Who are these magical people who are trained to navigate the world of food and nutrition without freaking out and help others do the same? And do they, like, never eat carbs? To answer these questions and others, BuzzFeed Health reached out to four registered dietitians.
We talked to Abby Langer, RD, owner of Abby Langer Nutrition; Jessica Jones, RD, community health clinic outpatient dietitian and co-creator of Food Heaven Made Easy; Shelly Redmond, RD, founder of Skinny Louisiana; and Ben Sit, RD, president ofEvolved Sport and Nutrition. Here’s what they had to say:
1. They aren’t interested in judging your diet or lifestyle.
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Even though it might be intimidating to tell a nutritionist all about the way you eat, especially when you’re seeking them out for help with your diet, nutritionists aren’t there to guilt or shame you into changing your diet.
“I hate being the food police,” says Sit. Plus, shaming a patient doesn’t help, says Jones — it’s disempowering.
2. There’s no one diet they think is superior.
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Yes, across the board they’ll probably advise you to drink less soda and eat fewer processed foods. But they’re not likely to advocate going Paleo or going vegan or avoiding all grains. “Everything has to be very individualized. … My approach is to find what’s best for you and your body, and what will make you feel good and not stressed or anxious about eating,” says Jones.
3. They won’t tell you to say goodbye to all the things you love in this world.
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Jones explains that working with a nutritionist isn’t about eliminating your favorite (but less than ideal) foods from your life. If you love Popeyes, she won’t tell you to ban it. She’ll probably recommend you have it only once in a while, and with lots of vegetables.
Redmond says that a big part of her job is making over people’s favorite recipes to be a little healthier — whether it’s a dessert, cocktail, or favorite party food. And she’s not even trying to make these recipes totally fat-free or sugar-free, just kinda not as terrible for you. “The last thing we want is for people to take a bite and have it taste like a diet,” she says.
4. And, yes, they do want to help you start to enjoy healthier foods, too.
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“Dietitians don’t want to make your life miserable. We really want you to understand food and appreciate it,” says Langer. It’s about helping clients “find balance between ‘healthy’ and ‘happy’ foods,” says Sit.
5. They got into nutrition because they love food, not food rules.
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“I always tell people, most of [the people in] our profession, we really do like food. We like to celebrate with food. We like food itself,” says Redmond, who was so into food she was actually enrolled in culinary school until she realized that she’d rather teach people how to cook their own food than become a professional chef.
“I didn’t have dolls growing up, I had pots and pans,” she says. “I wanted to teach people to eat what they already love.” Similarly, Sit was also training to become a chef until he realized he wanted to study nutrition instead.
6. And they don’t eat super healthy 100% of the time.
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Sure, they eat all the vegetables, but they also let themselves have their favorite things (in moderation), like sweet stuff, fried chicken, and the occasional double whiskey. And this can actually make them better nutritionists, says Jones. “I can relate to people because I have had — and I still do have — my own struggles,” she says.
7. Clients who are mega self-educated about nutrition are kinda hard to deal with.
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Sit says that it can be difficult to work with clients who have done a bunch of their own nutrition research, whether they’ve googled something to death or watched every food-related documentary on Netflix.
Doing all that research gives people lots of facts and subsequently lots of opinions about what’s right for them, but not necessarily the ability to “step back and look at the big picture” of a person’s diet, lifestyle, and relationship to food, which is exactly what nutritionists are trained to do.
8. They basically have a sixth sense for when clients aren’t being totally forthcoming.
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20th Century Fox / Via shardwick.tumblr.com
Langer says after 17 years as a dietitian, she can usually tell when someone is trying to find a way not to mention the major sugar bender they just went on or that they had a less than ideal weekend in terms of eating or drinking.
Another telltale sign: when a client isn’t making progress toward their goal and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why.
9. They don’t want to talk nutrition while they’re socializing.
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When people know you’re a nutritionist, they’ll want to debate diets or get advice about the way they eat, says Sit. “I never tell people I’m a dietitian. It’s brutal… I have no interest in engaging in work in a social situation,” he says.
Langer agrees: “When I go to a party I don’t want to tell people what I do for a living because I get bombarded with questions. I’m not working, I don’t want to hear what you had for breakfast,” she says.
10. And they definitely don’t want to debate which diet is “best.”
There’s a ton of information out there, and Langer says that when it comes to nutrition, people are “so wedded to what they believe in” that they often want to prove that their food thing — whether it has to do with GMOs, cleanses, supplements, etc. — is the best or the right thing for everyone across the board. “I try not to go there with people,” she says.
Jones agrees: “I don’t have any interest in convincing people of anything they don’t want to hear,” she says.
11. Nutritionists can also help with some of your ~feelings~ about food and eating.
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“I’ve had so many people cry in my office. A lot of the time nutrition is not about food; it’s about why you eat and how you eat and what’s happened in the past to affect your attitude towards food,” says Langer. She says that when clients come to her wanting to lose weight, it’s important to understand not just the way they eat, but what their attitudes are about food and themselves.
“Some of that stuff is painful for people,” she says. Of course some clients’ issues are beyond the scope of what a nutritionist can provide. For example, a client with more serious emotional issues around food, eating, and weight would need to be referred to an actual psychotherapist, Langer says.
12. They’re not super into how other health care professionals deal with food and nutrition.
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While doctors may know a lot of the medical research about food and diets, Sit says that nutritionists understand the “human side” of nutrition — like the economic, ethnical, moral, religious, and cultural beliefs and values that influence just about every food choice we make. As a result, nutritionists are particularly equipped to help patients integrate dietary and lifestyles changes in a sustainable, empowering way. Jones says a nutritionist’s job is to “meet patients where they’re at.”
13. And, yes, they know exactly how to lose 10 pounds super fast.
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It’s one of the first things people ask nutritionists, says Jones, and that’s why they have a jokey answer. “You amputate a leg. That’s the quickest way to lose 10 pounds,” Jones says.
The fact is, nutritionists are not the people to go to for advice on which crash diet will help you drop the most weight in the least time. That’s because what they’re interested in is helping people make small changes that add up, over time, to a healthier lifestyle, an enjoyment of food, and a more empowered, self-confident outlook on life.