National Nutrition Month is in full swing and while it may seem dorky, I’m feeling more passionate than ever to do the work that I do. I truly enjoy helping people live their healthiest and happiest lives, although my approach and philosophy have definitely changed over the years. Alexis from Hummusapien recently shared an amazing blog post on the need to change our approach as dietitians. It resonated with me so much and I definitely feel that the tide is turning in terms of how we work with clients and represent ourselves in social media.
Being a dietitian is rewarding, exciting and fun, but sometimes it is just plain hard. I can’t think of another occupation where the professional and personal lines can get so blurred. It’s not as simple as being a dietitian by day, then turning it all off on evenings and weekends, especially for those in the entrepreneurial and social media world. Diet culture exists all around us and food is such a big part of most social experiences, so even when we’re not “working”, the messages are everywhere.
For dietitians who can relate…Hi, I see you out there doing your thing and making a difference through the struggle. Keep on keeping on! And for my readers who aren’t dietitians or may find yourself chatting up an RD at a family or social function, I hope this offers you a little insight. Here are some everyday #dietitianproblems:
It’s hard to explain exactly what it is that we do.
Every dietitian has their own opinions and philosophy on nutrition and a unique approach to working with clients. Just because the word “diet” is in our title does not mean we are going to put you on one. We’re also not interested in giving you a “meal plan”. I think the days of dietitians calorie counting and monitoring whether you were “good” or “bad” are numbered. THANK GOODNESS. But in the public eye, that expectation still hangs around and is confusing to our potential clients. As Kelly, my RD pal from Eat Real Live Well, puts it:
“Too much of my time is spent explaining why I don’t recommend meal plans, whether to the potential clients and clients themselves, or to their trainers and coaches. With sports nutrition, active individuals and athletes think one of two things. Some think they need and expect an overly detailed meal plan from me and are shocked when I say that’s not what I do. Others don’t want to meet with me because they assume a strict plan is what I’ll give them, and they don’t want it.”
There are a lot of (unrealistic) expectations
I personally have struggled a lot with not fitting the stereotypical “look” of a dietitian. There is a “joke” surrounding the idea that no one would want to work with a “fat” dietitian and I totally fell victim to self-doubt with that. Who am I to provide nutrition advice if I don’t weigh xxx number of pounds? Can I really be a good dietitian if I enjoy ice cream and cookies? My response to those negative thoughts now is: I’m someone who worked really hard for my degree in nutrition. I completed an intense internship program, gained a lot of experience in the field and have had a lot of success with my clients. I’m actually a better dietitian because I enjoy ice cream and cookies.
The Health at Every Size movement is finally gaining some momentum (yay!), but there are still misconceptions that people (and definitely dietitians) have to fit certain standards of health and beauty to be considered credible or worthy.
Some great insight from my Real Talk RD friend Heather Caplan:
“It feels like both clients and consumers expect dietitians to have and maintain an ideal body type—thin and toned, glowing skin, etc. There’s no room in this public expectation for the Health at Every Size mentality. Rather, if we don’t fit the “mold” we stand to lose all credibility.”
There is also an expectation that we eat healthy 100% of the time. Or maybe the expectation that healthy means never having desserts, “junk” food or anything that is not a vegetable. I love how Jess puts it:
“Yes, I’m a Registered Dietitian, yes I eat a healthy diet, yes I enjoy healthy food, but that does not mean my diet is perfect or that I only eat healthy foods. I enjoy ice cream and dessert as much as the next person (if not more). I would never completely deprive myself of the foods I love and enjoy and I would never tell anyone else to do that.”
we aren’t YOUr dietitian (unless you’re paying us to be)
Besides the fact that I’m naturally an introvert, I absolutely dread being asked what I do for a living. Even now I’m cringing thinking about some of the interactions I’ve had. When someone asks about my job and I say I’m a dietitian, the responses look something like this:
“Oh, I could really use your help.”
“I should totally have you put me on a meal plan.”
“Oh, please don’t look at what I’m eating!”
“Can you help me lose xxx pounds?”
“I’ve heard that gluten/dairy/sugar/etc is bad. I should stop eating it, right?”
It’s just so awkward. If I said I was a dentist, would you ask me to quickly check out your teeth? No! I don’t care what you’re eating, I don’t want your commentary on what I’m eating and unless you’re paying me, I don’t really even want to talk about nutrition. This isn’t to say I don’t want to help or give advice, but it is next to impossible for me to answer any questions without having a better understanding of you as a person. I don’t know your lifestyle, your food preferences, your history with dieting, your exercise routine or your goals/motivations. I’d love to know all of those things and help you reach your goals–but it’s how I make a living, so unless we’re working together, I’m not your dietitian.
We spend a lot of time debunking nonsense
Instead of spending valuable time and energy learning about the research, tools and techniques that might actually benefit clients, a lot of time is spent looking into and debunking the latest nonsense diet or trendy food on the market. Most of us dietitians wish we could just roll our eyes and get back to work when we see or hear about people slurping down apple cider vinegar for weight loss, but instead we have to put together articles, posts and quotes for the media about why it doesn’t stand up to the science. I get really fired up about companies and products that offer quick fixes and take advantage of people who are desperate to find true health. Sometimes it feels like we’re fighting a losing battle with diet culture when what we really want to focus on is providing clients the guidance and support they truly need.
sometimes we care too much
It’s hard not to get worked up about the nonsense I mentioned above or frustrated by the people we see struggling and not getting the help that they need. I usually roll my eyes when someone tells me about their sugar detox or juice cleanse, but the truth is I feel angry and sad about it. It’s a constant practice to remind myself that everyone is on their own journey and I can’t help anyone who isn’t asking for my help.
All that said, I am extremely excited about the work that I do and proud of the dietitians I work with in this field…even more so as I move toward a more intuitive eating and body positive approach. To find more dietitians blogging during National Nutrition Month, check out this blogroll and don’t forget to click through my roundup from fellow non-diet RDs in celebration of RDN Day.