Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Would you go to a self-taught doctor?



My friend sent me a link to this opinion piece: Who is qualified to give nutrition advice? last week. I found myself growing increasingly frustrated as I was reading. One of the biggest frustrations I find working in the field of nutrition is that everyone’s an expert. I get it, we all eat, and many non-nutrition professionals pay attention to what they’re putting in their bodies. Nutrition information is everywhere and it’s not hard to seek out general, and even specific, nutrition facts. However, there are a couple of problems when it comes to receiving nutrition advice.


I don’t mean advice like your aunt telling you how to tweak your lasagna recipe or your friend telling you ways to get your kids to eat their veggies. We all give each other friendly advice like this, regardless of our educational backgrounds. It’s a whole other kettle of fish when you’re paying someone to provide you with a service. I don’t want to say that registered dietitians are the only professionals who are qualified to give nutritional education. But… At this point we are the only regulated nutrition professionals who have accountability. What do I mean by that? We have to register with our provincial regulatory body (in Nova Scotia that’s the Nova Scotia Dietetic Association). As part of our continuing competency program we have to demonstrate ongoing learning and set learning goals for ourselves every year. The NSDA also ensures that we are practicing within our scope of practice (i.e. not performing duties that we’re not properly trained for) and they deal with any complaints about us. We must all hold liability insurance so that if for some reason we’re sued we’re covered. Someone who is “self taught” may know a fair bit about food and nutrition but there is no one to ensure that is actually the case. If they give you inaccurate or unsafe counseling there is no recourse for you to be compensated and for them to be held accountable. If, as dietitians, we cause you harm through our professional practice, we can potentially lose our licences and be barred from providing nutritional counseling.


The other problem with obtaining nutrition information from someone who is self-taught is that you don’t know what they actually know. Yeah, I know that’s a little odd sounding. What I’m saying is, with a registered dietitian, you know that they’ve received specific education. We have to take a number of specific courses such as macro- and micro-nutrients, nutrition through the life-cycle, medical nutrition therapy, organic chemistry, biochemistry, etc. We also have to successfully complete a recognized internship program and then a national exam. Someone who is self-taught would not have had these experiences.


Dietitians also learn about treating people with various disease states and conditions. We can continue on in our education to specialize in things like diabetes management, oncology, pediatrics, weight management, eating disorders, mental illness, and on and on. None of us would dare claim to be experts in every area and we should be able to recognize our limitations and refer on to someone more knowledgeable when a client/patient presents with a problem outside of our realm of expertise. Just as you wouldn’t (I hope!) go to a self-taught medical doctor, dentist, pharmacist, or any other health care professional, why would you go to a self-taught nutritionist when you could go to a professional dietitian?


So… Matt MacDonald… While you may know a lot about nutrition there are a number of reasons why you are not qualified to provide nutrition counselling and why registered dietitians are. By marketing yourself as a nutrition counsellor (or whatever it was you were advertising your services as) you are leading the public to believe that you have a certain level of knowledge and credentials. Perhaps you do know a great deal about nutrition. However, that’s not the issue. The issue is that you are misleading the public and you are potentially putting them at risk.

Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people see food and nutrition from a different perspective and understand that nutrition and health are not necessarily a result of personal choice.

7 thoughts on “Would you go to a self-taught doctor?

  1. I have fewer issues with someone being self-taught than I do with the fact that consumers don’t know the depth of that study. I would be more inclined toward the self-taught if he or she had to pass the equivalent of a CPA or Bar exam. Where I live and I think in most places, you can’t practice public accounting or law even if you pass the exams unless you have the degrees. I couldn’t sell real estate without a broker’s license that requires having worked for another broker. Think about that for a moment. Selling a house requires more rigrous training and certification than passing out medical advice.

    My neighbor has formal training in health and nutrition. Don’t be impressed. He was trained for two weeks from someone of unknown credentials. He is about to set up shop advising people on health and nutrition. He already dispensed unasked for advice to me. At a party. He suggested I take enzymes.

    I understand your frustration but doctors too compete with people whose training is without much, if any scientific rigor. “Holistic” practioners, dispensers of herbs and vitamins and chiropractors to name a few.


  2. I think it also reflects the diminished respect to the profession when organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics partner with junk food companies.


  3. Pingback: Who do you go to for nutrition advice? | News Bites

  4. This is all quite amusing. First, no matter what the subject matter, it’s best to be an informed consumer. Second, the best “nutrition” advice that I have ever received came from a journalist. Yes, Michael Pollan. It changed my life. So, good healthy living advice can come from various sources. Third, while I would not perform surgery on anyone, frequently, upon being an informed consumer, I have made different decisions than those provided by my very intelligent doctors.

    Bottom-line: Take advice from credentialed advisers, however, for important issues, it’s best to be an informed consumer.


  5. Reblogged this on Holistic Geisha's Healing Realm.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s