What do 12 dietitians, over 12,000 fitness professionals, and thousands of others have in common? We all attended the annual canfitpro International Fitness Conference and Trade Show in Toronto this past August. For those not familiar with canfitpro, it’s the largest body of fitness professionals in Canada and every year they host conferences across the country as an opportunity for fitness professionals to obtain continuing education credits and for the public to attend health and wellness presentations.
It’s hard to believe that I have been attending the canfitpro Toronto conference since 1998 while still in high school. At first, I attended as a volunteer and then as a fitness professional. Every conference offers a multitude of nutrition workshops; however, to my surprise, very few of these are facilitated by dietitians. Rather, holistic nutritionists, fitness experts, and chiropractors—to name just a few—take centre stage voicing their authority on nutrition. Many of these groups also host a booth at the trade show engaging people with their services and products that—to the chagrin of many dietitians—may not be evidence-based.
Without a doubt, the canfitpro conference needs more dietitian presence. It is the perfect opportunity to showcase dietitians as the go-to experts in food and nutrition, while offering fitness professionals hungry for credible nutrition information an avenue for referrals. We needed to get dietitians at the 2015 canfitpro conference in Toronto.
No important initiative comes without its share of challenges. Thankfully, my role as co-chair (outgoing) of the Consulting Dietitians of Canada Network (CDN) provides the canvas to offer leadership and advocacy geared towards meaningful issues for our profession. Through discussion with other like-minded dietitians, including Lisa Cianfrini, one of CDNs Ontario provincial reps, and Helene Charlebois, past Network co-chair (both attended the 2014 conference), we realized we could make this happen.
Lisa and I coordinated a trade show booth and enlisted the help of some top-notch dietitians (see a list of their names below).
The key objectives of our booth:
- Survey fitness professionals to get a sense of their perception of dietitians
- Engage delegates with an interactive “myth or truth” activity using a six-foot tall spinning wheel (creating the questions was a team effort with categories such as sport nutrition, weight management, and healthy meal prep. All questions were researched and sourced to demonstrate our commitment to evidence-based advice.)
- Promote eaTracker as a credible and user-friendly nutrient tracker App and website
- Encourage delegates to ask for dietitian services as a reimbursable benefit under their employee health insurance plan
In addition to our booth, Lisa and I were both accepted as speakers. Our topics included Nutrition 101, Overcoming Emotional Eating, Nutrition & Diabetes – Separating Fact from Fiction, and Nutrigenomics: The Next Level of Nutrition.
(*Our amazing crew of RDs included: Doug Cook, Melissa Baker, Gabrielle Allison, Navreeti Sharma, Maysam Youssef, Eric Williamson, Alysha Coughler, Christy Brissette, Nanci Guest, and Ben Sit.)
Our booth was a huge hit! We had a steady flow of participants for our ”myth or truth” game and long lines during peak times. Over the course of the weekend, dietitians at our booth connected with thousands of delegates to discuss the important role dietitians play in health and wellness. In fact, we even ran out of printed resources and had to get a rush order from a local print company.
We learned that 65% of fitness professionals agree that dietitians are experts in food and nutrition; however, 47% never refer their clients. The overwhelming reason for lack of referrals related to not knowing how to access dietitians. This indicates the fitness and wellness industry is an untapped market for private practice dietitians to source more referrals.
In addition, Lisa and I both received positive feedback from delegates and the public regarding our nutrition presentations. As one participant told Lisa, “You two girls have given the best presentations today! You are actually giving information and not just trying to sell something.” It’s wonderful to realize that over a decade ago, I was a delegate getting the information, and now I was sharing valuable advice and information with rave reviews. This was a true “bucket list” experience that was altogether transcendent, nerve-wracking, and humbling.
One final positive outcome of this initiative was an invitation to host our booth at the OmT.O. Fit for Fall Toronto Wellness Event
on September 27, 2015 in the Distillery District. This provided us access to approximately 3,000 members of the public interested in health and wellness — a prime example of how taking action leads to more opportunities.
Everything that evokes meaningful change started with someone making a decision and following through. Remember, as Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Take the shot, aim for progress — not perfection, and walk away knowing you are a part of the revolution positively changing the landscape of the dietetic profession.
As the Consulting Dietitians Network eagerly anticipates the 2016 season of fitness and wellness conferences, here is what you can do to keep the momentum going:
- Continue to excel daily at dispelling evidence-based nutrition information that empowers clients to trust in the common-sense approach to healthy eating.
- Host a booth showcasing the benefits of dietitians at your own local community fitness and/or wellness event!
- Advocate to improve access to dietitians by sharing the Infographic: “Are dietitian services part of your employee health insurance plan?” found here.
Have you already initiated change in your community or workplace? Please share your story by posting your experience in the comments section below.
Editor’s note: As one of the dietitians that volunteered to help at this booth, I know first-hand what a huge success it was. Thanks to Jodi, Lisa, and others for getting this initiative rolling, keeping the momentum going, and for advocating for our profession! As dietitians, we are seen as credible sources of information, but I think we can each do more to increase our visibility. This initiative is an excellent example of how this can be accomplished!