Stories / Scholarships

From Fearing Food to Feeding Others

Allison Contillo

January 09, 2018


The JBF National Scholars program, which launched in 2016, provides ten food-focused candidates from across the U.S. with $20,000 in financial aid. Our first class of National Scholars drew from all areas of the food system, from those working in food media to academic research. Below, culinary nutrition student Allison Contillo shares the evolution of her relationship with food, and how being a National Scholar has help to push her farther down the path to her ultimate goal of nurturing others:

I used to dread eating. At the age of 12, I began a 13-year battle with food and the scale. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder that resulted in me developing an intense fear of weight gain as a consequence of eating. With that illness, food was essential to my healing, but I struggled to accept it as the medicine I desperately needed.

At times eating was painful and the food was impossible to get down; sometimes it contained too many calories, and at other times the taste was hard to swallow. After wasting nearly half of my life being controlled by the scale, in 2012, I finally began my lifelong journey of recovery. Or, as I like to call it, the reconciliation of my damaged and unhealthy relationship with food.

As a means of mending the distorted perception that food was my enemy, I decided to pursue a career that would allow me to be a master of food and its ability to maintain my health and weight as a registered dietician (RD). As an RD, not only would I be able to become healthy myself, but I could also help other people facing the same debilitating disease.

Since being selected as a James Beard National Scholar and becoming a student at Johnson & Wales University's extensive Culinary Nutrition program, I have not only learned about nutrition, but the culinary expertise that I have received has completely changed my relationship with food.

Contillo leading a cooking demonstration at the MAE Foundation Camp Hope 2017 for childhood cancer patients.

To most people, basic cooking may be common knowledge, but for me it was like learning a foreign language. I’ve discovered a newfound passion for the kitchen, from formulating new recipes to playing with plating ideas. Before my attendance, I never thought about the taste, color, or contrast of foods, nor could I truly identify or appreciate the artistry of a chef's dish—all I was concerned about was how many calories it contained. Now, I can honestly say that I enjoy cooking—and eating.

As I continue my career, I plan to continue speaking at high schools on the importance of adequate nutrition during adolescence and sharing my personal struggle with an eating disorder in hopes of reaching others who may be quietly facing similar challenges. I know that my personal experiences, my nutrition training, and my newfound knowledge of cooking will help me better help others.

Contillo after her presentation on eating disorders at Ponanganset High School.

I aspire to first open a live-in eating disorder clinic, in which I plan to later expand into a facility that offers treatment for a multitude of illnesses of the mind, body, and spirit. Once I get the clinical aspect of care under control, I have a food-service concept to attach to my facility.

Everyday my dream grows, but I know that if I just complete one task at a time, soon enough it will all come to pass. Being named a JBF National Scholar has given me the confidence and drive I needed to dream big and fight each day to change the future of healthcare with food and love.


Learn more about the JBF National Scholars program.