Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

What does a dietitian do?

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As a dietitian I feel like I’m constantly shouting into a void. I can repeat myself a hundred times and then a (white male) doctor says the same thing and suddenly it’s all over my twitter feed or the news. And while of course I’m always glad for people to be receiving credible nutrition information there’s a huge part of me that resents the fact that I feel like I don’t get any respect. Is it because dietetics is such a female dominated profession? Is it because people think that all we do is tell people what to eat and run around slapping hotdogs out of their hands? Is it because there is often a lack of consensus when it comes to nutrition and there’s a lot of vocal charlatans profiting from selling people extreme ideas and diets? Maybe all of these. I do know one thing and it’s that nearly everyone thinks that they know all about nutrition simply because they eat and they like to share that “expertise” with others (usually unsolicited) in person, on social media, or by lecturing dietitians in the comments on their blogs.

I would never be so presumptuous as to refer to myself as an expert. While I think that my four years of studying nutrition at university and the nearly seven years (where does the time go??) of self-study since then do give me an edge-up on the average individual, I know that there’s loads more that I don’t know and loads more to be discovered. Unfortunately, those who know the least tend to be the most vocal and the most certain. You only have to check-out any self-styled wellness guru to see this in full effect. There’s also the weird assumption that many people have that doctors (and scientists) are experts in all areas, including nutrition. Most doctors are not and those who are have become so in spite of their standard education, not because of it. Nutrition is not standard education for doctors. Scientists also  have fields of study and just because someone is an astrophysicist does not mean they know the first thing about human nutrition. Any doctor or scientist worth his or her salt will be aware of the limits to their own knowledge and adhere to their scope of practice, deferring to those in other areas of study as applicable.

If this lack of respect for dietitians comes from a lack of awareness of what we do, perhaps I can help with that. Even though the dominant view of dietitians is that we counsel people on food, nutrition, and diet, that’s only one of many different avenues that we can take. Also, those who work in clinical nutrition may focus on very different areas from pediatrics to diabetes to eating disorders to cardiac rehab, etc. Dietitians working in private practice also counsel people for a wide range of nutritional concerns and some may specialize in specific topics as well; for example, one dietitian might only work with athletes while another might only work with clients looking to manage their weight. Many dietitians work with the food industry in various roles ranging from spokespeople to product development and nutrient analysis. There are dietitians who work in grocery stores helping customers to make healthy choices, try new foods and recipes, and boosting store sales. There are also dietitians who work in various aspects of nutrition research. Others of us work in public health and in the government with the goal of improving the health of the population. Rather than working with individuals we try to improve health and nutrition through policy and large-scale initiatives. Many dietitians work in longterm care; some in administrative roles with food services and some in a clinical capacity helping residents meet their dietary needs (and wants). Some dietitians work in the community with organizations such as community health teams providing counselling and classes for clients. Some dietitians provide food skills education for clients through nutrition-focused cooking classes. Yet other dietitians work with sports teams to ensure optimal health and performance of all the athletes. And the list goes on. If you’re a dietitian reading this and I missed your area of employment please feel free to share in the comments!

My point being that we all have a strong knowledge of nutrition but we all do different things with that knowledge. We don’t just tell people what to eat (in fact, most of us don’t) and while we can tell you what’s “good for you” in spinach that’s not the real focus of what we do – unless you’re a dietitian with the spinach growers association ;) We are all trying to help people make healthier choices (directly or indirectly) in our own ways.

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

27 thoughts on “What does a dietitian do?

  1. Imo most people just don’t understand how complex dietetics actually is and think 10 minutes on Google will give them enough practically-applicable knowledge. They also underestimate just how much misinformation and outright lies there are about nutrition. Neither do they understand that someone having a doctorate does not make them an omniscient expert on everything outside their narrow field of study.
    All these combined and people would see dietitians as irrelevant, and they won’t change that opinion by themselves. I mean, your blog is great but it’s quite the small platform and it’s hard to find without stumbling upon it randomly. Maybe you should start a YouTube channel 😉 ?
    Also, gender certainly has nothing to do with it. I consider myself generally against feminism and I certainly won’t take someone’s (uncited) advice just cuz they happen to be a man. In fact it’s about the most stupid thing I could think of doing.

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    • Generally against feminism? So you’re against women being socially, politically, and economically equal to men? Because that’s the definition of feminism.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this post!
    From, @NoNutritionFear

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  3. Hello.. @Diana very well written..love d post👍 best line “There’s also the weird assumption that many people have that doctors (and scientists) are experts in all areas, including nutrition. ”
    Being Clinical Dietitian I know how it is…yes well all have different fields of work and just want our patients to know whats right for them…thanks for d taking step to write it….#happyliving

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on NutriBlessed and commented:
    Scrolling down through newsfeed and got this fantastic post written by Diana…
    In my thought it is the time world should change and be aware of what the field nutrition is and what major roles of Dietitian in this…
    (😉we are not the people saying you to Eat less #diet as u all think) we are professionals who have spent there whole college life studying about Nutrition & expertise in dealing with patients queries and myth and educating them about what is healthy eating and living happy…
    We don’t force them to eat this or this not…
    No offense to any body…
    But just need some awareness in world about Nutrition ..
    #happyliving #health #dietitian #bond #respect #blessed

    Dietitian Amna Ghazal
    Ex Intern Dietitian -SGPGIMS,PGIMER,SIPS HOSPITAL
    Owner & Dietitian – Pink and Purple Diet Clinic And Fitness Club
    Blogger@NutriBlessed
    Lucknow

    Liked by 1 person

  5. hello, i’ve just found your post and i can totally relate to this. I’m a hungarian dietitian and it’s the same here.

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  6. Hi Diana! I just came across this post, and I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading it. Your writing style is excellent, and it’s clear that you’re passionate about what you do. I am currently a dietetics and journalism double major, and I can already relate to a lot of what you’ve described here. When people hear that I’m a dietetics major, they often assume I want to go into weight loss or start a diet magazine (given the journalism). Maybe I do, but just as well, maybe I don’t! I’m not sure exactly what I want to do yet. There is so much one can do with a dietetics degree, and it’s a shame that what I want to do is assumed before I even get to explain myself due to this general ignorance that exists.
    I too feel like the field is undervalued; however, I think I am lucky to be able to study in a time when people are becoming more concerned with nutrition and health, so I’m hoping this will change. Many don’t realize how much work and effort goes in to getting a dietetics degree. In my school, I think there’s only three courses which differentiate dietetics majors from the premed track, and I wish more people would realize this, as well as the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist, but that’s a whole different discussion…
    Anyways, I will be following your blog, and I’m excited to read more of your posts!
    Feel free to check out my blog where I post healthy recipes and tips for eating healthfully as a college student.
    https://theartsypalate.wordpress.com/

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    • Thanks Dana! Yes, the whole nutritionist/dietitian is a whole other can if worms (I’ve blogged about it before too) that can undermine our credibility as nutrition professionals.

      Best of luck with your studies. That sounds like a really interesting combo and I look forward to hearing what direction you end up taking with your career.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry, Dena… I know how annoying it is to have someone misspell your name. My apologies!

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      • The nutritionist/dietitian dilemma is probably what frustrates me the most. Why is it fair that I have to work my butt off through organic chemistry I and II, biochem, and more labs than I can count, while a nutritionist can take a course for several weeks and tell people how to do a “beach body cleanse?” As I’m sure you know, the whole concept of cleansing doesn’t exist (also another topic in itself), but unfortunately too many people don’t realize that and follow the advice of non-credible nutritionists, which makes me cry a little on the inside. It’s truly a problem, and I try to inform as many people as I can of this misconception.

        Thanks so much! I appreciate that. I hope to practice as a dietitian (not sure in exactly which area yet) and also write about nutrition for health magazines/journals, which is why I want the proper journalism training. And, of course, I also hope to continue to blog :)

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  7. Hello Diana,

    Great site!

    If you have time could you check out my (new) site.
    Thanks in advanced!

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  8. Knowing too much about nutrition has probably made dietitians less vocal than a YouTube “nutrition expert” who is without qualification. A dietitian knows that food is not the magic solution to someone’s problem, thus making our advice much less attractive than…let’s say the 5-day cleanse routine that fixes everything. I find that “nutrition experts” are so passionate in their nonsense nutrition theories that people find them more believable…?

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  9. I have my first appointment with a dietitian tomorrow to help me deal with my Eating Disorder. I am approaching with an open mind but at the same time i am truly worried about how this appointment will pan out. Any advice?????

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    • Good luck! I assume the RD you’re going to see specializes in eating disorders? I’m not sure what the best advice I could offer you would be. Maybe just to know that s/he is a professional and there to help you without judgement. Best of luck!

      Liked by 1 person

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