A Dietitian’s Response to the CrossFit Journal

 

CrossFit is well known for having a long list of “haters”. After a blog post put out by the CrossFit Journal this week, you can likely add a lot more Registered Dietitians to that list. As a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer who does “drink the CrossFit koolaid” so to speak, at least as it relates to the functional fitness model, I’m here to share my thoughts on this blog post bashing my profession.

Credit: @hai_intensity

This CrossFit Journal piece is very much an attack on the nutrition policy and governmental nutrition recommendations, as well as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the governing body of Registered Dietitians. For those outside the field of nutrition and dietetics (such as the author), it may be surprising to know that a large percentage of us RDs also disagree with many of the positions of the AND. In fact, there are very few dietitians I know who fully support the dietary guidelines or agree with recommendations like MyPlate.  I personally continue to debate whether I want to remain a member of the Academy and I wholeheartedly agree that we have a long way to go when it comes to systematic reform. Flaws exist on many levels—the undergraduate programs in nutrition, dietetic internship, the RD exam itself and of course, continuing education for practicing RDs.

But things are changing in our field, however slowly. The good news is that, like most CrossFit affiliates, dietitians have the autonomy to practice in different ways within our scope of practice after completing the standardized education and training. We have to adhere to a code of ethics indicating that we will not and cannot practice outside of our scope. Unless we have a dual licensure or certification (such as a personal trainer credential), we literally cannot speak to fitness or training programs. Instead, we must refer out to the experts in those areas. Compare that with how CrossFit founders, coaches and trainers practice.

Before I get any further in, I want to be clear that A) I respect the author’s credentials, background and experience as it relates to fitness and CrossFit  and B) I don’t believe he is incorrect in calling out some of the concerns within the AND. That being said, I still have plenty of bones to pick with his post and feel it’s absolutely unacceptable to state that trainers are better qualified than RDs to provide nutrition education. I also understand that this is a highly controversial discussion, so while I encourage feedback and welcome arguments, I ask that it be respectful and professional. For the sake of organization, I’ve pulled out a few specific quotes to share my thoughts on each. Let’s do it!

“The group purposefully extends its advice beyond the clinical, extrapolating it to the general public and to people who exercise.”

The author’s argument here is that dietitians who focus more on clinical nutrition and may have little to no education in fitness or exercise should not be providing recommendations for “healthy” populations in the fitness realm. Sure, there are many RDs who practice in clinical settings using Medical Nutrition Therapy and I would wholeheartedly agree that those dietitians are not the ones who should be speaking to nutrition as it relates to athletes (of most any level).  Just like you wouldn’t go to a CrossFit gym or listen to a trainer with no functional fitness experience, don’t go to a dietitian who works solely with diabetes or kidney disease when you’re looking for sports nutrition advice.

Assuming that all Registered Dietitians only work in or focus on clinical therapeutic nutrition is incorrect and uneducated about the field. No, not all Registered Dietitians are qualified to speak to nutrition as it relates to sports performance and fitness. Just like physicians, many Registered Dietitians specialize in areas of treatment and counseling, sports nutrition being one of them.  I asked my friend and colleague Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD to weigh in on this as well.  Kelly herself has experience as a CSSD, a graduate degree in exercise nutrition and teaches sports nutrition at the college level. She also consults for a large fitness club and has written programming for several other fitness facilities, too. In fact, there are almost 1000 RDs with an additional CSSD credential (Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) and plenty of us working toward that credential by logging hours working with sports nutrition under mentors. The Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) dietetic practice group  also has over 7,000 members. Kelly notes that “SCAN regularly collaborates with not only the NCAA to create educational materials for division I athletes, but has also built a partnership with NATA and has begun forging a partnership with NSCA.” I’d advise trainers to seek out RDs with these additional certifications as well as ones focused on fitness and exercise such as CPT or CSCS.

“But if we consider one single indicator—obesity—it is quite clear the dietetic initiatives that have been in play for the past few decades have not made any progress in reducing or preventing obesity.”

To this I ask: what qualified health professional is declaring health, or lack thereof, based on one single indicator, especially if that indicator is obesity? A discussion of the “obesity epidemic” could be an entire post on its own, so I won’t dive too deep here, but long story short, obesity (or BMI as an indicator) is not a valid measurement of health. I would encourage readers to dive into the research on Health at Every Size and how the research that drives this “war on obesity” is heavily influenced by pharmaceutical companies and the weight loss industry. Again, my post today is not about fighting the obesity argument, but I think I’d be remiss not to mention this. More resources and information can be found here. Further, let’s be clear that no one owes anyone else their health. There is certainly a crusade out there, especially in the fitness realm, to “save” people from their fatness or this “obesity epidemic”. 

“Principles for treating disease are not the same principles for improving fitness in healthy populations.”

100% agreed and see above arguments for seeking out a Registered Dietitians specializing in whatever the need may be.

“General information about eating for basic health and to support fitness can and should be part of the services provided by trainers and coaches.”

I’m not sure how this is even an argument IF the trainer or coach is in no way trained or qualified to do so. The author goes on to say “about two-thirds of personal trainers have received some form of nutritional education as part of their training, but some suggest preparatory education is not enough, and membership, certification and licensure are touted as better.” Of course a minimum of a 4-year college degree, followed by a 12-18 month long supervised internship program and comprehensive exam are “better” than the a few chapters in a Certified Personal Trainer workbook that talk about nutrition. Is this even a question? Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, adds that “RDs aren’t here to say ‘only eat these foods and you’ll get better.’ Our education also involves psychology and behavior change so that we can meet each individual where they are in order to help them recognize certain behaviors and reframe them into positive habits that benefit them both physically and mentally.”

If we are talking about CrossFit specifically, the requirement to become a Level 1 trainer is simply the completion of a weekend long course. The requirements to become a CrossFit affiliate is that an owner is at least a Level 1 CrossFit trainer and pays an annual fee of $1000. After that, there is little to no oversight from the CrossFit brand, meaning that many trainers and affiliates may be teaching poor mechanics and the original “message” of CrossFit as a brand is not adequately implemented as it may have been intended. I raise this point to support the fact that no, that type of “prepatory education” is not enough.

“For the fitness industry, it’s key that trainers and coaches who provide nutritional information supply accurate, complete and implementable advice.”

NOPE. Trainers and coaches should not be the ones providing nutritional information, if they are in no way qualified to do so, plain and simple. We know that many either make nutrition recommendations freely to their clientele (a la Greg Glassman’s nutrition advice) or bring in a “nutrition coach” who may only have personal anecdotal experience or what I call a “weekend warrior” certification.  I would love to ask the author how they would feel about non-fitness professionals giving out fitness and exercise advice. What would make someone qualified to do so? Doing research on it until they are certain? What would make someone capable of analyzing the research? Keep in mind that Registered Dietitians are required to take courses in analyzing research studies.

It’s important to call out something that isn’t being considered in the argument of trainers providing nutrition advice. The quality of recommendations is surely of concern, but what about the potential for doing harm? What do we mean when we talk about nutrition advice for health? The best RDs I know are considering mental, psychological and emotional aspects of health when making their recommendations. There are extremely high risks for disordered eating and orthorexic tendencies in the fitness space and often times, strict meal plans and fear-based recommendations bring those on or make them worse.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So as the author asks…”where should the general public get information about nutrition and eating habits?” I argue that regardless of the failures and struggles of our governing body, the answer is and will continue to be Registered Dietitians. Policy change takes time and there will always be “bad information” out there, as there is in any field, including fitness and CrossFit. What if fitness professionals worked WITH us rather than against us in this space? I’d encourage all gym owners and trainers to reach out and speak with Registered Dietitians and learn about their work, their philosophies and approaches to nutrition coaching/counseling. View Registered Dietitians as friends, rather than enemies, because together we truly can have a lasting impact on the health and habits of our mutual clients.

RDs, trainers, CrossFitters…I’d love your input on this! Share in the comments below, but I do ask that we all be kind and respectful. 🙂

 

 

An Apology

An Apology

I’m back! It’s been over 4 months since I last shared here and I have to say I’m so thankful for that break.  I appreciate y’all sticking with me during my blogging silence, but can’t wait to get back to sharing, ranting and creating conversation in this space.  In my time off from blogging, I’ve done a lot of growing, learning and reading. I immersed myself in ANTI-DIET culture and am now a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor.  In the coming months, you’ll be seeing a lot more on Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size here, but today I want to start with an apology.  I’m sorry for the things I’ve said, done and recommended when I myself was caught up in diet culture.  You see…dietitians aren’t immune to some of the influences of the media and popular culture. Our education and experience as “nutrition experts” was supposed to empower us to help others, but too often I think it functions to fuel diet rules and restrictions. 

Looking back, I cringe thinking about how many times I told people to ask for a to-go box immediately upon ordering at a restaurant, sending the message that they should ignore hunger and fullness cues and only eat half a meal.  I can’t tell you how many times I suggested someone brush their teeth right after dinner to avoid sweets or eating more. Eek. Worst of all, I would recommend clients pass up the warm bread baskets at restaurants! Do you know how delicious fresh bread (with butter) is?!

But when you know better, you do better. And now I know not only that diets don’t work but that there is another way, so I want to spread that message.  I want consumers to recognize (and truly believe) that the diets are failing them, not the other way around. I want other dietitians to be willing and open to look beyond their training and become non-diet, weight-inclusive practitioners. So here I am, spreading the word and apologizing for not getting on board sooner.

If you’ve seen the words “anti-diet”  and thought, what the heck is that?, you’re not alone. As a dietitian, it’s a given that we prescribe diets–right? WRONG.

The first (though not necessarily most important) principle of Intuitive Eating is Rejecting the Diet Mentality. For many of us, dieting has simply become a way of life and it’s tough to remember what it’s like to NOT focus on weight management or controlling our food intake in one way or another. It does seem as though the tide is shifting and people are starting to recognize that diets simply don’t work. However, diet culture is still flourishing, especially with companies maneuvering around the term “diet” and re-branding their programs as sustainable, “lifestyle changes”.

If you’ve gotten to the point of being frustrated, angry, annoyed or just plain sick of diet culture, welcome to the club! Learning to tune into your body and rediscover true health is not easy. It’s not a simple switch. But it’s possible. Here are my top 3 tips for ditching diet culture and getting started on your intuitive eating journey:

  1. Unfollow and stop supporting people who are engaging in or pushing diet culture. Their messages are what normalizes dieting and tricks you into believing you should be on a diet.  Some telltale signs to look for: before-and-after photos and posts about Whole 30/Shakeology/Macro Counting, etc. As soon as I see one of these things in my social media feeds, I hit unfollow! 
  2. Do not engage in conversations that involve negative body talk, fat phobia, food shaming, etc. You may even have become immune to these types of conversations by now, but try to start paying closer attention…The woman at work who is talking about how “fat” she feels after missing a few days at the gym, your friend you’re out to dinner with who says she is going to be “good” and only order a salad. You don’t need to “correct” these comments/statements, as the person may not be ready to hear it, but you can choose not to engage.
  3. Let go of judgement. In order to change a thought or behavior, we must first be aware of it, so noticing your tendencies to lean into diet culture or participate in the above conversations is key. Pay close attention, but be gentle with yourself–no need to judge, belittle or beat yourself up.

Ready to work on this? I’m here to help and so are lots of other anti-diet dietitians. Check out my resources page for a few of my fave fellow IE/HAES dietitian friends.

RD Real Talk Round Table

Also, if you happen to be an RD, Dietetic Intern or nutrition student who wants to learn more about the Anti-Diet Approach, don’t miss the first RD Real Talk Round Table event (affiliate link), hosted by Heather Caplan.  I’m honored to be participating, along with Christy Harrison, Anne Mauney and Robyn Nohling. You can sign up to attend a live discussion or purchase the recording and listen in later. Early Bird Pricing ends TOMORROW, so register now!