Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and lead dietitian at Maya Feller Nutrition in Brooklyn, New York. She received her Masters of Science degree in clinical nutrition from New York University, where she also previously served as an adjunct professor. She is dedicated to promoting nutrition education in order to help people make informed food choices that support health and longevity. In addition to providing one-on-one and group nutrition counseling, Ms. Feller is available for public speaking engagements, serves as a nutrition expert on Good Morning America, and promotes nutrition education through her Instagram page, @mayafellerRD. She is the author of the cookbooks Eating from Our Roots, published in January 2023, and The Southern Comfort Diabetes Cookbook, published in October 2019, and the co-host of Well, Now Podcast, Slate’s new wellness podcast.
Food Policy Center: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us! Could you please tell me a little bit more about your background and what sparked your interest in nutrition?
Maya Feller: Thanks so much for having me. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with you and your audience. I came to nutrition by way of running – actually marathon training. At the time, I was working and volunteering in New York City, and neither I nor my running partners were doing the greatest job of fueling ourselves. So, I looked into nutrition for runners, and that’s when I realized that I could study nutrition.
Professionally, I started my nutrition career in community nutrition, functioning as the program manager for a food and nutrition services program for people living with HIV/AIDS that was funded by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). During my tenure, I established relationships with local community supported agriculture groups (CSAs) and the Park Slope Food Co-Op, who donated their extra produce to my program. We also instituted farm trips as an incentive for program participants. I learned so much in that job about listening to people and communities to learn what they thought was valuable and necessary from a nutrition perspective. At the same time, I was an adjunct professor in the nutrition department at NYU. After working in the community, I opened my private practice and was initially focused on developing my skills in the areas of women’s health and family nutrition. Within a few years I expanded the practice to include non-communicable conditions and began to take on dietetic interns. Eventually, I also brought on more dietitians. After years of learning and continued education, my practice is rooted in anti-bias, patient-centered, trauma-informed care. The dietitians are a diverse group of women who are dedicated to evidence-based nutrition work as viewed through a lens of cultural humility.
FPC: Can you talk about what exactly you mean by a patient-centered, anti-bias, culturally humble approach to nutrition counseling and why it is important?
MF: Patient-centered means that we value our patients’ lived experiences and position them as a central part of the care process. We work with our patients and consider all aspects of their circumstances when developing nutrition protocols. Anti-bias means that we know that we as providers are exposed to bias, racism, sexism, classicism, homophobia, and transphobia simply from being members of society. We actively work to dismantle our biases and do our best to be aware of how they influence our patient interactions and subsequent care. In terms of cultural humility, it is our job as clinicians to know that we are the experts in nutrition science and our patients are the experts in their lived experiences. We respect this and constantly learn from our patients while committing to our own continued personal growth and exploration to deepen our provider skills.
FPC: Your nutrition practice provides medical nutrition therapy for a variety of chronic conditions. How do you see food and nutrition as therapeutic or preventive agents in healthcare?
MF: There is a large body of evidence supporting the use of nutrition interventions for people with chronic conditions. In some cases, these interventions are curative, and in other cases, they are the central component of patient self-care and monitoring. Plant foods contain bioactive compounds and phytochemicals that are known to have properties that act as free radical scavengers with the potential to reduce systemic inflammation. Patterns of eating that support reduced systemic inflammation can reduce the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease and can also help manage these conditions. Nutrition can be a central part of managing chronic conditions. The foods people eat on a daily basis have a significant impact on their metabolic health.
FPC: What are some of the foods you would recommend that everyone, regardless of health status, incorporate into their regular diet? Are there any foods that should be categorically avoided?
MF: I generally encourage including nutrient-dense foods that are accessible, affordable, and culturally relevant. Plant foods, with a mindful quantity of added sugars, fats, and salts can be the central part of many eating styles. People should choose plant foods they enjoy and can tolerate. Foods to avoid should be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on allergies, health conditions, and personal preference.
FPC: What is an example of a nutrition-related policy that you would like to see enacted at the federal level? Do you think it is possible for such a policy to pass in the near future?
MF: First, I dream of a time when we prioritize our farmers and pay them a consistent liveable wage for farming nutrient-rich foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, and animal proteins) that people eat, not simply subsidizing crops that are used for animal feed and industry. In addition, I would like to see a national policy making the price of those foods uniform across the United States in large-scale retailers and chain grocers. Retail prices vary widely, which makes many nutrient-dense foods inaccessible to folks with limited income. I do not see this as a national priority in the near future, but I dream of a time when we prioritize our farmers and make food prices accessible.
Grew up in: MA, then NYC from high school on
City or town you call home: Cambridge, MA, even though I’ve lived in NYC most of my life
Job title: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Background and education: MS, RD, CDN
One word you would use to describe our food system: Complicated
Food policy hero: Not sure I have one
Your breakfast this morning: I had a very early morning call time, 2 lattes when I got back from the studio, 2 chicken sausage links, 1 Raw Rev Bar
Favorite food: Lobster
Favorite last meal on Earth: Curry crab and dumpling
Favorite food hangout: La Rina Pastificio e Vino, Brooklyn, NY
Food policy social media must follow: @onelovecomunityfridge