Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Being thin is not a qualification for providing nutrition advice

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Last week a bunch of crossfitters and meatatarians got all worked up because the former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the US organization representing registered nutrition professionals) released a video that essentially warned RDs to watch for people without appropriate credentials providing nutrition advice. Some people evidently felt that she was unworthy to issue such a warning as she did not fit their limited definition of an acceptable body size. There are so many things wrong with this assertion that I don’t even know where to begin.

First, I happen to agree with Beseler (the RD in the video). As I’ve argued in the past, dietitians are regulated healthcare professionals which means that we have to complete a number of requirements to maintain our licencing. Being licenced also means that the public has added protection and recourse in the event that we do provide advice that causes harm. Would the video have more credence if it came from someone slimmer? Let me remind you that being young thin and pretty are not qualifications to provide nutrition advice.

Second, just as being young thin and pretty aren’t qualifications to provide nutrition advice, nor is being old large and unattractive a sign that someone is not qualified to provide nutrition advice. An individual’s appearance is not a reflection of their expertise. Personally, I wouldn’t want to receive nutrition advice from someone who judges others based purely on their size.

Third, I can’t tell from the video what size Beseler is anyway. Her size should be irrelevant anyway. Attacking her based on her weight is bullying. The narrow perception of what bodies are acceptable also shows the narrow-mindedness of the attackers. It also shows the pervasiveness of weight bias in our society. That people are more willing to accept advice from someone who has no nutrition education simply because they fit a thin ideal over someone who is highly credentialed but may not have that “perfect” physique is a sad reflection of our ingrained fear of fat.

Healthy bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. Your worth is not related to your size.


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Hey food industry, get out of RD conferences! #FNCE

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I had a blog post all written for you lovelies, cued-up, ready to go. Then I started seeing the tweets coming out of FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo) and I got all annoyed and tweeted what you see above because apparently I’m a masochist. That unleashed a fun afternoon of back-and-forth with fellow RDs on twitter who either don’t see conflict of interest as an issue in our profession or don’t really care.

I keep being about to say “I’m sorry but…” but I’m NOT SORRY DAMMITYou are not immune to marketing. No one is immune. Not me, not you, not anyone and if you think you are then you are the extremely rare exception or you are sorely mistaken. Many dietitians (myself included) regularly bemoan that we can’t get any respect as a profession. Do you really think that showing your influence can be bought with a free sample is helping us to become respected on the same level as other healthcare professionals?

Let me tell you a little tale. Once upon a time I worked in a grocery store (yes, I was an RD at this time). In my position I was responsible for a department, helping customers, teaching classes, providing demos, etc. Myself, and others in the same role at other stores regularly received training, lunch and learns, and samples from vendors. Product knowledge is important if you are talking to customers about food and supplements. The thing is, we didn’t receive training on or samples of all brands. So which products were we more likely to recommend? The ones we’d gotten to try, the ones we felt more connected to. Sure, I never recommended a product that I was morally against (I told people not to buy raspberry ketones if they asked for my opinion)or didn’t genuinely like, but I’m sure that there were equally good alternatives to many products that I didn’t steer people toward because I had no experience with them.

So, when dietitians argue that industry at conferences is fine, I disagree. Sure, walnuts and almonds are great but if they’re the only nuts there what are the chances that dietitians are going to be subconsciously influenced to promote those to their clients over nuts that don’t have representation at the expo? Yoghurt’s great and there are myriad options at grocery stores. If Siggi’s and Chobani are the only yoghurt brands represented at FNCE, which brands do you think that RDs are going to be more likely to choose and recommend?

Some argued that the FNCE is, in part, an expo. True enough, but as a conference organized by the national dietetic organization in the US it’s expected that most attendees will be dietitians. The focus should be on providing them with current evidence-based nutrition information.Having a captive RD audience for marketing at a conference organized by a body that’s meant to represent RDs is reprehensible. It’s time for the FNCE to drop the E.

Lest you still believe that RDs are a higher breed of human and somehow immune to conflicts of interest and marketing tactics, check out the selection of tweets below. Names and handles have been removed because this is not about singling out dietitians, it’s about drawing attention to the larger issue. Kudos to the companies present at FNCE for generating all of these free advertisements. Shame on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for allowing this to occur.

 

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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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Second guessing the second guessing the dietitian post

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I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend among dietitians lately. It involves a certain division of RDs into two groups: “real” food RDs and all of the other RDs. Honestly, I’m not sure what the non-real food RDs are eating and advising others to eat. So far as I can tell, “real” food is the paleo diet and if you’re not paleo you’re not a “real” food RD. The implication being that dietitians advising you to consume anything other than paleo are inferior. I wrote a bit about this nutritional elitism last week. It offends me that, despite being an avid cook, some dietitians would suggest that I don’t eat “real” food because I don’t buy-in to a particular diet. I can assure you, I am not a machine (despite what some on fito have suggested), I do not run on diesel, electricity, nor hot air, I consume a variety of foods for fuel.

This “real” food RD group lead me to this post: Why you should second guess the dietitian. Now, I know that things are different in the US than they are in Canada so I’m trying not to take this too personally. However, it’s extremely frustrating to devote years of my life to a profession that I’m passionate about and to see others (including those within the profession) bashing it. It’s understandable that the author would have a hate-on for dietitians. She’s a holistic nutritionist, and as such, would be subject to much disdain on the part of dietitians due to the lack of evidence-based practice and of professional accountability in her chosen career. I don’t want to turn this into an “us versus them” diatribe though. I have no desire to get into a mud-slinging match. I know some reasonable and intelligent holistic nutritionists. No, my issue is the undermining of dietitians based on a couple of negative personal experiences the author had and based on the actions of the American governing organization (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – AND).

The gist of the article is that dietitians lack credibility because their governing organization is in cahoots with the food industry. There is no doubt about it; that’s a huge conflict of interest. It’s ludicrous that the food industry would be providing funding and education for dietitians via their professional organization. However, this does not mean that you can’t trust dietitians. It’s also important to note that there are a number of dietitians rallying against the relationship between the AND and the food industry, both through the group Dietitians for Professional Integrity, and through personal decisions. Despite what the author would have you believe, we dietitians are not all attending conferences and lapping up nutrition “education” provided by Hershey and Coke.

Sure, there are going to be some (as in any profession) who are going to unquestioningly accept any nutrition information provided to them in a conference or a webinar. However, from my experience, the vast majority of RDs are intelligent enough to question information presented to them (regardless of the source) and to filter out the wheat from the chaff.

Yes, as the author says, any reputable dietitian will also suggest that you should question any health information given to you. Doctors, dietitians, holistic nutritionists, none of us are infallible and the field of nutrition is constantly evolving. Dietitians are committed to life-long learning and to providing evidence-based advice. We are not droids for the food industry.


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Follow Friday: Stop junk food giants from taking over nutrition programs

Concerned about dietitians’ organizations ties to the food industry? You probably should be. It’s wrong for corporations like Pepsi, Coke, and McDonald’s (to name a few) to be providing funding to organizations that represent health care professionals who provide nutrition counselling. It’s also inappropriate for those organizations to be providing “educational” sessions at dietetic conferences. Here’s your chance to stand-up for dietitians; sign the petition to sever ties between the “junk food giants” and the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Hopefully this effort will spill over into Canada and Dietitians of Canada will stop accepting sponsorship from the food industry.