Let’s face it – as human beings, we make assumptions. We judge the book by its cover on a daily basis. Even though we have been taught since we were little that this is not the right thing to do, we still do it. I’m guilty of it! But recently I have been trying very hard to recognize when I am doing it, and trying to stop as much as I can.
It is essential in what I do for a living as a dietitian to save my judgment for after I’ve learned a patient’s story. My patients are mostly overweight and obese. I could easily assume that everyone that walks into my office is lazy and eats too many Twinkies. But I would say that 98% of the time, that is completely inaccurate. Yes, there are a few that have stopped any sort of physical activity and have no motivation to get moving. Yes, some of them eat a lot of “junk food”. But even those that are inactive and don’t have the best diet usually have a lot more going on than just that – it is so much more than just diet and exercise.
It is easier to do this with my patients than it is with the general public, though. When my patients are coming in, I have a general picture of their health. I know a little bit of their story. Typically they are coming to see me because they want to be healthier, they want to lose weight, they want to have bariatric surgery. I know if they had bariatric surgery five years ago and have struggled with re-gain. I know if they were once 500lbs and now they are 300lbs.
With the general public, however, I don’t know any of their story. When I see an overweight person riding an Amigo at the grocery store, I don’t know if they have a chronic illness that has made them unable to walk on their own, and weight gain has been a side effect. I don’t know if they lost their husband and have been using food as a coping method. I don’t know if they had bariatric surgery 10 years ago and back then they were 500lbs, and they’ve maintained a weight loss of 200lbs for the last 10 years.
I was faced with this situation recently, and I truly hope that the person that I was speaking with did not feel hurt. The person had come up to me to ask me questions, knowing that I was a bariatric dietitian. I asked her if she was just getting started in the program – not because of her appearance, but because I did not recognize her. The person responded saying that she had surgery years ago, had lost X amount of pounds but had gained back X amount of pounds. My response was to OWN the weight that this person had kept off for all of those years! Yes, it was good that she had recognized that weight re-gain had occurred, but she should be proud of that weight loss that she maintained – she did not gain back all of her lost weight and then some, as some patients do.
This doesn’t just apply to someone who is overweight or obese, that just happens to be the situation I deal with the most in my work. The same can happen to someone of whatever weight that stays in bed all day – some would assume this person is lazy, but maybe he is dealing with depression. Or you compliment a person who has lost weight, but don’t realize that she has a chronic illness or an eating disorder, and that weight loss is not desirable. How about that awkward moment when you ask a woman if she is pregnant, and she isn’t? Oops…
I’ve faced judgment myself as a dietitian – I’ve had a patient tell me that they shouldn’t have to listen to me because I am not skinny, so I obviously do not eat right. Yet I have gone through years of school and training to do what I do. And at the time I was going through a lot of stress and had been using food to cope. That patient did not know that, though… they only knew what they saw and what they assumed from what they saw.
It’s easy to say “don’t judge a book by its cover”. It is difficult to do in real life. I urge everyone who reads this to pay closer to attention to his or her judgments – if you catch yourself, check yourself. I’m not trying to be “holier than thou” by any means; like I said, I am so entirely guilty of this! But you may not realize how much your judgment could hurt someone.
Okay guys – your KEEPING IT REAL dietitian is off her soapbox now! :)
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