996 and instantly knew it was my jam.
I became fascinated by the connection between eating healthy food and my physical performance; I’m a huge biochemistry nerd, so it just felt like the right career. In the days since finishing my internship at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, I’ve worked in public health, clinical/acute care, long-term care, outpatient diabetes counseling, and, finally, a private practice where I specialized in food sensitivities, digestive disorders, and autoimmunity.
Though I saw the connection between healthy eating and physical performance early on, it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition in 2007 that I was able to discover the true power of healthy eating.
Through testing, trial, error, and more trial and error with my diet, I have successfully put my autoimmune disease into full remission, and I’m now the healthiest, strongest, and fittest I’ve ever been my entire adult life. Clearly, food can be powerful medicine!
My interest in nutrition was sparked during my involvement in high school sports. In fact, early in my junior year, I was already making plans to study becoming a dietitian in college. (That or a meteorologist.)
Having a ‘sensitive’ stomach most of my life and being involved in sports in both high school and college helped me to realize the importance of nourishing my body with the foods that make me feel and perform my best. It also helped me understand how individuality is important for both diet and nutrition.
Throughout my career as a dietitian, I have personally made some changes to my food choices. I have moved away from calorie counting and low-fat dieting and now today focus on eating wholesome and real foods in a balanced manner — food that is minimally-processed and nutrient-dense. My journey to a ‘real food’ diet began when I set out on a mission to heal my ‘sensitive’ stomach and break away from being an obsessive calorie counter. Thanks to the Whole30 I broke free of the obsessive dieting mentality — I can clearly remember the first time I ate a whole egg!
The power of nutrition and how it can make an incredible impact on one’s health and quality of life is simply amazing to experience firsthand. I’m so happy not only with my choice to become a registered dietitian, but also to be able to share my passion through The Real Food Dietitians blog.
BB: Which diets do you think are best for most people and why?
JB and SH:
We don’t believe that there is any singularly ‘best’ diet for most people because everybody is not designed to eat every food. Nutrition is very individual, and we encourage paying close attention to how the food you are choosing to eat makes you feel physically and mentally. We’re a great example of that because while our own diets are the same in many ways, they are also quite different.
I tend to eat more Paleo and stick to the lower end of the spectrum regarding carbs (except for recovery on heavy lifting days or endurance activities). The Whole30 program was my ‘gateway’ to autoimmune Paleo and then ultimately Paleo in general. I have a few non-Paleo splurges from time to time, like Jackson’s Honest Tortilla Chips and white rice/rice noodles. But I am now quite aware, after over five years of tinkering with my diet and observing how I feel, that there are foods that I just don’t feel great eating, so I tend to avoid them.
Like Jess, the Whole30 program was the start of my journey to discovering the foods that work best for me as well as breaking away from the world of calorie counting, fat-free yogurt, egg whites, and Snackwells.
I made the change over three years ago, and since then I have been able to add more flexibility to my diet by adding full-fat dairy and a few gluten-free grains here and there, all while focusing on foods that are wholesome and nourishing and make me feel my best.
Bottom line? The best diet is the one that makes you feel your best!
BB: What has been most surprising to you about the response to The Real Food Dietitians?
Honestly, we wake up every day with an immense sense of gratitude — and surprise — for how far we’ve come in just under two years. Like any job worth doing, there are times when the excitement and passion we have for this gives way to the overwhelming feelings that are part of the grind. But seeing our Instagram inbox filled each day with messages thanking us for what we do makes it all worthwhile.
BB: Any inclination to ever not eat meat, steak, etc.?
I dabbled in vegetarianism/veganism in college and during my internship as a way to lose weight and later on as a way to try to arrest the debilitating symptoms of my autoimmune disease. However, I never really felt good eating that way.
I later came to realize that I actually felt worse going full vegan because all of the grains, legumes, and soy were actually contributing to the worsening of my autoimmune condition. I now find that red meat is my favorite because it’s naturally high in iron and is, for me, the most satisfying.
While I’ve never followed a vegetarian or vegan diet, there was once a time when I avoided eating red meat altogether for fear that it would increase my risk of heart disease and cancer.
Educating myself about the nutrients found in red meat and the importance of high-quality meat has removed that fear. Now, I am very particular about where the meat that I eat comes from, making sure it’s from a quality source. With all of the controversial information on the web regarding meat, it’s no wonder so many are confused like I once was.
BB: What is your take on grass-fed beef?
I firmly believe that grass-fed and grass-finished beef is not only a healthier meat to eat, but it’s also better for the planet from a sustainability perspective.
I first learned about the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed meat in college when conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) was first identified as a type of fat with anti-inflammatory properties. I even did a radio spot on behalf of the Montana Cattlewomen’s Association, talking about the benefits of grass-fed meat.
Before that though, I was lucky enough to have grown up with a dad and brother that hunted and fished for much of what we ate. When I pressed about why we didn’t buy beef from the store like ‘normal families,’ my dad always replied, “The animals we eat have eaten what they’re meant to eat — so that makes them healthier.” I don’t think he had any scientific data to back that claim up but rather, was following the lead of his ancestors. Smart guy.
Later in life, after I found that veganism wasn’t the diet for me, I took it upon myself to learn and experience as much as I could about how meat, poultry, and seafood are raised here in the U.S.
I’ve visited large family farms thanks to family friends who let me see the inside of their conventional operations, I’ve traveled to Chile to see the destruction caused by salmon farming, and I’ve volunteered on small family farms who do things ‘the old-fashioned way.’ I also raise free-range birds for eggs and meat.
I’ve also seen both sides of the coin when it comes to processing animals and have learned to process them myself in a more humane way. I didn’t have to do any of this; I wanted to do it. I also wanted to become fully informed about the choices I make when I go grocery shopping each week.
BB: What have you noticed about eating grass-fed meat versus grain-fed?
In the kitchen, we’ve noticed that grass-fed meat tastes richer; it’s leaner, and it has less shrinkage when cooked compared to grain-fed meat.
BB: What do you value most when making decisions about the foods you eat and feed your family?
For my family, I choose organically-grown produce (local when possible) whenever I can and source raw dairy products from a local farmer.
As for meat and poultry, we try to make bulk purchases from local farmers, but sometimes that doesn’t always work out. That’s when it’s great to have ButcherBox as an option. I can get the quality and convenience I want with just the click of a button.