In 1998 I obtained the credential registered dietitian (RD). In 2013 the addition of nutritionist was formally added to it—registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). Our profession has the choice to use RD or RDN and I quickly adopted RDN because:
- Few people know what an RD is, unfortunately.
- People seem to have a better understanding of the word nutritionist. The more I use registered dietitian nutritionist, hopefully the more people will identify.
- All registered dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians.
How hard can nutrition be?
Like many in my field, my interest in nutrition started very long ago—I’ll share that in another post. Because of where I was in life and the route I chose in a different career, it took me time to find this path. After a successful 10-year business career, I decided on a major change and went back to school—best decision ever! I thought, nutrition? How hard can this be? Oh how wrong I was.
My coursework the first semester back to school was:
- Anatomy & Physiology (with lab)
- Inorganic Chemistry (with lab)
- Microbiology (with lab)
- and Principles of Nutrition
Nutrition is biochemistry
That was just the beginning. That much science? Yes. Nutrition is biochemistry—the study of the chemistry of life. Do you ever think of what happens when you take a bite of food? Nutrition is about that bite of food and the digestion, absorption, transport, and metabolism of the nutrients. Everything in our body was once something that we consumed or made within—the bones, the muscle, the fat, the hormones, enzymes, antibodies. The human body is amazing. People just don’t give the body enough credit, allowing it to do what it’s naturally designed to do.
Since I was living in Dallas, Texas, (and still am) the best university was right up the road—Texas Woman’s University in Denton. Professor Betty Alford was the faculty I spoke to when I made a visit to inquire about their nutrition program. I will never forget our discussion as I sat in awe of how she was critically able to debunk the diet I was so obsessed with at the time—the Lean Bodies Diet. Not knowing any better, it was easy for me to fall prey to what I know now is bad science.
Unfortunately there is so much pseudo-science in the field of nutrition. People that do not have an understanding of the physiology of the body—like me before going back to school—can so easily be manipulated into believing whatever they read or hear despite the lack of quality research.
What’s my biggest challenge?
Recently I was interviewed for a blog (to be posted in April). One question was: What’s the biggest challenge being a dietitian? Here was my answer in part:
It’s amazing how many self-prescribed experts there are. Just because someone has lost weight or become a fanatic about the diet du jour and it has changed their life they preach like it is the only way. If you’re not on board, something is wrong with you. That’s an insult. Everyone is an individual. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Although I follow a plant-based lifestyle for the most part, I love low fat and nonfat dairy like milk and Greek yogurt and frankly could not live without. But I would never shun anyone following a vegan lifestyle because they would not consume those foods. Why would they shun me for eating them? I don’t know, but some do.
I had a client tell me that one of the members in an exercise class couldn’t believe that she (my client) was allowed to eat Greek yogurt and other dairy. People have their own ideas, but based on what? Something they were told? Something they read? Because they do everything their yoga guru does? (I read a book on yoga! But I’d never consider myself qualified to teach it.)
Personally, I’ve done a great job over the years balancing my checkbook, does that make me qualified to be an accountant or bookkeeper? No.
I’ve done some remodeling on my house—heck I was even a core volunteer for years working every Saturday for Habitat for Humanity—but does that make me qualified to build a house? No.
I’ve read books, articles, blogs, etc on how to be a better speaker. Does that make me qualified to teach workshops on speaking? No.
So why is it that someone reads a book or tries a program that all of a sudden they’re an expert? David Katz, MD wrote a brilliant article last year for the Huffington Post entitled Opinion Stew. It’s an excellent piece—well worth reading.
I teach Principles of Nutrition as adjunct (part-time) faculty at Richland College and also University of Dallas. My students ask me questions—lots of questions. Should I do this? Or eat this? Or not eat that? Because everyone is an individual there is not always an easy answer. The diet, the person, their health, lifestyle, etc. need to be looked at in its entirety. Nutrition is not so black and white.
There is one area that I feel strongly about and will always tell people—until I am presented science to disprove the benefits—to eat more vegetables and fruits. That I am extremely confident about!
I’ve no doubt people mean well. But what is the basis of their recommendations? Have they studied the body and do they have an understanding of the anatomy and physiology? What I may say might seem simple and basic but that is only because I understand the science behind what I say. My education has given me that. I spent over eight semesters back in school to learn my field, completed an internship, and passed a credentialing exam. Do I know everything? Of course not. I’m always learning and will forever be.
From the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website (accessed March 12, 2014):
Qualifications of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
A registered dietitian nutritionist is a food and nutrition expert who has met academic and professional requirements including:
- Earned a bachelor’s degree with course work approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Coursework typically includes food and nutrition sciences, foodservice systems management, business, economics, computer science, sociology, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology and chemistry.
- Completed an accredited, supervised practice program at a health-care facility, community agency or foodservice corporation.
- Passed a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
- Completes continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.
Approximately 50 percent of RDNs hold advanced degrees. Some RDNs also hold additional certifications in specialized areas of practice, such as pediatric or renal nutrition, nutrition support and diabetes education.
Registered dietitians who are members of the Academy are not only food and nutrition experts—they are leaders in the field of dietetics. Every one of the Academy’s wide array of member benefits is designed to advance their knowledge and skills and enhance their networking opportunities.