Why I’m a Dietitian
In an age of obesity, diabetes and chronic conditions like asthma, the dietitians profession is struggling.
It’s a problem that could take its toll on people’s lives.
The profession, which is largely based in Texas, is under pressure to reduce the number of people with diabetes and asthma who are in hospital due to chronic conditions and the lack of healthy food in our diet.
The industry has long had a reputation as a doctor’s office.
Many doctors and dietitists are in a relationship with a client, and often work closely with a nutritionist, who oversees the nutritional advice given to that client.
That relationship can be very difficult to separate, says Mark Purdy, a dietitist and senior associate professor at the University of Houston.
“A lot of the time, the relationship is between the dietician and the nutritionist,” Purdy says.
Purdy believes the relationship has become strained because the industry is not prepared for the type of people who might be eating in restaurants and taking their own food to the doctor’s appointment.
“There are certain people who are looking for a quick fix, or looking for the quickest fix, for something that can be done in less time than it takes to walk from your door to the dentist’s office,” Puffy says.
Many dietitics also have difficulty communicating with their clients about their health and diet needs.
“It’s like the food that’s in your refrigerator, that you’ve cooked in your kitchen,” says Dana McElroy, a clinical nutritionist and a professor of dietetics at the Harvard School of Public Health.
“The way that you communicate with people and how you talk about your diet is not the way that the food industry is designed to communicate.”
For example, when the number and type of vegetables a person eats becomes more important to their diet, she says, dietitic nutritionists might not be sure how to use the word “cabbage” when referring to greens.
And while dietitical nutritionists are expected to make sure that all the nutritional information in their clients’ food is accurate, some people may not understand that it’s a different way of telling you whether or not a food is high in calories.
“Dietitians need to understand that if they’re talking about vegetables, you’re talking to someone who is eating something that’s high in fat and protein and sugar,” McElroys says.
“That’s not a nutritionally healthy way of communicating.”
For many, the question of how to manage the relationship between dietitician and client comes down to how to stay relevant.
“I feel like dietitically, we need to be a little bit more of a conversation starter,” Purdy says.
Some dietiticians feel the industry has become overly reliant on social media to communicate with their patients.
“We’re all on Twitter and Instagram,” McPurdy says, “and a lot of times we don’t know what to do, what’s appropriate, what the right response to our clients needs are.”
In the end, Purdy argues that the best way to keep the industry relevant and the profession relevant is to focus on the patient.
“When you’re not a dietician, you don’t have to take that person’s needs into consideration,” he says.
He suggests that dietiticals be prepared to be involved in the conversations of their clients.
“Don’t sit there and try to solve all of their problems,” he said.
“You have to make the best decisions for your patient, and the best decision is to treat the patient, to listen to their questions and to help them with their diet.”
For dietitials, the work isn’t just about helping people stay healthy, but it also involves working to promote healthy eating.
“One of the things we have to do is look at how we can bring the health and wellness message to more of our clients,” Purtys says, and not just the clients of a particular company.
“If they’re seeing their diet in restaurants, and they’re eating out, and it’s all processed, then we need a lot more work to look at that in our own kitchen.”
Purdy has been a dietetic for the last three years.
He is an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University and the dean of the School of Nutrition and Dietetics.
He also is a certified dietitienne for the American College of Culinary Arts.
Purties wife, Tanya, also works in the profession, but she says that she works as a full-time nutritionist full time, so she is not in the position to speak on behalf of the profession.
But she did say that there are some people who have to be part of the conversation.
“Most of us have to work as much as we can to educate people about the value of healthy eating and healthy living,” she says.
Tanya Purdy and Dana