Ok so I sort of tricked you…this isn’t a memoir and…I’m not a food Nazi, contrary to popular belief. But I wanted to give a little clearer picture of what dietitians do, or at least try to do. We must be a secretive bunch because so many people have such different ideas about what we do. I refer you to the picture below:
I do think there is some truth to all these different perceptions people have of what dietitians do: we try to eat healthy, some enjoy cooking, some work in food service, and unfortunately sometimes our concern for our patients comes across as disapproving 😦 but we like to think we help people with their health even if it seems like we are therapists as opposed to dietitians.
What dietitians don’t do (at least me )
Most of the time when I meet someone for the first time, and they find out what I do, I get one of 3 responses: (1) “Oh! Don’t look at what I’m eating right now!” or (2) “I totally need to go on a diet! Can you write me up a diet plan?” or (3) They randomly start confessing their perceived food transgressions. I don’t really know about other dietitians- but most of the time, at social or business functions where food is being served, I’m not passing judgement on everyone’s plates, pants size or if you have a preventable health condition. No one at these things is paying me to analyze what they eat- so eat, drink and be merry according to your own conscience, and so will I.
Because I often recommending that people eat more fruits and vegetables and eat less processed food and sugars people wrongly assume that I don’t like those foods. While there are some foods that really are not tempting to me- I unfortunately know too much… (like Twinkies or certain fast food establishments) I still enjoy cheesecake and cookies and French fries (I could list more but then I would have to change the title of this post to confessions…which seems off topic). I recommend limiting these delights because I understand that it will help people feel better- not because I want to rob people of happiness and joy. I just think that maybe people can find a different type of happiness and joy in doing things they love, with the people they love, if they give my recommendations a try.
What dietitians actually do (it may surprise you!)
There are many areas dietitians can work in. Since I am technically a clinical dietitian- that is the type of dietitian job I will discuss. I like to think of my job as a less graphic, less violent, and safer form of detective work. I get to look at clues like health histories, food intake, medical diagnosis, lab results, health conditions and try to figure out if it was the candy in the car with stress or the genetics in a toxic environment with a virus! Once we have a picture of the culprits of poor health, I also get to bring them to justice with understanding the enemy (or disease), correcting deficiencies, healthy meal plans, and other healthy lifestyle changes to help people feel better. Who would have thought a dietitian’s job was as exciting as those you watch in Psych or Castle! Seriously though. It is exciting. Nutrition is a new and (sometimes frustratingly) evolving combination of science, human psychology, genetics, and culinary arts.
So I guess in less exciting terms- clinical dietitians gather information from you about how you eat, your medical records and your current issues and symptoms…and then we try and work with you to come up with a plan that will help you achieve whatever your health goals may be. Sometimes this plan includes meal plans, education about your specific health issues, tips, resources and strategies to help you make healthy choices you already know about or recommendations of supplements and specific food choices to provide nutrients your body needs- all the while enjoying your food. Follow up is also a key factor- we want to make sure the plan is working!
One of the biggest issues I come up against is people having too much health information and not knowing what to believe. I get a lot of questions and I ask myself plenty of my own. I LOVE learning about food and nutrition- and I admit that more than one patient has gotten too much information I find interesting. But I also want to be well informed to best help myself and my patients solve the case of bad health. So future posts may be inspired by patient questions, crazy or interesting things that come up in the news or random things I learn and want to know more about and of course share with you. I don’t pretend to know everything or be unbiased. But I’ll try to let you know my bias at the beginning as well as reference things that aren’t just my opinion- I don’t think you should just take my word for it.
I look forward to sharing and learning more about food and nutrition with all of you!