“You Can’t Eat That!” – Personal Struggles of a Dietitian

dietetics, dietitian, eat when you're hungry, eating for pleasure, Food, food choices, food for celebrating, food loving, food police, healthy food, lighten up, loving food, nutrition, nutritional value, preconceived notions about dietitians

Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be called a ‘dietitian’. But I am sometimes hesitant to tell acquaintances about my professional background. It never fails that someone feels the need to make a comment about how “bad” their food choices must be. In general, most people assume that I would condemn the foods they love. For example, my husband and I recently attended a wedding where we knew very few people apart from the bride and groom. We made a few new friends and, of course, work is an easy topic of conversation. I told them about my registration as a dietitian and the first words out of their mouths were, “oh, so this food (referring their wedding dinner meal) is probably terrible then huh?” It made me sad because I was quite enjoying my fried chicken.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. It doesn’t matter the crowd: family, friends, co-workers, patients – you name it! Everyone seems to think that dietitians are out to get them. Or even worse, they think dietitians hate good food. It might surprise you to know that the opposite is actually more true. I chose to become a dietitian because I love food! I enjoy the foods I eat. Most of the nutrition advice I give my patients is to ‘lighten up’! They often already have made negative judgments about the quality of their food preferences long before they asked for my input. It doesn’t help for me to give them more reasons to feel guilty – they do that splendidly all on their own.    

In addition to the misconception that dietitians are the food police, I have also been scrutinized for my own food choices. I was once about to eat a candy bar when a co-worker declared, “You can’t eat that, you’re a dietitian!” I recall slowly, defiantly taking a bite of the candy bar and savoring it as though it were the best I’d ever eaten. It makes me think of the movie Matilda when Miss Honey is taunted by her evil aunt with her father’s special chocolates. “Mmmmm… Much too good for children.” 

I have not always been of this food-loving mindset. We all learn and grow through our mistakes and experiences. I know there have been times where my judgement was clouded by new research that touted the dangers or benefits of this or that. I pushed for restriction or food avoidance or control. Over the years, I have learned better. I have learned that what food tastes like or how it makes you feel is equally as important as its nutritional contribution. It is perfectly normal to come to the table hungry, choose foods you like and eat until you’re satisfied.  

By telling you my perspective, I also hope to encourage you. It is okay to choose foods based on your enjoyment of them. Maybe if I “bless” your love of food, it will give you some freedom. A very wise dietitian named Ellyn Satter says, “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” Food is so much a part of who we are; our society is built around it. Holidays are chock-full of traditional dishes that make us nostalgic. We use food for celebrating and for consoling. More times than not, where there are people, there is food. So… lighten up! And I promise you will never hear this dietitian say, ‘You can’t eat that!’  


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