By Alex Raymond, RD,LD.
I think most people would agree with the statement, “nutrition is a hot topic.”
Nutrition “advice” (see how I put advice in quotes, that was intentional) is everywhere… on magazines, the TV, Instagram, heard while walking down the street, given to you by Aunt Carol even though you never asked… This “advice” is nearly impossible to escape and it can also be triggering for anyone who is trying to improve their relationship with food. Which let’s be real, the majority of people in our culture do not, unfortunately, have a positive relationship with food. So, I truly, truly respect those who are working through recovery (from an eating disorder, disordered eating, dieting…etc.) because our environment makes it so difficult. Anyways, the fact the nutrition information, or should I say misinformation, is so widely accessible, often does not capture the truth and often paints food in a negative light, frustrates me as a dietitian.
Not only are people who aren’t dietitians doling out advice–you wouldn’t ask Aunt Carol about advice on brain surgery if she isn’t a brain surgeon–but this advice rarely even paints a full picture of what “healthy” actually means.
There are so many different definitions for “health” for different people in different life stages…etc. But that’s a whole other blog. Because of the way nutrition misinformation is often portrayed, I feel like, it also paints a negative view of dietitians. Many people have preconceived notions of what a visit with me will be like. Like I’m the “diet police.” Or that I just help you meal plan. Or that I am an encyclopedia of nutrition facts. So, I wanted to write about the things people may “get wrong” about my job as an anti-diet dietitian. And talk to you more about what I actually do.
1. The diet police.
I will not judge what you eat. I am not here to police your food. When people ask me about my job, they sometimes say “oh so you like tell people what to eat?” And, I simply say, sometimes with an obvious, sometimes not so obvious eye roll, “um no.” If it’s someone I don’t know, I’ll try to be as polite as possible. Friends and family are met with some sass;) Sure, part of my job does often involve discussing meal or snack ideas and what the week may look like in terms of food. I will make recommendations if I feel like increasing a certain food group may help (like fiber and water if someone is experiencing constipation).
But the bulk of what I do is so much more than talking about “what to eat.” Because someone’s relationship with food goes beyond that.
My goal is to help my clients start to trust their bodies’ internal signals to tell them what they need. I help many of my clients relearn how to eat again without judgment, shame or confusion. Diet culture is a tangled web of misinformation that is confusing and misleading. Part of my job, actually a good chunk of it, is working with people to untangle that web. That may include working with my clients to challenge food/diet rules, honor hunger and not judging it, fuel adequately, and learn how to respect their bodies.
2. Weight loss.
Yeah, no. Often times I get asked, “okay, if you’re a dietitian, then you help people lose weight?” I cringe every time someone asks that. It makes me so sad to hear weight loss is the first thing to come to mind. Because that is NOT what I do. It does, however, make sense because size is so entrenched as our culture as something that is important.
I’ve learned over the years that even my friends and family, who often support me in everything I do, find it difficult to hear that weight isn’t a measure of health and the pursuit of weight loss (for everyone, including those in larger bodies!!) is actually the opposite of health and wellbeing. I don’t do weight loss work for a couple of different reasons. 1) I have no guarantee it’s going to “work” and be sustainable. 2) Even if it does “work,” it’s condoning people restricting and using disordered behaviors to get to a body that may not be healthy. 3) Overall, it just goes so far against my values.
Instead, I work with many of my clients to respect the body they’re in at this moment. To be able to advocate for themselves when they go to a doctor’s appointment and comments about weight and size are made. To form habits that benefit overall wellbeing and to bust myths surrounding our culture’s strict view of nutrition.
3. Meal planning
I’m actually not a huge fan of meal planning! I also feel like the cliche “dietitians help you meal plan” minimizes the true importance of working with one of us. Sure, there are some dietitians who enjoy meal planning and that’s totally okay. It’s just not my personal style and not all RDs meal plan with their clients.
I often offer new meal ideas to fit my clients lifestyle. For example, if they find when they get home from school or work, it’s difficult to cook a ~gourmet~ dinner. We may talk about some quick and easy recipes. Like Uncle Ben’s rice, a can of beans and some fruit or veggies. Or calling a restaurant on the way home for delivery. Or a frozen meal. We also might think about some practical ways to make sure my clients are nourishing enough throughout the day. The might include taking a look at the day in its entirety and scheduling time for meals and snacks. And physically writing it down. In addition to the more practical stuff, we often discuss ways to combat the nagging disordered voice that will inevitably pop in throughout the day, especially at meal times..
4. Nutrition facts.
I am not an encyclopedia of nutrition facts. I do not memorize calorie information. Carb count. How much protein something has. To be completely honest, I don’t care. What I do instead is support you in finding ways to listen to your body’s signals. I think once we get to a place off intuitive eating, our bodies will tell us when they need fruit, when they need dessert, when they need meat….etc. For some, if they are in their eating disorder or are just starting to recover from dieting, we have to start out slow. This means me helping them figure out ways they can adequately nourish by eating every few hours with enough foods and a variety of foods. And explaining why you may need to do that even when you’re not hungry. Even when you’re body may feel uncomfortable and anxiety is high. And helping you to figure out how you can make time for meals and get support from friends or family members or coworkers while eating.
5. I LOVE hearing about what you ate yesterday.
This one is more of a sarcastic pet peeve of mine. Often times, when I meet people for the first time, a couple of different things happen. The first is people start asking me “is this food healthy?” “What about this one?” “Is this good for you?” My response is something along the lines of, “sure” or “all foods can be good foods unless you’re allergic to it.” Especially when I don’t feel like explaining my job.
The second thing… People start listing off everything they ate that day or the day before. I’m like, excuse me I’m off the clock, sir. Here’s my card. Hearing about what people eat in a typical day is not something I’m super passionate about.
Now don’t get me wrong. I LOVE hearing about when my clients challenge their eating disorders. Or when my clients try new foods. Or when my clients were able to practice something we talked about in session. That’s super exciting and there is a sense of pride that washes over. I love being in the passenger’s seat on my clients’ recovery journeys.
To wrap it up…
When you hear “dietitian”, you might immediately think about a health care professional that’s going to judge what you eat and encourage you to eat salads over donuts. And its totally fair that you might think this, there are lots of misconceptions about what I do. But, the truth is, a dietitian, and especially a non-diet dietitian, is a great resource to help you learn how to best nourish, respect, and love your body. I want you to have an enjoyable relationship with food. I want you to embrace a lifestyle where all foods fit, whether that food is a salad, a donut, some pizza, an apple, pasta, or whatever meals and snacks you enjoy eating and want to eat.
If you’re interested in meeting with a dietitian after reading this post, please contact us! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and we can set up a time to talk!