Many of people believe that as a dietitian I am a member of the FPD- the Food Police Department. A lot people think that dietitians are the food police, going around passing judgment of people and what’s on their plate or in their shopping cart at the grocery store. Others think we take the joy out of life by forbidding juicy, mouthwatering burgers and smooth, creamy turtle cheesecake and replacing them with carrot sticks or tofu instead. Even worse, others think that we look at people and judge them based on their size. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! Yet it’s almost daily that I hear- “Don’t judge me about what I’m eating.” “Don’t look at my shopping cart.” or “Don’t judge me based on my size!” This is not what dietitians do!
The truth is, a dietitian is a food and nutrition expert who separates facts from fads and translates nutrition science and research into everyday information that you can use. To be a dietitian there are specific requirements you must fulfill. (You can read about those requirements here.) A dietitian is a nutritionist, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. Registered Dietitian is a legal credential with a nationally recognized exam and standards that must be met to take the exam and maintain registration. There are no specific requirements or recognized guidelines for credentials as a nutritionist- no set course work, no supervised practice, no nationally accredited exam. Nothing. There are many requirements to be a dietitian, but no set requirements to be a nutritionist.
I believe this bad rep about being the food police mostly comes from nutritionists not RDs or RDNs! (Learn what an RDN is here.) Nutritionists-such as personal trainers, weekend course nutritionists, and health food junkies who put people on 500 calorie diets, load them up with supplements, and eliminate entire food groups all in the name of health. It is my belief that recommendations from these types of nutritionists only consider the surface level about nutrition- not the biochemical or cellular molecular level. And that, I believe is the difference. A dietitian considers the science of nutrition, and there is no way that a weekend course, a month long course, or even a one year course could provide the same quantity, quality, or thoroughness as 4-7 years of dedicated study.
My goal as a dietitian is not to eliminate, it’s to help people eat foods from all the food groups. These food groups offer different vitamins and minerals and when you leave food out you are missing nutrients. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends the total diet approach to nutrition which simply means all foods can fit; that there are no good or bad foods. Reality is, there is no food that is going to make you instantly gain weight, get cancer, or have a heart attack. Likewise, there is no magical food that will make you instantly melt away pounds, give you nonstop energy, or prevent against chronic disease. What’s more important is your diet over days, what you consume over time, or what you consistently eat.
The truth is there is room for all foods to fit including sweet potatoes, marshmallows, turtle cheesecake, and most everything in between. Additionally, I believe all these foods can fit without feeling guilty or having to make up for it later. As a dietitian it is my goal to help people eat their favorite foods while increasing their overall health. I like to help people add in healthful foods and look for what is missing rather than take food away.
As a dietitian I am not a member of the food police. I am not the FPD. I do not judge you based on what’s on your plate, what’s in your shopping cart or on your shape or size. I am here to empower your food choices. I am your nutrition ally! I have the wisdom to understand how the physiology and psychology interact and am here to tell you all foods can fit. I encourage flexibility and fun with your food choices and I encourage a practical approach that promotes overall health and well-being not judgment and guilt. So give a big sigh of relief and remember from the dietitian- the next time you are feeling guilty about your food- it really is okay to taste and enjoy!