BY GABRIELA FITZPATRICK, STAFF WRITER
Maria Wolfel wants to encourage healthy relationships between people and their food.
Through her private practice in Clarks Summit, Wolfel, a registered dietitian nutritionist/licensed dietitian nutritionist hopes to spread the message of body positivity and the idea that food is not the enemy but rather fuel for the body.
As a kid growing up Jessup, Wolfel’s relationship with food was tied to happy memories. Her grandmother, Roseann, was a home economics teacher known to carry snacks such as crackers and pretzels in her purse.
“Food was always very neutral in my house,” said Wolfel, who now lives in downtown Scranton.
“It was never off-limits. There were never food rules in my house at all.”
Her grandmother was the one who suggested Wolfel attend school to become a dietitian. Wolfel began to doubt her choice in college, though, when she started to learn about what foods were considered healthy and unhealthy. The explanations just didn’t click for her.
“All food is nourishing, and it’s yummy,” Wolfel said. “Even bagels were being seen as bad, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I have bagels with my grandma all of the time. They’re not bad; they keep her going. It created a bond for me and her.'”
Wolfel then heard local dietitian nutritionist April Rudat speak about eating disorders, which prompted her to sign up for Rudat’s classes at Marywood University. The way Rudat spoke about food and intuitive eating – honoring one’s hunger by eating when hungry and stopping when full, without any guilt – reassured Wolfel she had picked the right career path.
“I was sitting in a room (during) the first class and said, ‘This is what I’ve been searching for. A class on intuitive eating and health at every size and (showing that) all bodies are good bodies,'” Wolfel said.
Wolfel’s interest lies in the human interaction with food, how people use it to cope with life and how, down the road, it can turn into eating disorders. Her practice at 421 S. State St. aims “to help individuals eat without obsession and to have a healthy relationship and a beautiful relationship with not only food but with your body as well,” Wolfel said.
Her desire to help others comes from the idea that people with eating disorders – diagnosed or not – are no different than someone who doesn’t have one. Wolfel is under professional supervision to treat people with eating disorders and disordered eating, and she said people with those conditions are no different than someone who has a healthy relationship with food.
“We all carry human characteristics,” Wolfel said. “Human characteristics are perfectionism, wanting to be respected by individuals, wanting to be liked, expressing your emotions, expressing your feelings. Those are all human characteristics that everyone carries. Someone that might not be able to cope with the negativity of that human characteristic, they might cope with it through food and body.”
Her message comes from an understanding, first, that people with eating disorders don’t choose to be the way they are, and also that every person is susceptible.
“We don’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I’m going to have an eating disorder.’ It doesn’t work that way. It just manifests very sneakily,” she said. “An eating disorder will sneak up on anyone; it does not discriminate. It does not discriminate age, it does not discriminate gender, it does not discriminate body size, it does not discriminate socioeconomic background. Anyone and any body can develop an eating disorder.”
Wolfel’s mother, Kim, and grandmother inspired her to empower women and help others through their own similar efforts. Wolfel said her grandmother modeled confidence and a “loveable presence” to everyone she came in contact with, while her mother taught her strength and resilience through raising their family and co-owning a business.
“I have been surrounded by women in a leadership position since the day I was born,” said Wolfel, who also is a full-time registered dietitian nutritionist at Abington Manor. “It is one of the greatest gifts I can witness, (that) the women in my family and surrounding me have cultivated a space to be fearless while enduring storms and, yet, still be unapologetically themselves.”
Through her work, Wolfel wants to cancel “diet culture” and ultimately teach people about intuitive eating, being mindful and listening to their bodies. Her mission to create a culture surrounded around the idea that food should not be a thing of judgment but rather a means to survive and be happy starts with how people view food.
“When we start to put judgment on food, that is when we start to develop an unhealthy relationship with food,” Wolfel said. “It has to be all nonjudgmental and asking yourself, ‘Am I actually full? Am I fully satisfied?'”
Ultimately, Wolfel wants to empower people and guide them to love their bodies through intuitive eating, which numerous studies have shown can produce physical and psychological health benefits.
“Diet culture is a life thief,” Wolfel said. “It is constantly telling you there’s something wrong with your body and you need to fix it. … The problem isn’t your body – the problem is diet culture that idealizes thinness, enforces fat phobia and glorifies disordered eating behaviors. How can we truly be happy if we don’t honor our bodies? Everybody is deserving of food regardless of shape and size.”
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127
Meet Maria Wolfel
At home: A Jessup native, she lives in downtown Scranton. She is the daughter of Kim and Bob Wolfel and has two brothers, her twin, Matthew, and Bobby Wolfel, and a future sister-in-law, Alexa Barsigian.
At work: Registered dietitian nutritionist/licensed dietitian nutritionist who owns and operates a private practice in Clarks Summit and also is a dietitian at Abington Manor.
Inspirations: “My family members, friends and close colleagues who continue to effortlessly empower one another,” she said.
Aspirations: To dismantle diet culture and let people eat without obsession to establish a healthy relationship with food and their bodies
Diversions: Traveling, reading, spending time with friends and family, cooking and shopping
Aversions: Inconsideration and judgment
Quote: “The more curious you become about yourself, the more curious you become about others. The more you understand yourself, the more you understand others. And the more you love yourself, the more you love others.” – Jenna Hollenstein