The word “dietitian” is a bit misleading.
I have discovered this after experiencing many uncomfortable situations when what I study is brought up around others, specifically when food is involved. My husband, Tom, and I will be out to dinner with new people and once they find out I am studying to become a dietitian, they instantly say something along the lines of, “Oh, well don’t look at what I order!” or “I usually don’t eat like this, it’s just tonight.” Some people are embarrassed, and others seem almost defensive.
I have found that most people initially think of the root of the word, “diet”. Many people think what I hope to do for a living is to put people on diets, which I hope to never do, at least in the current understanding of the word. I look forward to helping people figure out their relationship with food, experience their healthiest self (in an more holistic way), and educate others about the world of food and nutrition. Some of that may involve putting others on diets, specifically if someone has, for example, Celiac’s or Crohn’s disease where eliminating certain foods from one’s diet is necessary for survival. But in our current society, the word “diet” denotes weight loss and is usually based on physical appearance and not at all on the overall health of the individual, no matter what size. Diets usually involve restrictions and are met with a grim determination. When someone is on a “diet”, unhappiness, cravings, and anxiety prevail. That idea is the opposite of what I hope to be involved with. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’ve got great news! I am on a diet and I am pumped about it!”? Maybe you have heard that but I certainly haven’t…
Food is there to help us feel and function a certain way, not only look a certain way.
So when out to eat with new people and they say something like, “Oh man, please don’t judge me for ordering these tots,” I just want to tell them that I am not at all looking at what they are ordering. We aren’t in the business to be the food police. I seriously care 0% about what they are currently eating. My goal isn’t to walk around judging everyone’s food choices and silently critiquing why they aren’t a different size. And most dietitians I talk to agree with me.
We aren’t in the business to be the food police.
I stumbled across my favorite definition of what a dietitian does while reading a well-respected dietitian’s blog, named Melissa Dobbins. Her website is called Sound Bites RD and she does a great job of spreading the word about nutrition. In one of her blog posts she states,
I also want to shout from the top of every mountain that dietitians are not the “food police”! We are more like coaches than referees! So if you need nutrition guidance, a dietitian is the key ingredient in your recipe for success.
I love that because it focuses on the positive, not the negative. A good dietitian won’t tell you everything you are doing wrong and then force you to adhere to his or her beliefs. A good dietitian will listen to your goals with food and nutrition and then help you to get there working within your preferences and values. They will inform you of the latest food and nutrition research and will be a buffer between you and everyone else getting in your way of making your best food decisions (marketers, the media, pharmaceutical industry, celebrities, the TeenVogue magazine cover at the grocery store check-out line, etc).
If you are unhappy about your current relationship with food, dietitians can help you get to a better place, but they cannot (and do not want to) force change on someone who is not ready or willing to make those changes. If a person is happy about where they are at, then I could care less about their food choices. It is not my place to judge others for their choices; it is only my place to be there when they request help.
So keep these things in mind when you are talking to a dietitian at a fun dinner out! The last thing they are doing is judging your food choices. Also, as a warning, most dietitians became RD’s because they are food-nerds. If you ask them a question about food or nutrition, be prepared for the discussion to go on probably longer than you were anticipating…I’d make sure you have another drink ordered before you bring up the subject of gluten.