You may have noticed the blog being a little more quiet than usual, and I want to share with you the reason for the lull in recipes, social media posts and overall activity. The past couple months have been eye-opening to me as I have felt a transformation in both my personal and professional life– an awakening related to body kindness, body image and intuitive eating. This post has been saved as a draft for weeks now and I keep going in and tweaking it because this will be the first time I’ve really opened up on the blog.
Let’s back up a bit. My first job out of my internship was an outpatient counseling position at a heart hospital, where I worked for about three years doing counseling with heart failure and cardio-pulmonary rehab patients. At first, I loved my job. How lucky for me, to get to work in outpatient dietetics, right out of my internship (this is rare). I hated clinical, so I did find this pretty lucky. The first year or two flew by quickly. Over time it begun to bother me that I was “stuck” to one way of counseling my patients. Low sodium. Low saturated fat. No trans fats. Calorie restriction. I did teach the concept of “clean eating”, where I preached that it wasn’t a diet, but rather a lifestyle change that could help my patients live a better life. However, only about 20% of my patients actually carried out what I taught, which was very frustrating. Looking back, I don’t blame them. Being told you have to change your lifestyle and eliminate your favorite foods is no fun at all.
In January of 2015, I enthusiastically begun my private practice on the side. I wanted freedom from the type of patients I saw at the hospital. My marketing strategy boasted clean eating. The first month, I had three clients (which was fantastic considering I was still working my full time job), and it continued to grow.
My marketing strategy seemed to attract only one type of client. Women, in their 20’s and 30’s, who wanted to lose 10-20 pounds. I saw these clients for their initial visit, which seemed to go extremely well– the clients were interested, enthusiastic, and motivated.
But none of them ever scheduled a follow up visit. I would email them friendly reminders, check-ins, etc to attempt to reingage, and I heard crickets.
Back then, I saw this as a failure. I could get clients in the door, do the initial counseling, and then *poof*, they’d disappear. What was I doing wrong? Did they not like me as a dietitian (or as a person?)? My self confidence as an RD deflated faster than a popped balloon.
After about a year of sporadic clients, with none of them scheduling follow ups, I thought: “Well, I must not be good at counseling. It’s just not my thing. I’m better at health promotion, cooking, recipe development, photography, artsy stuff.” My side business took on sponsored posts, cooking demos, etc, and I stopped seeing clients altogether.
In the middle of all of this frustration with retaining my clients, I stumbled upon the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole. It completely opened my eyes. The concept that diets don’t work (even clean eating is considered a diet) — and that the problem is we’re angry at ourselves for overeating, our “lack of willpower”, for failing these diets over and over again. The problem isn’t us, the problem is diets along with their rules and regulations that stop us from listening to our bodies.
Anything that tells you what, when, where or why to eat is a diet.
I began to see that what I was promoting to my clients (and to my patients at the hospital) was nothing other than a regular ol’ diet. I immediately felt a ton of guilt, and I still do. But how could I blame myself? This is what we, as dietitians, are taught in school.
Not ONCE in my nutrition degree did intuitive eating or the health at every size concept come up. We spent years studying how to calculate the correct number of calories, macronutrients– grams of protein and carbs to lose weight, studying which foods had the largest nutritional bang for their buck. We had one class about counseling– but it was behavior change/weight loss counseling.
In my internship, I had to calculate calorie restriction plans for patients in the hospital. A 1500 calorie plan for patient X who “needed to lose weight”, according to their BMI. Patients would be flagged for nutrition counseling just for their BMI being over 25. We had weeks of rotations where we worked in weight loss clinics, bariatric surgery clinics, etc, where we promoted calorie reduction and increased expenditure with exercise.
And you know what we continued to see over and over again? These patients would keep coming back– they’d lose a little weight and then gain it all back plus more. Was it us, the dietitians, who failed them? Or was it the diet that we were promoting that failed?
I truly believe that most dietitians become dietitians because they foremost want to help people improve their quality of life. But what if what we’ve been taught, and what we promote, has done nothing other than harm our patients and clients? And, what if, we became dietitians because it was a way to camouflage our own disordered eating habits? Because we have our own body image issues, fat phobia, fears of being sick or fears of death?
I recently read this post by one of my favorite dietitian bloggers, Kylie from ImmaEatThat: Creating a bubble of non-diet coziness. This is where I discovered the Food Psych Podcast by Christy Harrison.
I must have listened to three of them in one day. I’ve knocked out over fifteen of them since, and let me tell you, I have never listened to something so eye opening and life changing. I find myself shouting “YES! Thank you!!” as I listen along.
I’ve been immersing myself with this podcast, and others such as Love, Food by Julie Dillon (one of my fav Food Psych guests). Rebecca Scritchfield, another Food Psych guest, wrote a book called Body Kindness, which I’m in the middle of reading. My plans are to re-read Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size, and study them intently.
There’s a few amazing bloggers out there who talk about these concepts frequently, and recently, they’ve had some great posts that have continued my newfound fascination:
There’s this strange feeling inside me that I’ve finally found the reason why my clients didn’t come back after our initial visit. The reason behind my own disordered eating habits and the disordered habits I’ve pushed onto family members and close friends.
You’re going to see a shift happen in this blog of mine. I’ll keep posting my favorite recipes, of foods I actually love to eat. I promise to never post a recipe just because it contains “healthy” foods. I promise to keep it completely, and totally real. Of the struggles of a dietitian just discovering intuitive eating and figuring out her own disordered eating habits. I’ll share details of my own journey towards loving my body, completely and totally just the way it is.
To my family, friends, clients and readers: If I have ever made you feel guilty, anxious, or pressured to eat or exercise a certain way, I sincerely apologize. It was never my intention to push diet mindset behaviors on you. My honest and true intention was (and still is) to help people live happier lives– and now I know that living a happy life does not mean reaching a “goal weight”. It’s loving and accepting whatever body shape you have and treating yourself with respect. We don’t deserve to shrink ourselves down to these little, unrealistic body shapes. And we don’t have to shrink our voices either. We have to stand up and stare diet culture right in the face.
And when it comes to seeing clients again, I pledge to only do so when I have found my own peace with food. You’ve got to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.