Doctoral candidate manages fitness at Baptist HealthPlex in Oxford

If you love chocolate chip cookies, lemon meringue pie, and New York style cheesecake, Oxford's Melinda Wells Valliant may be someone you need to meet.

"Everything in moderation," encourages Valliant, operations manager of Baptist HealthPlex in Oxford since its opening in 2000. "No food is off limits. But some foods - especially sweets - must be limited."

Unlike fitness guru Susan Powter, Valliant won't yell "stop the insanity," although her degrees in nutrition and exercise science from The University of Mississippi qualify her to help others through the sometimes maddening process of developing a balanced dietary and exercise regime.

After earning a bachelor's degree in nutrition form UM in 1988 and interning at Oxford-Lafayette Medical Center (now Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi), Valliant spent the early part of her career counseling heart patients about proper nutrition.



"Working as a student dietitian at Baptist provided that first glance at the real world of health care," she said. "I've been hooked ever since and really enjoy counseling patients, especially those who've recently undergone serious surgery.

At Baptist HealthPlex, Valliant said she still counsels patients bout proper nutrition, but mainly focuses on encouraging and improving fitness habits needed to improve medical conditions.

"Baptist HealthPlex offers a social environment where patients and those simply interested in the benefits of exercise can receive one-on-one expert fitness counseling," she said. "We serve mostly older members of the Oxford community and have counseled patients who have undergone bypass surgery as well as patients with diabetes and heart disease."

Although working as a fitness coordinator was not on her mind at first, Valliant said she is pleased to serve the Oxford community in this capacity.




"When I graduated I simply assumed all dietitians worked at hospitals, so that's what I did. I spent more than 10 years counseling hospital patients on proper eating habits.

"It was an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but now I know dietitians have the option of working in many different areas, including nursing, fitness centers, emergency care, pharmacy, and research."

Valliant who works with UM graduate assistants and undergraduate interns at Baptist HealthPlex, said she often encourages students to find something they really like to do.

"It's not about finding the right job, it's about finding a career you're happy to do every day," she said.

In close consultation with physicians and staff at the Heart Care Center, clinically educated instructors at Baptist HealthPlex offer a wide variety of advanced cardiovascular and weight training, and classes for health-related conditions. Aerobic classes, cardiac rehabilitation, fitness assessment, exercise prescriptions, and dietary counseling are among the services offered to the more than 1,200 members. The HealthPlex and Heart Care Center are divisions of Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi.

Valliant, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Health, Exercise Science, and Recreation Management earned a Master of Science in exercise science from UM in 1997. A member of the Mississippi Board of Dietetics Association and American College of Sports Medicine, she resides in Oxford with her husband, Stephen, and 14 year old son, Marty.

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From left: Melinda Wells Valliant, Misti Dossett, G.R. Orndorff, and Eddie Mounce of Baptist HealthPlex.