Tami Schiltz can’t peg her insecurity and nutrition struggles to a specific moment.
Certainly, being called a “whale” as a 138-pound high-schooler didn’t help.
“You have that one comment that just sticks out at you, and it just kind of created a spiral effect,” Schiltz said. “I did a lot of interesting, not-so-healthy things in high school, a lot of restrictive eating. I remember I ate just chicken and broccoli, or I’d slip in a Slim Fast for my lunch. I’d have a Slim Fast in a mug — so you couldn’t tell I was drinking that — and I had a white bagel with jelly on it.” (laughs) “‘Cause I thought that was really healthy at that time.”
Long before that “whale” comment, however, Schiltz’s low self-esteem already had set in.
Growing up on a farm in southwest Wisconsin, she remembers comparing herself to her older sister, “the one that was tall, skinny, could eat ice cream at night without gaining weight.”
She also remembers doing her first workout video in third grade.
“Even that memory, at that age, not feeling good enough,” Schiltz said.
She majored in exercise science in college, but still gained 40 pounds in her first two years, despite exercising regularly. She’d sometimes eat a dozen “low-fat” muffins in a night or binge on pizza in her car.
Her health started to improve after she began a master’s degree program in nutrition, while she also focused on the emotional reasons behind her overeating and low self-image.
But it wasn’t until she moved to Georgia for an internship that her life changed for good. She spent months tracking everything she ate — calculating her daily intake of carbs, fats and protein.
“I really learned a lot about myself then because I felt like, ‘OK, tracking has its purposes,’ but if there was a day I didn’t do it, like, I felt like I had failed or I didn’t trust myself if I wasn’t tracking. And I realized I couldn’t live like that … . After that it was just trying to be more sensible with eating.”
Now, Schiltz channels all those experiences and her education, as a registered dietitian at Innovative Nutrition Solutions in Madison.
Schiltz said she’s a realist.
“I’ve always prided myself on, and why I’m effective in what I do, is because I meet people where they’re at,” she said. “I wouldn’t tell people, ‘You need to track and bring me this food log.’ For some people that is the furthest thing from what they want to do. So it’s, like, if that’s not going to motivate you, then that’s not what we’re going to do.’
Instead, she uses various tools to help develop personalized health plans for her clients.
“The idea that we can all do all of it, like, organically and plan out all our meals every day and have them all prepped sounds great in theory,” she said, adding. “(But) I don’t want people to set themselves up and feel this pressure to do it all when it’s just, like, ‘Can we help a mom out here? I haven’t had a hot meal in, like, however long. I just need to nourish my body.'”
Her dietitian practice uses technology to help people see beyond the scale.
“So to be able to look at, like, how much muscle they have on their right arm or their left arm or to be able to look at their visceral fat or their cellular health, it’s really cool information that people generally don’t have, and it really helps them appreciate what their body’s made of.”
“I’ve had people who are close to 400 pounds who have left that appointment feeling strong, rather than fat. And I love that,” she said. “Because we can show them, we have the numbers, we have proof — ‘Whatever your head is telling you, (the truth is) actually right here.’
In addition to her work, Schiltz is married, has a 4-year-old daughter and is a couple weeks away from giving birth to her son.
It’s a lot to balance. But more family time is what drove her to leave her previous job at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the first place.
A registered dietitian she knew already had opened Innovative Nutrition Solutions, so Schiltz set up her own practice about 18 months ago, working in conjunction with her colleague’s business.
Her strategy for coping with her work duties, a preschooler and, soon, a new baby?
Setting a time to work, communicating that with her husband and daughter, sticking with the plan.
And then just rolling with whatever comes along.
“I have so much gratitude now for all of the experiences that I went through,” she said, adding, “It’s just the whole ‘you find purpose in the pain.’ I feel like if I wouldn’t have had those experiences as a kid, I wouldn’t be able to relate to the 12-year-old that came into my office last week or a college student who just feels like (they’re) all over the place, or someone that has emotional eating or binge eating or restrictive (eating).
“Like, I just have so many of those personal experiences to speak to people. It’s really helped me to love my career.”