What to do when people prefer popularity and pseudoscience over professionalism?

As a dietitian some people get frustrated by me. Very frustrated. They get annoyed and at times disappointed with me. This is certainly not my intention! They tend to express these feelings when I am using my knowledge, education and dietetic experience rather than any desire to impress or please them when I answer their questions. It is usually when I am trying to clear up some misunderstanding, clarify incorrect information or clean up some inaccuracies that a wellness celebrity/health guru has spread. It is certainly not my intention to frustrate people but it is my intention to provide factual, evidence based information to help them find the most suitable, appropriate way of eating to improve their health and wellbeing.

As a dietitian sometimes I have to tell people what they don’t want to hear. When they are hoping that I will finally say ‘Yes that fad diet/superfood is brilliant! It will certainly help you lose weight/improve health/detox your liver/balance your pH/speed up your metabolism by 100000’ I don’t. I tell them the truth. The truth that these are just the latest fads, there is nothing special about them and that they are better off to follow a well-balanced diet.

As a dietitian it is my job to educate people about facts. Scientific facts about the human body and physiology. Facts such as ‘Our blood’s pH is kept within a very narrow range, if it were outside this range you would be extremely ill, you don’t actually need a certain diet to balance your pH your body does this naturally’. I always hope that these facts will come as good news! ‘You don’t need to go on that strict diet because your body is amazing and is already doing those things, isn’t that great?’ Apparently not, because I have just told someone that the quick fix diet they thought would finally cure all of their health problems actually won’t.

As a dietitian I rarely give a straight forward answer. Nutrition is rarely black and white and many people don’t like that. People often want a yes or no response or a firm, solid answer but sometimes it isn’t possible. Dietitians take time to understand the whole person, to understand their likes and their dislikes, their state of health, their lifestyle and what makes them feel great. We don’t spit out generic, trendy responses. On the rare occasion that I do give a straight forward answer; ‘Tell me your number one nutrition tip’, my reply of ‘Eat lots of vegetables’ is always met with sighs of disappointment. I can actually hear people groan out load when I say this. Yes it’s old and boring but I have to convince people that it is actually better advice than putting butter in their coffee!

As a dietitian and health professional I have to use evidence based practice and information. If not I can be disqualified. However, using the ‘E’ word doesn’t always win me friends. It can be difficult to tell someone that there is no evidence that their ‘cleansing’ diet will cure their disease or that there’s no evidence that paleo will cure autism.  It can be a challenge to convince people of evidence that goes against popular opinion and beliefs – ‘Evidence actually links beans and legumes to many great health benefits’, ‘There is a lot of evidence associated with balanced diets such as the Mediterranean diet and positive health outcomes’. It can be even more difficult to explain that anecdotes are a very weak form of evidence and even if they have read that someone cured their disease by juice detoxing it doesn’t mean it’s an option they should take.

I do understand why people get frustrated by these responses. People want a solution to their problem. An answer to their question. Some people want to be told what to do rather than being given guidelines to find out what works best for them. People want to believe that a magical food or diet will result in perfect health. People feel connected to anecdotes and get hope from others telling their stories not from scientists conducting studies. They want to believe that if something works for someone else then it will definitely work for them too. When they feel like they have tried everything else they want to believe that X diet will cure X disease. And this is why charlatans/health gurus/wellness celebrities gain so many followers. They tell people what they want to hear. They give people a straight forward answer. They tell people a certain food or diet will cure their disease. They spruik stories and anecdotes because they know people will connect to them emotionally. They do all of this regardless of the facts, regardless of the truth and unfortunately regardless of the consequences.

So what do I do when people prefer popularity and pseudoscience over professional practice? I stand by my responses even though I know they will frustrate people. I stick to the facts and the evidence even when people will get disappointed by them. I promote balanced diets even if it means I won’t be winning any popularity contests. While I may say things that annoy, that frustrate, that even disappoint people I do it with good intention. I do it in hope that whatever style of eating someone chooses they do it knowing all the facts, not just celebrity opinions or pseudoscience. I do it in hope that I can inform people about the facts and fiction so we can work together to find a way of eating that will be sustainable and benefit all areas of their health. I would rather disappoint people with the truth and the facts than lead them down a path or false hope or lies.

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Latest Comments

  1. Philomena says:

    Excellent article!

    Like

  2. Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., CISSN says:

    Great article! I struggle with this on a daily basis. It’s not cool to practice common sense and follow science; although that’s exactly the prescription most people need. I hope this article reaches the masses as well as those in the industry that have forgotten about evidence and sold out for quick-fixes and quick-cash. Well done!

    Like

  3. GlenysO says:

    I love this post. I run into this constantly as well. I think one of the reasons people look for a silver nutrition bullet is because they have been told that they must lose weight to be healthy, and just eating healthy doesn’t really produce significant weight loss for most (even though they’d *be* healthier if they *ate* healthier regardless of their weight!). So they think there is a “magic” cure out there because they’ve been convinced that weight loss is the only weight to health. SIGH! There is nothing sadder than the look on someone’s face after they’ve asked, “Which vegetable is the BEST” and I answer, “The one you like the best.”

    Like

  4. Ann Dunaway Teh | My Menu Pal says:

    Great post! I’m with you 100%!

    Like

  5. Jessica Levinson (@jlevinsonrd) says:

    Hear, hear! Your last paragraph should be bolded and posted somewhere everyone can see!

    Like

  6. Veggie Mama says:

    Well said! Gosh, it must be frustrating.

    Like

  7. fiona757 says:

    Great piece Alex, very proud to be a professional. I wonder if people realize the financial impacts to be professional. We don’t take bribes for product endorsement, we don’t have retainers from the dairy, horticultural, neat and livestock or grains and legume, nut industry – especially not the “superfood of the month” companies. Such a shame we need to continue to justify our professional behavior in an environment of quackery. It has not changed much over the last 30 years I have been practicing. Sad.
    Ps. I found 3 typos groan, winning and their.
    Fiona

    Like

    • The Dietitian's Pantry says:

      Thanks Fiona! I hear what you are saying! So many people think we do take bribes for product endorsement or from big food companies or ‘big pharma’ which is completely incorrect! It does cost a lot to be professional, to be registered with professional associations and to do continuous professional development so we do remain professional and up to date with the latest developments and evidence. Thanks for picking up the typo’s (it certainly doesn’t make me look professional!!!). I’m terrible at proof reading my own work! 😉

      Like

  8. Elly says:

    I love this post – my thoughts exactly! I wrote a similar post a couple of months ago, as I’m the mum of a boy with type 1 diabetes. The diet we follow? – a healthy balanced diet. No gimmicks.

    Like

  9. Catherine Pereira says:

    What a great post! As a fellow dietitian, thank you.

    Like

  10. Olusola Sotunde says:

    This is a fantastic post, I was smiling and chuckling in my seat as I read through because I can relate with this on so many levels. I have also realised over the years that some people love doing the things that are not convenient. Thank you once again.

    Like

  11. Tamra K. MS RD says:

    Wonderful article, I face this most days and it was nice to see a well written article about this, it’s gets discouraging at times when people dismiss dietitians, even though it’s the “best” advice, thank you!

    Like

  12. Amber says:

    What about the peer reviewed studies of Esselstyn and Campbell and all the doctors who support their claims? I assume you know who they are as theyre in the same health through nutrition business. Or does consumption of certain items go under a moderation category bc you just can’t or don’t like what the evidence presents? Legit question/not trolling.

    Like

    • The Dietitian's Pantry says:

      Hi Amber thanks for the question. Much of the research suggests that the healthiest diets are the ones that are based on minimally processed and mainly plant based foods but there are a lot of variations to this. Esselstyn and Campbell promote a whole plant based/vegan style diet excluding all oil and there has been research that links this way of eating to positive health outcomes. However, there has also been significant research on other diets such as the Mediterranean diet which also follows the principles of ‘eating minimally processed foods, mainly plant based’ but it also includes plenty of extra virgin olive oil, moderate amounts of fish and smaller amounts of animal meat and dairy. Both of these styles of eating are linked to great health benefits. Is one better than the other? Not necessarily. The best one is the one that would suit the individual. So while a vegan style diet can be a great and healthy diet to follow the research suggests that there are also other diets that can produce positive health outcomes if they are some kind of variation of ‘minimally processed, mainly plant based foods’. I think you can’t go past Michael Pollan’s famous quote – ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mainly plants’.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. gcobb1990 says:

    Great article and a relief to see someone acknowledge these challenges in health care. Thank you. http://graysoncobb.com/the-hallmark-of-a-healthy-diet/

    Like

  14. Leah McGrath says:

    Great post…come hang out on @BuildupRDNs and our Facebook page if you aren’t already…I can see we are kindred spirits. #stand4science

    Like

  15. The Free Woman says:

    I am studying to be a dietician, andI have two passions. The first one is obesity, the second one is educating people about fad diets, correct eating, and weight loss lies.
    I often get people who are internet educated about nutrition. I am glad your also on a mission to teach others!

    Best of luck to you!

    Like

  16. Jessie E. says:

    I feel like I could have written this post! (Although not as eloquently as you 🙂 ) I had to laugh (sadly) at your comment about inquirers being disappointed when you tell them your number one tip is to eat more vegetables. This happens to me on an almost daily basis, and the inquirer almost always follows up with, “well, what about XYZ diet/fad/superfood I heard about on TV?” It’s tough for us RDs, and it’s also tough for the laypeople who live in an environment where they’re constantly bombarded with great-sounding-but-dubious “information.” It’s a mess!

    Like

    • The Dietitian's Pantry says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more Jessie! I can totally understand why people are confused about nutrition and follow some ‘great sounding but no so great advice’! While it frustrates us it must frustrate them as well as they don’t know what to believe.

      Like

  17. Danica Pelzel, MA, RDN says:

    Alex, great article! I’ve had to stop correcting all the misinformation I see on Facebook, though, because it seriously just frustrates me. (P.S. You may find my tips for filtering through online nutrition information useful for your friends or clients –> http://busybeewellness.com/2015/02/06/health-and-nutrition-misinformation-in-the-digital-age/)

    Like

  18. Danica Pelzel, MA, RDN says:

    Alex, great article! I had to quit commenting on every inaccurate Facebook post that pops up on my newsfeed, though; it was just too frustrating! (P.S. I shared tips a few months ago about filtering through online nutrition information that your friends and clients may find helpful –> http://busybeewellness.com/2015/02/06/health-and-nutrition-misinformation-in-the-digital-age/)

    Like

  19. Delectable Dietetics says:

    Great post Alex. An entertaining and refreshing read for fellow dietitians who sometime may question why they get up in the morning from fighting the same fights day in and day out. It definitely helped me not to lose sight of my passion for food, nutrition and dietetics! We will get there one blog post at a time 🙂

    Like

  20. Healthy Home Café says:

    Well written and oh so true – this is so often my daily battle
    I agree so much that I’ve shared this on my webpage Healthy Home Cafe
    Thank you 🙂

    Like

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