I study nutrition and dietetics. I think it’s a pretty cool degree. Over the years, I’ve noticed that other people seem to think it’s a pretty cool degree too – I usually sense a bit more curiosity from people when I mention that I study nutrition, as opposed to if I’d said something like accounting or engineering. It seems like it’s human nature to be interested in nutrition (we all eat, after-all), but from my experiences, many people don’t have a full understanding of what a dietitian is, or what an expert in food really has to offer. So, as an introduction to the exciting world of dietetics, I’ve made a list of the most common questions I get asked when I say I’m a student dietitian. Enjoy!
- ‘Dietitian?’ ‘What?’
I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re reading this without even really knowing what a dietitian is. Usually the first time I say ‘dietitian’ or ‘dietetics’ to someone, their reaction is to stare blankly – totally understandable. They’re not really words we drop into everyday conversation. Anyway, here’s the low-down on dietetics: it’s a combination of food (!!!!), working with people (yay) and science (I am an unashamed nerd). We study everything from the nutritional composition of foods, to exactly what happens when you eat (literally– think hormones, T-cells, antibodies, antigens, action-potentials etc. etc.). We study every medical condition you’ve never heard of so that we can work in a hospital and help with anything from kidney failure to hepatitis C to cancer. We study how to delve into your emotions and motivate you to help yourself when you come to us with a problem about your diet.
- ‘You must be so healthy!’ ‘Dietitians are the food police.’
I am convinced that there are some gigantic misconceptions about dietitians. It’s the worst. Like most people, I love food. I adore it, I sometimes spend too much money on it, and sometimes eat far too much of it. So do most of my fellow student-dietitian friends. Long story short, we study food because we love food. So please, if you ever see a dietitian hoeing into a giant piece of cake or attacking a slab of cheese or asking for the dessert menu, do not be surprised. We love food. We also want you to love food and would never ever shame you for any of the above activities. We encourage healthy appetites and a healthy relationship with food.
- ‘What should I do to lose weight?’
I’m sure we’re all sick of hearing ‘eat well and exercise’ to lose weight. And I really wish I was about to reveal a weight-loss secret only known amongst dietitians. The thing is though, weight is influenced by so many factors: emotions, hormones, culture, society and education (just to name a few). There is no one-size-fits-all answer and no quick fix. So unfortunately dietitians can’t perform miracles – but we can help you navigate your own personal barriers to support you in reaching your goals and pass on the knowledge and skills that are essential to eating in a healthy balanced way.
- ‘What do you think of the … diet?’
Going ‘paleo’, ‘vegan’, ‘raw’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘lactose-free’ etc. is the new black. Now I’m a pretty old-school ‘eat whatever you like but be sensible’ kind of girl, so whenever I hear about someone’s latest and greatest diet I kind of want to pull my hair out and yell WHY?! HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?. But at the same time, I’m honestly quite pleased that so many people are taking such an interest in health and nutrition – and I also really dig talking peer-reviewed science with anyone who’ll listen.
This leads me to the final question, and it is one that I hold very close to my heart:
- ‘You’re a dietitian and you eat carbs?!’
Yes. I do.
By Helena McDonald, student dietitian