Someone yesterday asked what I did, “I’m a dietitian,” I replied. In response to the confused look on their face I went on to elaborate; “I work in nutrition” I said, and this they understood.
This is not the first, nor I expect, the last time I’ve had to explain what a dietitian is. But what was said next is what inspired me to write this post, “I can’t imagine you’re very busy here in Brussels” and then, after pausing for reconsideration, “well, I guess there are a lot of Americans!”
Don’t even get my started on what annoyed me about this reply! Firstly, this is a prime example of weight stigma, and secondly this person was assuming that as I dietitian I only work with people in larger bodies. Every country across the world has people who are different sizes and shapes. Obesity is a global issue, and not one that is just restricted to industrialised countries either. Anyway, I digress…this is a topic for a whole other blog post!
The purpose of this post was to highlight what dietitians do (and don’t do), in the hope that one day dietitians everywhere can reply “I’m a dietitian” and get the same smile and nod that people get when they reply “I’m a nurse” or “I’m a website designer.” (Well…a girl can dream!)
1. We are not the food police
Contrary to popular belief, we will not lock you up and throw away the key if you tell us you have pizza once a week. Nor will you find us chasing our clients, or friends for that matter, away from the chippy/friteur waving a carrot! I have not yet met one dietitian who has told anyone that they can never have chocolate or ice cream again. Luckily for you, our four years of training includes all of that ‘moderation‘ stuff, in fact, we’re pretty good at it! So visit a dietitian and you can expect an empathetic, understanding professional who is hoping to help you.
2. We will not jump on the latest nutritional bandwagon
As dietitians, we are bound by a code of conduct. Dietitians all over the world are governed by different authority boards to ensure that the advice we give is based on robust evidence. This means that our advice isn’t just based on one study released by the college of natural living whose head-office is in a 1970’s portacabin in Nova Scotia! We check the quality of the evidence, duration of the study, sample size, conflicts of interest, where it was published and if other studies have found the same thing. The media may decide that 4 pomegranates a day is going to save your life, but chances are we won’t be recommending that you live on pomegranates until we’ve seen the evidence behind the claim.
3. We work hard to UNCOMPLICATE healthy living
It’s confusing. There’s lots of conflicting advice and the latest FAD seems to change on a weekly basis. Most of the time dietitians won’t talk nutrients unless there’s a need. We tend to look at the bigger picture and work on the basis that a balanced, varied diet should include all of the vital minerals and vitamins. We’re able to assess someones diet and conclude what they may not be getting enough of, but we’re likely to advise changes in terms of whole foods, not individual nutrients. Of course, there are exceptions if someone has specific symptoms or a deficiency, but generally it’s far less complicated if you think “I should include more fruit and vegetables today” as oppose to “I must increase my magnesium intake.”
4. We don’t just tell people to eat less
I know…amazing, right? Dietitians = diet. Urr, wrong! Firstly, to us, ‘diet’ is all we eat, not a short-term restriction (see my philosophy on diet for more on that). Secondly, we don’t just see people who want to lose weight. Actually, we see quite a lot of people who are struggling to gain weight! You’ll also find us helping people navigate their way round diets associated with allergies, breast-feeding, digestive problems, respiratory diseases…and by no means is that an exhaustive list. Thirdly, even those people we see who do want to lose weight, it’s not like we just sit and regurgitate what we said to the last guy! Every person is unique, that means different lifestyle changes, different goals, different needs, and therefore, often an entirely different and individual focus.
5. We eat cake
If it’s Sarah’s birthday, chances are we’re not going to say no to her mum’s renowned double chocolate sponge. If it’s a glorious sunny afternoon, you can betcha’ I’d fancy a lovely refreshing beer sat by the lake. WE.ARE.HUMAN.TOO.
I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said “oh, I bet you NEVER eat that” …Yawn. I’m a dietitian, a foodie. I love food. It’s one of the reasons I do what I do. Plus, I strongly believe that mental health is just as important as physical health, and if I deprived myself of chocolate every time I wanted some I’d probably not be a very nice person to be around. We just know that we can’t be indulging like that all the time.
6. We do not spend all day in the gym
Generally speaking, we’re actually quite busy people! Whilst we understand the importance of daily exercise, we also know what can happen if we push our bodies too far. Dietitians are not a breed. We are not all born with a stomach like Jessica Ennis and arms like Jennifer Aniston. And, as far as I know, being a certain size or shape isn’t a requirement on any Dietitian application form.
We are happy in the knowledge that what we eat and how we exercise is a balanced mixture of what’s good for the body, and what’s good for the soul.
World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/obesity/en/
British Dietetic Association (BDA): https://www.bda.uk.com/
BDA: “what do dietitians do?”: https://www.bda.uk.com/improvinghealth/yourhealth/dietitians
European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians: http://www.efad.org/everyone