Cleanses, paleo, intermittent fasting, pegan, keto — you name it. There seems to be a new fad diet that comes out every week. As we go through our dietetic programs we learn how fast diet culture changes. We know that not all bodies are the same and not every person should follow the exact same eating pattern. We also learn that extreme dieting can lead to quick weight loss, but in the long-term can lead to net weight gain.
As nutrition professionals in training, you will start to notice that friends, family and people on social media are looking to you for the answer. They want a “yes” or “no” as to whether they should give the latest diet trend a try. In recent years, social media has played a huge role in this. People are able to give their testimony on their recent diet that has given them short-term results and this pushes their viewers to want similar results. The difficult part about social media is that we don’t know the whole picture. Were they only sticking to this one diet? Or were there other weight loss methods involved that aren’t spoken of? This can lead to unhealthy expectations of what our relationship with food should be. Then there is the ultimate uncomfortable situation — What if someone is on a fad diet and they ask us what we think? Or what is our role when people are discussing a diet in a group? Do we say something? Is it our job to have a debate every time nutrition is brought up?
Have no fear! This can be a lot to take in and it is easy to put pressure on yourself to know how to respond to every nutrition discussion. As future RDNs, it is important for us to be confident in our training. As you navigate your way through the dietetics education journey, take a deep breath and focus on these key components.
Be OK with not knowing the immediate answer. Remember, you are a student. Part of being a good practitioner is accepting that you will not know the answer to everything. If you cannot answer on the spot, it is OK. Simply saying “I’m not sure about that, let me do some research and get back to you,” will show that you are committed to knowing the true answer. This will give you time to search for credible sources or even speak to your professors on the subject. Many times other students will have the same questions, so it may make for a great class discussion!
Stick to the science. Part of becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist is learning how to conduct literature and systematic reviews. This is an aspect of our training that allows us to come to conclusions and science-based answers that impact our profession and may provide answers to questions that our friends and family have. Continually improving our research skills will only bolster our profession’s legitimacy and give you and others confidence in your response.
Find the source. Asking where your friend or family member heard about the diet will give more context as to where they are coming from. If they heard about it on social media or from a friend, chances are they don’t know a lot about the diet — just that is has worked for someone else. Asking them where they heard about it will remind them that it is important to get their information from a reliable source. It will also give you more information on where to find the answer. Thank them for coming to you about it —-this means they are looking to a future RDN for nutrition advice!
Remember that food is our friend. Yes, food is our friend. It is meant to nourish us and keep us healthy and strong. Labeling certain foods or food groups as “bad” can create an unnecessary negative relationship with food. Long-term health and wellness can mean enjoying a variety of foods in moderation and focusing on adding color to every meal.
Have confidence in what we do know. We know that diets come and go. They may create quick change, but focusing on life-long health is going to provide the greatest benefit. Challenge your friends and family to think further down the line. Do they think they will stick to this diet forever? If not, guiding them toward a well-rounded, colorful eating pattern that they can keep up long-term is our role as dietetic students in the many diet conversations to come.
Know that it is ultimately your choice to engage. You get to decide what your level of engagement will be during these conversations. Setting boundaries for yourself is important and this means not having to debate every time or even at all. Changing the subject to another interest or just letting them know that you are open to discussing this subject another time is OK, and could actually be a healthy route to go. Whatever route you choose, your role as a future RDN can and will make an impact on the people around you — with or without the debate.