What Does a Dietitian Do?

When you hear the word dietitian what do you think of? Someone who eats salads all day and tells people to eat less and exercise more? Probably. Most people do. Any yet ask any dietitian and we all think we are the most food obsessed people out there. I have a growing restaurant bucket list and thrive off the times that I can go out to a new restaurant and experience something new, something exciting. I'm not a food snob because I will basically eat anything (except cottage cheese), but I do get frustrated when something disappoints. Last week my dad and I got lunch at this place that did nothing for me. Plain wrap with nada, no flavor. If I'm going to eat out I want the experience to be worth it. But if I am starving and borderline hangry anything will do. Just get this girl some food. smores

Let's talk poutine for a second. It's definitely not something I indulge in frequently. I've had it maybe 4 times in my life? But it's extremely tasty and much more worth it than some plain fries most times, unless they're truffle fries. My dad got mad at me the first time I told him I ate poutine because he thought I was "wasting" my nutrition degree by eating a dish that would basically clog my arteries just by looking at it. Last week my roommate and I were discussing this over a plate of poutine (made with fingerling potatoes! drooling...) and she said something along the lines of "you know someone's a true dietitian if they will eat poutine." What I think she meant is, the world of dietetics is changing to show that all foods can fit in a healthy lifestyle and that health is more about habits than a number on the scale or the dish you order at a restaurant. Habits, people. Habits.

We are not the food police. As I just mentioned we love all food. Sure some foods have more fiber or more vitamin C while others have more saturated fat. But all foods provide your body with nutrients in some combination or another. AND food is about so much more than just calories in, calories out. Food is cultural. Food is comforting. Food triggers memories. Food is delicious. I've made this argument before and I will keep making it until it sinks in. I remember at my dad's retirement party someone commented on my brownie sundae since I was in school studying nutrition at the time (it was probably loaded with all the toppings because I am not a plain brownie fan). If I don't judge what you eat, there's no reason to judge what I eat.

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We are change agents. We are qualified to work with clients to help them make meaningful lifestyle changes. Whether that means eating more fruits and vegetables or cooking 3 days a week to eat out less. It could also mean finding ways to eat more to get to a "healthy" body weight. Dietitians do not decide what change to make (unless someone is extremely sick and even in that case the decision is made with the entire medical team) or how to make it for you, though, like some people believe. We help to uncover your hesitations, your values, your desires and guide you towards changes that align with all of that.

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We are knowledgable about medicine. We didn't go to med school but we did train in hospitals. While many people think we just talk about food all day long, that's not the whole of it. Clinical dietitians and some outpatient dietitians spend a good chuck of time reading lab values, asking about bowel movements, assessing weight changes, adjusting tube feeds, and overall trying to understand the big picture and how nutrition fits into that picture. This requires collaborating with a number of health care professional and being able to understand the medical jargon that's used. That is no easy feat.

We think big. We advocate for nutrition and for health care change. I work in a hospital so I mainly have an impact at the individual and sometimes group level. By being involved in social media I have an impact on the community. Some day I hope to be involved at the policy level. By having a hand in many different levels you have the greatest possibility for change.

We are not the enemy. Healthy is possible at every size. Remember what I was saying about habits? It's your habits that make you healthy or not. It's not your pant size or whatever the scale is telling you. Dietitians work with individuals, with groups, with communities, with governments, etc. to help people create healthy habits. Notice I did not say "help people lose weight."

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I wanted to write this post so that people can finally understand that dietetics is not just counseling people to lose weight. It's clinical. It's community focused. It's government driven. So the next time you meet a dietitian ask them what area they work in. Ask them what their job entails. Don't assume we talk about food all day while eating our salads and sitting on our high horses. Ask us if we eat poutine...