I’m a dietitian. Nutrition is my job, not my life. Sometimes those lines get blurred. The space between knowing a lot about nutrition and thinking about it 24/7 is a slippery slope. For me, the latter isn’t healthy. I’m happier when I’m not ticking off servings of fruits and vegetables on an imaginary checklist in my head, counting calories, or worrying about some extra sugar in a container of yogurt that I bought on a whim.
At the same time, food is something that gives me (and many people) a false sense of control. Furthermore, our society tends to normalize and encourage dieting behaviors. I find it nearly impossible to be in a social situation (or on social media or watching the news) without hearing someone brag about how they skipped a meal or stopped eating an entire food group, complain about feeling guilty for indulging in a favorite food or drink, or comment on someone’s body size or food choices.
All of this is to say, I am a dietitian, but I don’t particularly like talking about nutrition outside of my job. I’ve experienced first-hand how damaging restrictive food rules, focusing on a number on the scale, and being a human calorie calculator can be. I know that it’s impossible to tell by looking at a person what they are going through. You cannot assume why they may or may not eat certain foods. You cannot assume what they may have tried in the past to change what their body looks like. You cannot assume what their relationship to food, exercise, or their body is. Off-hand comments, innocent jokes, or pointing out changes in someone’s body size can do so much damage.
As a result, I don’t recommend dietary restrictions lightly. I am gentle and careful when I talk about weight; I prefer to avoid talking about it if I can. I don’t want to think about food and nutrition all day.
I prefer to talk about nutrition and health in a joyful way. Tell me about how delicious your mom’s banana bread recipe is, and how it makes the whole house smell amazing for days. Lend me the recipe! Tell me about how your legs carried you through a half marathon. Tell me about how your brain feels bright and focused when you eat breakfast. Let’s chat about your favorite restaurants to grab brunch.
If you’re feeling the same way, read on for some basic truths to keep in mind when talking about nutrition and health.
The foods I choose to eat are not reflections of my knowledge or skill set as a dietitian, nor are they a reflection of anyone’s value or worth as a human being.
Yes, I am a dietitian. I am also a human. I am not perfect. I don’t eat perfectly, and that’s how it should be. Please don’t make a joke about how I ordered the burger instead of the salad. Please don’t make a joke about how anyone ordered the burger instead of the salad.
No one food is going to make or break someone’s health.
Someone can eat pizza, cheeseburgers, and ice cream, among other foods deemed “unhealthy,” and still be healthy. Someone can eat strawberries, broccoli, and avocados, among other foods deemed “healthy,” and still get sick or have health conditions. Chances are, they probably eat both. Food can surely support your health, but it’s not a magic bullet, and simplifying health down to the foods a person eats or doesn’t eat is just plain wrong.
No, I’m not judging people for their food choices because I’m a dietitian.
People can choose to eat or not eat a food for whatever reason they wish. They don’t have to explain that to anyone — including me. Feel free to eat the bacon, put the sugar in your coffee, or choose the craft beer instead of the light beer. I will not be a part of any conversation judging someone for their food choices. I talk to people about changing their diet only if they’re my patient, and even then, I probably won’t tell them to stop eating their favorite foods.
How much I exercise isn’t an indication of my value or worth as a dietitian, nor is it an indication of anyone’s value or worth as a human.
I like exercising, but I don’t do it every day. I prefer not to spend more than an hour doing it. I think that’s how it should be. I understand that being able to exercise is a privilege for many reasons.
I don’t congratulate people for losing weight.
Yes, I talk to people about weight and health as a part of my job, but I don’t congratulate people for losing weight. I know that weight loss is not always a good thing. I know that commenting on someone’s weight or size is always a bad thing. Instead, I usually ask them, “How do you feel?” or “What brought that on?” or even better, “Do you want to talk about that?”
I could probably give you a pretty good estimation of the calorie content of every food you eat, but I don’t want to.
I know nutrition is about so much more than calories. I’d rather talk to you about how your food makes you feel, actionable steps to reaching your health goals, and helping you break free of restrictive food rules that aren’t serving you. Or anything else at all.
Nutrition is my job, not my life.
If I don’t want to talk about nutrition outside of work, I don’t have to. If I want to change the subject when someone brings up the latest fad diet, I can. There are countless other more interesting topics to discuss.
If you haven’t gathered so far, I recommend that people think twice before commenting on how people eat or exercise or how much they weigh. Please, let’s talk about something else. Anything else. Please, let’s leave those conversations about nutrition for a time when they’re indicated — at an appointment with (hopefully) a dietitian.