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.
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!”
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 obvious
“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.
“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!
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!