Tis the post-Holiday re-boot, where folks start to jump on the wagon by improving their lifestyles, and often their diets. If you’ve never worked with a dietitian before, it’s understandable to have lots of questions. If you have worked with a dietitian, then bravo, and this article probably isn’t for you. For those who have not met with a dietitian, there are many different factors to consider when selecting a Registered Dietitian (RD), including background, specialty, insurance requirements, and how well you and RD vibe. Before you see a dietitian to kick off your 2020, check out four of the most common misconceptions I get asked about working with an RD.
#1. A Dietitian is the same as a nutritionist.
A registered dietitian (RD) is a nutritionist, but a nutritionist is NOT a dietitian. Let’s put it this way: if your grandmother took a 2 hour nutrition course online, she could then call herself a “nutritionist”. A registered dietitian is someone who has 1) completed Dietetics coursework accredited by the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics during undergraduate and often graduate school, 2) completed a clinical internship (often 12 months +), 3) passed the Registered Dietitian Exam, and 4) are certified/licensed in their state of practice. A Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics involves rigorous coursework including biochemistry, organic chemistry, human physiology, food science, medical nutrition therapy and more. Dietetics majors are often sharing science class with medical, nursing and physical therapy students.
The coursework is arduous but necessary, as it builds our knowledge of the science of food in the body. This education qualifies an individual to provide personalized and informed nutrition counseling. A self proclaimed “nutritionist” does not have to follow any path, education or licensure requirements to practice, they just need a self-proclaimed title. Nutritionist are not licensed to provide nutrition therapy in Massachusetts, so you will never find a nutritionist who is not a dietitian practicing at a hospital, school or large corporation. Bottom line: before you hire someone to work with, ALWAYS make sure they are a Registered Dietitian.
#2. You’ll have to go on a strict or boring diet.
Let’s get one thing straight: Dietitians love food just as much as you do. I am literally obsessed with food, and not just healthy food; there is nothing I love more than cheese and Chinese food, I just try to enjoy them in moderation. Food is as much a source of joy and connection, as it is fuel and preventative medicine. Eating healthy does not have to mean a strict and boring diet. There are a huge variety of grains, fats, proteins, fruits and vegetables to incorporate into your favorite meals and recipes. A dietitian will help you brainstorm different ways to keep your meals both healthy and exciting! Within a nutrition counseling session, an RD can provide meal ideas, healthy eating strategies, pantry tips, as well as how to better grocery shop for your diet.
A dietitian can help teach you how to make healthier choices, like the meal pictured here, even while at a beach bar!
#3. You’ll have to stop eating your favorite foods.
As I said, Chinese food, see above. Most dietitians would agree that, in moderation, all foods fit. The last thing a dietitian want you to feel is deprived or restricted. If you think of your meals as a test score and you eat about 3 meals per day, if 1 meal per week is not supporting your nutrition goals then you still receive an 95% on your test. I generally ask my clients to eat healthy 80% of the time, because I have found its hard to sustain more than that. If you are at a holiday event and feel inclined to have dessert, it’s ok to have a few bites! Indulging every once in a while will help you feel satisfied and prevent bingeing later on.
Dietitians can also help you recreate your favorite recipes with more nutrient dense ingredients. White grains can be replaced by high fiber grains to make you feel more full and satisified. Coconut and almond flour can serve as a base for lower carbohydrate desserts. Cashews can be transformed into a healthy and tasty “cheese” sauce or creamy soup base. Your favorite dishes can be updated in ways that support your nutrition goals, with the help of a dietitian.
While the occasional ice cream is totally ok, if you are dairy-free or looking for a healthier alternative, Pressed Juicery on Newbury St is worth a try!
#4. All Dietitians Are The Same.
Let’s face it, food is personal; many of us have a lot of traditions, and memories wrapped in with our food choices. Jiving with a dietitian is no different than that of a therapist, doctor, or other medical provider. If you’ve seen a dietitian in the past and didn’t feel 100% happy with your treatment, know that every dietitian’s approach is different. Many dietitians have specialties or areas of nutrition in which they are the most proficient. We all have the same baseline nutrition coursework, however many dietitians may have more education or more experience in specific areas. For example, some dietitians abide by the “Non-diet Approach”, while others prefer to utilize specific diets/meal plans. Bottom line, Dietitians have different approaches and therefore, it may require a little bit of research to find the right RD for you.
For example, I am a fan of a high-fiber, Mediterranean-like pattern of eating. Pictured here is an example of one of my favorite snacks for clients: GG Fiber Crackers + a Protein like hummus or eggs!
Seeing a dietitian can be an incredible way to gain personalized nutrition education and discover the ideal way of eating for you! It is also important to note: your dietitian is not the food police! We are here to help support you in reaching your nutrition goals, without judgement. It is essential to be honest and open with your dietitian, so they can better help you pursue maximum health and happiness. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and take an active role in collaborating with your dietitian on the best possible nutrition practice for you.
Co-created with Molly Pelletier, Dietetics Student and Yoga Instructor at Boston University.