08 Jun How Becoming a Dietitian Changed my Diet
I have repeatedly been asked: “did studying nutrition and becoming a dietitian change the way you eat?”
It has immensely – but not in the way you might think.
Before I began formally studying nutrition, I looked for diet guidance in the typical ways – blogs, magazines, and the occasional book (this was about 10 years ago, so Instagram was not yet born).
My informal research led me to craft some food principles that I followed for several years: Prioritize foods that “detoxify” your body and make it more alkaline. Juice veggies to get the most nutrients. Read every nutrition label. Choose agave and honey instead of sugar.
Nutrition, to me, was strategic, restrictive, and game-able.
I then went to graduate school (for nutrition), became a Registered Dietitian, and worked with patients while going back to graduate school (for lactation)…and my nutrition philosophy has entirely evolved. I realized that nutrition is far more complex than we can currently understand. In other words, there is so much more research to be done about how different foods and eating patterns affect the body.
Yet simultaneously, eating “well” is way simpler than we make it out to be.
The more that I learned about the ins-and-outs of nutrition science, the better I have come to understand that our bodies do not benefit from strict rules or intense regimens. Our pancreases can handle the occasional Pop-Tart and our livers won’t self-destruct with a few too many glasses of sparkling wine at girls’ night. Whether you’re eating a fresh strawberry or a Ritz cracker, a carbohydrate molecule is still carbon + hydrogen + oxygen, and will provide your body with energy.
More restrictive diets – even intentional ones you feel proud of – tend to have an unhappy ending when the pendulum inevitably swings towards bingeing. In hindsight, this explains how I ate in college: salads all day, then heaps of candy and chips at night.
I do not want to downplay how it important it is to eat unprocessed foods, which contain phytochemicals (e.g., antioxidants) that processed foods lack. However, I want people to feel freed from the inaccurate understanding that some foods heal us while others destroy us. It’s not that black and white.
Nutrition research is incredibly difficult to conduct because humans are not robots, and our lifestyles have so many factors for which studies can’t control. As a result, we can’t put too much stock in headlines promoting individual “superfoods” or special diets. Trying to hack your health with short-cuts is typically too good to be true (though makes for much more captivating social media content!).
What research consistently shows to be most effective are eating patterns that are:
- varied (lots of different types of foods)
- adequate (enough nutrients)
- sustainable (not yo-yo’ing between extremes)
- full of plants
These concepts don’t Instagram as well as fad-diets do, so we don’t see them advertised as much in our day-to-day lives (though that is changing – there are some very cool evidence-based nutrition Instagram accounts out there).
As I have gained nutrition expertise and experience, I have personally become more liberal with what I eat. I follow fewer rules, eat with less guilt, and do NOT exercise as punishment. And for what it’s worth, I feel far more content with my health than I did when I was juicing and trend-seeking.
Similarly, I have found that the more an individual knows about nutrition and health, the fewer “rules” he or she follows. The people who I intensely admire as nutrition experts and mentors eat really inclusive, non-restricted diets. They love dessert and they appreciate how different foods serve our bodies without having to count macros or calculate percentages.
So TLDR? Dietitians may eat more treats than you think we would! If someone claiming to be a nutrition professional is selling you a very strict diet or plan to improve your overall wellness, chances are they are not truly an expert 🙂