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The Dichotomy in the Dietitian Community

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Christopher and Allison, two fellow mental health running warriors, on Christopher’s Podcast 40,000 Steps Radio. Christopher and I connected on Instagram when we were both selected to be 2022 Ambassadors for Still I Run – “a community of runners and mental health warriors determined to take control of our physical and mental health while also breaking the stigma surrounding people that live with mental illness.” Christopher and I exchanged messages on Instagram, commenting on all of the similarities we had. He asked me if I would be interested in doing an episode on his podcast to talk about nutrition, specifically about the gut-brain connection. I told him that was not my area of expertise (although him asking me about it has certainly sparked my curiosity and I want to learn more about it) but that I would love to talk about how I work with people on their relationship with food and share some of my own story as well.

Christopher set up our conversation for the day after I ran my 100th race. He asked if it would be okay with me if he had a guest host join our conversation and he directed me to Allison’s story. She told the story of her experience as a high school and college track athlete and her mental health journey, including being in recovery from an eating disorder. I listened to her episode and found myself nodding along so much during the podcast. Her conversation with Christopher took me back to my first job as a dietitian working with patients with eating disorders. After I finished listening to Allison’s episode, I wrote an email to her and Christopher. I told them that I wanted to be completely transparent with them and address the “elephant in the room” before our conversation: that I was a dietitian working in weight management and bariatric surgery.

Christopher and Allison both admitted during our conversation on the podcast that they weren’t sure how to approach talking about what I did for a living. Something that Allison said to me in the podcast has stuck with me ever since: she said that she noticed such a dichotomy within the dietitian community when it comes to weight management versus eating disorder treatment. I even went as far as to say that some people see me as “evil” for working in the niche that I do in the dietitian community. I then went on to talk about what I love about my job – helping people – and how when you get right down to it, that’s what most dietitians are trying to do.

The day after the podcast episode featuring that conversation went live I had a meeting with my therapist. One of the things we discussed was my fear of putting myself out there. I told her that I am so afraid of the criticism. I am afraid of being wrong, I am afraid of being told that I am wrong, I am afraid of coming off as disingenuous, I am afraid of being thought of as a fraud. I told my therapist that I think it’s a bit of “Imposter Syndrome”. Scrolling through my social media feed I see posts from fellow dietitians that share the same education, the same training, and even the same bias and beliefs about how we eat. Some of the posts I am nodding my head the same way I did listening to Allison’s story. Some of the posts I feel like I am being attacked for what I chose to do with my career, where I ended up, where I have been so happy for the last 7 years. I am afraid of the comments or messages I might get by sharing my clinical approach, so I’ve chosen to just not post about it or write about it here on my blog.

At the end of the day what matters most to me is helping people. The common theme in all of the roles I have served as a registered dietitian is that I enjoy learning people’s stories and understanding their relationship with food. I want to help them heal their relationship with food, nurture that relationship. I want to help them to take care of their health in the way that they want to do so, using my knowledge of nutrition science, physical and mental health to collaborate with them in their decision making about their health. I did that in my role as a dietitian working in an eating disorder and substance use treatment center, as a facility dietitian in long term care communities and now as a dietitian in a weight management and bariatric surgery program.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to listen to our conversation, you can check out my episode on Christopher’s 40,000 Steps Radio Podcast. And if you have made it this far reading my blog, thank you for your support. I try my best to see different perspectives, different sides of the story, and I hope that you will take the time to get to know mine. This may be the first time I’m being this vulnerable and transparent about what I love to do as a dietitian, but I promise you it won’t be my last.

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