BY JOHNA MAILOLLI
Retail Registered Dietitian
Working as a registered dietitian has its frustrating moments, just like any other job.
One of the biggest challenges my profession contends with is the misinformation of nutrition advice given by unqualified individuals. It is an unfortunate fact that, although registered dietitians have an extensive educational background in nutrition, anyone can give out nutrition advice.
And with the internet and social media widely available to everyone, more and more people are sharing nutrition advice and information that may not be evidenced based, yet is being followed many people. Registered dietitians have found their jobs increasingly frustrating, working with clients who have received conflicting nutritional advice from those who have little to no nutrition background.
Here are a few reasons why it’s important to leave it to the experts to provide nutrition counseling to those who need it most.
One of the negative consequences of anyone being able to provide nutrition counseling is the confusion it causes for those receiving the advice. It has no longer become unusual for a registered dietitian to work with clients who have eliminated a particular food group, or for some, many food groups, in fear that this food may not be good for them.
For example, a client who does not consume certain fruit or fruit at all because of a nutrition myth that fruit is “high in sugar” and will “make them fat.” Or a client not consuming any bread because “there are too many carbohydrates in bread, which leads to fat gain.” Removing important food groups deprives the body and brain of its preferred method of energy creation, as well as a myriad of nutrition benefits, such as fiber, vitamins minerals, and even some antioxidants.
It can also lead to yet another challenging issue registered dietitians are also seeing in their clients: food fears.
Food fears can be damaging to individuals as they truly start to believe that consuming certain foods may lead to negative effects on their body such as weight gain. From personal experience with these clients I can tell you that these food fears are not easily erasable. They may lead to disordered eating, or worse, eating disorders. These obstacles can become so challenging for a dietitian that they often lead to dead end roads, both for the dietitian and the client.
I am currently counseling a client who removed several of her favorite foods from her diet, many of which are fruits, because a personal trainer recommended against these foods. This is a heart-breaker for me, because it completely goes against one of the core values I teach clients, which is to eat food that tastes good to them! Not only has the removal of these foods left my client unsatisfied and unhappy at meal times, but she also finds herself having less energy.
You see, food is not only a way to nourish the body but a way to fulfill the soul. To deprive yourself of your favorite foods for invalid reasons is to deny yourself of one of life’s greatest joys! It also carries the message that healthy food shouldn’t taste good. As a lover of food I can tell you that if this were true I would not be a dietitian, because I am as much of a foodie as I am a dietitian.
I can’t imagine what life would be like if someone told me I couldn’t eat figs anymore; one of my favorite fruits. Figs are more than just a delicious fruit to me, they are a significant part of my childhood and cultural upbringing, which is also often true for the diverse clientele I work with in our community.
There are certain instances where individuals may need to reduce or eliminate specific foods due to medical conditions. Medical conditions may require very specific diets which is another concerning reason to why anyone should not be giving nutrition advice. Registered dietitians have a medical nutrition background and know that the first step in providing medical nutrition therapy is to understand their entire medical background. Not knowing and understand a person’s medical background cannot only result in giving the wrong information; it can also cause possible harm to a person.
For example, an individual who does not fully understand diabetes informs a diabetic to avoid consuming carbohydrate containing foods because they are “bad for them.” This person who follows this recommendation is now at risk of developing low blood sugar, known as hypoglycemia, which can lead to possibly fainting or even hospitalization.
Instead of playing the “dietitian,” these individuals can help contribute to the solution by referring those who seek specific nutrition advice to a registered dietitian. Health professionals like personal trainers, health coaches, physicians, and even health bloggers can work together with dietitians to make it a win-win situation for all. The solution is to start working with each other instead of against each another.
In the end, each of us have the same intention; to help others live healthier, happier lives.
Johna Mailolli is a Registered Retail Dietitian for Shoprite of Tallman. She has been working as a Registered Dietitian for the past seven years. She is also a certified health coach and personal trainer with the American Council of Exercise.