This question keeps popping up whenever someone gets angry about the current state of health affairs in this country. They get angry with dietitians for not doing their job properly. They blame dietitians for introducing the “low fat” era and poisoning people with grains. We also get compared, as a profession, to those with celebrity status, who appear to be doing much more about the health status of this country than ourselves.
Are dietitian’s doing their job?
Personally, I think the comparison is a bit harsh and the blame wrongly directed. Celebrities are just that – celebrities. They have much more of a far-reaching audience than a sole dietitian like myself. I’m not on TV all the time; occasionally my name gets printed in a magazine, and my social media page – at the most – will receive 10 comments on a good post. Compare this to Pete Evans, who has a following of god knows how many now? He gets over 300 comments on Facebook on every post and is in the media daily.
Whose message is going to be heard first?
I am not going to pretend that these communication barriers don’t exist. Of course, it’s a no brainer that people believe what they hear in the media, and if you’re told the same message over and over again, well, you start to believe it as fact. Most people don’t even know what a dietitian is or does! This includes my brother-in-law, who blamed dietitians for creating fad diets for money. You can tell that conversation ended badly.
Just because people can’t see us doing what we do, doesn’t mean we are not doing anything. Some of us work quietly in the background helping individuals. Other dietitians and nutritionists work on a larger scale with food companies, to improve product formulations nation-wide. Dietitians working in food industry have been responsible for removing tonnes of sodium and sugar from the food chain. They just don’t outwardly promote it, nor does it get picked up by the main stream media.
One great example of dietitians doing great things is a company called The Food Group. It’s an organisation that works with big food companies to improve the formulation of products. One of the big brands they have worked with is McDonalds.
A few of the outcomes have been introducing healthier menu options at McDonalds like yoghurt, breakfast cereals and fruit cups. They have reduced the sodium content in the cheese used in burger products by 20%. This had a direct impact on 14 menu items. Deli Choice lunches were introduced, with 3 out of 7 products containing less than 10g of fat. A few more examples can be found here.
Now, before you get on your high horse and tell me dietitians shouldn’t be associating themselves with such companies out of principle, and people shouldn’t be eating Maccas anyway – trust me, I’ve heard this garbage before.
Let’s not be naive and forget that people actually eat Maccas. You may not eat Maccas, I certainly don’t but THOUSANDS if not MILLIONS of people do. If you want to make a big impact, then infiltrating menu items and product formulations gives you the biggest bang for your buck. You will have a bigger health impact than selling a $39 fad diet book from a self-appointed “nutrition expert”.
McDonald’s serves 1% of the world’s population every day
McDonald’s sells more than 75 hamburgers every second
You can easily say dietitians, in this respect, are having a HUGE impact on the health of most, if not every Australian, who eat Maccas. Remember, this is just one example.
Lets not forget about dietitians working in preventative care though. I have worked in government initiatives like the Get Healthy Service, which provides free nutrition and exercise coaching to all Australians. This program is run by dietitians and exercise physiologists, but surprisingly hardly anyone takes it up. Why?
Well because why get free health care from a qualified health professional, on a program with proven results, when you can pay big bucks for a fad diet from a celebrity?
Now I’m just being cynical…
I guess glossy magazine and fancy TV shows draw people in hook, line and sinker. I don’t think that’s anyone’s fault. I just think it’s the nature of the world we live in. We are taught that unless you’re suffering through a diet, or sacrificing your life to exercise, well you must be doing it wrong.
Personally, I think that’s bullocks. I will never diet again. After I gave up dieting at the age of 23 (yes I started very young), I now use all those thought processes I had on dieting rules and weight loss and think about other things I enjoy. I don’t have any food guilt either… that’s heaven on earth for me. For a person who has, in the past, been plagued by these thoughts and fears of gaining weight etc, it’s like having a new life.
As for the other bits and bobs about dietitians promoting low fat diets, well I’d like to see the evidence for that.
Yes, it’s true that the dietary guidelines we use as a tool suggests use of low fat dairy products. It also recommends replacing saturated fat with healthier unsaturated fat alternatives. This is by no means a low fat diet.
Using unsaturated fats would mean that you can still use: olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, other vegetable oils and eat according to your needs. Please also note that it clearly says “Limit intake of food and drink containing added sugar”… see that part??? It means dietitians don’t want you eating too much sugar! Let’s not get caught up in the semantics of the dietary guidelines though, because what do dietitians actually do in practice?
How do dietitian’s provide advice?
We assess an individual’s personal energy requirements, we consider their goals, we take note of foods that they like and dislike, activity levels and other co-morbidities. By the time you consider all of the above add in natural protein sources like meat, oily fish and chicken; add extras like salad dressings and nuts as snacks, it’s a far cry away from being a low fat diet AND you may even have a warped version of the dietary guidelines.
Personally, I don’t make people swap to low fat dairy unless they want to. To me, choosing one from the other is a taste preference. For me, I only like skim milk and I prefer low fat yoghurt. However everyone isn’t me, or you and nor should they have to be. No one has the same taste buds or the same body or life, so why should everyone be eating the same diet?!
Next topic of agenda is sugar. I have seen people accuse dietitians of promoting the use of sugar. You can thank me later for clarifying this:
Just because we don’t make claims that sugar is “toxic” does not mean we promote a free for all. What part of “limit your sugar intake” is so hard to understand? Sugar is not toxic because that would mean you would die a sudden horrible death. I eat sugar and I’m not dead. I bet you have eaten sugar in your life time too and as far as I know you’re still breathing because you’re still reading. In addition dietitian’s aren’t going to lie to you about “Quitting Sugar” or provide sugar free plans, that still contain sugar (like other popular fad diet books on the market), we are also not going to tell you that calorie don’t count on the weekend on “cheat days”.
What dietitan’s do, is very different to fad diets. We don’t put everyone on the same plan, we won’t ever tell you that you can’t eat chocolate, and we won’t even make you feel bad. What we do as dietitian’s is more complicated and tailored to the individual than your average #fail-a-thon fad diet.
As you can see, dietitians are doing their job as experts in nutrition to “fight” the obesity crisis. If I had my way, I’d be on TV, telling people to NEVER DIET AGAIN! But until I get my diamond-encrusted microphone I will stick to my podcast and blog.
Now, if you want to give this “Healthy eating” no dieting bizzo a try, check out this nation wide initiative #AHWW. Australia’s Healthy Weight Week is run by dietitians and it promotes healthy eating. Pretty simple and it’s FREE!!! So spread the word, down with fad diets, and vow to never diet again!