Meet Alan Dawson: A Dietitian with a Mission to Expand the Field of Dietetics

One of the best aspects of my role at Herbalife Nutrition is supporting young dietitians on their education journey. We are honored to partner with the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), the leading nutrition and dietetic professional organization, to fund annual education scholarships. These prestigious awards support the research, education, and clinical training of promising students with a passion for nutrition and intent of becoming a registered dietitian (RD).

In 2019, we established an Herbalife Nutrition scholarship which is awarded by ASN to a bright student seeking an advanced degree in nutrition science or a related field.

The past recipients include Nicole Litwin, MS, RD, a Ph.D. candidate in Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University, for her research on the relationship between diet and the human gut microbiome. Last year, we awarded Katherine Ellison, MS, RDN, LDN, a PhD student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham for her research interest to apply translational and implementation sciences to better understand the nature of obesity and the feasibility of pragmatic interventions for weight loss and maintenance.

In its third year, the award went to Mr. Alan Dawson, M.S., R.D., CSSD, L.D., a PhD candidate at Florida State University in the Nutrition & Integrative Physiology Department. We invited Alan to tell us about his background, research, and plans. This is his story, in his own words.

Alan Dawson Herbalife Scholar

A Commitment to Expand the Field of Dietetics and Nutrition

I have always been fascinated by the complexity of the human body. The desire to understand the interactions between nutrition, exercise, and health and performance outcomes has been the driving force in my work as a dietitian.

It is well-known that we do not absorb all the energy we consume from our diet. The amount of energy absorbed and available for metabolism is quite variable between individuals. This is important because many assumptions about Metabolizable Energy (ME) used in developing the Nutrition Facts labels are based on a small and homogenous population. ME is the energy remaining after fecal and urinary energy loss and represents the energy available for growth or reproduction and for supporting vital metabolic processes.

My research explores the variability in intestinal energy absorption in normal and overweight females with similar predicted energy needs. My research goal is to identify predictors of ME by assessing the gut transit time, the microbiome, and postprandial metabolomics.

The Impact of Personalized Nutrition on Public Health

Individuals with greater calorie absorption may be more prone to weight gain. A better understanding of the differences in calorie absorption between individuals may lead to improved and more personalized dietary recommendations. From a public health perspective, programs designed to help individuals achieve a healthy body composition can significantly reduce the risk and burden of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Dietitians are uniquely qualified to help match patient eating preferences with evidence-based nutrition strategies to improve health outcomes and compliance.

I have been involved in programs across the continuum of health, including helping soldiers attain a healthier body composition to improve performance and compliance with military standards. On the other end of the spectrum, I have served as part of a bariatric team that helps prepare individuals for surgery and assists them in the months and years following bariatric surgery. In my experiences, multi-disciplinary programs, where physicians, athletic trainers, physical therapists, pharmacists, dietitians, and other support staff work as a team, are the most effective approach to caring for patients with obesity.

Alan Dawson sports dietitian

Why Translating Nutrition Science to Public Policy Is as Important as Ever

Current science must be translated into actionable steps for the public to improve health outcomes. We must recognize that increasing knowledge is only one part of encouraging individuals to adopt more healthful behaviors. Implementing public policy recommendations to reduce some barriers or providing incentives to adopt healthier behaviors is the other part of the equation, and a very effective method of improving health at a population level.

When I was a senior in undergrad, an Army health care recruiter spoke to our dietetics group about the possibility of serving as an Army dietitian. I was highly interested in performance nutrition and working to optimize soldiers’ performance was a dream job. Being in the Army and pursuing a career as a dietitian happened concurrently. I received a direct commission with the specific intent of completing a master’s and dietetic internship through the US Military-Baylor Graduate Program in Nutrition (GPN). I have had the privilege of serving our soldiers and their families for the last 11 years.

The Value of Mentorship for Young Dietitians

It would be naive to think we could grow as much personally or professionally without the benefit of a more senior scientist sharing their experiences and challenging us to think critically. A positive mentoring relationship encourages a growth mindset and provides opportunities to learn through collaboration.

In 2018, I was selected to earn a PhD in Nutrition Science at a civilian school of my choice through the US Army Medical Department’s Long Term Health Education and Training (LTHET) Program. As I began reviewing the Nutrition Science programs across the nation, I found Dr. Claire Berryman here at FSU, who shared my research interests. Dr. Berryman completed her post-doctoral training at the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) and had published papers with one of my Army mentors, who strongly encouraged me to work in her lab.

I don’t believe any of the work I have done to date would have been possible without the guidance and support of my advisor. She ensures our lab has the necessary equipment, consults with experts to ensure we are all competent in techniques used in the lab, and encourages deep thought with challenging questions.

I am incredibly grateful for the Herbalife Nutrition scholarship, which will help fund the controlled-diet study used for my dissertation. We are integrating omics techniques to predict energy absorption at the individual level. This technology, which aims to measure the total composition of a specific biochemical group, can be cost-prohibitive. So having the resources to tackle this part encourages me to continue my journey to support personalized nutrition for the general population.

Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND –Sr.Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan BowermanM.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman earned a B.S. in biology with distinction from the University of Colorado, and received her M.S. in food science and nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a registered dietitian, holds two board certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a certified specialist in sports dietetics, and a certified specialist in obesity and weight management, and is a Fellow of the Academy.