bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Follow Friday: Dietitians of Canada

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It makes me so happy to see that Dietitians of Canada are taking a more active advocacy role. With the (eventually) upcoming federal election in the fall they’ve called on all federal party leaders to commit to a national strategy to reduce food insecurity and increased access to dietitian services.

If you’re interested in supporting their efforts or want to see the party responses, just click on the link above.


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Step away from the chips, the grocery store RD is watching you

Not my usual uniform, I swear!

Not my usual uniform, I swear!

A couple of weeks ago the Globe and Mail published an article about the role of “nutrition experts” in grocery stores. It caused a bit of an uproar in the dietitian community for a couple of reasons: one, there was some conflation between nutritionists, dietitians, and naturopaths (if you don’t know why that would upset dietitians then you should read this); two, it poorly represented our roles in grocery stores. Following that, a dietitian published a blog in Huff Post in response to the inflammatory article in the Globe. As a dietitian who worked in a grocery store for several years and who was interview for, and quoted in, the original Globe article I feel obligated to add my belated two cents to the fray.

I actually had a really nice interview with Shawna, we covered a number of topics, and I felt like she was “getting” what I was saying. So, I was a little disappointed when I read the article and saw the quotes that she had chosen. Not to mention that I had asked that grocery retailer I worked for not be identified as employees cannot speak as representatives of the company, a normal PR policy, my job was not “retail dietitian”. I was a Wellbeing Counsellor, and as part of the interview I explained the different roles of the Wellbeing Counsellor and the in-store Dietitian. Wellbeing Counsellors essentially manage the Natural Source and Wellbeing Department in one store (ordering, stocking shelves, inventory, checking for out dates, dumping expired milk…). In addition, they are there to assist customers with any food, supplement, or nutrition-related question they might have. They also teach classes, do demos, and perform community outreach. The in-store Dietitian teaches classes, does demos, store tours, community outreach, and one-on-one counselling. They’re not tied to one department and they usually split their time between two stores.

In retrospect, Shawna was trying to push the helicopter parent/food police angle a bit, and I found it odd when she brought up orthorexia. While I agreed that many people are taking healthy eating to a whole new disordered level of “clean” eating, I suggested that dietitians (I’m now talking about those of us in both Wellbeing Counsellor and Dietitian roles) working in grocery stores can actually serve to combat this. I said that the food industry, the media, and society have made healthy eating far more complicated than it has to be. Dietitians in grocery stores can help you to look past the front-of-package label claims to the true nutritional value of a foods. They can help you make healthier, more delicious choices. They’re not there peering into your cart and judging what you’re eating. They’re not there to push products on you. No one ever told me to sell more of X or Y and as a regulated health professional I would never have done any such thing. Yes, obviously, grocery stores hire us to boost sales but it’s not by pushing products, it’s by having value-added service; by showing customers what they can do with chia seeds or by helping them find the product that’s best going to meet their needs.

When I said that comment about how people often think that dietitians only eat salad (and that we don’t, sometimes we eat candy or chips) it seemed to be met with some surprise. Especially when I insisted that I’m not in the minority; that most dietitians I know would say the same thing. That it’s important to eat a variety of foods and to allow yourself to have treats. I actually hate the term clean eating and am still hoping that my #eatdirty hashtag will catch on. If you’re not enjoying your food then you’re doing it wrong.


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Haters gonna hate

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It’s been a while since I lacked blogspiration. But here I am, I’ve scrolled through facebook and twitter for something to get riled up about and I must admit it was slim pickings. Sure, it’s irksome that Pippa Middleton has “secretly” become a nutritionist. Not so much so that I could be bothered to write an entire blog post about it. Mother Jones has moved on from almonds and is now telling us that there will be no more salads because of the drought in California. Yes, I know that this drought is a serious issue and I really feel for the people of Cali. However, for now, my local farmer’s market has got me covered thank you very much. The only thing that really got even the tiniest bit under my skin was a tweet from a doctor saying that nutritionists think they have more information than they actually do. By nutritionists, I’m pretty sure he also meant dietitians, based on the thread. Why thank you doctor, I’m sure that your nutritional expertise far exceeds that of those of us who studied nutrition at university for four years and continue to do so after graduation. Thank you ever so much for the professional support. Obviously we should just give up on this emerging field and let you do all of the nutrition educating.

To be honest, sometimes I do want to give it up. To say “screw it! Let them have their gluten-free charcoal smoothies. See if I care!”. It’s frustrating working in a field where the science is constantly changing and which is incredibly difficult to study at all. In a field that everyone fancies themselves an expert in based on the sole fact that they eat. A field that is constantly being attacked by hacks, journalists, and other healthcare professionals alike. All of them pushing their latest miracle diet. A field in which so few people understand what exactly it is that we do. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and become an electrician. Kids, trades are where the jobs are at. Uni is great and all but a BA is the new high school diploma.

The thing is though, I love food. I love cooking it, eating it, and sharing that love with others. And despite what some may believe, I know quite a bit about it. Just because we don’t know the optimal amount of kale to eat each week doesn’t mean that we don’t know enough to help others improve their health through good nutrition. Healthy eating isn’t complicated, it’s true. It’s not rocket science or neuro-surgery. Yet, somehow, most people don’t seem to be able to manage it anymore. Helping people learn how to improve their diets isn’t just about vitamins and minerals. In fact, it’s not really about them at all. It’s about helping people prioritize their health and food. Getting them into the kitchen. Yes, we can tell you all about the different types of fibre, how to make cheese, the structure of all of the essential amino acids. We know the science behind food. We also know that this isn’t what’s important when helping people to lead healthier lives.


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The bigger problem with the cosy relationship between dietitians and the food industry

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Lots of drama in the dietetic world last week. No, I’m not talking about the wildly popular Dietitians Day. First, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) in the US brokered a facepalm worthy deal with Kraft to have their logo placed on process cheese slices. Dietitians everywhere (myself included) were outraged, certainly not shocked, but definitely outraged. And rightfully so. How are people supposed to take us seriously when an organization claiming to represent thousands of dietitians is promoting process cheese. A product that the majority of us would neither consume nor recommend to clients. On the defensive, AND released a statement (you may need to scroll down a bit to find the post) claiming that the prominent placement of their logo on the process cheese was not indicative of endorsement. Rather, the logo was indicative of Kraft’s support of AND. Right. We all know that doesn’t matter. It’s the perception that matters and everyone perceived the placement of the AND logo as an endorsement of the questionable product. Especially since the initial accompanying pronouncement stated that AND was proud to have their logo appearing on Kraft singles as many children don’t consume enough calcium and vitamin D. AND will be forming a committee to address the concerns of members regarding this deal with Kraft, in MAY. If you agree that this “partnership” is wrong then please take a minute to sign the Change.org petition asking AND to “repeal the seal”.

Hot on the heels of the AND Kraft debacle was the news that a number of dietitians had promoted mini-Coke cans as “healthy snacks”. These dietitians were likely all paid for selling their souls this work, although one of them couldn’t recall if she was paid by Coke or not. Gee, I wish I was making so much money that I could forget whether or not I was paid for something. While I hate to rag on fellow dietitians, it frustrates me to no end to hear of others doing such a disservice to our profession.

Both of these stories exemplify how the relationship between the food industry and dietetics/dietitians undermines our integrity as health professionals. There is a larger problem here. Dietetic organizations need sources of funding that do not come with conflicts of interest. Dietitians need more and better job opportunities. I understand that it’s a tough job market. Believe me, I’m not raking in the dough and I’m only quasi working as a dietitian. However, I would sooner give-up my status as a registered dietitian than to use it to promote questionable food and beverage choices. With the constantly changing science and messages in nutrition it’s hard enough to convince people to trust us. Is it really worth sacrificing our credibility to make a buck?


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Follow Friday: Dietitian services

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Did you know that many employers don’t offer dietitian services as part of their employee health plans? Considering that food and nutrition are vital to good health and productive employees our services should be covered by health plans. If your employer doesn’t cover our services please let them know that you’d like them too!