Amy-Claire McMurtrie (MS, RD, LD) is our lead dietitian at our Alsana Birmingham location. She’s been a dietitian at Alsana since early 2014 and feels energized working with our clients. We love working with Amy-Claire and we hope you’ll enjoy getting to know her better in the Alsana staff spotlight series.
What is your role at Alsana?
First, I am a human honored to sit with clients as they journey through their relationship with food. I hope to bring truth, light, and healing to clients’ distorted relationships with food and body. Logistically, I am the lead dietitian over all levels of care in our Birmingham Alsana adult centers, and I get to work together with the most amazing dietetics team, culinary staff, and clinical team!
What could someone do to make you feel really appreciated?
Anything with noted thoughtfulness. I am a “word” gal, and written notes or letters are always encouraging. You could also give me a rock from the parking lot, but if it was tied in with some sentimental meaning, it would mean a lot to me.
When did you start working for Alsana?
I found Alsana in the spring of 2014 as I finished graduate school training. I knew I wanted to work in the eating disorder field, but I came to simply take a tour of the Alsana Birmingham facility to see if I would be interested in working in a treatment center setting. Luckily, I was able to interview and was offered my job two weeks later. I have stayed ever since!
What’s the most fun thing you’ve ever done with a client?
At Alsana, we do cooking experientials called Clients Creation where selected clients come up with meal recipes, shop for ingredients, and cook with a dietitian’s support. During one cooking experiential I led, we were baking an apple pie because it was a client’s family recipe and she never allowed herself to eat it. There was this moment where the client noticed she wasn’t obsessing over calories or fear to eat it, she tossed flour into the air and started dancing around celebrating the moment. Of course, I had to join her, and other clients jumped in. It was a small pocket of celebration for change and creating a new memory with food she had not had before, flour-dusted around us all.
Why do you work for Alsana?
First and foremost, because healing begins here. I believe in full recovery, and it is an honor to be a part of so many clients’ journeys. Also, Alsana is a place for growth—first for clients, and also for employees. We work from the principles of servant leadership, accountability, and creating space for each person’s “light” to shine. I have found that there is grace and accountability in our culture, both to clients and to each other.
What would you tell your 13-year-old self?
Courage, dear heart. You are beloved, brave, and deserving of love and belonging.
What word or phrase do you find yourself saying frequently at Alsana?
“There is space for that” and “holding both.” My therapist friends have taught me this! As humans, we are designed to be seen and known—in all the mess and beauty of imperfections. There must be safety and “space” for vulnerability, imperfections, creativity, exploration, and humanness for us to truly heal and live. Also, our clients (and I) have trouble holding two truths at once. For example, it is a reality that we all deserve to speak our truth, and there is also a reality that our truth is not always heard. I get made fun of for saying these so often, but clients often adopt this language, too!
How do you help individuals struggling with eating disorders?
I want to be curious with each client I sit with; curious about food, their relationship to it, and how it fits into their values and lives. I want to explore possibilities, hold hope where there may be none, and walk each brave step clients take. I want to hold new perspectives—through research and science and food-truth.
What three words would you use to describe treatment at Alsana?
Compassionate, client-centered, authentic.
What’s your favorite part of helping clients?
When clients begin to see their relationship with food shift, with a little more buoyancy and hope. One of my favorite parts of my job is co-leading our ED group with a therapist 3 times per week. Clients bring in writings and art projects about their eating disorder, and together we explore and bridge the gap between what is happening with food and underlying core issues. I’ve seen clients gain insight and understanding of how their whole being fits together, which often increases motivation with food and how it fits into their values and life.
What do you believe is the most common motivator for healing?
Hope. It is so important as clinicians in this field to always be attuned to even the smallest pockets of change that ignite hope. It could be something small, like eating blueberries for a client who eats only raspberries every day. There can always be avenues for change, which can grow hope.
What were your three favorite childhood activities?
Growing up, I played fairly competitive tennis and enjoyed traveling to different cities to play in tournaments. I also loved doing crafts—all the great 90’s ones like paint by numbers (Lisa Frank, let’s be real), friendship bracelets, gel pen lettering—but my favorite was magazine collaging. And you can’t grow up in the ’90s and not love eating Fun Dip and Dunk-A-Roos (vanilla with sprinkles). I also loved a good picnic!
What advice would you give someone with an eating disorder?
You are not alone.
Out of everything you could do for work, why have you chosen to help those struggling with eating disorders?
This may sound cheesy, but I truly feel a calling to do this work. There are so many confusing food messages in diet culture that warp truth and understanding. I hope to bring truth and light where there is darkness and confusion. I also hope to walk with clients as they discover their truths and hope for recovery.
Describe an impactful day at Alsana.
Let me preface: How can I not bring in Brene Brown into my answers? Okay, there is one day that comes to mind. I remember feeling a bit down in my life, lacking sleep, and restless. On my way to work, I prayed for courage to show up and live fully as a dietitian to my clients and co-worker to my colleagues. I showed up and Brene Brown’s quote “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen” literally written on my door. My clients—the warriors or courage and bravery—took time to encourage me to do as they do—show up and be seen. It was one of those days where I couldn’t help but believe there was Someone outside myself weaving truth all together for us.
How do you keep yourself occupied on a long flight?
I love to read, but don’t always make a lot of time for it. Plane flights are like little gifts to nestle in with a good book—and/or take a nap!
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
I do appreciate lovely food itself, but also all that comes with it. Connection, freedom, creativity, to name a few. I do not have a “best” meal, but what first came to mind was my family’s Christmas morning brunch. My mom makes several different flavors of homemade scones served with butter and clotted cream, and also bacon or sausage with some fresh fruit salad. I love this meal because I do love scones (especially orange cranberry) but also the joy of Christmas morning and connection with family. In my disordered eating days, this was a dreaded meal, but it has come full circle to be “a favorite,” special, and healing.
Where is your favorite place on earth?
Gosh, I feel like I have never been able to choose one “favorite” of anything. My favorite places are those in nature; those that remind me there are bigger things beyond myself. One place comes to mind. I grew up in a small Oklahoma town, surrounded by cattle ranches and wide-open spaces. There is a particular country road I grew up driving down where you can see for miles and miles, with small rolling hills, and horses or cattle in the field and the wind blows strong. I’d often go there alone to catch my breath. There is something supernatural about the wind blowing, overlooking such a long stretch of land, especially at sunrise. Magic.
“Let your light shine” is a foundational principle of Alsana’s culture. We expect employees to come as they are and bring their whole selves to work, just as we want our clients to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves—exactly as they are—to their eating disorder treatment.
Alsana’s staff spotlight series highlights the way our employees let their light shine and the unique attributes only they can add to our clients’ recovery experience.