My sophomore year of high school I changed my major to Nutrition and Dietetics. I had always been interested in nutrition due to my diagnosis of IBS. I wanted to learn how to really do everything I could to live as healthy as possible. My goal was to one day become a Registered Dietician and counsel people on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. When I progressed in my major I began to realize that there is a large variety of opinions in regards to what a “healthy diet” really consists of. Some people swear by the paleo route, while others insist on juicing every meal. I’ve met friends and family members who live by low-carb diets, weight watchers, vegetarian diets, & other various regimens that promise quick weight gain and a healthy life. One night I was fixing chicken tacos for myself when someone commented, “Oh are those tortillas made from bread?” I don’t eat bread. I suddenly began to wonder if I was doing something wrong by having tortillas with my tacos….should I have just eaten the meat with lettuce? Should I have skipped over the tacos and eaten entirely something else? Was the bread going to kill me?
I really was believing the lie that everyone needs to eat organic, dairy-free, gluten-free, “clean” diets or they have no chance of being healthy. Processed foods were not aloud. Sugar was not aloud. Homemade meals with your family were not aloud either. Many foods were “restricted”, many foods were “bad”, and many foods were to be out of my life and vocabulary forever. Don’t get me wrong, I know that for some people, eating a gluten-free diet has saved their life. I know that cutting out dairy is a quick fix for a lot of people with digestive issues. I understand that it’s more beneficial to eat healthy protein sources, vegetables, and fruit over candy. I know that eating an overall healthy diet helps prevent chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. I get all of that…I study it every day. Each day I strive to live a healthy lifestyle and consume foods that give me energy and help my body, not hurt it. If you have a health condition that causes you to not be able to eat certain foods then you should do what is best for you and keeps you feeling good. I think we go wrong when we start to elevate certain diets or food above God. “That diet is a LIFESAVER me, I LOVE IT.” I know that consuming a healthy diet can change your life. I have seen it in my life over the past 21 years. It really is life changing…..But….The only thing that has saved me from the depths of hell and the wrath of God is Jesus….no diet can do that.
All of that being said, I have mentioned in previous posts that the gifts of ED recovery really are precious jewels and some of the most valuable lessons I have learned in my lifetime. I really do believe that my eating disorder saved me from being a bad dietician. Here are some things that I have learned that I was to pass along to my friends & family who are considering becoming an RD. This list isn’t based off of any dietetic clinical experience or textbook, it’s based off observations that I have made after driving many miles from Spring Hill to Nashville, and shuffling in and out of different doctor’s offices. They are lessons I have learned that I want to pass along to you all. You may not agree with everything I say, and that’s okay. This list is simply from a client’s perspective. Enjoy!
- There is no “one-sized fits all” diet.
- This is probably one of the most important things that I have learned over the years. I had read in magazines that a healthy breakfast could never consists of bread, cereal, or granola bars. Instead, they insisted that I should try an egg-white omelet, a chia seed bowl, or hummus with veggies. The problem for me is that egg-whites, chia seeds, and hummus all cause me major gastrointestinal discomfort. I thought that those foods should work for me because they were considered, “healthy.” I also tried to go Paleo for a while and the same thing happened to me…I ended up feeling worse and experiencing more GI distress than before. The same goes with a gluten-free diet. For some people, Paleo, gluten-free, & chia seed smoothies are what keeps their body feeling good. For me, it’s not. Everyone is different and everyone has different needs. Even when you are treating a client for the same diagnosis it will never be the same. For example, many people with IBS have found relief in a LOW FODMAP diet or a gluten-free diet. For me, those diets didn’t provide me with relief. While I do have a sensitivity to some foods, most of my IBS is psychological and stress related. Everyone is different. Remember that.
2. Listening is vital.
- I think that some of my most frustrating experiences were when I sat in doctors offices and no one listened to what I was going through. I told my previous RD that I thought I had an eating disorder, that I had experienced unintentional weight loss, and that I hadn’t had a regular period in over a year…if that isn’t an indicator I don’t know what is. Many times RDs have to spend time convincing their clients that they need help and that they can’t keep doing the things they are doing. I was ready to change, yet I was told that I didn’t need to. I was told that I was going to be fine. I was prescribed a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, & I was also given a list of ingredients and foods that I absolutely had to avoid at all costs. I remember telling another doctor that I thought I was depressed and they told me that it is normal to feel sad when you have GI issues. If they actually would have listened to me they would have realized that I met diagnostic criteria for anorexia, depression, and anxiety…but they didn’t. They brushed it off. I wasn’t important or valuable to them…they have more important clients to work with. I was being dramatic and I was told I just needed to eat fruits and vegetables and fiber one bars and I would be fine. Right. Alright time to stop ranting…my point is that you have to listen. Often times you can tell a lot more about a client/patient from what they say rather than what their medical chart says. Some days my current dietician just let’s me talk about my frustrations and cry in her office. She doesn’t condemn me, she doesn’t tell me I am being dramatic, and she doesn’t list off foods that I should or shouldn’t be eating. She has the wisdom to point me in the right direction in regards to a healthy diet, but she also listens, cares, and provides nutritional advice according to my needs, not the needs of the client she saw previously that day. That is how I want to be one day, and that’s the kind of dietician that this world needs more of. Thanks Reba! You’re a diamond in the rough.
3. You have to focus on more than food.
- There is so much more that goes into a person’s diet than the food that enters their mouth. Everyone’s diet is widely influenced by a person’s biological, psychological, social, and spiritual needs. People eat the food they eat for a variety of reasons. They chose their meals based off of taste, availability, preference, habit/routine, culture, nutritional value, caloric density, ingredients, and more. Others eat when they are bored, sad, happy, tired, angry, or depressed. All of these factors have to be considered when you are helping your client maintain a healthy lifestyle. You also have to consider your client’s environment and season of life. A single-mom living in poverty isn’t going to have enough money to buy all organic, free-range animal products. A busy college student isn’t going to have the time to cook homemade meals for 3 meals a day/7 days a week. Although it would be ideal for me to eat homemade granola bars, organic peanut butter, and organic lunch meat, my dietician understands that I don’t have the time or financial resources to do that, and that’s okay. Meeting people where they are at is essential for helping them to succeed. If their goals are unrealistic or unattainable they won’t be able to meet them.
4. Don’t be afraid to speak the truth in love.
- We will have clients who are stubborn and do not want to change. I know this because I was one of them. When we are asking a client to change his or her eating habits, we are asking them to change a lot. For me, it truly felt like Reba was demanding the impossible out of me. She had a list of so many different minimums that I was supposed to eat to restore my weight. For a span of 2 weeks I really thought she was crazy. I wasn’t meeting my minimums and I wasn’t feeling any better. Reba often firmly but lovingly told me that I needed to try as hard as possible to meet my minimums if I wanted to get better. I never felt judged or condemned by her; I knew that she just wanted me to get better. Whether our client is diabetic and obese, underweight, or has kidney disease, we have to be able to tell them the truth even when it’s hard. The truth can set them free…the truth can save their life. If you have spent years studying in school and preparing to be an RD, what would be the point of not applying the knowledge that you have learned to help other people? People will be stubborn but that’s okay. We can’t change them. Reba couldn’t change me. I had to decide for myself if I wanted to change. What we can do, is provide the knowledge that they need in order to change.
5. Encourage and Empathize.
- I will never forget a conversation I had with Reba at the beginning of my recovery. I had been doing pretty well and then one morning I relapsed. I had no idea what to do…I panicked. I sat and read my bible for a few hours, some how managed to make it through class, and ended up at the gym. I called Reba earlier that day but she didn’t answer. I left a message saying, “Hi Reba…I don’t even know if I am supposed to call you but I think I might have relapsed and I am really scared and sad and I don’t know what to do. If you are allowed to call me back I would love to talk to you.” Literally seconds after my 3 mile run later in the day Reba called me back. I didn’t want to answer because I didn’t want her to know that I was breathing hard, but I knew I needed to talk to her more than anything. I answered and I told her what happened. Reba knew that I am a Christian and she started preaching the gospel to me and reminding me of what God’s word says. She reminded me that I am not perfect and that consequently my recovery won’t be perfect. She reminded me that if I was perfect, that Jesus had died for nothing and that the cross would have no power. I left the conversation encouraged and hopeful; it is something that I will never forget and that I am eternally grateful for. Our clients will need us to encourage them because sometimes we are going to be the only people who understand what they are really going through. Speak life, speak hope, and speak love.
In the midst of my senior year, I still do desire to become a Registered Dietician one day. I hope to fully recover so that I can help other people learn the same lessons that I have in a less painful way. I know that I have to take care of myself before I can take care of others, and that is one of the things that drives me every day in recovery.