Anyone who knows me knows that this is my BIGGEST pet peeve. I might go so far as to say this is every Dietitian’s pet peeve. Honestly, tell a Dietitian that your favourite celebrity/personal trainer/health food store clerk gave you the “best” nutrition advice ever about what you should or shouldn’t be eating. You can guarantee eyes will be rolling. We live in a very weight-focused society. Whether you want to blame that, or our obsession with achieving optimal health, the end result is the same. It seems that today all you need is 6-pack abs and an instagram account to be considered an expert. Since nutrition is definitely a hot topic right now there are plenty of people ready to cash in on the latest trend. Click here to read about my take on nutrition advice from celebrities. Insert eye roll here.
We all eat food (science hasn’t found a way around that yet!) So it might be assumed that this makes each of us an expert in nutrition. In reality though, becoming a Registered Dietitian takes years of education, a full-time internship program, and a licensing exam. It can be a very competitive field to get into, which is exactly what you as a customer should want!
Individuals who don’t have proper nutrition education have NO BUSINESS giving nutrition advice, and here are a few reasons why…
1. Nutrition isn’t THAT simple, and not everyone should teach it
The science of Nutrition isn’t just about weight loss or achieving the perfect beach body. There is no magic diet/shake/pill/detox tea that will live up it’s wacky promises. Dietitians are educated in Human Physiology (how the mechanisms in the body ACTUALLY work). Which is critical to help us sort through all the bullshit out there when it comes to new diet fads.
What should be common sense quickly gets skewed by extrapolation of evidence or “bro science.” They’re the biggest threat to the good quality advice that your Registered Dietitian is recommending. Extrapolation of evidence is when we assume that something that works in a test tube or in an animal model, will have the same result in a human. This is the bread and butter of the supplement industry. Also, the reason why they almost NEVER WORK in real life. Obviously our bodies are not test tube controlled environments; to think that these studies are enough evidence to influence any change in nutrition practice is ludicrous.
Nutrition can also be a heck of a lot more complicated than “eat your fruits and vegetables”. For those living with chronic diseases, food intolerances, or other health issues, choosing what to eat can be serious business. The person helping you make those choices better have a solid understanding of nutrition therapies. I get asked WAY more often than I should things like “what’s the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?”; by people who are in the nutrition supplement industry, recommending their diet and products to people living with diabetes. That’s Terrifying.
2. Nutrition is a rapidly evolving science, but that doesn’t mean we need to take every new study that seriously
We need to be so critical of the nutrition articles we read online. The average ‘nutritionist’ (aka- NOT an RD!) can get really excited about the latest article they come across on the web. BUT us Dietitians know better. Find out what the difference is between a Registered Dietitian and nutritionist, here. We are trained to understand scientific papers and weigh the evidence, and can tell you if a study was well-designed or if it really isn’t up to par.
In the new world of online scientific journals it can be really easy for a study to get published compared to a generation ago. Getting a scientific article published used to mean that the article had to pass rigorous peer reviews to be deemed “worthy” of publishing, but there are plenty of online publishers that do not meet the standards of a few decades ago. And that’s assuming what you’re reading online is even based on science at all. Anyone with an opinion and a blog can post their thoughts online for everyone to read. Some nutrition website that are full of the wackiest stuff have very legit sounding titles, which adds to the massive confusion consumers face.
Media outlets also want the most attention grabbing headline. So saying “new study shows _________ will KILL you” is definitely going to attract readers, even if the article is based on flawed research. The reporting of articles is often taken way out of proportion to generate more hype. As Dietitians, we need more than one single study to prove if something is worth changing our practice for. We definitely aren’t letting Facebook articles tell us how to do out job.
3. We are all unique individuals with different genetics, lifestyles, and nutrition needs
The mindset that we should all eat the exact same is a red flag that you are not dealing with a nutrition expert.
If you look closely at the evidence you will see that there are people who do both really well, and really poorly while following every new fad diet that makes it into the mainstream. Paleo? Gluten-free? Ketogenic? Low GI? Low-carb? Vegan? Bulletproof? (Honestly I could go on all day…).
These diets are all COMPLETELY different, yet we can find people who are following each one and are in perfect health. Will they be forever? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure they are great advertisements for that particular diet choice.
But what about the people who try these diets and experience the opposite? They gain weight instead of lose. OR they wind up deficient in vitamins and minerals, lacking energy and feeling awful. You might even have a health condition that makes following one of these fad diets really unsafe. Clearly there is no one diet that is best for everyone. When choosing a nutrition expert, make sure that they are unbiased. Someone who will help you find the diet that is right for YOU, not what’s based on the latest trend or their personal politics. It might even be different than they way they personally eat, but that is ok too! What works for one person does not necessarily work for everyone else.
4. Non-regulated Nutritionists are not legally responsible for the advice they give
Now this should get your attention. If you follow the advice of someone who does not have a licence to be practicing nutrition and you get sick or die, or your child gets sick and dies there is NO legal course of action you can take. This person can continue to practice without repercussion. So these non-licensed individuals can say literally whatever they want, with no consequences.
This is really scary when we’re talking about a person who is recommending nutrition supplements, or telling you that you don’t need to take your prescribed medications. As a Registered Dietitian on the other hand, I have a regulatory body who can retract my licence if I am found to be endangering the public. Similar to a nurse, dentist, or doctor, dietitians have to meet education standards every year to continue to practice. So I better be giving the best quality, safest advice….my career depends on it.
On the flip side…
Many nutritionist believe that their “natural advice” can do no harm, therefore they do not need regulation (um what?). Please refer to my above points. Someone who completes an online certificate in nutrition in under a year (or maybe not even that!), has no internship program, and does not need to prove that they retained any knowledge via a licensing exam is VERY capable of doing harm. Natural does not meal safe!
There are many documented cases (especially recently making headlines) of children dying of malnutrition based on the advice parents received from a nutritionist. There are also many nutrition supplements readily available on store shelves that can be deadly if taken by the wrong person in the wrong quantity. Online nutrition certification programs will take anyone as their student, so long as they are willing to pay the course fees. I’ve seen it time and time again. Where people are following crazy diet advice, and spending hundreds of dollars on supplements, and the person who told them to do it has no idea what they’re recommending. It’s sketchy as hell in my opinion.
5. Sometimes, it isn’t even about the food
This is a common thing I see in my practice. Someone makes an appointment with me because they want to know what to eat. Maybe they want to lose weight, maybe they want to feel more energized, or get the most out of their workouts. But when we get into the nitty gritty of what they eat in a day, their food record is great. Hell, they eat more fruits and vegetables than I do! As Dietitians we are trained to see past what’s on a person’s plate. Maybe your gastrointestinal issues are related to stress and anxiety, or maybe the reason no diets have worked for you in the past is because you’re an emotional eater. Maybe the reason you’re tired all the time isn’t because of gluten or dairy; it’s because you don’t get more than 5 hours of sleep per night.
We see our clients as a whole, not just another person who needs to follow (fill-in-the-blank-here) diet because it’s the latest thing. We also know that more supplements aren’t a fix-all for health issues. Adding more nutrients via over-priced supplements to an already nutritious diet is not going to make us super-human. Maybe we need to find new ways to cope with stress, turn off the tv, get to bed earlier, or incorporate more physical activity into our lives. Dietitians also have a scope of practice, which means we know when something is out of our league and it is time to refer to the proper OTHER professionals (like a psychologist). We can teach our clients cooking skills, or how to meal plan, or to eat more mindfully; not just follow a cookie-cutter diet.
So next time your chiropractor/personal trainer/health food store clerk/facebook friend/supplement sales person/etc etc etc wants to give you nutrition advice? Ask to see their Nutrition Degree and Licence 😉