I’ve found the title of dietitian to be quite uncomfortable. It’s been a bit of a misfit from the very beginning to be honest- I almost dropped out of the program twice, driven by this feeling that it wasn’t a good fit for me. I avoided saying that I was a dietetics student, and then I avoided saying that I was a dietitian. The title comes with baggage- judgments about my body, glances at my plate, a presumed sworn allegiance to Canada’s Food Guide (I can’t remember the last time I actually used one), and expectations of judgment from me about other people’s bodies and what’s on their plate.
A friend, who is also a dietitian, and I recently spent half a day bundled up on the beach. We talked about how neither of us felt like we belonged in the profession most of the time. We felt like people didn’t really get us, or what we did in general. After about four hours on that beach, we decided that we have to stop being such emo dietitians. We belong here if we believe we belong here. It’s foolish for us to think there aren’t many, many other dietitians out there, putting on the title of “dietitian” every workday and feeling the pinches and squeezes where the fit is still adjusting. The discomfort just means there are things to be acknowledged and work to be done within the profession.
Today is International No-Diet Day. The sometimes allegiance, sometimes animosity, sometimes neutrality of dietitians and the diet industry is one of those things that needs to be acknowledged and worked on. I have some more thoughts on diets and foods, but that’s for another post. Today I want to address some people directly.
We can do better. We are obligated to always be getting better, and I think a reminder doesn’t hurt. When we mess with people’s food, we mess with their lives, and we can’t take that lightly.
You might think you can hide your judgment from your clients, but everyone knows on some level when they are being judged. Let’s not fool ourselves. The profession, our clients, and our personal lives will be better if we stop looking for exceptions and treat everyone with the empathetic compassion that we are capable of.
Yolo Akili said, “Honesty about your struggle is the key to your liberation.” Be honest with each other- it took several lukewarm conversations with a dietitian I was working with to get more comfortable opening up a bit, and we found out that we had the same experience struggling with how to react to people’s comments at work about our rapid, unhealthy weight loss following a break-up (me) and a divorce (her). “Wow you look so good!” we both met with weak smiles, when what we really had stuck in our throat was “I’m literally falling apart, my body is breaking down, and I feel out of control”. Talk about your eating, your weight, and your foods with each other, when it is safe and you are ready. We will all be better for having this conversation amongst ourselves.
Show up for each other. Call each other out when listing our “guilty pleasure” foods or talking about being “bad” because of something we’ve eaten. Stand up for the qualities of the profession you believe in when you want to write the whole thing off. We have the knowledge, experiences, and skill to provide outstanding nutritional services that make people’s lives and relationships with food better. Let’s extend our services to each other.
I’m so sorry for the negative experiences that you’ve had with a dietitian. I’m sorry that if you see a dietitian in the future there is a risk that it will be a negative experience. You may be judged, not listened to, criticized. You might be treated poorly because of your weight, and a diet may be pushed. Sometimes not showing up for the second appointment will be better for you than going, and it’s your right to make that call.
I’m listening to what you are saying, whether you are a friend in my life who confides a bad experience to me, or you’re on a forum relaying the trauma of a recent experience. I hear you, and every time you speak up, the volume on the need for a conversation among dietitians is turned up, and even more of us will hear.
I’m not going to pretend that dietitians and clients are mutually exclusive groups. We know the struggle, because a lot of us are in it too. It’s not easy to have a healthy relationship with food. It’s perhaps even harder to have a healthy relationship with our bodies. I don’t know a single dietitian that hasn’t struggled with nourishing themselves at some point. We are acutely reminded of exactly how our professional competence is connected to what our bodies look like every time we disclose our profession to other people and get a once-over. The interests of dietitians, and the interests of our clients, are perfectly, intrinsically aligned.
I don’t need to save you from yourself, and neither does a diet. I believe in your capacity, as a living, breathing human being, to take care of your body to the best of your ability in the conditions you are presently in. Maybe I can help you identify and change some of those conditions if they aren’t working towards supporting your best self, but the changes will be all you. I trust you with yourself. I’m a fan of dreaming big, and I’m dreaming about working towards the healthiest possible relationships with food and our bodies, for everyone.
I believe in us. We don’t need diets, but we do need each other.