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 1

A dietitian provides perspective on our society’s obsession with judging others’ food choices.

AmandaHS.JPGAmanda Li is a true foodie at heart. Most of the time you will find her either talking about food, shopping for food, cooking food or eating food! Some may say that Amanda has the perfect blend of jobs – she is an instructor at George Brown College, a supermarket dietitian with Loblaw Companies Ltd, and the founder of Nutrition. Wellness.Simplified., a dietetic practice that aims to help people make healthy eating the easier choice through hands-on cooking classes. As the food and nutrition expert amongst her students, shoppers and clients, she often feels pressure to make “the perfect” food choices. To cope with this, Amanda has learned to be an intuitive eater, recognizing that the only person who knows her body best is herself. Her passion lies in helping others restore their own level of self-confidence towards their food habits. To contact Amanda, email her or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @amandalird.

  

Do you ever feel like you are under scrutiny when you eat in public, or amongst friends, family members, and colleagues? Let’s face it, most of us have likely felt shamed or have shamed others in their food choices.
 
Food shaming has become so rampant – and it goes both ways: as a dietitian, you’re scrutinized if you’re politely asking for a double scoop of chocolate hazelnut gelato, but it doesn’t get much better if you are chomping away at a vegan kale slaw.
 
I sometimes just have the urge to shout from the top of my lungs: “Yes, I too am human and enjoy salt, sugar, fat and my head of kale!”
shout.jpg
 
Abandon the good/bad food dichotomy
 
It has become the cultural norm to judge our food choices as being either “good” or “bad.” However, eating a doughnut doesn’t make you a sinful person – just as eating a salad doesn’t make you a virtuous person.
 
Try this: the next time one of your friends, family or patients calls themselves “bad” for eating “x” food, ask them if they stole it or hurt someone to get their hands on it.
 food-stealing.jpg
This may seem a little dramatic, but isn’t it crazy that our culture views food as a moral issue? Yes, there are certainly moral issues around food such as sustainability, ethical production, fair-trade, etc., but the issue arises when we start to judge other people’s worth, discipline or decency based on their food choices.
 
Judging someone based on one meal or food choice overlooks what else they have eaten or will be eating that day, as well as their specific medical conditions (if any), and their individual health goals at that moment.  Each person’s body and situation is unique and there is no one perfect way of eating. Just as dark leafy greens are considered the epitome of health & vitality for some, they are simultaneously considered a food to limit for people with kidney disease.
 
Throw away any preconceived notions
 
Let’s take a step back for a moment and reflect on our own tendencies to food shame others or visa versa. One way we can start to reframe our own relationship with food, and help others to do the same, shaming.jpgis to stop making first-impression judgements. It does not make sense to judge what another person may be eating or purchasing at a particular moment as this only provides one glimpse into that person’s food decisions. Especially considering that we make over 200 food-related decisions each day!1
 
Even more importantly, what is the internal drive that compels people to food shame? Do people shame others for eating in a certain way because it doesn’t align with their own eating habits? Or is it a result of a person’s internal food monitoring being projected onto the outside world? In a way, being critical of other’s food choices may be a direct reflection of a person’s own self-criticism.
 
Listen to your body
 
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I received as a dietetic intern was, “Don’t be like a dietitian.” Implying that we do not need to perpetuate society’s common label for us as “the food police.”  
 
When I meet with a client for the first time, one of my major objectives is to throw out all of their previous food rules and focus on establishing a trusting relationship. Clients have to trust that you are not going to take away their freedom or their favourite foods, even when you have suggestions about what might be a good food to try.
 
At the end of the day, a person’s sense of choice and autonomy is vital. For many, this may mean re-learning how to eat healthfully, or intuitively – having awareness of our own physiological cues, personal food preferences and truly being in tune with body, mind and spirit.

mindfullness.jpg
 
It’s important for us to remind ourselves, and those around us, that our health and worth as a person do not change because we ate a food that someone has labeled as “bad,” “fattening” or “unclean.”
 
Be confident
 
Another question we have to ask ourselves is whether we are comfortable in our own skin and body. When we ourselves are confident with who we are as a person, we won’t have the need to seek approval or affirmation from others.
 
As dietitians, we must have a strong and unwavering positive relationship with food.  We must be comfortable with our own eating habits and nutrition beliefs, while respecting our body and honouring its cues. If we are not comfortable in our own skin, it is hard not to be susceptible to food shaming others.  
 
Bottom-Line
 
Let’s work together to bring the joy back into eating – throw away all food labels and rules, and the tendency to judge others. People need to listen to their own bodies. At the end of the day, the only person who knows what you need best is yourself!  Go ahead and eat what feels right for you and don’t forget to relish every bite of the foods you choose.
 
Reference

1. Wansink, B., & Sobal, J. (2007). Mindless eating: The 200 daily food decisions we overlook. Environment and Behavior, 39(1), 106-123.


Editor’s note: As dietitians, people take note of what we eat. I am sure I am not the only one who has avoided divulging my profession when meeting new people around a dinner table! Amanda makes many excellent points in this post, and reminds me that we don’t need to be “perfect” eaters, even in public places.
 
Look out for another excellent Practice Blog post on this topic next month!
 
Please share any thoughts, comments or questions for Amanda below.
  1. The most common comment I get when I tell people I am a dietitian is 'So I guess you must eat perfectly all the time'. As if there is such a thing as 'eating perfectly', as if a dietitian had that magical knowledge and as if we should be doing it! Means we have work to do as a profession :)
  2. Hit the nail on the head with this Amanda! Fantastic article and one I am going to post at work for everyone to see in our lunch room, so that when I'm being shamed/teased/targeted eating my Friday poutine, I will just point them to this article!
  3. Thanks for all the wonderful comments everyone! Food shaming is basically unescapable in the world we live in currently but I am encouraged by the "intuitive eating" and "positive body image" movements.

    Noura, you had a great question in regards to what happens if our body is telling us the wrong message. I personally don't think our bodies can tell us a "wrong" message per se, but the interpretation piece may not be 100% accurate. The art of intuitive eating takes time and needs to be learned. However, what is promising is that the more we do listen to our bodies the more in-tune we will be.

    One statement a reader made that really hit home for me was "makes me wonder about who can and cannot choose to become a dietitian." The more I reflect on this, the more I believe that in order to be an effective and "sane" dietitian you truly have to love yourself and be comfortable with your diet preferences.
  4. Thanks Amanda for this! As RDs we were trained not to judge people, but, unfortunately, we get judged all the time based on our food and eating choices. I would love to change that!

    I also like the idea of listening to our bodies/train our bodies to be mindful when it comes to eating and food choices, but there is a question that always comes to my mind: What if our bodies are not telling us the right messages?
  5. I love the honesty of your article. Yesterday I attended a strawberry social fundraiser. I endured at least 5 comments because I chose not to have the biscuit. Projected #guilt gone wild! So common. LOL 😄
  6. After practicing for 9 years in a small rural town, pretty much everyone knows that I am the local dietitian. I eat well but include all foods in my diet. I can't count the number of times clients have looked in my grocery cart and lifted an eyebrow or make a comment like it might be fine for you with what you weight....We have so far to go with this topic.
  7. Bravo! I want to bring the joy back into eating! I dealt with the "what is the dietitian eating?" complex for years. I tried to teach my family how to make healthy choices, but there were never "good" or "bad" foods. Moderation is my favourite word. I felt so proud recently when a former roommate quoted something I'd said over 30 years ago, "There are no good or bad foods." Carry on, Amanda Li!
  8. Great article! Food shaming has become more common these days. Either people judge you when you are eating a piece of cake in a birthday party or there's people who feel guilty when you are around and they choose to eat "not so healthy".Makes me wonder about who can and cannot choose to become a dietitian. Do you have to look, eat and behave a "certain" way to be successful in this profession?. A week into giving birth to my second child, I met a friend's friend and when asked what I did for a living... She commented..." oh! You don't look like one". I didn't cos I was 20lbs overweight. Food shaming, body weight shaming all too common.

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