The professional integrity of Registered Dietitians is questioned every day and recently, very publicly. Between an article published to the Crossfit Journal which essentially framed Registered Dietitians responsible for the obesity trends in our country, and the very public divorce between Dietitian Cassie and the Minnesota State Licensing Board - there’s a whole lot of heated conversation happening in my local and online circles. And while the professional fitness people and the professional food people are arguing about who should give what kind of advice, we’re effectively losing the bigger battle. The general public doesn’t know how to cut through the noise and is no better equipped to find the resources they need to resolve their health issues on their own.
I aim to clear up 3 major misconceptions about my profession - those that have dominated the online conversation and seem to hinge on the credential after my name. Then, I hope to offer a reasonable solution for those who are in need of guidance around food, nutrition and eating patterns. Crossfit boxes included.
Or, Skip that + Check out my solutions >>
Misconception 1: All Registered Dietitians are part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and therefore stand for all that the professional organization stands for.
The largest body of food and nutrition professionals is the AND, but not all Registered Dietitians (RD) choose to belong. If you didn’t know already, AND has been criticized for their association with brands like Coca-Cola, Kraft, and the sugar industry. Most RDs agree that these sponsorships pose a serious conflict of interest for a nutrition organization, harm our credentials and reputation. As a result, many RDs have left the AND, likely waiting for change to occur before reconsidering joining again.
However, nearly 100,000 credentialed professionals choose to continue to belong to the Academy. They do so because they seek to be the change and to have a seat at the table. They see working with a leading organization in food and nutrition means they might have the opportunity to shape the health landscape of this country - and they do.
Put it this way - when you don’t like the leader of your country (or the laws or the policies), do you simply up and leave for Canada? No, of course not. Your country and it’s citizens are not simply defined by the decisions of those in power. It’s a similar relationship between RDs and the AND.
Understand this: all Registered Dietitians have the choice to be a part of AND and there are both pros and cons for choosing to be a member or not. Fighting for the change you want to see can absolutely happen while being on the fringe and while being inside the office where policies are created.
Misconception 2: The USDA Dietary Guidelines were written by RDs and RDs teach from these guidelines specifically.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines are just that - a place to start. No one intended for these guidelines to be the blueprint from which we create meal plans for someone to use for the rest of their life. C’mon!
I want you to imagine something. Imagine being the person responsible for deciding the guidelines by which your country is told to eat. These guidelines would touch every man, woman and child for generations. Not only that, they would shape your country's economy through impact on farming, labor, textiles and more. Pretty big job, right?
Neither the AND nor RDs decide the USDA guidelines, alone, by themselves. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it), there are a number health and nutrition professionals, industry leaders and lobbyists responsible for shaping these guidelines. The guidelines are revisited every 5 years with fresh eyes - which is why recommendations change (slowly and slightly) over time.
Understand this: Our country needs guidelines to shape nutrition recommendations, period. The guidelines aid in the development of programs for some of our most vulnerable citizens. The guidelines are not intended to be used as a meal plan for individuals to follow in order to be healthy.
Misconception 3: RD School encourages us to promote high carbohydrate, low fat diets and this is the reason why America is fat and sick.
There’s a rumor going around that “they” teach us the best eating pattern is one high in carbohydrates and low in fat. That breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That in order to lose weight, you gotta balance your calories in with your calories out. Or that you have to “just move more” and “just eat less” in order to lose weight. Ectera. Blah Blah.
These messages are everywhere and while I won’t say no RD has ever murmured these words, they most certainly were not things I was explicitly taught in school, read in a textbook or saw on a slide. In fact, just like most folks in an undergraduate programs: it’s not so much about the content you learn in school so much as it’s about learning how to think. To critically think. To synthesize information from many different sources. To problem solve.
From aging grandparents to new parents to newborns, nutrition plays a role in both minimizing the debilitating effects of health conditions and avoiding conditions altogether. Obtaining my RD credential gave me the ability to marry biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, psychology, and effective communication to inspire someone else to change their own behaviors. It made me qualified to do that while working alongside a medical care team, or in a community-based organization serving our country’s highest risk individuals. I can use my expertise to help food companies make truthful claims on their packaging and even help direct their research to get better options on the shelves.
Here’s what obtaining my RD credential didn’t do:
>> Tell me how I had to practice nutrition.
>> Insist on an ideal macronutrient (protein, fat, carbohydrate) ratio for each person
>> Teach me how to “fix” obesity
So no. 4 years of undergraduate human science courses and 1200+ hours of applied, supervised clinical and community practice did not give me all the tools to reverse the obesity trends - especially in the context of food deserts and unequal access, constrained by limitations on federally subsidized nutrition programs, complicated by an explosion of highly palatable, ultra-available calorie dense food. Given obesity relates not only to food consumption but to interactions between your lifestyle behaviors, epigenetics, and your microbiome - hormones and even brain chemistry, it’s silly to think writers like Crossfit’s Lon Kilgore could leap to the logical conclusion that Registered Dietitians are responsible for our country’s obesity trends. There’s no way that the RD profession could be solely responsible for prevention - like this article implies. There’s also no way we understand the complexity of obesity and work to reverse trends alone.
Understand this: Just like practitioners in other fields of healthcare, Registered Dietitians work in unique specialities that match their passions and their skill set. Because of our schooling and our training, we can confidently launch into various specialties, refine our craft and become true experts.
There’s a lingering question that bubbles to the top in all of these articles, rebuttals, online forums and public comments: “Where should the general public get information about nutrition and eating habits?”.
I hear, “do your own research”, or “be your own advocate” all too often.
Really? That’s all you got?
Lon Kilgore and others like him suggest that we all just, simply, do our own research in order to figure out which advice is sound and accurate. After spending your time making a case to distrust Registered Dietitians and you leave us with that? That’s just noise and I can’t deal with it anymore.
And that’s the real issue here. The noise! There’s so much noise from the health and wellness space that the general public can’t. hear. anything. There’s a problem when the fear mongering is so thick that you can’t get through a day without seeing headlines that make you feel you’re surely feeding your kids cancer causing waste for dinner.
The noise, including all this online conversation, leaves people feeling defeated and helpless. Here’s the thing though: improving your health comes from a place of feeling encouraged, inspired and empowered. I’ve had enough from anyone - individual or organization - who doesn’t leave people feeling like they can make measurable change.
So instead of copping out and suggesting we all just go “do our own research” or “be your own advocate”, be an effing leader in your industry! Put helpful, actionable and insightful resources out in the world. DO something instead of pointing fingers and playing the blame game.
I am a crossfitting Registered Dietitian who got a professional start in a Crossfit community. I continue to work closely with Crossfit athletes and gyms. I employ Registered Dietitians and Registered-Dietitians-in-training. I say all this because I believe in the profession and I believe in Crossfit. I see the Crossfit community as an incredible platform from which RDs can amplify robust health and nutrition messages that people can actually take action from and make significant change with. Crossfit communities come with built-in support, comradery, encouragement, and coaching. Isn’t that the perfect environment from which to inspire change in people?
So whether you’re a Crossfit coach looking for a partner in nutrition services at your gym, or if you’re just simply looking for sound advice, I will leave you with this: There are extremely qualified and incredibly talented people out there that could be a great fit to serve your needs. They may or may not be Registered Dietitians. Before connecting with someone, I suggest you simply start to follow their work. Listen to their messages. Download their resources. Do the make you feel empowered or defeated? Do they make you feel inspired to make incremental changes to your habits? Are there ways you can start to “try on” their approach or philosophy before diving in deeper?
Or, are they simply adding to noise, leaving you feel powerless, defeated and stuck?