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.