In a world full of nutritionist bloggers, Instagram health experts, and a booming weight loss industry estimated to be worth over $60 billion, why are Americans more obese they have ever been?
While it is widely recognized that seeking expert coaches in the fitness world is beneficial for physical training, why aren’t individuals seeking out experts when it comes to nutrition? Why aren’t we looking toward the pros to coach us through adapting healthy eating patterns designed to help them reach their goals?
Most people seek out a cure-all for obesity but this complex issue stems from many different factors, making the idea of finding a single solution an impossibility.
America’s Failing Food System
Obesity is a huge problem in the United States with numbers steadily climbing and no turning point in sight. But how did we get here?
The increasingly sedentary lifestyles and over-processed yet under-nourishing foods we eat contribute to this problem but obesity is also influenced by social, emotional, financial and environmental factors.
Most of what people choose to eat comes from giant food corporations, packaged in colorful boxes or bags that have been carefully marketed to their family for flavor-packed convenience. Our food is filled with artificial flavors and added sugar designed to make you crave more. We stopped cooking whole real foods and started reaching for the prepackaged snack sprinkled in orange cheese-like dust.
Even the quality of whole fresh foods has declined and lost some of it’s natural flavor in an effort to bring readily available, easily consumable food to the masses. When you do try to choose healthy whole foods, it comes at a high cost when compared to the dollar menu, both in dollars and cents, and in time and effort.
Adding to the complexity and confusion surrounding a healthy diet are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are supposed to serve as guide for healthy eating. The Guidelines are heavily influenced by corporations, money and politics, leaving the general public with a somewhat flawed set of guidelines.
When it is actually taught, the nutrition education children receive in school in the United States is shaped around The Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The emphasis on standardized testing through primary and secondary school has educators on a very rigid path to teach what the government values as important. Much to our detriment, physical education and health classes are at the very bottom of that list.
Even The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the governing body for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN), has been no stranger to political influence. They have been in bed with many questionable companies and organizations, for what many perceive to be as monetary gain. It is important to recognize that like any large organization, AND doesn’t represent the beliefs of their members in entirety.
But even if you have unlimited funds, successfully escape political influence and receive some correct educational information, you still aren’t in the clear to make sound nutritional choices.
Food is a part of our culture and traditions. Most of our social gatherings and celebrations involve food in some capacity. Not to mention the very emotional connection to food people have. Many have lost touch with true internal hunger cues and just eat for pleasure, out of boredom or in response to emotion.
What is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?
Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN) - colloquially known as dietitians - are food and nutrition experts that have met specific education criteria and passed a registration exam. To become an RDN you must complete a bachelor’s degree, record a minimum of twelve hundred hours in a supervised internship and pass a registration exam. Beyond that, most RDNs go on to complete a master’s degree in a related health field.
But it’s not all about the credentials.
What really makes an RDN an expert in nutrition is the education and experience we possess. Starting with our bachelor’s degree, we are taught everything from the biochemistry behind the metabolism of macro and micronutrients to medical nutrition therapy. The most important thing we are taught is how to critically evaluate scientific research and to make clinical applications of research when appropriate.
Nutrition is a science and like any science it evolves. RDNs have to sift through a wealth of information and be able to evaluate what is credible evidence and what is not. And no matter our path as an RDN, we are required to complete continuing education to keep up with new research and food trends.
During our work on our bachelor’s degree, we begin practicing through experiential learning. During our dietetic internships, we work in various settings under the direct supervision of RDNs including clinical, community, food service, management, research and wellness.
Nutrition is a part of just about everything you can imagine, thus the more traditional roles of clinical dietitians in hospitals and outpatient treatment centers or offices, are really just the tip of the iceberg. RDNs work in a wide variety of areas such as corporate wellness, food product development, and even for major sports teams. Many RDNs go on to pursue certifications in specialized areas of practice like pediatrics, oncology, sports nutrition and weight management.
Some of These Things Are Not Like the Others
All Dietitians are Nutritionists, but not all Nutritionists are Dietitians. These titles, while similar in concept, mean different things and have very different education requirements. In most states, nutritionists are free from any regulation and do not have any required education or work experience. Essentially, anyone can be a self-proclaimed nutritionist. Certified nutritionist are people who must complete a GED equivalent and a short certification program, many of which can be finished six months or less. Compared this to the rigorous requirements to become a dietitian and it becomes clear who might be more of an expert in nutrition.
A myth often heard is RDNs or dietitians are just trained to work in the clinical setting to treat disease, so I should find a wellness coach or nutritionist. Although medical nutrition therapy for the diseased population is a part of our education, it is just a small piece.
Many RDNs work in the clinical setting treating disease instead of the wellness sector because that is what often pays best. Our medical care system is set up to treat illness, not prevent it. This flaw in our approach to health care is also contributing to the obesity epidemic and all the lifestyle diseases that come along with it. Dietitians are trained to assess clients across various health indicators and to pick the best nutrition option based on a combination these factors and their patients or clients personal health goals. Thus, it is important to seek the advice and treatment of a dietitian who has experience and expertise in the area of health that meets your needs.
Nutrition should be held to the same standard as healthcare and fitness coaching. That is to say they should all be delivered by experts, and just as in healthcare and fitness, nutrition information and coaching should be coming from reliable sources.
The wealth of information about food and nutrition online and across social media that is not founded in any science makes it hard to sift through the massive amount of information and know what is really a viable healthy choice for someone and their lifestyle. A dietitian is trained to critically evaluate research, to oversee their clients’ nutritional status, and make a joint decision with their clients on the best and most effective ways to move forward and reach their nutritional goals. So look for those RDN credentials when seeking a nutrition coach because of what those letters signify, not just what they stands for.