Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Are dietitians getting too sexy?

4 Comments

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A few years ago I wrote a blog post that really hit a nerve with other dietitians. It was about how dietitians just aren’t sexy. This was in the sense that we don’t hop on trends (unlike other unregulated professionals) and instead are moored in evidence-based practice. Unfortunately, I’m noticing a disturbing trend in dietetics and I’m concerned about the future of my profession.

There have always been some dietitians who believe in unproven practices such as detox, fad diets, and questionable supplements. It’s a shame to see others promoting such nonsense as I feel it reflects poorly on all of us but it’s always been the minority. It’s also been somewhat understandable because it can be a tough field in which to find a secure job. And we probably all have some beliefs that aren’t based in evidence. Experience is important in combination with scientific evidence. However, I feel like in this age of fake news where nothing means anything anymore, that this is infiltrating dietetics at a higher level.

Recently there’s been the introduction of “integrative functional nutrition” which sounds very scientific and pretty great, “A central theme of IFNA training is learning to identify “root causes” of disease in a methodical and systematic fashion rather than the mundane prescription of medical nutrition protocols based on a diagnosis”. Who doesn’t want to get to the root causes of illnesses? I think the main frustration with Western medicine is that there’s often a failure to dig deeper to find the root cause for ailments and simply a treating of symptoms. This is why so many people turn to unscientific alternative health practitioners for help. Unfortunately, “integrative functional nutrition/medicine” tends to be code for the smooshing together evidence-based practices and unproven unscientific practices. The creation of bodies of dietetics incorporating these practices lends false credibility to them.

Last week I attended a nutrition conference. It was generally a really great conference with presenters sharing a variety of perspectives and evidence. There were also presentations by people with lived experience. I think there’s a great deal of value in learning from people who have experience with various conditions, circumstances, illnesses, etc. However, the final presenter was by an individual who had “cured” a severe mental illness through nutrition and supplements with the aid of a Christian doctor in the US. I’m not in a position to question this person’s experience but the presentation made me extremely uncomfortable. I don’t doubt that nutrition plays an important role in supporting mental health. Although I do doubt that we can cure most cases of mental illness through nutrition.

As dietitians, we are always trying to promote ourselves as credible sources of nutrition information. Yet here we are, welcoming a presentation from an individual who was treated by a doctor whom would be dubbed as a quack by most. This guy readily fails Dietitians of Canada’s “Five tips to help you spot misinformation“.

1. Is the person or product promising a quick fix like fast weight-loss or a miracle cure? Check!

2. Are they trying to sell you products such as special foods or supplements? Check!

3. Do they provide information based on personal stories rather than on facts? Check!

4. Is their claim based on a single study or a few research studies? Not sure if the claims are based on any research so yeah, Check!

5. What are the person’s qualifications? Unfortunately, he’s a medical doctor which makes it sound like he’s a qualified professional. But we all know that doesn’t stop Dr Oz from operating outside of his scope of practice. Being a MD doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is qualified to be providing nutrition services (most doctors receive very little nutrition education during medical school). As far as I can discern, he hasn’t received any specialized nutrition education so… CHECK!

Inviting people who are promoting such quackery to professional conferences undermines our credibility as nutrition professionals. It lends false credibility to their practices and allows these unproven beliefs to infiltrate dietetics. It makes it harder for us to present ourselves as credible nutrition professionals and undermines the ability of the public to trust us.

It’s discouraging to see people seeking out healthcare from unregulated professionals with questionable credentials and practices. But I don’t think the solution lies in taking the attitude that if you can’t beat them, join them. It’s important for us to continue to ground our advice in the best possible scientific evidence if we want to remain trusted healthcare professionals. Otherwise we may as well all burn our degrees and licences because they’ll become as meaningless as the credentials of all the self-styled nutrition gurus.

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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.

4 thoughts on “Are dietitians getting too sexy?

  1. Excellent review. Keep up the good work.

    Caroline

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  2. Hi Diana, I was at the same conference and I completely agree with your comments regarding the final presenter. I was also really uncomfortable with the presentation and I felt that the presenter should have been better vetted, prior to the conference. It sends the wrong message, especially in a setting were the audience is almost all regulated health professionals. Aside from that presentation, it was a great conference, with good, evidence-based information. Thanks for your comments. AM

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad that I wasn’t the only one who thought that. I was sitting there looking around wondering what other people were thinking. It really put a damper on an otherwise great and informative day for me. Also, sorry we didn’t get to meet in person!

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  3. Who doesn’t want to get to the root causes of illnesses? Whole industries.  

    Illness is a multi-billion dollar business.  My understanding, from reading the news – fake or otherwise…who can tell, is that Schools are increasingly being funded by big business who in many cases demand that certain research be done in return for their contributions.  Discoveries that dig past the symptoms to root causes typically require significant amounts of funding and can be discounted easily if the process is not followed precisely and with the hindsight that only a clairvoyant could provide.  So discoveries are unexpected results from other research which may or may not get reported depending on how tight the controls are that the researchers benefactors decree (will the discovery have a negative impact on the bottom line of the funder).  
    This is, of course, all conjecture on my part but I believe it is why unproven ideas are followed as if they are proven.  Instinctively we feel that we are being manipulated, and with all the evidence proving that we are being manipulated on many fronts it is hardly surprising that such a money making business as Medicine generates the same cynicism.  

    I completely agree with the over all message of this column. I think there is a way to push back and to increase your perceived and real value.  

    As you noted, Dietitians share their real experiences at conferences.  This is great but if your professionals were to get input from your peers on how many others had similar experiences your representatives (I assume you have a Professional Association) could push for specific research to better understand these experiences and hopefully dig deep enough that they lead to addressing root causes.  Maybe “you” are already doing this but if so that information needs to be shared and repeated often.  It needs to be posted on a respected website and updated continuously and linked to every time a new experience can be added and new calls for research made.  If you have a professional association, get them to earn the money you and your peers pay them.

    Make Dietitians sexy for the right reasons…be our heroes.

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