When it comes to food and eating, life as a dietitian is kind of weird. I remember clearly when I changed my major from biology to nutrition when I was a sophomore in college. When I went to the cafeteria with the same friends I always went with, I had this feeling that I should be setting some kind of example by what I ate. It is kind of funny, because I really am not a huge fruit fan but I remember thinking I should take an apple because an apple is healthy (not that I was a horrible eater but I really did not want an apple). Another day that week, all my friends were getting ice cream from some truck that only came around once in awhile. I wanted some! I think I lasted about a week trying to make this good impression, but on this ice cream day, I made a decision that it was not healthy to NOT eat ice cream! Way back then, when I truly was not even slightly educated yet, I had the instinct to know it just did not feel right to make yourself eat something you just did not really want just because it was healthy.
These days, after many moons of being a dietitian and knowing literally dozens of them personally, I think I can speak for most when I say we sometimes feel like we are under a microscope whenever we eat. Well, not with close family and friends because they know us and they quite frankly don’t really care about what we eat, they care about much more important things (such as how we are doing with our jobs, how our loved ones are doing, what we did on vacation, when we are getting together again, all that good stuff). It is the people who barely know you, such as extended family or co-workers or other casual acquaintances. Heaven forbid you mention you have to stop on the way home and pick up wings for the game (YOU eat wings?). Another common response: “I can’t believe you are eating that!” Or if you walk into a break room at work and someone is eating pizza or birthday cake (or some other labeled “bad” food), inevitably the comment is made…..”you aren’t going to like this. You won’t be happy!” Huh? Free pizza? Not happy?
I think you get the picture. It is assumed that dietitians are perfect eaters and never eat foods that are not considered healthy. It is also assumed by many that dietitians will judge what you are eating.
Let me share my experiences (and these are just what I have noticed) in my 35 years of being a dietitian, working with dietitians, going out to lunch with dietitians, planning parties with dietitians, cooking with dietitians, volunteering in soup kitchens with dietitians, etc.
Dietitians, like everyone else are all different when it comes to their attitudes about food and eating. But most I have met and known have these things in common (my experience only):
- they believe health is important and having a healthy lifestyle is important to them (for instance, I can’t think of one RD I ever met that smokes cigarettes. Which is not to say they would judge anyone else if they did).
- even though they believe in a healthy lifestyle, they are not perfect either
- they care about people in general and became a dietitian because they want to help people be healthier (be it through working directly with people, doing research on nutrition, or teaching others about nutrition)
When it comes to what and how they eat, I have noticed differences among the dietitians I have known:
- Most enjoy cooking, some absolutely love it, however some don’t like it at all
- Most really enjoy social eating and gatherings centered around eating, such as going out for a dinner, having a celebration where you can plan for some great food, bonding over meals, visits to cool places such as vineyards. I have never tasted food as good as our Nutrition Department holiday parties!
- Although most dietitians are very aware of the nutritional content as well as calorie content of foods, most I have known don’t pay that much attention to it. Instead, they just tend to cook healthy foods that taste good, and eat them. They tend to pack some really yummy lunches that also happen to be healthy (think chicken wrap with spinach, feta and craisons or leftover Mexican grilled shrimp on arugula salad with avocado and tomatoes), but they also don’t mind grabbing pizza from the local really good pizza joint.
- On the other hand, a dietitian will take a supplement such as calcium and vitamin D if they know they just don’t consume enough. When you know how lack of nutrients affects your body, you tend to want to do something about it. This is one reason I do pay attention to including protein with meals, because I know I will crash pretty quickly without it (although I am not really aware of the actual amount I might consume in a day, I am confident I am getting enough because it is usually in most of my meals in some form).
- Most dietitians I know like natural, real foods (not huge fans of packaged, processed foods such as Twinkies). They would rather make their own home made cookies.
- They usually love their colors-think veggies and fruits. They like their plates looking like a rainbow.
- There are some dietitians I have known who really do pay too much attention to what they eat (well, if you ask me). Here and there I have know some who count protein grams or who may restrict portions when they know something has a lot of calories, or even suffer from some disordered eating behaviors. Yes, there are some people drawn to the career because they have had eating issues themselves. There are dietitians who are larger sized and this is not easy, as they will often be judged. Yes, they struggle from the same issues as anyone else sometimes. But remember, body size has nothing to do with health, it is a persons habits and lifestyle that affect health (as well as genes of course). It really bothers me when someone makes a statement about a dietitian regarding his or her body size, as if that has anything to do with how good of a dietitian they are.
- They cherish their cultural favorites. Italian, Asian, Indian, Polish, Swedish, they usually know how to make the traditional favorites and enjoy the foods they grew up with.
So the bottom line is dietitians are just like anyone else with perhaps a heightened interest in food and health. They are not perfect eaters, they come in all different sizes and shapes, and they most likely don’t care what you are eating (unless, of course you are their patient). I am guessing, like me, they get a bit uncomfortable when you make judgmental comments about what they are eating. Hey, we like ice cream too! But then again, over time, most of us are used to it, and it really is no big deal (kind of comes with the territory).
So that picture? Funny story. That is me in Florence, Italy enjoying the very best gelato I had the entire vacation there (3 weeks). I was on a mission to find the best pistachio gelato, mission accomplished. So I put the photo on Facebook and wouldn’t you know it. The first comment: “I notice you did not choose the fresh fruit I see in the background!” I just laughed. Welcome to my world.