Recently I had a client share with me that she “struggled to understand” my approach to nutrition counselling. At first I thought it’s because I don’t do weight loss (which I think is probably still a part of it) but when I probed further, she said that it’s because she had expected a formula that she’s seen with other nutrition professionals (dietitian or not):
- Client brings in food journal
- Provider critiques food journal
- Provider gives suggestions, recipes, and/or meal plan
- Rinse and repeat
My client is certainly not alone in expecting that this is how dietitians work, and there are indeed dietitians who do work that way, at least some of the time. There are also many other examples of situations that don’t quite capture all that dietitians do, like when I get a referral to “teach a Mediterranean diet for inflammation” or when someone says “dietitians are government-regulated, so they only teach Canada’s Food Guide.” It often feels like those “What my friends think I do… what I really do” memes from a few years back.
How Dietitians Unlock the Potential of Food
One thing that my client added was that even though she didn’t quite understand my approach, the approach that she was familiar with didn’t work for her. She found that the meal plans that she’d been given in the past were too restrictive, and that she often found herself making separate meals for herself and her family as the recipes didn’t appeal to her children.
Just as food is more than calories and nutrients, dietitians do so much more than food policing and meal plans. (And some, like myself, don’t do either of those things.) As I mentioned earlier, there are absolutely elements of truth in some of the beliefs around the ways that dietitians practice, but it simply doesn’t capture the entire picture.
We live in an era where there is no lack of information on “what” and “how much” to eat. In fact, there is way too much of it—so many of my clients feel immobilized by the contradictory, fear-based information that’s out there, that they’d rather not eat, than eat something that’s “wrong.” Sometimes we can unpack the myths one by one, but as my colleague Andrea Hardy shares in her recent TEDx talk, that can backfire as it only adds to the conflicting messages that people hear about food and nutrition.
In my practice as a non-diet dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor, I often focus on a person’s relationship with food—the “why” behind their eating habits. Like many other clinicians who use a non-diet approach, this often means changing the relationship between the provider and the client as well. Instead of positioning myself as the “expert” who will tell you “what” or “how much” to eat, or even how to “fix” your relationship with food, it’s about coming along beside you and listening, holding space, and providing support as you learn to regain trust in your innate wisdom and lived experiences as sources of knowledge when it comes to making the choices that are right for you. This often means that we might not talk about food or nutrition in session, but in the end, you will notice that it will affect your eating habits, and probably more than a “foods to eat/avoid” list ever will.