Monica Reinagel adored her first career as an opera singer. The Baltimore contralto has performed for more than a decade as a soloist in operas, choral groups and orchestras across the country. Critics hailed her "brilliant coloratura" and "voluptuous voice."
"Opera is definitely a bigger-than-life experience," she says. "Because of my particular voice type, I have played an adolescent boy, a seductive siren and even an evil sorceress. The staging has included anything from Viennese waltzing to sword fighting. It's great fun."
But the diva life didn't always pay the bills. Like many creative professionals, Reinagel often needed to work "little day jobs" to support her singing career. It was one such gig -- in the health division of a publishing company -- that led to an unexpected second career as a nutritionist.
"I answered a want ad, and I worked as a fact-checker, running to the medical library to copy medical studies for editors to read," says Reinagel. "All singers are sort of amateur nutritionists, being able to keep our bodies healthy during cold and flu season, which is the same time as opera season. I really got sucked into it, working as a passionate amateur nutritionist. I just got hooked."
Reinagel moved from fact-checker to writer, and the more she delved into the subject, the more she realized that nutrition was as compelling to her as singing on stage. She also decided that if she was going to write about nutrition, she wanted to be an expert on the subject. She returned to graduate school and received a master's degree in nutrition in 2007.
Today, 46-year-old Reinagel spends most of her time working as a nutritionist. She enjoys writing about food -- her new book, The Nutrition Diva's Secrets for a Healthy Diet, was published this month -- and sees clients at her nutrition advising practice in the Baltimore area. Reinagel also has become a popular podcaster about nutrition at iTunes, where she dispenses nuggets about healthy eating as the "Nutrition Diva."
Reinagel says that all of her career upheaval -- taking side jobs, deciding to return to school, writing, singing, and at times not singing -- was necessary to find her way. Second acts, she says, don't always have a clearly delineated path.
"I landed in that publishing company because I needed a job, so there was a little bit of luck involved, but I wouldn't have stayed or pursued the subject to the next level had it not been such a gratifying thing to do," Reinagel says. "It's important to hold out for something that's a good fit for your skills and interests.
"Successful second acts often have a prologue to them or an entr'act. An entr'act is that time between acts when they play instrumental music, and there's a set change. The point is, sometimes you have to scrabble around a little bit before launching your second act to know that you've got the right thing."
Reinagel is still an opera diva, too, and sings part time with opera companies and choral groups throught the region. She says she's finally struck the right balance between the creative and business sides of her life. "Now, I'm so much happier," she says.
Nutrition Advice from the Diva
In her work as a nutritionist, Monica Reinagel says she enjoys debunking common nutrition myths and misperceptions. Here are five of her favorites:
1. Eat frequent, small meals to boost your metabolism.
"There's a kernel of truth there. If you cut back on your intake drastically,
your body will shift to starvation mode, but that doesn't happen after two or
three -- or even 12 -- hours. It takes three days of fasting. What happens is
that if people eat more often, they just end up eating more. Six small meals a
day are just fine, but what people end up doing is eating three full size meals
and three (large) snacks."
Her advice: Whether you eat six or three meals a day, make sure you stay within the recommended amount of calories for your lifestyle (for most people, that's anywhere between 1,500 and 2,500 calories a day).
2. Caffeinated drinks are dehydrating. "Caffeine does have a
diuretic effect, and it does increase your urine output, but when you drink a
cup of coffee, it's the equivalent of 2/3 cup of water. And if you are in the
habit of drinking tea or coffee, your body becomes desensitized to the caffeine.
It's certainly not dehydrating."
Her advice: If you want to drink two liters of water a day, that's fine. But if that's not pleasant for you, don't worry too much about it. "I'm not anti-water, but I am all about letting people off the hook wherever I can," she says. "I myself probably drink about four liters of water a day, but I like to. For people who don't have that desire, they should make their lives easier and not worry about it."
3. Vegetarian diets are inherently healthier. "Knowing
whether you eat meat or not tells me virtually nothing about the quality of your
diet. You could be a meat eater who eats virtually all whole foods, very little
processed foods and very little fat or sugar, or you could be a vegetarian who
eats nothing but gluten-free junk."
Her advice: Whether you eat meat or not, eat as many whole foods as possible, avoid processed foods and limit your sugar intake.
4. Good nutrition just happens. "The ways in which people's
diets fall short the most often -- having difficulty getting in those servings
of vegetables and limiting their sugar intake -- a lot of that just boils down
to planning issues. We're busy, and if we leave our nutrition sort of to chance,
given the realities of our food landscape, it's not going to go well.
Her advice: "If you're hoping to eat a wholesome, minimally processed diet with lots of nutritious foods, you have to plan for that."
5. When something is labeled "healthy, organic or natural" that means
it's good for you. "People get sucked into the health halo. They see
'natural,' they see 'whole-grain,' they see 'sugar-free,' and they use that as a
shortcut to make healthier choices, and manufacturers use that to their
advantage. I spend so much time with labels...what's on the front of a package
is advertising. Ignore it.
Her advice: "What you want to do is flip the package over and read the ingredients list. I know people struggle with label reading, but one way around it is to buy less food that has labels. Then you won't have as many to read." That means more fresh fruit and vegetables, and fewer processed foods.
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