Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Nutrition sponsorship scandal

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Excerpt from the Nova Scotia Dietetic Association’s Private Practice Guidelines

In the wake of the Olympics I thought that it would be timely to write about product endorsement. Every time the Olympics roll around there’s much hullabaloo about sponsorship and the promotion of crap food like McDonald’s. But the promotion of food is not just associated with the Olympics. It’s going on all the time and marketers are getting savvier about it. Enter the role of dietitians.

As dietitians we position ourselves as the experts on nutrition and healthy eating. We’re constantly battling misinformation and trendy diets, telling people to come to us for guidance in making better food choices. We are the unsexy voice of reason in a sea of cold-pressed juice and expensive shakes. Who better than dietitians then to promote food, beverages, and supplements?

I see so many Tweets, Instagram photos, and blog posts by dietitians promoting myriad brands of food, drink, and supplements. I took a little scroll through some prominent Canadian media RDs Twitter feeds when I was considering writing about this topic. I found a number of sponsored posts; some obviously so and others not. Because this isn’t about pointing fingers, making enemies, and in-fighting, I’ve decided not to share any of these posts with you. Many of them come from excellent dietitians. Perhaps they truly believe in the products they’re promoting. Is it wrong to make money from promoting a product that you like and believe others could benefit from? It’s also a hard truth that we all need to pay the bills and making a living as a private practice dietitian can be extremely difficult.

The problem with dietitians promoting brands and products is that it churns up the murky conflict of interest waters. There is no way for us to know if the dietitian tweeting about a supplement or posting a photo of their branded snack honestly believes in the value of the product. In promoting a product, ethically, a dietitian needs to believe that it would be beneficial to those they’re promoting it to. When you’re posting things to social media you’re posting them to anyone else using that platform. It’s pretty near impossible to know if the people looking at your posts are going to benefit from the products you’re promoting.

As dietitians, our first responsibility lies with the public. It’s our job to help people meet their nutritional needs and goals. When we promote products we may be undermining those goals. As much as I’m loathe to see athletes and pop stars promoting pop and fast food, they don’t have that same ethical obligation. While it’s true that dietitians aren’t generally promoting such nutritionally void products, we still need to be extra careful about the message that we’re sending to people. Seeing the promotion of a sports supplement or an energy bar by a dietitian sends the message to the public that these things are healthy and they should be consuming them.

I mentioned earlier that some of the sponsored posts were obviously sponsored while others were not so clear. Some dietitians have put a note in their profile that they are spokespersons for certain brands. Others use hashtags like #ad and #spons when posting about a product. Others don’t have any indication that a post is sponsored so maybe they’re just huge fans of a product or maybe they don’t make their affiliation readily apparent. If I, another registered dietitian, can’t tell if a post is sponsored, how can anyone from the public be expected to?

The sad truth is, I’ve gotten to the point where every time I see a post by an RD in which a specific brand is mentioned I automatically assume that it’s sponsored and discount the value of the product. And that’s not good. Not being upfront about our conflicts of interest and potential biases undermines our credibility. We have enough trouble gaining the confidence of the public without undermining ourselves. I’m not saying that all dietitians should stop promoting all products. There are some brands that I genuinely love and could theoretically be convinced to promote. We’ve all got to pay the bills and if you can do so by marketing a product that you believe in then power to you. However, people shouldn’t have to dig to find out if a dietitian is being compensated to promote products. We need to be upfront about our affiliations so that the public has all of the information they need to make an informed decision about whether or not the product they’re seeing posted by their fave dietitians is for them.


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How to find a good dietitian

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Photo by Orla MacEachern. Location: Local Source Market.

Last week after I wrote about the issue of dietitians sniping at each other I had a reader ask me how to find a “good” dietitian. That’s a bit of a tricky one but I’ll try my best to address it as it seems very fitting for Nutrition Month. If any of my fellow RDs (or anyone who’s seen a dietitian) have any other tips or suggestions please feel free to chime in, in the comments.

The process will vary from country to country but in Canada, every dietitian must be registered with the provincial regulatory body for the province in which they work. Here they are by province:

Newfoundland – Newfoundland and Labrador College of Dietitians

Nova Scotia – Nova Scotia Dietetic Association (NSDA)

New Brunswick – The New Brunswick Association of Dietitians (NBAD)

Prince Edward Island – PEI Dietitians Registration Board

Quebec – Order Professionnel des Diététistes du Québec

Ontario – College of Dietitians of Ontario

Manitoba – College of Dietitians of Manitoba

Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon – Insofar as I can tell, because there are so few dietitians in the Territories, there are no regulatory bodies. Presumably, RDs working in these areas would maintain registration with the Provincial body where they completed their examination.

Saskatchewan – Saskatchewan Dietitians Association

Alberta – College of Dietitians of Alberta

British Columbia – The College of Dietitians of British Columbia

Some provinces (Ontario, Manitoba, and BC) have free provincial programs that the public can use to contact a dietitian via email or phone. This is a great option if you have a common nutrition concern or question.

Dietitians of Canada also maintains a list of private practice dietitians but it’s not a complete list as you must be a member of DC to be included. Some provinces also have organizations formed and run by dietitians such as the Dietitians Network Nova Scotia. Again, this is not a comprehensive list of all dietitians in NS as membership is voluntary. The nice thing about their list though, is it provides some detail regarding the area each RD works in and their specializations.

You may also wish to contact your local public health unit as they will be able to tell you about dietitian services offered in your area. Many grocery stores also employ dietitians who offer one-on-one nutrition counselling for a reasonable fee.

Once you’ve found all of the private practice dietitians in your area now it’s time for the tricky part. I suggest looking to see if they have a website, exploring the website to get a feel for whether or not they’ll be a good fit for you. As with any counsellor or heath care professional, not all personalities are going to be well-suited. Look to see if they have links to social media accounts and see if you can get an idea of their personality and nutrition philosophy from tweets and facebook posts.

You should be able to narrow-down your search to a few dietitians based on location and your assessment of their online presence. At that point, you may want to pick one and make an appointment for an initial assessment. If that goes well, excellent, you’ve found your RD. If not, there’s no harm in shopping around. The good thing is, we don’t often work in the same location (like hair stylists) so if you don’t like the fit with the first one you see, you can easily try another without fear of encountering the first at your appointment. Find someone who will help you determine your goals, barriers, and provide you with support to overcome those barriers to reach your nutrition goals. However, don’t expect your dietitian to do the work for you. We’ll be your biggest cheerleader and we’ll give you all the tools you need to get you eating your best but you still have to do the actual work and make the lifestyle changes.

 


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The dark side of dietetics

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Is there any other profession in which there is as much infighting as there is in dietetics? Seriously though. Is there?

All too often I see RDs attacking each other, undermining each other, subtweeting the heck out of each other. Maybe it’s that social media has brought our differences to the fore. Maybe it’s that it’s far too easy to belittle someone when you just have to tap out a short message on social media and it’s there for all the world to see. But why is there what seems to me to be an excessive amount of vitriol amongst members of my profession?

Perhaps it’s that there aren’t enough jobs to go around so it feels like everyone’s stepping on everyone else’s toes. The pie isn’t big enough for everyone to get a reasonably sized piece (yes, I had to use a food metaphor. It’s my duty as a dietitian).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we all have to agree on everything. There are many approaches to various aspects of dietetics and with such an evolving field there’s bound to be differences of opinion. Honestly, I’ve been critical of other RDs myself although I try not to make it personal. I find it hard to resist calling out examples of what I believe to be a lack of ethics or subpar advice.

But seeing dietitians attack other dietitians for differing opinions is not cool. There’s no need to insult someone because you don’t agree. Just because you are so confident in your dogma, or perhaps because you’re so insecure about your promotion of specific products that doesn’t make those who see things differently wrong or bad dietitians. There’s no need to publicly disparage them. It does a disservice to our entire profession. And god knows with everyone else and their dog thinking that they’re qualified to spout nutrition advice we don’t need those within our profession taking each other down. The pie isn’t going to get any bigger. Rather than squabbling over one piece while the self-styled nutritionists run away with the pan we need to figure out a better way to share amongst ourselves.


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Who polices the food police?

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You know how everyone thinks that dietitians are the food police (spoiler: we’re not)? I find it a bit ironic (no, not like rain on your wedding day, that’s just crap luck) that everyone seems to believe that we’re secretly judging every morsel they eat. Honestly, I generally pay very little notice to the lunches of others; unless they consume a Monster energy drink and a chocolate bar on the daily in which case I dare you not to pass judgement. At any rate, I find that others are far more likely to pass judgement on what I’m eating when they know I’m a dietitian than I am to pass judgement on them.

I’ve had people say things to me like “but you’d never eat that” when discussing a chocolate cake recipe and then show genuine shock when I reply “of course I would, I love chocolate”. When I ate lunch at work I would have co-workers examining the contents of my lunchbox, often either expressing their distaste at my “fear factor” food or amazement that I was eating something “normal” like spaghetti. My lunch was a constant source of scrutiny and discussion. And yes, some days I lived up to their expectations with a kale salad in a jar or a glory bowl but dietitians can’t live on superfoods alone. Sometimes we enjoy a cookie, chips, or chocolate bar.

I also experience a weird pressure when faced with food at work events or when offered food by a co-worker. Maybe I’m just paranoid, like everyone who thinks that I’m judging their lunches, but I always feel like my decision faces extra scrutiny simply because of my profession. When offered a chocolate my thought process is: “should I take this to show that I’m cool too, I’m not some health freak dietitian that subsists solely on green smoothies and quinoa? Or should I politely decline to set a good example, show them that I’m a good healthy dietitian and quietly eat my chocolates behind closed doors at home?” I feel like no matter what my decision it’s going to be “wrong” so I decide based on whether or not I actually want that treat at that time and whether or not I’ve already had a treat that day or will be having one later and just hope that people aren’t thinking “look at her, she thinks she’s so much better than us not having a candy”.

In truth, it really doesn’t matter what others are thinking of me and my food choices. In fact, I’m (hopefully) just being as paranoid as you are when you think that a dietitian is judging your food choices.


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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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