As the Registered Dietician at the Comprehensive Care Center, Kaitlyn LeBrun has the enviable job of telling some residents they can eat all the ice cream they want. On staff at the skilled nursing and post-acute rehabilitation facility, Kaitlyn is responsible for creating nutrition assessments, managing weight gain and loss, checking on meal preferences and helping the elderly residents and their families determine the best nutritional path for the individual residents.

“It’s fun as a dietician,” the native of San Diego says. “So often as a dietician you’re telling people ‘You can’t eat this,’ or ‘This is what your diet should look like,’ or ‘You should do this or that.’ At the CCC, so much of my job is ‘What do you want to eat? Do you want to eat ice cream? Ok. We’ll get you more ice cream.’ I get to have fun with it. Because weight loss is such a concern with this population, within reason it’s more giving them foods they want to eat, that they like to eat.”

A graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in Human Nutrition, Kaitlyn joined the LVMC staff last November. She completed her dietetic internship and a Master’s degree at Sam Houston State University in Texas, where she did rotations in food service, community, clinical and research. Her thesis focused on the parental perception of their preschool child’s weight, to determine if it impacted the types of foods parents offered to their children.

Her interest in nutrition began as a child, she said. She was heavily involved in gymnastics and would do research about different diets and how nutrition could benefit her body. In high school, her mother wanted to lose weight and asked Kaitlyn to help. “I really liked helping her with her weight loss,” she said. “She’d have her 42 pretzels for a snack and I’d count them out for her. She was successful and kept it off.”

Her educational training led her eventually to a job in Illinois working for WIC, or Women, Infants, and Children, the federal supplemental nutrition program. Kaitlyn worked primarily with pregnant mothers and children age 5 and younger. She would check height and weight, and iron levels. She provided nutrition education and oral health information.

After moving to Santa Barbara County, where her husband attends UCSB as a philosophy doctoral student, Kaitlyn briefly worked in a fitness studio before joining the CCC staff. It has been interesting, she said, to transition from previously working with children and parents to working with elderly residents and their families. “I get to be one-on-one with all the residents,” she explained. “Everyone is open to change and wanting to make things better for the residents.”

She also confers with CCC Dietary Director Norman Skau and is learning more about how nutrition and diet interact with different medicines and medical conditions. She walks through the facility daily, stopping by to chat with residents during meal times.

“I’ve fallen in love with all the residents,” she says. “It’s like they’re my family. I really like being able to follow up with the same people. With WIC, it would be so long until I would see them again. Here, this is their home.” In her role, she must speak with residents frequently and asks them about their goals for their weight. Being either underweight or overweight can be cause for concern with the age of the residents.

“We try to be open about that,” she says. “If they’re underweight, do they have goals for their weight? If they’re very overweight, do they want to stay where they are? Because if that’s what they want, I want to meet their needs. If they really want to lose weight, I want to help them do that, and maybe get them a little closer to a healthy range.”

Of particular focus, she said, is to check on any resident who has lost or gained more than three pounds in a week. “We talk to them about their likes and dislikes,” she said. “If they’re at a risk of weight loss, we ask for a nutritional supplement. There’s a whole team that gets together to go over the nutrition plan.”