Is the traditional role of dietitians becoming obsolete? I sure hope so.

role of dietitians

I was taught in the traditional way of nutrition- the “eat this, not that” message and the idea that I knew more (and knew better) than my clients. I was told that the role of dietitians is to impart important wisdom onto people (who will be so thankful, smarter and follow it, if I did a good job at advice giving).

The role of dietitians is evolving. Are our messages evolving fast enough to avoid extinction?

However, once I started working, I quickly realized that I didn’t know “better” or “more” than my clients. They may not have nutrition degrees, but they do have life experiences (and access to google) that are equally as important. Learning how to use the nutrition knowledge they lacked (or that was personalized with my help) without trumping their internal knowledge is key to health and happiness (not tired, simple food advice)..

Sadly, I see post after post of “knowledge-based messages” from RDs online every day. Messages that are traditionally used to impart lesser known knowledge to the public who are assumed to be ignorant to this info. Touting the evils of processed foods, or how juice isn’t a “real” serving of fruit are just two examples.

I am worried for my profession because people don’t need more information. Right now, there are more ways to get answers to your questions than ever before- how is it that some people feel that they have to shove information into people’s face to help them change eating habits?

There is no set definition for “healthy”

There is no actual definition of “healthy eating”. I think this is a good thing since “healthy” it means different things to different people. If you have IBS, it could mean eating foods low in fiber to keep gi symptoms a bay. Or if you are recovering from a disordered relationship with food, it could mean granting yourself permission to eat a whole row of cookies.

If someone isn’t eating “right” in your opinion, then chances are you don’t know much about them, don’t understand their reasons for doing so, not to mention that how others eat is none of your business.

Blaming lack of knowledge for people’s “bad eating habits” is very nearsighted.

Whether you are a health professional or not, when making the judgment that someone isn’t eating “healthy”, all this means is that they not eating according to your definition of “healthy”.

If you are a health professional and the person has come to you for advice on how to eat, then yes, this changes things slightly. The invitation to collaborate is already established however, caution must continue to be used when dishing out advice. Understanding a person’s reasons for wanting to change as well as their reasons for their current habits must be explored.

Blaming lack of knowledge for people’s “bad eating habits” is very nearsighted. Chances are you may not be really listening to them and their reasons for their current habits. If you are brushing their struggles aside as “excuses” or believe “if I can do it, anyone can”, I invite you to check your privilege and explore if these sentiments help anyone change.

I would also like to say that there is no one definition of a “healthy person”. Being of healthy mind, body or spirit is different for everyone. Healthy is not the absence of disease, it is far more complex than that.

If you are looking for an empowering and refreshing approach to health and nutrition, intuitive eating has been extremely helpful for anyone looking to have a more peaceful relationship with food.

online mini course on intuitive eating

Stop pushing simple and ineffective nutrition messages. We get it!

The number of people who don’t already know that fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain interesting nutrients is very, very small.

I keep hearing health professionals and the government talk about the hordes of people who just need to be taught about “proper” nutrition in order to make society healthy again (suggesting they will once again become good, productive citizens). Where are these people? It is possible that I am very lucky to work with amazingly smart and insightful people, but I doubt it. I chalk it down to the taught message that health professionals know better than our clients and must make sure to talk at them and give advice to make change happen.

Getting back to the hordes of ignorant people… has anyone asked them why they don’t conform to Health Canada’s definition of healthy eating? My guess is that their definition of “healthy eating” is too narrow.

Repeating these tired messages is perpetuating the idea that it is as simple as buying and eating these foods.

As for the people who don’t already know basic nutrition facts, they are not going to miraculously start following dietitians on social media or log into Health Canada to read about the food guide. If the same old tired knowledge-based messages never resonate with them before, why would they start now?

Repeating these tired messages is perpetuating the idea that it is as simple as buying and eating these foods. It is not. Understanding why people make the choices they do along with acknowledging that a wide variety of food habits leads to health and happiness is needed. Not to mention that food habits have less of an impact on our health than uncontrollable social factors (such as the job you have, where you live and access to medical care).

Intuitive eating has become increasingly popular since the publication of a groundbreaking book over 20 years ago. It has been shown in many studies to be an extremely useful way of approaching food for better overall health and well-being, not to mention its association with healthier dietary intakes. Intuitive eating is far more than eating what you want, when you want. (You can learn more by reading this blog I wrote on the topic.)

Knowing doesn’t magically lead to change.

We have been sold the lie that knowing something will lead to change. If I know that fruits are good for me, I will eat them more often. But we are forgetting 3 very important factors in change that all take place after acquiring knowledge: being ready, willing and able to make a change.

Why people may not be ready, or willing or able to make a so-called healthy change cannot be ignored. As a health professional, this is (in part) where my work lies. Giving advice or sharing knowledge is the easy part of my job and a part that is quickly becoming less relevant.

I also want to point out that no one is obliged to change. This is a tough one for health professionals who are used to “helping others live ‘healthier’ lives”. No one is obligated to follow your narrow definition of healthy living nor are they obligated to try to be healthier.

Let’s get out of the dark ages! And start to change our food messages from shame and blame (just simply eat vegetables or else you will not be healthy! It is easy! Why aren’t you??) to understanding healthy eating is different for everyone, having a “healthy” body   and that there are legitimate barriers to change

Of course, there is still room for knowledge sharing, just not the simple stuff we were taught mattered. What is needed these days is helping clients unlearn the “shame and blame” of past horrible nutrition advice. Sharing knowledge on the psychology of eating that has long been forgotten and ignored in the age of simple, obvious advice giving (ie. vegetables contain interesting nutrients). Let’s let go of the advice focusing on the “what” to make room for the much more helpful exploration of the “why”.

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