Dispelling common myths about dietitians
I am on a mission to dispel the countless myths about dietitians. Just to clarify, dietitians are allied health professionals who apply the art and science of nutrition to understand the relationship between health and food. As a profession, we adhere to evidence-based guidelines.
Some of my favourite nicknames for dietitians include the food police, carrot-stick peddlers, sandwich doctors and the rabbit-food professors. Just to name a few. However, gone are the days when dietitians would prescribe convoluted and restrictive diets. In fact, the only time I am ever strict with a patient is if they have kidney disease or a food allergy. Dietitians nowadays make recommendations that are not only tailored to the individual and comply with their food likes and preferences but are also relevant and realistic. As a result, I am confident that my patients don’t view me as the scary big bad wolf that some people seem to think dietitians are.
Here are some dietitians’ tricks of the trade; they may surprise you.
You can have your cake and eat it too
People are often surprised when I tell them that they are still allowed to eat their favourite foods. You’ll never hear a dietitian refer to a food as “good” or “bad”. Rather we use terms like “sometimes foods” and “everyday foods”. While an apple may be enjoyed daily, a beer-battered deep-fried Mars bar (yes, they do exist) should only be consumed occasionally. The keys are moderation and frequency. I know I would hate it if someone told me that I could never eat a Crunchie chocolate bar (my all-time favourite treat) or a Magnum ice cream (my second all-time favourite treat) ever again, so I would never dish out such advice to a patient.
Enjoy your food without the guilt
If you’re going to indulge in that deep-fried beer-battered Mars bar, at least enjoy it. Guilt is one of the most distressing emotions that afflict human beings. If you really want to eat it, at least be in a state of mind to enjoy it guilt-free.
Make the right food choices MOST of the time
While fad diets may enable you to achieve weight loss, they do so in an unhealthy way. These diets work on the premise of creating an energy deficit (all well and good in theory), however, they usually involve eliminating entire food groups, thereby cutting back on really important nutrients. That simply creates health concerns and increases one’s chance of developing disease at a later stage. My job is to educate people about which foods are best to consume more regularly and which foods should be enjoyed less often. In my experience, a patient who feels empowered to make the right food choices most of the time will have the best outcomes, whether they be for weight loss, cholesterol management, improved diabetes control or to reduce IBS-like symptoms such as bloating or wind.
Get your five
The Australian Dietary Guidelines, revised early last year after over 55,000 peer-reviewed scientific research papers were analysed, recommended that we all include a variety of foods from all five food groups every single day. Just a reminder, the groups are whole grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy and meat/fish/alternatives. In fact, the majority of the foods we eat should be vegetables (no surprises there) and whole grains (shock horror?). Contrary to popular opinion, carbohydrates are not the devil incarnate. In fact, they are our body’s preferential fuel source. The brain alone uses 130 grams of carbohydrate (in the form of glucose) every day. Go right ahead, regularly include pasta, potatoes, bread and rice in your daily diet, just be mindful of portion sizing. Meanwhile, foods to have seldom include confectionary, soft drinks, fruit juices, alcohol, cakes and pastries, sweet biscuits, chocolate, and yes, deep-fried Mars bars.
I hope this piece goes some way towards dispelling some of the false misconceptions that you may have about dietitians. I certainly hope that if we do ever meet in a professional setting, you won’t be apprehensive. And if you see me down the street munching on a Crunchie chocolate bar, come and say hi – I’m really not that scary.