Common misconceptions about dietitians

Happy Dietitian Day! Today I want to give a big shout out to all my dietitian colleagues, mentors, and dietitians-to-be. From making a difference in patients’ lives to publishing kick ass books to providing valuable information over social media, I’m proud to be part of such an awesome profession doing so many great things.

But I think there are a lot of misconceptions about dietitians, so today I wanted to take the time to talk about some of the common ones that I’m aware of. Keep in mind I’m basing what I say off of the dietitians that I have worked closely with – so while many of these misconceptions are in fact untrue, I can’t speak for all dietitians! But in general, these are the things that dietitians are NOT:

Uptight, old-fashioned know it alls

With today’s prevalence of nutritionists and alternative health practitioners, I think dietitians have gained a reputation as being the less hip, outdated professionals. And unfairly so. Yes, we’re sticklers for science-backed nutrition, which means we won’t be telling you to eat certain foods to detox your liver or to eat goji berries every day to become super human. But lots of dietitians are still very in tune with the current food trends and love green smoothies, hemp hearts, coconut, and all those other fad foods just as much as the next hippie.

Common misconceptions about dietitiansPhoto credit: USDAgov / Foter / CC BY

Meal plan makers

Most dietitians don’t do the meal plan thing. Meal plans feel very temporary, but our goal is to help you make healthy eating a part of your life in a realistic and long-term way. So instead of a strict meal plan, we like to help you come up with a way of healthy eating that is based off what you already do – but with just small changes at a time to make it healthier!

Food guide pushers

I can guarantee you that all dietitians were taught to base our recommendations off the food guide in our nutrition education. But I think many of us realize that people don’t want to come see a dietitian and be lectured about the food guide. I also think a lot of dietitians have moved to a more flexible view of eating. I’m still a fan of a way of eating that includes all four food groups, but I think this can look different for different people and may not necessarily fit within the food guide recommendations.

Fat-free advocates

In the past, dietitians recommended low fat diets based on the research at the time. But research has changed, and so have our recommendations. I know a lot of dietitians, including myself, shudder at the idea of recommending low fat peanut butter or fat-free salad dressing. Most dietitians I know today are advocates of eating real, less processed foods, including healthy fats like fish, nuts, avocado, vegetable oils, and even dairy fat.

nuts

Nutritionists

Although there is some overlap, we are two different professions with different educational backgrounds, standards, and approaches. Check out this great article about the difference between dietitians and nutritionists written by fellow dietitian Doug Cook.

Knowledgeable about everything

Often dietitians start to specialize in one area in their career. During my internship I attended a presentation on pediatric nutrition by a couple of dietitians, and they admitted that they’d been working in pediatrics for so long that they often aren’t up to speed on current recommendations for adults! Likewise I’ve never worked in renal nutrition, so I’m a bit shaky in that area. Nutrition is a vast field, so if you have a very specific question about an area we’re not familiar with, we may not know the answer right off the bat. But we often know where to find science-backed answers for you!

All the same

Like I just said, dietitians cover a broad spectrum. Some work in hospitals, others in private counselling. Some are passionate about cooking, others don’t really enjoy it. Some prefer to just talk food, others like to delve more into your emotions and feelings surrounding food. Some specialize in sports nutrition, others work in geriatric nutrition. We all have slight different skills, approaches, and expertise. But no matter what, dietitians are all a reliable source of nutrition information that you can trust!

Dietitians – what misconceptions do you hear about our profession? Non-dietitians – did this post change any of your perceptions?

17 Comments

Filed under nutrition

17 Responses to Common misconceptions about dietitians

  1. Great post!

    I am not a dietitian but I hear one misconception very often: that dietitians eat a perfect diet. People don’t realize that being a dietitian doesn’t mean you eat 100% healthy foods.

  2. Happy Dietician’s Day Chelsea :)! This was a fun post to read! I have to agree about shuddering at the thought of suggesting fat-free dressing..just no! I’d also like to add that dietitians are human too and like to indulge too…even if that sometimes means opting for processed foods that don’t contain the best ingredients!

    • Chelsea

      Totally – I don’t know any dietitians who stick to eating whole foods 100% of the time. Sometimes you just gotta indulge your cravings for the processed crap haha.

  3. Awesome post! I love that you’re breaking down the stereotypes that are some times put upon dieticians!

  4. so true..esp with meal planners. thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

    • Chelsea

      The number of times I get asked to make meal plans (even if it’s just as a joke) by not only clients, but also acquaintances and total strangers, is crazy. A) I don’t do that and B) I especially don’t do that for FREE! Haha.

  5. Molly

    Great post – there really is so much ‘grey area’ about the definition of what a Dietitian does. I think it’s great Dieitians do specialize so that they can provide their ‘typical’ clients with the best possible care. You’re future clients are so lucky to have you as their dietitian!

    • Chelsea

      Thanks Molly! :) I think specializing as a dietitian is definitely a good thing too. Dietetics is too broad of a field to be knowledgeable about everything.

  6. Great post my friend! It’s interesting to hear about the different specializations that dietitians can focus on – I feel like a lot of people assume that dietitics is a ‘one size fits all’ sort of field and they don’t really specialize or differentiate between fields, so it’s interesting to see how wrong that is!

  7. Very interesting post. Dietitians are there to help bring a balance in our diet and to help people show that what they think is good, may not really be in fact the best choice.

  8. Great article Chelsea! Happy dietitian’s day to you too! You article is en point in so many ways. It’s great to see another fellow food loving RD! Thanks for writing this and bringing it out in the open. I am sure it resonates with a lot of people (including me).

  9. You need to meet my friend Mel. She will go on and on about the nutritionist VS dietician saga- Especially since all the TV ‘health experts’ are nutritionists. ridiculous. Then she’ll get started about the fat free shtick.

  10. So you’re saying dieticians are hippies. I dig it the most. :)

    • Chelsea

      Totally. Granola making, kale eating, Birkenstock wearing hippies. Oh wait, that last point might just be me. :P

Leave a Reply