Provider Spotlight: Angel Cunningham, Registered Dietitian

Registered dietitian Angel Cunningham leads many of the programs offered by FamilyCare’s Health and Community Education Department. With compassion and a focus on building trust, she helps FamilyCare patients improve their health without judgment.

Where are you from?

I’m originally from St. Albans.

Tell us about a formative moment in your career.

When I was working in a clinic, I saw a man who was having issues with his blood sugar. Through our conversation, I learned he was experiencing some extreme weight loss and other issues. But I also learned that he had recently lost his mother. He wasn’t wanting to make poor decisions; food had become sad for him. His mother had been preparing his breakfast and his lunch every day, and after work they would eat dinner together. After he lost her, everything changed.

In that moment, I focused on listening to him and recognizing that being a good dietitian isn’t just telling somebody what they’re supposed to eat. It’s hearing them and recognizing that they’re hurting. After listening to him, we talked about some things he could do to make healthier choices. For example, he could cook his mom’s recipes to remember her. By the end of that conversation, I could tell he had warmed up to me.

Do you think people are often hesitant to trust dietitians?

Historically, dietitians were known as the “food police.” I start a lot of conversations with my patients by saying “I’m not the food police.” I’m not here to tell you what to eat. I’m here to give you some information and helpful tips to create a healthy eating plan for yourself. The grocery store can be very intimidating for a lot of people. So, I explain to them the five main food groups and the most healthful foods from those five food groups that also fit with their budget, preferences, and culture. It’s much more than saying, “Eat these things.” I want you to enjoy what you’re eating as well.

How does culture influence your practice as a dietitian?

For many of my patients, I’m the first Black healthcare provider they’ve seen. I think that gives me a unique ability to relate to my patients. I cannot tell you how many times I peek into that hallway to grab my patient—and it’s a Black patient—and they see me, and their entire facial expression changes. They’re thinking “She’s going to get me.” And I do, because I’m Black, and I like fried chicken too. When it comes to soul food, I can relate to you, and then you know that what I’m telling you is not nonsensical. And it’s probably going to taste good. I help my patients figure out how to enjoy those pieces that we grew up on in a more healthful way. For example, now we have air fryers, where you can still get that beautiful crisp that you’re looking for, while removing a lot of that saturated fat to help our cholesterol and blood pressure.

What is the best part of your job?

Everything. I have the best job in the world. I can’t pick one thing, so here are a few:

  1. Making people smile.
  2. Assisting patients with meeting their goals and expectations of themselves.
  3. Helping young people build confidence based on more than their appearance.
  4. Guiding patients toward creating a more healthy relationship with food.
  5. Feeding and educating the community.

Learn more about Medical Nutrition Education at FamilyCare.

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