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An Interview with the CWT Nutritionist of the Year 2019

Greg Lessons, Registered Nutritionist, was awarded the title of ‘CWT Nutritionist of the Year 2019’ at last year’s CWT 30th Anniversary and Awards Reception for his outstanding and distinctive work in the UK Fire Services and academic achievements.  At the time of the award, the judging panel found Greg had displayed precisely the qualities they were looking for in the next generation of inspiring nutritionists.   He had demonstrated courage in challenging the status quo, a significant & groundbreaking achievement of high potential and a passion for forging new pathways to further public health through improved nutrition awareness and quality of food.  The judges were unanimous.

Greg’s career started as a firefighter; however, after 17 years’ service, Greg began to notice the rising levels of poor health amongst his colleagues, namely heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  He decided to embark on a new vocation, and after completing his MSc in Human Nutrition, Greg pioneered the Fire Service’s nutrition programme.

His multi-component intervention involved face to face dietary, physical activity and lifestyle education programme, along with addressing the obesogenic environmental factors. His pilot trial lowered BMI, body fat percentage, energy intake and waist circumferences, thus reducing fire fighter’s risk of chronic disease within a month.   His research was published in the proceedings of the Nutrition Society, and he was announced as the winner of ‘Best Original Communication’ at the Nutrition Society 2017 Winter conference.

Greg has persisted with his studies and is now undertaking a PhD while providing part-time lecturing at London Metropolitan University.  However, he continues to lead the emergency services in improving nutrition and subsequent health of the workforce.  His latest activities also involve being a Nutritionist Ambassador for the UK Emergency Services Games.

Since winning the CWT Nutritionist of the Year award, Greg has been on BBC news, featured in Men’s Fitness magazine, NHD Network Health Digest, Personnel Today – Occupational Health & Wellbeing, Public Sector Catering, Emergency Service Times and received a fellowship at the Nutrition Society, and is now sitting on their strategic communications committee.

We caught up with Greg to see how he found life after receiving the Nutritionist of the Year 2019 award.  Here’s what he had to say…

How did you feel when you were awarded the Nutritionist of the Year 2019?
The great honour of being awarded ‘Nutritionist of the year 2019’ by the Caroline Walker Trust as it brings a certain level of validation to the work I have been engaged in over the last two years.

Have you found your role as a Nutritionist in a new environment a comfortable journey?
Far from being a smooth ride, there have been tough challenges along the way which have tested my fortitude and resolve from the very beginning. Getting the fire station nutrition programme off the ground involved a lengthy campaign with several setbacks.

What did you find was your biggest challenge being a Nutritionist?
Once approved to test its feasibility and efficacy on a grander scale, the daunting prospect of starting something completely new and leaving the familiarity of a role I had performed for the vast majority of my working life was itself a challenge. Added to that was the unknown quantity of how I would be received by my peers in a context which could be seen as ‘telling them what to eat and how to live’.

How did you overcome these challenges?
Every day I had to do battle with these fears to stand up in front of teams of firefighters to nervously (at the beginning) deliver my dietary intervention. Every day I had to overcome scepticism and suspicion before I could even begin to attempt changing dietary behaviours for the better. My fortitude, resilience and resourcefulness have truly been tested like never before, and it has changed me as a person. Imposter syndrome rears its head on a fairly regular basis, and I have had to adapt from working in a team to working alone, taking full responsibility for nutrition in my organisation.

 What is the most rewarding part of your role as a Nutritionist?
The knowledge that I’m helping people is rewarding, as is seeing markers for health improvement. The gratitude expressed from firefighters is also a huge boost and fuels me to keep going when the workload piles up.

What have you gained from the award ‘Nutritionist of the Year’?
The recognition from a well-respected nutrition organisation bestowing me with such a great honour has really inspired me to take my programme to the next level. It has instilled untold confidence and also supports the programme’s progression, which at times feels somewhat precarious.

What are the benefits of being recognised by CWT as an inspirational Nutritionist?
It has garnered both internal and external interest, from fire brigade personnel congratulating me, to media agencies approaching me for interviews. I welcome all of this attention with open arms, not to boost my ego, but to boost the profile of my programme and to highlight the importance of nutritionists in workplace settings. I cannot thank the Caroline Walker Trust enough for their incredible support.

We also asked about Greg’s typical day in the life as a trail-blazing Nutritionist.  Here is his average day’s schedule of events.  It’s impressively dedicated and hard-working.

 A day in my professional life
Wake up at 06:00 – head to the gym (You have to look the part).
08:00 – start work by checking email and dealing with admin.
09:45 – pack the car with anthropometric equipment and educational aids.
10:30 – arrive at the fire station, introduce myself and hastily attempt to allay personnel’s preconceived fears of my agenda.
11:00 – deliver interactive PowerPoint presentation to the watch on ‘Nutrition and Health’.
11:30 – hand out dietary assessment forms and hope they fill them out (99% of the time they do).
11:35 – I set up my personalised nutrition clinic in an appropriate room in the fire station. It comprises a body composition analyser, a height measurer, tape measure, laptop and visual aids.
11:45 – I see the first of anywhere between 8 and 20 firefighters for a personalised nutrition session.
16:30 – pack up equipment and drive back to my base where I’ll finish the day with more admin. This can include: scheduling appointments and stations to receive my intervention; creating nutrition educational materials for the LFB wellbeing intranet portal; writing reports to justify my mere existence; creating PowerPoint presentations; dealing with requests to attend various team meetings to deliver nutrition input to fire brigade support departments (I’ll have to do most of this in my own time tonight). (Note the absence of a lunch break!).
23:00 – close the laptop, go to bed and reflect upon some of the amazing people I met and the enriching interactions I was lucky enough to be part of. That’s the best bit of my job.




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