Updated: Mar 21, 2020
Becoming a dietitian was one of my biggest accomplishments. I worked so hard for that license. I burnt myself out between work, internship, school, etc. to able to proudly put “RD” behind my name. However, it is one of my least favorite things to tell people when I meet them.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE BEING A DIETITIAN. What I hate is the assumptions people make about me because of it.
Most people in the general population don’t know what a dietitian does. Things I hear when I share my profession with others includes….
“You are just the person I need to see” (then proceeds to tell me about their eating patterns and how much weight they want to lose”)
“Oh… so you must eat really healthy”
“Do you write meal plans for people to lose weight?”
People judging my food choices or thinking that I am judging theirs… Comments about my foods such as… “Oh, I better not eat bread in front of you!” or “I can’t believe you’re eating that burger!” or “Of course you’re having a salad!”
The assumptions go on and on. And I get it. I do. I’m not mad about it… I used to think that too. People make assumptions that I am a “diet-dietitian.”
You know, one that tells you how to lose weight.
One that teaches people how to count calories and control their portions, education them on healthy vs. unhealthy food and used a scale to monitor their “progress.”
As a “non-diet dietitian” I…..
I encourage clients stop counting calories.
Instead of being fixated on nutritional values, I teach people to listen to their hunger and fullness cues (if appropriate).
I teach them how to sit with fullness and know that you are okay.
Instead of telling you foods to stay away from, I advocate for ALL foods eaten in moderation and balance without guilt.
The scale only tells me your energy levels, not anything about your health, and often times weight loss is actually a concern.
I teach you how to be flexible and spontaneous with food again..
However, this is a lot to say when you first get to know someone…
Sometimes I get overwhelmed because we live in such a diet and weight focused culture. As much as I love being a dietitian, I hate hearing about diets and people raving about how much weight they lost. But despite my frustration, I always end up getting into a food conversation with people. This is because I truly believe I have a responsibility to teach people what I know about the dangers of diet culture… things that I too used to believe. And it’s so cool when that effort pays off, such as seeing my friend feeling confident eating dessert again or my mom not falling for the diet tips at work, or my clients finding freedom with food and their body.
Often times people I talk to aren’t even aware they may have a disordered relationship with food since dieting is seen as “normal” and “healthy” these days. But it’s not. Dieting and preoccupation with food is not new in our culture, but when does it become a concern? What are the signs you may need to work on your relationship with food?
Disordered Eating is used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of specific eating disorder. Eating disorders have a specific, narrow criteria, which excludes a majority of individuals suffering with disordered eating. Even if an individual is not diagnosed with an eating disorder, eating concerns that do not quite fit the criteria of an eating disorder diagnosis still deserve treatment as these behaviors become more problematic overtime and put individuals at risk for serious health concerns.
So how do you know you may need to see a dietitian like me?
Signs of disordered eating may include, but is not limited to:
Chronic weight fluctuations
Rigid rituals and routines around food and exercise
Anxiety associated with specific foods
Fasting, skipping meals , or eating very little at meals/snacks
Refusal to eat certain goods, progressing to restriction against whole categories of foods (e.g. no carbohydrates)
An increase in concern about the health of ingredients; an inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed “clean” or “healthy”
Guilt and shame associated with eating
Preoccupation with food, weight, and body that negatively impacts your life
Using exercise, food restriction, fasting, purging, laxatives, or other medications to compensator or “make up” for eating
Maintains exercise despite weather, fatigue, illness, injury
Exercising too much or too often
Intense anxiety, depression, and/or distress if unable to exercise
Feeling a loss of control around food, binge eating, compulsive eating habits
Appears uncomfortable to eat with others
Self-esteem overly related to body image
Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
Menstrual irregularities -- missing periods or only having a period while on hormonal contraceptives (this is not considered a “true” period)
Abnormal lab findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low white and red blood cells)
Eating large amounts of food at dinner or in the middle of the night
Eating to comfort yourself, even when not hungry
Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time; feeling lack of control over the ability to stop eating.
It is also crucial to understand that eating disorders come in
all shapes and sizes, they do not discriminate between age; gender; race; class; sexual orientation and ethnic groups. They do not have a weight requirement and you cannot tell if someone is struggling on the basis of appearance.
It is important to be aware of disordered eating behaviors (including dieting) because they can be precursors to eating disorders. Many people who suffer with disordered eating may minimize or lack insight to the impact this has on their mental and physical health. This may be for many reasons. I want to point out that some behaviors above may be deemed as “normal” these days (e.g. cutting out food groups, dieting, body-focused). I’ve had many of these behaviors shared with me before once I tell somebody I am a dietitian. I’ve had people tell me with pride they’re following keto, or staying away from desserts…. little do they know I am the person wishing they were NOT doing this.
We live in a world that tells us we cannot trust our bodies to tell us what and when to eat and how to move, but it can, and that is something I get to help people learn again. I get to be a source of encouragement for people stop listening to external messages and to reconnect with their internal signals.
Working with a dietitian and therapist who specializes in counseling clients with eating disorders is important in treating disordered eating with hopes of preventing it from progressing to an eating disorder. So... while I dread telling people outside of my job that I am a dietitian, I do love helping people see that there is something better than dieting these days…..
I just wish it was easier for those people to believe me :-)
Want to learn more?
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. Their website has tons of information about eating disorders and disordered eating. Some resources they provide is an online screening tool, articles on multiple topics, a blog, ways to get involved, find support, etc.
Please visit their website to learn more: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/