Dietitians under the microscope

I googled "dietitian" today and received 20.7 million hits! Cheers to that! Registered Dietitians are finally getting on the map!

However, there are still SO many people who don't REALLY know what we do - who perhaps think that we are all drill sergeants who prescribe strict weight loss diets for all!

With so much news in the headlines about health and nutrition and the increasingly massive burden that diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome have on the Canadian population, you would think that more people would know the value of dietitians in the prevention of these costly diseases and their burden on the medical system ...

You would think... Sigh

So here are a few topics I thought I should address that will hopefully clarify all of those burning questions that you still have about us dietitians (that most certainly keep you awake at night!) and a few other insights into our profession and what we can offer you!

 

Firstly let me confess that I am not a huge fan of the word "dietitian"...

For some reason it tends to conjure up images of a pencil thin woman with a tight bun, big glasses, wearing a bleached and starched lab coat who is shaking her finger and telling you to stop eating cheesecake and start eating salad without dressing. Horror upon horror!

I would prefer if we had a title that didn’t include the root word “diet”, as it has developed such a negative connotation for most people, thanks to mainstream media. But I honestly don’t have any suggestions for an alternative. Dietitian is a protected term and ensures that everyone practicing under that name is licensed and has the training and education required to be a health care professional. This is not the case with other terms like nutritionist or wellness coach etc. (in the province of Ontario). 

So, I wear the RD badge with both humility and honour – to be part of such an amazingly gifted group of very smart individuals who are genuinely passionate about their career and the healing powers of food. 

 

Chances are, if you meet a dietitian, she’s a she.

In fact, the last statistic that I read indicated that 95% of the dietitians in Canada are female. So the good news is, you are apt to find a job right out of internship because there are lots of maternity leave positions to be had! The bad news is, our profession could certainly use a few more male dietitians! In a country whose population is 49.6% male and 50.4% female – there must be some more guys out there?

 

Dietitians don’t deliver meal trays.

It’s funny that I used that line as my heading because one of my jobs in university was as a Food Service Worker at a local hospital, delivering meal trays. My favourite part of that job? The awesome blue “shower caps” and frighteningly ugly non-slip black shoes I had to wear. But that’s not what dietitians do to pass their day. RDs are employed in MANY different areas, including, but not limited to:

-       Corporate wellness

-       Education and research

-       Food and nutrition industry and business

-       Health and wellness centres

-       Homecare

-       Hospitals (inpatient and outpatient clinic settings)

-       Long-term care

-       Media relations

-       Primary care networks (i.e. Family Health Teams, Community Health Care Centres)

-       Public health agencies

-       Regulation

-       Policy development

-       Private practice consulting or clinics

-       And the list goes on…

In my professional career I have had the privilege to work in various areas of dietetics, including education and research, hospitals (inpatient and outpatient settings), as well as primary care network (Family Health Team). Each area has equipped me with different skills that I now bring to my private practice. It truly is an exciting career path with so much diversity to be had! There is something for everyone!

 

Everyone can benefit from seeing a dietitian.

From preconception to day one of life, starting solids to adolescence, reaching the big 5-0 and your final few breaths, dietitians can help you. We all have the same core training (university-educated/accredited internship/qualifying exams) but we all specialize in various areas, depending on where we work or where our interests lie. There are dietitians out there who can help you with any concern from label reading to picky eating, cystic fibrosis to multiple sclerosis, diabetes to eating your wheaties :) We’ve got you covered.

Just be sure to ask your potential dietitian in which area she or he specializes and try to find a good match. The best place to search for a private practice RD is the Find-a-Dietitian Directory. Check it out here!

 

Read your benefits booklet. You likely have some coverage for a dietitian.

I cannot stress this enough. There are many of you that may be sitting on $500 a year of coverage in your regular benefit plan, as well as additional funds that you can use in your health spending account. READ YOUR BOOKLET. I will give you 5 minutes right now to go and dig it out and pour yourself a cup of tea while you read it over. Be sure to look in the regular benefits plan as well as your extended health benefits.

If you’d rather call your plan provider, here are some questions that you can ask:

-       Do I have coverage to see a dietitian?

-       Do I have a health spending account? 

-       Do I need a doctor’s referral? (Some do require this)

-       How much coverage do I have in a calendar year? Is this for each family member?

Once you are equipped with your coverage details you can find a dietitian by searching here. Or, if you do not have any coverage, visit this link for steps to take to get coverage.

DID YOU KNOW? Seeing a dietitian can decrease your disability days by up to 87%, increase your health-related work productivity by 64% and certainly costs less than paying for medications to treat disease such as diabetes.

 

And then there’s the Food Guide.

IMG_1991.JPG

Ah yes, Canada’s Food Guide. The most controversial “diet” for lack of a better word. Word on the street has it that if you are a dietitian, you are mandated by your college to stand on a mountain and preach the Food Guide, come hell or high water. Reality is, the Food Guide is one tool of MANY tools that are available for dietitians to choose from when guiding individuals about their nutrition.

Me personally, I don’t preach it. I personally don’t follow it myself.

HOWEVER, I have used it and seen its utility when dealing with cases where there is absolutely no understanding of what is even remotely a healthy food. If you ask someone to go from eating hot dogs and drinking diet coke all day (yes, true story!) to following a Mediterranean diet, chances are you are setting them up for failure. Part of our job as a health professional is to minimize risk and set our clients up for success. So, in a case like this, I may pull it up online and do some basic teaching.

All this to say, if you are looking for a dietitian, be sure to ask them about their personal nutrition philosophy, as well as their areas of interest/expertise.

  

My biggest admission as a dietitian: when I go grocery shopping, I find it difficult not to look at your cart.

A fascinating day-off for me would be to walk around a grocery store all day and follow consumers as they go grocery shopping. I find it intriguing what people put in their grocery carts. I do admit that I sometimes try to quietly remove some items from your cart when you aren’t looking (just kidding ... maybe…) and other times I say a prayer for your pancreas and surging insulin levels that will ensue after all the food in your cart is eaten.

But then I drop back to reality, which is that no one is perfect, and sadly, neither am I.

 

March is "Nutrition Month" in Canada.

It's certainly not as popular as Nurses Week or Teacher Appreciation Week but we are getting there! Be sure to look out for lots of information in the media in the month of March about this year's topic "Take the Fight out of Food".

Why not ask your dietitian if he or she would speak in your child's classroom or provide a lunch and learn opportunity at your work?! 

And if you really want brownie points, try to remember that March 15th is National Dietitian's Day! (This point is essentially for my husband. I will know that you read this blog if I get some flowers, or even a card, this year on the 15th :) 

And on that note, I'll leave you with your tea and benefits booklet!

 

 

References:

Service Canada. Accessed October 9, 2016 at: http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/qc/job_futures/statistics/3132.shtml

Gheller, B, Lordly, D. Males in dietetics, what can be learned from the nursing profession? A narrative review of the literature. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, 2015, 76:166-171. Accessed October 9, 2016 at: http://dcjournal.ca/doi/abs/10.3148/cjdpr-2015-016 

Statistics Canada. Accessed October 9, 2016 at: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11475-eng.htm