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Becoming the Dietitian That I Am Now

Published on: 06/06/2024

“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”

Michelle Obama

Over the years, I have evolved and changed as a dietitian and as a human. The dietitian side of my life has seen immense change over the last two years or so. If you’ve been following along as Friendly Nutrition started, paused, pivoted, and started again, you’ve likely noticed some changes. I thought that I’d take a moment and share the why behind these changes and a bit about becoming the dietitian that I am now.

Some things have remained constant. Some things have matured along the way. Some things have completely changed.

First, an intro into my becoming a dietitian. To keep it very brief and get to the point quickly. I have Bachelor of Science, a Master of Science, and I completed a one year internship program in order to be able to sit for and pass the exam to become a registered dietitian. In all those years of school, I learned A LOT. I learned how to calculate nutrition needs. I learned that calories in and calories out are the basis of your weight. I learned about optimal vitamin and mineral levels. I learned the science behind food and cooking.  There are many things, many good things, that I learned but there were many things about being a dietitian that were not taught in school. One of these things was the actual counseling side, the nutrition therapist side, of being a dietitian.

It’s most likely the nutrition therapist side that has driven the aspects of my dietitian changes. One thing that has not changed is my view on restrictive dieting. 

Restrictive diets have never seemed like the right choice for the dietitian I wanted to be. But…restrictive diet, fewer calories in, are what I learned as the gold standard of a healthy weight and a healthy life. This always felt like it left out some of the most important pieces in regards to health and weight – metabolism, the gastrointestinal system, the actual nutrients in food, all the things that I was fascinated by and loved about nutrition.

So, when intuitive eating crossed my path, it felt right. It wasn’t a “diet.” It wasn’t restrictive. It had an entire piece focused on nutrition – “honor your health – gentle nutrition.” Intuitive eating seemed like the perfect answer to that pull of wanting to help people live healthier through the food choices they make.

I worked with several clients on intuitive eating principles. Pieces of intuitive eating work brilliantly for people. I never got anyone to a place where I feel like I could give them an “intuitive eater” certificate and badge. This kind of led to an “I’m not good at this whole dietitian thing” feeling. I now know that not earning their intuitive eater certificate is of no fault of theirs or mine. Intuitive eating doesn’t and can’t work in our food environment.

There are numerous things that got me to this point. It’s part my own journey, part watching things in the dietitian world unfold on the internet, part continued learning (fascination with metabolism and the GI system), part learning and evolving in the nutrition therapist side with clients, and part the dietitian side of me who works with children with developmental disabilities.

I’m not quite ready to share my own journey. I’ll get there…eventually. I will share more about the pieces that I still believe and the ones that I can no longer get behind. Let’s get started…

I still don’t believe that restrictive diets are the answer. I still believe that food shouldn’t have morale value. I definitely believe that satisfaction plays a huge role in feeling good about your food choices. I believe that most of the time you can eat based on your hunger cues.

I don’t believe it’s always possible to know when you are full. I don’t think you should completely get rid of the “food police” (I do think that “food police” needs a different name). I don’t believe that giving yourself complete and total permission to eat what you want is something that actually works.

Restrictive diets don’t work

Restrictive diets don’t work. It can be difficult to stick to a restrictive diet for the long run. A restrictive diet may be causing more harm than good to your metabolism, mental health, physical health, social health, and more. Restrictive diets tend to back fire. There is a way to meet your goals without a restrictive diet. This is true no matter what the goal is – weight loss, clearing up rashes or acne, hormone issues, lowering cholesterol, or something else.

Food shouldn’t have morale value

Assigning morale value to foods – good vs bad – creates a strict environment around food. An environment that can be too strict. There has to be some space for nuance when it comes to what you eat. Yes, there are foods that are more nutritious than others but only allowing space for the good foods sets you up for failure. Eventually, you will “break” and eat the “bad” foods or you’ll give yourself space to eat a “bad” food and then be harshly critical of yourself after. Allowing space for all foods is something that I do believe is necessary and I still believe that the language we use around food matters.

Satisfaction matters

In a world where food has morale value, it can be hard to find satisfaction. It’s either a constant pressure to eat perfectly or a constant fear of what will happen if you eat a “bad” food. Neither of these help with satisfaction. On the intuitive eating side, satisfaction with a meal or food choice isn’t always attainable and that’s hard to manage with several of the other intuitive eating principles. For me, stepping away from intuitive eating allowed for more satisfaction around my food choices and my meals. Something about leaving the pressure of hunting for satisfaction behind actually created room for more satisfaction. I’ve seen this happens with others as well. Satisfaction is still there. Feeling satisfied with meals is still the goal and satisfaction absolutely matters but aiming for satisfaction in the realm of intuitive eating can feel impossible.

Hunger does exist and can be utilized

Eating based on hunger cues is something that absolutely works. Many people don’t quite know their hunger cues and that’s okay. Hunger cues can be discovered. On the other side of hunger cues is fullness and…

It is not possible to truly know when you are full

At the very basic level of food and digestion, you do not absorb every single nutrient and calorie from the foods that you eat. You do get more from some foods when compared to others. Let’s take an apple and some cheez-its as an example. If you eat 100 calories of an apple and you eat 100 calories of cheez-its, you will absorb less from the apple. Why? The apple is more complex for your GI system than the cheez-its are. The 100 calories of apple will take up more space and move slower through your GI system than the cheez-its will. Simply stated, 100 calories of an apple will make you feel fuller but will give you less absorbed calories than the 100 calories of cheez-its. So, you’ll already absorb more calories from the cheez-its and you’re going to have eat more than 100 calories of cheez-its to feel as full as you would with 100 calories of an apple.

The work that I do with children with developmental disabilities has also impacted my thoughts on this. I’ve worked with many kids who truly do not have the ability to understand when they are full. This is across a variety of cognitive and developmental ages. This could  be due to medication but more often than not, the capability to understand and interpret fullness simply isn’t there. Seeing this happen again and again, makes you dig into the research surrounding this and that’s when you figure out the apple vs cheez-it scenario.

The “food police” can help but let’s maybe rename this “food guidelines/guardrails”

In the intuitive eating space, the “food police” are those thoughts about food being “good” or “bad” or you being “good” or “bad” for eating certain foods. Not using the words “good” or “bad” to describe food is a good idea; however, there are foods that provide more nutrients than other foods. So, to describe food, you’re still going to have to use words that can invoke feelings of “good” and “bad.” I do believe that you should feel like you can eat any food without feeling “bad” but I also believe that if you want and need some guidelines for yourself around this that’s perfectly okay. If I was your dietitian, I would guide you towards guidelines that felt realistic for you but also discuss what happens if you don’t meet the guidelines. Notice, I’m calling this a guideline and not a rule for a reason.

Unconditional permission to eat isn’t the answer

Proponents in the intuitive eating world would jump in here and say “this isn’t what intuitive eating is about.” They’d also say – “you have to reject diet mentality completely before you can do this.” I am fully aware of this thought process and I know that this isn’t what intuitive eating is about. However, I also don’t think complete and total permission to eat is the answer. I’ve seen complete and total permission to eat fail numerous times. I’ve seen this happen when the individual has completely rejected the diet mentality. Unconditional permission to eat can almost seem to be triggering for some.

I’m also going to add that intuitive eating is just too damn complex. There are 10 principles to being an intuitive eater and within each one there’s more stuff. It’s a lot. It feels overwhelming. Food shouldn’t be overwhelming! I’d much rather keep it simple and develop a method that is realistic and do-able for the individual.

All of this is to say, that I would now consider myself a meal planning dietitian who leans more toward the integrative and functional approach to nutrition. I believe that having some food guardrails can help you eat well, feel good about your choices, and feel good about yourself. I believe that a healthy gut is quite important to many aspects of health and wellness.

I’m also still working on becoming the dietitian that I want to be. I’ll always be evolving and working towards being a better dietitian. This is simply where I’m at now and I’m pretty pleased to be in this era of my dietitian life and I’m excited for some of the things that it has lead more towards. So stay tuned for more information about meal planning and nutrigenomics + meal planning.

If you have any questions or thoughts, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to email me at jessica@friendlynutritionllc.com.

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About Jessica
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Jessica is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and trained FODMAP Coach. She started Friendly Nutrition to help you find balance, peace, and joy in eating, in your relationship with food, and in your relationship with your gut.

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