May Zhu, MBA/RD Candidate

May Zhu Shakes Up Her Dietetic Program
By Blending School, Blogging and Chicago Food Adventures

From South Carolina to Chicago, May Zhu, a second year MBA-RD student, did not travel alone. With her, she brought over 35,000 loyal followers of her Instagram and blog spot, “Nutrition Happens.” 

Known for her bold creations in the kitchen and balanced lifestyle (dark chocolate and cashew butter make the cut!), May shines bright as the definition of a Dominican Star.

“I’m a firm believer that nutrition happens when you learn to respect yourself by nourishing all aspects of life—mind, body and soul,” May says.

In a conversation with Lucy Hancock, graduate marketing and recruitment coordinator, May reveals how she manages her full-time program and successful nutrition blog while staying immersed in Chicago’s famous foodie scene.

When did you decide cooking and nutrition were more than just hobbies?
I grew up with a family in the restaurant industry, so I was always encouraged to try new foods. There was always an emphasis on fresh ingredients, so I think that good food and nutrition always subconsciously played a large role in my life. In college, I took up half-marathons as a hobby and looked into nutrition at first only for better sports performance. In the process, I discovered the role of Registered Dietitians and the incredible expertise they are able to provide on the role of food for better health. It was inspiring and showed me how much of an impact proper nutrition can have on our bodies. The world of dietetics is dynamic and that’s what I love about it - there’s always something new to learn!

How long have you had your blog, “Nutrition Happens,” and when did it start getting traction and attracting thousands of followers?
I started “Nutrition Happens” solely on Instagram during the summer before my senior year of college. At the time, I was interested in sharing the ideas I had for healthy meals and showing the healthier products I came across in the market. Pictures made it an easy way to engage people. I never intended to grow it as a business but when it gained momentum, I saw an opportunity to pursue it more. I developed it into a blog and pursued the business side of blogging to focus more on branding “Nutrition Happens.” ← hyperlink blog

What advice would you give fellow foodies who want to start their own wellness blogs?
Find a niche you feel most passionate about and just start it! I get emailed this question weekly and I always remind them that everyone starts somewhere. Your voice and personality shine through your brand—so be proud of what you’re creating and keep pursuing it. And surround yourself with a community of people who have similar interests and ambitions. I didn’t know anyone in Chicago before moving here, but through media I’ve been able to connect with a large community who share the same interests as I do - a positive network will support you and help you stay focused.

What are your future plans for the blog?
I hope to turn it into a full lifestyle website with contributing writers—and incorporate nutrition consulting as an element after I get my RD license.

What impressed you about the MBA/RD program at Dominican University when you first started researching programs?
Nutrition is my passion but I've always wanted something more. When I saw that Dominican offered a combined MBA, I knew it was exactly what I needed to take my nutrition background one step further. One of my goals is to run my own private practice. The skills that an MBA can provide are vast in terms of business applications in the nutrition world. Upon further research, I learned about the opportunity for a specialty rotation within the internship that focused on the business and marketing side of nutrition—the dream combination I was looking for!

Seriously though, when do you sleep? How do you keep up with a dual graduate program as well as an on-going, highly successful blog?
Call me type A, but you have to make time management your best friend. The more you practice, the better you get at it—at least that has been the case for me. I try to prioritize things in my schedule. Sleep is extremely important to me, so I make sure I get enough. I write down notes in my planner to remind myself.

Okay, I have to know—what is your all-time favorite restaurant in Chicago?
I get asked this frequently and I wish I had a steady answer, but the spot is always dependent on my mood. The great thing about the Chicago food scene is that you can find anything for any mood you’re in or craving you have. My recent favorite spot has been Left Coast Food + Juice in Lakeview. It has a great menu of fresh and healthy items. I’m also a fan of GT Fish & Oyster, Summer House Santa Monica, and the Three Arts Club Cafe.

Do you prefer salty or sweet?
I prefer savory! I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth.

If you were stranded on an island and only allowed to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
It would be eggs with avocado. I think that makes up a handful of my meals throughout the work week!

All-time favorite nut butter and Greek yogurt brands/flavors...go!
Cashew butter is my all-time favorite. There's a brand called Maisie Jane's that is my number one—the only ingredient is roasted cashews. But I'm also partial to the Whole Foods 365 brand too. As for Greek yogurt, I love the plain skyr from Siggi’s.

What’s your ultimate guilty pleasure or comfort food splurge?
Comfort food to me is a spoonful of cashew butter—or fresh dates dipped in cashew butter.

Was it a tough transition moving from South Carolina? Enduring your first Chicago winter can be traumatic.
It definitely took some time to adjust to the cold weather, but I had so much fun shopping for all the winter gear I never needed in South Carolina. I’ve been told last winter was mild for Chicago, so I think I’ll still be adjusting come this winter!

Now that you have your first year under your belt, what has been your favorite part of the program?
My favorite part of the program is being able to gather insight and learn from my professors and my peers. Everyone brings a completely different background and knowledge, so it’s been incredible to be able to mix the information I’ve learned from the business side and apply it back over to the nutrition side. I love the dynamic nature of the program—there is always new material to learn. It keeps every day interesting!

What are your ultimate career goals?
I have a few. As I mentioned before, I'd like to continue to pursue “Nutrition Happens” and also start my own private nutrition consulting practice. I love the media and marketing aspect of blogging as a way to open up the health and dietetics field to the masses. One area that I’m focused on is bringing awareness of the importance of self-marketing for health professionals. I would love to utilize my business background to form a public relations agency and network for professionals to do so.

So far, would you recommend this program to fellow nutrition students?
Within a year, the program at Dominican has refined skills that I was already applying in real life—to my blog, as an example. It has helped me transition from a student’s perspective to a business owner’s mindset. It’s definitely a tough and busy schedule, but it’s been worth every single minute. The world of dietetics is growing, and having an MBA provides the skills and knowledge to set yourself apart in the field. Combined with the incredible staff of professors, it’s been an overall great experience. I always say that I still can’t believe I'm in my dream program!

Any pieces of advice for the incoming MBA-RD class?
Network, network, network. Your connections can open so many doors for you—especially in a city like Chicago. The internship rotations and the classes you go through at Dominican will give you many opportunities to meet new people, so don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Have a positive attitude and a handful of businesses cards. Be open minded to new experiences and view everything as a learning experience. Take it all in—it's going to fly by!

Blog inspirations:
“Oh She Glows” was one of the first blogs I started following and it inspired me to start my own. She focuses on plant-based recipes, but I loved her approach to health and life overall. Other favorite blogs include “Hummusapien,” “ImmaEatThat,” and “Healthfully Ever After.” They’re all by Registered Dietitians and shows how a nutrition career can take place in communications. Within the Chicago area, I love following “Dietitian Debbie” and “Lake Shore Lady.”

-by Lucy Hancock

Learn more about the MBA/RD program at Dominican University