We decided to move away from the healthy recipes and great tips for one day and be honest and real about life as a dietitian. It definitely hasn’t always been easy and there were days that most of us almost wanted to give it all up!
The first thing most people ask when we meet is; can I give them a meal plan for weight loss / weight gain or for muscle building OR what is my opinion regarding the [insert latest FAD diet here] craze. What I usually think, but often find myself too embarrassed to say: make an appointment. We follow an individualized approach – one size does NOT fit all! We need about an hour to do a complete assessment in a quiet and controlled environment. We usually guide the individual (with certain questions) so that we can get the most out of the session. We do not have generic copies of information and meal plans that gets handed out as a standard – we assess the situation and choose the most important information and goals that will benefit the client the most.
Like everyone else we have to earn a living – doing nutritional assessment and giving dietary advice is it! It is hard enough having to compete with various weight loss shakes, tablets and injections available on the market. ‘They’ get to publish their amazing ‘overnight results’ in magazines as part of the company’s marketing campaigns. As dietitians (registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa) – we cannot actively market ourselves. We rely on referrals from doctors or word of mouth. Even though our results take longer to achieve, we hope that the maintenance phase will stand the test of time – unlike all these quick fixes that do not have long term results (after cessation of their products).
Most dietitians (especially ME) like food. I love to cook and bake and entertain friends and family around a table filled with food – this is a hobby for me. FACT: I love chocolate (WHAT?) – and find it odd that people stare at me when I pay for said chocolate (or something else that is considered to be ‘inappropriate’ for a dietitian). Just because I am a dietitian does not mean that my brain is wired differently than yours. I am a human being and I like to socialize with friends and family – food plays an important role in socializing. BALANCE IS KEY. I too, have those days considered being ‘bad’ – days where I crave something sweet or days where I go to a restaurant and have the chips instead of a salad. Sometimes I will even order dessert afterwards, but this happens mostly on special occasions. Are my eating habits out of control? NO! This will only become a problem if I indulge in these things daily. I keep treats for occasions or limit them to once or twice a week. Remember: BALANCE IS KEY.
I have struggled with my weight – as a teenager and student. I know how it feels to badly just want to lose a few kilograms as this will make me feel happier and more beautiful. And I clearly remember being so upset that weighing less did not make me happy yet! This was not always easy and I did not always have all the right answers myself. Now I am happier than ever before – I don’t focus on my weight at all (I cannot even remember the last time I stepped onto a scale – gasp!), BUT I try to maintain a general healthy lifestyle; which includes a variety of fruit and vegetables daily, drinking lots of clean water, getting some form of exercise and ensuring I get enough rest.
On the topic of exercise – I am not the biggest fan (can you believe it?). Somehow I missed out when enjoyment of exercise was handed out! BUT I have a few basic rules in my daily life – I always climb the stairs, I carry my shopping bags and shopping basket instead of pushing a trolley, I park further from a shopping mall’s entrance, I always walk at a brisk pace, etc. I know exercise is good for my overall health – so I try to increase my weekly exercise levels by doing fun activities with friends or family; like hiking, playing tennis, exploring new cities (by foot or bike) on my vacations or going to ‘fun’ gym classes (like step class, zumba, pilates, yoga).
Still wondering why you should rather trust a dietitian for nutritional advice? I have spent countless hours reading up on the ‘latest’ research, I spent most of my nights as a student studying the anatomy / physiology of the human body or nutritional content of food (and not sleeping), I have spent days on my feet running around in hospitals and that is why I am qualified to give nutritional advice. Science is fast paced – things change constantly and we know where to get the correct, scientific research and very importantly – interpret it correctly. I will not ask a banker for medical advice or a teacher to build my home or even a cashier at a grocery store to give me financial advice – then why are there still so many people out there that believe that celebrities and your average person on Facebook / twitter, etc. are qualified to give nutritional advice?
According to ADSA (our dietetic association) “Nutrition is a science, not an opinion”, and I couldn’t agree more! Being a dietitian is a career, a passion and a way of (earning a) living. We might not be celebrities or well-known authors, but when it comes to nutrition – we might know a thing or two!