As a practicing registered dietitian who also is a mother, in graduate school, working full time and does freelance work on the side, one could imagine that life gets crazy. I am preaching to the choir, however, because there are many RDNs out there who are in the same exact boat. Whether single, married, working full time or in school, we dietitians have a unique superhero-like power that pushes us to not only check off every item on our to-do list, but check it off knowing we did a pretty dang good job.
We may find that our to-do list gets complete, but we also must ask ourselves, what are we sacrificing to accomplish a job well done? Are we neglecting pieces of ourselves or of our loved ones?
Like nurses and doctors, registered dietitian nutritionists are drawn to healthcare because we are natural caregivers. We devote our time and energy to helping others improve their lives. Like other healthcare professionals, we are not exempt from experiencing excruciating stress and burnout.
In the field of worksite wellness, we refer to burnout as physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by ongoing involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding. In my line of work as an employee wellness dietitian, my clients are employees who are caregivers for critically ill patients. I see burnout every day among my clients.
When I work with employees experiencing burnout, they tend to engage in high-risk health behaviors like smoking, physical inactivity and poor eating habits — skipping meals, choosing fast foods too often, not drinking enough water. These behaviors lead to an overall lack of self-care and in return can negatively affect their impact on their patients. A nurse who smokes and tells his patient to quit smoking seems ineffective. Oxymorons such as these that exist in healthcare make it even more difficult for our patients to make necessary changes in their lives.
Registered dietitian nutritionists, especially those who work in a clinical environment, may find themselves falling into similar practices that jeopardize their own self-care. Oftentimes, dietitians are held to even higher standards than other healthcare professionals to “practice what you preach.” How many times have your coworkers peeked in your office to check up on what you're eating for lunch?
A lot of us do a fantastic job at juggling everything, but let’s be real — I’m sure we all, at some point, have experienced burnout that has led us to engage in unfavorable health practices (anyone else eaten ice cream out of the container for breakfast?). While we don’t have to be perfect, it’s important that we prioritize self-care.
For RDN Day this year, do something nice for yourself — schedule a massage, get your nails done, take a mental health day to go hiking or take yourself on a date to a new restaurant. Many of these practices will enhance not only your own self-care, but also the care you give to others. Putting yourself first will help you keep doing what you do best — which is EVERYTHING of course!