Do as the dieitian does

As I’ve said before, my food choices (and those of every dietitian out there) are held to a higher standard than those of the general public. We are to be paragons of healthy eating and dietary restraint in the face of the big bad food industry.  We are also expected to look a certain way (based on North America’s narrow view of what is a “healthy, but more importantly, “desirable” body type), as evidence of our adherence to the message we give.

Dietitians, like everyone else on the planet, come in all shapes and sizes and eat in many different ways, for different reasons. Because the reality of our humanity does not conform to the implausible archetype held by many clients, we often face a backlash. If you’re considered too thin, you are considered unrelatable, anorexic, or worse, that the principles of healthy eating do not apply to you; if you’re considered too large, you must be a hypocrite as you are clearly not following your own advice. We lose credibility simply by presenting in the bodies we have, without ever saying a word.

As I say to my clients every day, body size – or more narrowly, weight – only tells a small fraction of a person’s health history. It’s what we do and what conditions we have that make us healthy or not. Our inexcusable societal weight bias encourages people to judge the knowledge and abilities of nutrition professionals based on individuals’ characteristics.

The other side to this scenario is that because access to a dietitian is relatively limited, most people’s first encounter with an RD is due to acute illness, a new diagnosis requiring dietary therapy, or feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to lose weight. What dietitians do really boils down to behaviour change: new foods, new cooking methods, self-monitoring, etc. Behaviour change is hard, and most of us (myself included) often resist it in the best circumstances. I can understand how being told to go see the dietitian after receiving undesirable health news can seem to add insult to injury. Thus, any conceivable reason not to adhere to the health advice offered  is gladly accepted.

I do know that a lot of the rejection I get from patients is not at all about me. What I would like the world to know is that dietitians are here to help, when and if you are ready. Each of us has our own struggles, our strengths and our weaknesses, most of which are not evident by the size or style of clothing we wear. You are always free and welcome to seek another opinion, but please make sure it is truly a different opinion that you want.

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