Practice Blog

To share practice related stories, create connections and engage readers in the amazing diversity of dietitian experiences.


“Look at what the dietitian is eating” – Part 2

A small-town RD from Nova Scotia shares her take on how to respond to comments about your food choices.

LLHS.jpgLynette Amirault is a true East Coast girl. She loves the ocean and is fiercely proud of her French Acadian heritage. Lynette loves her work as a clinical dietitian at the Yarmouth Hospital in Nova Scotia. She specializes in cardiovascular disease and stroke, and considers the ICU her happy place. Occasionally, you may find her volunteering her time speaking to community groups about good nutrition, where she mostly tells people to worry less about analyzing labels and eat more vegetables instead. Leave a comment for Lynette below!

  

I was born and raised in rural Nova Scotia (NS). I have lived here all my life, except for the few years I pursued my post-secondary education. After returning to NS to complete my dietetic internship, I started working here as a dietitian.

My friends and colleagues affectionately know me as, “The One Who Knows Everyone.” The converse is also true: after practicing as a dietitian in the community hospital for 15 years, most people know who I am and what I do.

It’s no surprise that there are people who may pay particular attention to what I eat when I’m out in public with my family, or even what I choose to eat at work. Unfortunately, I tend to follow my own advice and eat fairly healthy choices at home, but indulge in the occasional treat when I am dining out or at a community BBQ.

BBQ.jpg

This leaves me open to criticism from the public who may not understand my “everything in moderation” philosophy. For example, I tell my cardiac clients to follow a healthy diet, low in salt and saturated fat, 80% of the time. This is enough to be cardio-protective for the occasional higher fat/higher salt foods. For the most part, these comments/criticisms are rare but they leave a lasting memory.

I received one of the more memorable comments when I was pregnant. A hospital cafeteria worker commenting on my lunch choice stated, “You know you’re going to have to lose all that weight after the baby is born, right?”

By far the worst offender, however, was a man in the community (let’s nickname him Mr. Shouty) who, at a summer festival, pointed animatedly at the hot dog in my hand and shouted out to the crowd surrounding us, “Look what the dietitian is eating!”

hotdog.jpg

My close friends and family know my first response to these comments would be a biting, witty, or passive-aggressive jab at the offender. However, my status as a professional usually wins out in these cases. Despite not being at work, as a professional (especially in a small rural area) we are held to a higher standard of behaviour towards our fellow man, even if we are not extended the same courtesy. We are required to maintain our couth or risk damaging our professional reputation. Comments like those previously mentioned are usually thrown out in jest, by people who put little thought into their words and the impact they may have on the recipient.

Understanding this, there are a few ways to deal with an offensive comment thrown a dietitian’s way without losing your professional cool.

Stop, take a deep breath, collect yourself, and respond with one of these tactics:

  • State the obviousdontloseyourcool.jpg
“Yes I’m eating a (fill-in-the-blank) and I’m going to enjoy it.” Smile and walk away. This method works well when you are busy and have better things to do than challenge someone’s food beliefs.
 
  • Question the commenter
“What’s the problem with what I’m eating?” Then, just wait for a response. This is especially effective if there’s a popular but misguided perception about the food itself. You can use this as a teachable moment to correct misinformation if you are invested in improving the commenter’s knowledge on the topic.

I used this tactic in the cafeteria situation (mentioned above) and reminded our service staff that the gravy she was giving me grief over was low in fat and sodium, not a bad choice at all in combination with the lean turkey and veggies that rounded out my meal.
 
  • Call out the bad behaviour
If your attacker is rude, you may simply want to tell them so. “Well that was rude!” or, “My food choices are my business. Would you like me to critique what you are eating?” Then, walk away.
 
Alternatively, try honesty, especially if the commenter is a close friend or family member. Saying something like “I find your comment hurtful,” may open up a discussion around food norms and expectations within your social group.
 
Sometimes none of these tactics work. If the attacker is especially ignorant of appropriate social behaviour you may just need to ignore it and walk away (as I did with “Mr. Shouty” at the summer festival).

Some people are not adept at reading social cues. Despite your best attempts, they will not correct their behaviour, regardless of how you respond. It may be best not to respond at all and maintain your professionalism. The surrounding audience will remember how you handled the comment and respect you, especially if you feel the urge to knock that person down with a witty comment.
 
Keep those comments to yourself for girls’ nights when you are recounting your story to other dietitians and say, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could have said this instead…” You can have a good laugh about it amongst the safety of those who understand and can relate!

girlsnight.jpg
 
Ultimately, the public expects us, as dietitians, to be healthy eating role models (even when we don’t want to be). We can always use a public comment as a teachable moment, whether it’s to correct nutrition misinformation, or just to model professional behaviour.
 
I wish you all good luck during your next encounter with the comment “Look at what the dietitian is eating!”



Editor’s note: Lynette’s post wraps up the two part series on this topic. I hope you enjoyed these posts as much as I did. You can read part 1 here.
 
Do you have an experience with someone commenting on your food choices? How did you respond? What strategies do you find work best?

Please share below and keep the conversation going!
  1. Thank you, Lynette! I enjoyed reading your article, especially that I get attacked a lot on whatever I eat, even at home! I'm sure that all RDs can relate to this!
    I loved the tip of using these comments as teachable moments, and this is what I usually do. I also like to start a chat about RD's role and what food actually is (if time and place allow for that).
    Food shouldn't be a source of guilt or shame or people labelling, where this is, unfortunately, emphasized in many media outlets.
    All the best in this to all my fellow RDs, and always enjoy your food!
  2. Thanks for the great post Lynette!
    It can definitely become frustrating but keeping your cool is always the way to go- even though it can be so difficult!
  3. Great article! In a way, it was quite comforting to know that everyone faces these questions. I particularly liked the " My food choices are my business" answer because for the most part I feel the need to explain.
    Thanks for sharing Lynette!

Leave a Reply



 Security code

Want to subscribe?

To subscribe to the blog with your DC account, please log in here

Login

If you do not have an DC account, click Subscribe

Subscribe

Recent Posts

Tags

Tweet Tweet