I finally feel like there is mass-media recognition of the important role nutritionists play in the health care setting, as well as how important actual food is for one’s physical well-being. I think a lot of people have a misconception about dietitians, I certainly did. With all this talk about the obesity epidemic a lot of people think that the simple solution is to just eat less/eat more vegetables. Sounds easy, right? Not really. It seems to me like America is acting like a petulant child who strives to do the exact opposite of what their parental figure (here, the FDA, CDC, or any government agency) tries to push.
It doesn’t help that, according to the first New York Times article, doctors aren’t properly trained to dole out nutrition information. This really surprised me because…aren’t doctors supposed to tell you how to improve your health? The more I thought about it, the more I started to see that the American health system is (generally) more about “fixing” you when you get sick than about prevention. Sure, you can show up at your doctor’s office, run a blood test, and be admonished by your doctor for your high lipid levels. But, what usually happens after this? More than likely you will be told to “eat healthier” and then probably prescribed a lipid-lowering medication. If you’re lucky, your doctor might refer you to a nutritionist so that you can start to understand what eating “healthy” is supposed to mean. Generally, you’re left on your own to figure it out.
Due to the seemingly infrequent use of nutritionists, there seem to be a lot of confusion about what they do. When my brother was referred to one after his heart surgery we were given a general idea of: vegetables = good, red meat and fried foods = bad. Due to that experience I supposed that nutritionists were something of a hoax — people who repeated the general consensus of how one should ideally eat. As I slowly realized that the old adage “you are what you eat” wasn’t as hokey as I thought, I began to appreciate, and want to be, someone who could understand the biological significance behind what you stuff in your piehole. Personally, when I look at how some of my friends eat I feel anxious and want to start advising them about how and what they should eat, but haven’t because I don’t want to seem judgmental. People are surprisingly sensitive and defensive about their eating habits.
Health status is, in my formative nutritionist mind, inextricably linked with the foods you eat. The loss of cooking skills and/or indifference to learning how to properly prepare food is also a driving factor to why people don’t have a healthy diet. What does one do with an eggplant? A squash? Kale? It is far easier to buy a packaged good where the directions for preparation are printed on the package and everything is recognizable. I have some pretty strong feelings about cooking and food preparation, but that will have to wait for another post.
As a registered dietitian I would be in a professional position to advocate for changes in one’s diet in order to prevent diseases, hopefully lessening the number of individuals who would end up in their doctor’s offices with clogged arteries because they thought they were getting all their servings of vegetables through the myriad of ways they prepared their ‘taters. I’m happy to see that the health community is realizing that doctors are not thoroughly trained to give nutrition advice (which means that my vocation is going to be more highly valued…yay!). Even with all this newfound awareness of food and physical health, advocacy from the health field will not greatly change people’s habits if they are unable to cheaply purchase produce and then cook it in a manner that is palatable.
What to do about this? Advocate for changes in food policy, especially what the government should subsidize. Individual patterns won’t change until a greater, overarching change occurs that will force the way we view and consume foods.