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Meet Jessica Gust, MS, RDN of Element Nutrition Kids in Arroyo Grande

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Gust, MS, RDN.

Jessica, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I stumbled into pediatric nutrition shortly after I graduated from my internship program. I was connected with a local pediatric clinic that needed some help with nutrition counseling for their patients. The reason they wanted my help was that I spoke some Spanish and the clinic served a large Spanish speaking community. I started to fall in love with working with the pediatric population because I felt I was making an impact on their lives and their families in a way that could potentially prevent future health issues.

Fast forward almost a decade after entering the field of pediatric nutrition and my daughter was born. She changed my perspective on nutrition for kids. Becoming a mom hit me hard. I struggled postpartum in ways I never imagined physically, emotionally and mentally. Something clicked inside my head and all the guilt that mothers expressed sitting in my office with their kids finally made sense. When you become a mother, everything changes. I could feel every emotion they had about their kid’s health, their expression of failure for how their kids ate and the feeling of hopelessness they had when they first came into my office.

I remember one day in particular when I had first returned to work after having my daughter. I had a mother and her 8-year-old daughter in my office. They were referred to me because the doctor was concerned about her weight being “too high.” They came in and the little girl sat down and stared at the floor like she knew she was in trouble. The mom started crying. She told me how bad she felt that she let her daughter get there but that she didn’t know what to do because her daughter was so picky and wouldn’t eat much of anything outside of her favorites. The doctor had made them feel terrible about the weight. I was heartbroken for her, for the mom and the little girl. Not because her weight was “too high”, but because of how she was made to feel. No child should feel that way.

That appointment transported me back to my own childhood and all the things I felt about myself. I could see myself in that little girl. At her age, I was significantly taller and bigger than all the other kids my age. So much so that I was put in the back row next to the teacher for school pictures. I was so self-conscious about my size and never felt like I fit in. I shouldn’t have felt that way, and neither should have this little girl.

I spent the rest of that appointment helping them understand that size doesn’t equate to health. We focused on a plan to get her daughter eating more variety. We discussed mom’s job in feeding and her daughter’s job in deciding how much. We set new boundaries that didn’t include restriction, these were all very foreign concepts to the mother, based on how she was raised.

That day changed the course of how I run my appointments. It was the driving factor behind my desire to help parents learn how to feed and nourish their kids from a young age, to know what to say and how to respond so these situations no longer would happen. It was also the main reason I created my membership community for parents called: Grow A Healthy Eater. In the community, we focus on nutrition for kids during their first six years to prevent and reverse picky eating and get them trying new food through exposure and exploration. I believe that early education is the key to growing healthy eaters inside and out and that is what I wish for all parents and their kids.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has been a very rocky journey for me. When I first started, I was working full time at a job I didn’t love and doing the job I did love (working with kids) in the evenings and weekends. I got very burnt out after doing this for several years. From there was able to transition to a part-time job that allowed me to work still and have benefits but also do the work, I love on the side with more flexibility. After my daughter was born, I had a whole new set of struggles. Trying to balance work, a business and a family was hard. She is now 2.5 years and I’m finally feeling like I am getting my stride back. Balancing what I love to do with what I need to do to support my family, as well. I have been very thankful for the flexibility to do it. Being an entrepreneur is not an easy road, there are lots of bumps, bruises, and tears along the way, but it’s worth it!

Element Nutrition Kids – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I am a pediatric dietitian and specialize in helping parents gain confidence in how and what they feed their kids. In my private practice, I work with kids of varying ages primarily from infants to 10 years. I love focusing in on helping parents start their babies on solid foods, overcome picky eating and deal with growth and weight challenges.

I am very proud of my approach to nutrition which incorporates helping parents understand the concept of health and the importance of a positive food relationship. I think what sets me apart from others is my empathetic and non-judgemental approach. I find that parents are bombarded by judgment from others for everything they do and I always want parents (and kids) feeling comfortable when they work with me. I have had kids go from not wanting to come to see me to being sad when their visits are done because they enjoyed the visits so much. As a fellow mom, I know how important our kids are and love being able to connect with them.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success for me is multifaceted. I love being able to take a burden/weight off another mama by helping her through something challenging (like feeding her kids). The feeling when someone tells you that you changed their lives is like no other. Success in business means having the freedom and flexibility to work and also be there for my family when they need me. And of course, being able to support my family financially by doing what I love is awesome too.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Shannon McMillen Photography–

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