As a young girl, Bec McDorman wanted to become a veterinarian. In high school, she dreamed of becoming a pilot. In college, she considered becoming a writer.
But it was a health crisis that ultimately led her to Cal Poly Pomona and on the path toward becoming a registered dietitian. Although they initially expressed concerns about her plans, Bec’s parents gave their full support and helped make her goals possible.
“As I became more involved in the world of dietetics and bariatrics, they saw my passion and that I was finally in the field I was meant to be in,” she says. “If they hadn’t been able to help me my first year going back to school, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Born in the Northern California town of Scotts Valley, Bec grew up in Thailand and Malaysia as her father worked for computer technology companies. The family returned to the United States when she was 13.
After high school, the Ladera Ranch resident enrolled at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She initially studied aerospace engineering to prepare for becoming a pilot. She later switched to business administration with a minor in English, hoping to get into publishing. But then an ongoing health crisis came to a head and changed her life.
Bec had struggled with obesity from the age of 14.
“Being obese is not easy. Being the only obese person in your family is painful,” she says. “Being obese since the age of 14 is emotionally stressful, physically damaging and psychologically challenging.”
Julie McDorman believes her daughter’s obesity stemmed from not fitting in with her peers after living overseas for so long.
“Bec was going to be an eighth grader at a public school after nine years of private international schools,” Julie McDorman says. “She was considered a ‘Third Culture Kid’ (a child who grows up outside the parents’ cultures) with no real basis for connection to her public school classmates.”
A Life-Changing Decision
By the time she was 18 and after many unsuccessful attempts to lose weight, Bec decided she wanted to get gastric bypass surgery. It wasn’t a conventional means for a young adult to lose weight, she admits, and many family members and friends tried to talk her out of it.
“I was conflicted, enabling the surgery when I wasn’t sure if it was medically advisable,” says Tom McDorman, Bec’s father.
Julie McDorman also raised concerns.
“I was against it. I saw it as an easy way out and wanted her to realize exactly what the experience would mean for her,” she says. “I told her it was life-altering.”
Bec waited until she was 21, when she was in her final year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and then brought the surgery idea back up. Her parents gave her their support to proceed with the surgery. Although the surgery was successful — she lost 100 pounds — Bec didn’t connect with her dietitian.
“She was very pleasant, polite and tried to be understanding,” Bec says, “but I couldn’t connect with someone who didn’t truly understand what it was like to be addicted to food, to have struggled since adolescence with their weight, and to have gone through surgery that required so much lifestyle adaptation.”
Following Her Dreams
A conversation with a next-door neighbor led her to decide to become a registered dietitian. The path to become a dietitian is arduous: graduate with a bachelor’s degree; complete an accredited dietetics program; finish at least 1,200 hours of supervised practice in a dietetic internship that includes rotations in clinical, community and food service management settings; and pass the national board exam.
Bec decided to quit a job she had taken after graduating from Cal Poly SLO with a business administration degree. She applied to Cal Poly Pomona for the master’s degree program in agriculture with a subplan in food and nutrition, while also entering the College of Agriculture’s dietetics program.
“My parents were not the most excited when I told them I was quitting my job to go back to school,” Bec says. “I believe they were worried that I would come to regret my decisions or that I would change my mind. I knew I would need their support, both financial and emotional.”
Ultimately, both parents accepted their daughter’s decision and supported her.
“Having witnessed the lack of proper nutrition counseling both prior to and post-gastric bypass surgery, I thought Bec’s choice to study dietetics and nutrition was brilliant,” Julie McDorman says. “What better way was there to use her talents for communicating with people and her passion to fill the void for other weight-loss surgery patients?”
Tom McDorman says he believes his daughter will bring a unique perspective to the field, but he hopes it will provide her with an adequate livelihood.
“My only expectation of my children was that they would choose a career which they would enjoy, yet provide a livelihood,” he says. “I have been in roles where I have not been doing what I want or like to do, but have stayed because of the financial penalty to change or leave those roles. Doing so does not create a happy life.”
Bec’s parents helped her with tuition the first year, when she was not eligible for financial aid. They allowed her to live at their Orange County home and save money toward other expenses.
They also supported her efforts to get healthy. Julie McDorman went with her daughter during her first 5K run, and both parents encouraged her as she participated in more 5Ks, mud runs, 10Ks, a sprint triathlon and two half-marathons.
Julie McDorman also accompanied her daughter to hear her speak about her gastric bypass experience.
Meanwhile, Bec was excelling in her graduate studies. She not only earned high grades, but she also held a job in social media marketing, did an internship, got certified as a yoga instructor, led student clubs, and became a teaching assistant in the Nutrition Education and Nutrition Counseling Laboratories.
A Fine Balance
Her ability to balance everything and perform well gained her the College of Agriculture’s Graduate Student Leader of the Year Award. She credited her instructors — particularly Professor Bonny Burns-Whitmore, Assistant Professor Michelle Wien and Lecturer David Edens — for helping her gain confidence.
“The personal touch that the professors provide is unique, and it has made me who I am today,” Bec says. “My professors have had more confidence in me than I have had in myself.”
As a result of her efforts, Bec was placed at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Md., for her dietetic internship.
Although pleased and proud, Tom and Julie McDorman have the normal anxieties that come from having a child move so far away from home.
“I have concerns that she has chosen a large step to be so far away, but such is life,” Tom McDorman says. “We hope she finds her move exciting and fulfilling.”
Julie McDorman says she is excited about her daughter’s future plans.
“I’m also looking forward to hearing of her adventures as she explores news surroundings, makes new friends and continues with her passion,” she says. “I am trusting that she makes good choices and that others will fill the gap.”
Bec is grateful for her parents.
“It is in the little things, such as feeding my cat when I am away,” she says, “to the big things, like helping drive a U-Haul across the country this upcoming summer, that I know that I have their love and support.”