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Dalina Soto is a dietitian and nutritionist that doesn’t put her clients on diets. Yes, you read that right. She’s a dietitian that doesn’t believe in diets, and for good reason too. While studying to be a pediatrician at Penn State years ago, the now 33-year-old Dominicana took a nutrition class that helped her realize that her passion was actually in preventative care. She came to understand that she could help the Latinx community be healthier and live longer without having to give up important aspects of the culture, and the course of her future changed forever.
Now, she’s a Registered Dietitian (RD) and has her own business with its own trademarked method and she’s offering virtual memberships to the masses. Oh, and with nearly 60,000 followers on Instagram, she’s dismantling diet culture one informative and relatable post at a time.
“Food is more than just calories in and calories out,” Dalina tells HipLatina. “It’s culture and traditions, I am so afraid our children will lose all the traditions our ancestors created with the land and resources they had JUST to healthify what a wellness world has told us is unhealthy. Yet, no one is talking about the ridiculous amounts of nutrition our foods have. And I want to change that.”
She earned her Bachelor’s in Nutritional Sciences at PennState and a Master’s degree in Nutrition Counseling and education from Immaculata University. She shares that when she went to school for dietetics she was “shook” initially because they were teaching that the reason POC were sick was because of how we eat.
Many of us have had the experience or watched our Latinx parents and grandparents have the experience of visiting a physician for a check-up only to walk away being told that rice, beans, tortillas, corn, etc.–the things that have nourished our families for generations–are negatively impacting our health. This is information that has led many to deny themselves the food they grew up eating AND enjoying. Being told our foods are no good can lead to feelings of inferiority and self-consciousness. But Dalina has spent years working in communities of color and underprivileged communities with an approach that’s accessible and doesn’t keep Latin American staples off people’s dishes.
“We aren’t a monolith, humans are diverse and this also means bodies are diverse and we cannot fight our genetics and we shouldn’t change our culture or foods to meet an idea of health that was not created based on us,” Dalina says. She previously worked as a bilingual nutritionist for WIC and for a non-profit where she taught nutrition to children at schools serving grades Pre-K to 8. She shares that the video “Poodle Science” sums up why a one-size-fits-all approach to diet and nutrition is problematic.
“I did not have the insight on life or society I do now then, but in my mind I was going to go out into the Latinx community, end chronic conditions and still keep our culture alive,” she shared about realizing she wanted to study nutrition. Although it looks a bit different now that she’s focused on her online nutrition counseling business, she’s still doing just that.
“In a way I am still helping my community eat their foods but from a completely different perspective and educating on social determinants of health that do actually affect our community and understanding that there is more to health than food and exercise.”
With that in mind, she developed “The Chula Method” and launched Your Latina Nutrition, where she offers virtual nutrition counseling and dietitian services geared toward Latinas (though all are welcome) who want to ditch the diet mentality and get their bodies and minds healthy without the guilt or the need to give up ancestral foods they love. Noting that while Latinos makeup 18 percent of the U.S. population, only six percent of dietitians in this country identify as Latino. Being a first-generation American herself, Dalina is well-versed in the struggles of the Latinx community when it comes to health and nutrition, both personally and professionally, making her uniquely qualified for the undertaking.
One of the biggest differences in The Chula Method is that weight loss is NOT the goal. “The narrative that thinness and perfect eating is the only way to be healthy has to DIE A FIERY DEATH,” Dalina exclaimed. “Everyone just wants weight loss but how is shrinking your body, having a very messed up relationship with food, and ignoring your body cues healthy? If weight loss occurs from you starting to eat like a normal person, that’s cool,” she said.
“But I will not purposely reduce your energy intake to cause a deficit and loss, because it’s not sustainable and it backfires and you end up gaining it back and more. And I want to teach you a sustainable way of living that you can evolve with as you move through life and aging. Our bodies aren’t meant to stay stagnant. We need to come to terms with that.”
And that is the really the root of diet culture in general — it’s not sustainable. Dalina’s intention isn’t quick weight loss, it’s empowering women to change the way they think about food and eating healthy. Social media has allowed her to reach a much larger audience than she otherwise would have and it’s clear her message resonates with so many people.
While you her Instagram followers aren’t privy to all of the education, information and resources she offers members of The Chulas Club, she shares tons of tips and inspiration for people trying to understand intuitive eating, abandon damaging ideas about food and dieting and find food freedom. Those who want more can apply for one-on-one nutrition counseling or join The Chulas Club which includes 12 learning modules, weekly group calls, two live workouts a week and monthly chats with guest experts.