“I don’t want to see a dietitian. They’ll make me eat healthy food”. This is the response I received when I asked my friend why they didn’t get help for their dietary dilemmas. What? My dietetic brain didn’t comprehend this statement! Doesn’t EVERYONE want to eat healthy food? Aren’t people struggling with their weight because they simply don’t know how to eat healthy? Isn’t that the purpose of my dietetic studies: to arm me with the nutritional knowledge to instruct my future clients that they should swap their chocolate bar for a nice juicy apple, their stubbie for a glistening glass of water and their Big Mac for a fresh chicken salad (which simply MUST be lean and skinless). And while I’m giving these instructions, my head will be shouting “I cast you out, saturated fat and salt! Be gone with you, sugar! You are exorcised!” while imagining thrusting a pointy asparagus spear at the enemy chronic diseases which are creeping up behind my client to tackle them when they are unaware.
Hearing my friend’s comment led to that “apple falling on my head” Einstein moment: people KNOW how to eat healthy. They just think that nutritious food doesn’t taste good! So how are we meant to help these people “upstream” before they are thrown off the edge of the waterfall downstream, and are crushed with the diagnosis of a chronic disease? It’s hopeless if they are too scared to come to a dietitian (aka: the food police) for fear of being harpooned with a celery stick, and sent on their way with a prescription of quinoa salad and extra, EXTRA light cheese (which – let’s face it – tastes a little like melted cling wrap to even the most dedicated health freak)?
As dietitians (future or present) of course WE know that we are not going to give all clients a standard meal plan: “for breakfast you will have three-quarters of a cup of wheat bran, and half a cup of skim milk. No sugar. You may also have an apple. No – not a banana, Mr Jones – I clearly said an apple!” No, we are taught to take into account our client’s food preferences, and we are trained in the skills of negotiation. For after all, who is going to stick to a meal plan that tastes to them like a bowl of saw dust and water (no offence wheat bran… I know you do your job for the poor “irregulars”). So how do we convey this message to those struggling with their weight, but who perceive all “healthy” food to taste terrible and think that a dietitian’s diet consists purely of the dreaded Brussel sprouts and spinach? (Again, no offence dear vegies – I think you are utterly delectable. But, alas, not everyone can appreciate your goodness!).
Perhaps our profession needs a facelift? Instead of marketing ourselves as the “yummy food crime busters”, like presenting a logo for “Radiant Health Dietetics Clinic” with a picture of a floret of broccoli to accompany it, we should consider how to “sell” ourselves to those who need our assistance the most. For example, just imaging seeing a business card for “Dr Tim’s Surgical Clinic” presented next to an image of a giant scalpel dripping blood. (I think I would rather cancel my appointment, thank you very much Dr Tim! I’m sure this large growth on my foot will be gone tomorrow – not to worry!). I’m certainly not saying we should swap the “healthy” image for an “unhealthy” image, like a picture of a giant, decadent slice of chocolate cake. I just wonder how we can convey a message which shouts “nutrition advice tailor made to suit you!!”, rather than causing potential clients to gag at the thought of going to a dietitian, and munching through buckets of broccoli. For, if our client truly did have an inextinguishable fetish for chocolate cake, I’m sure we can at least give them some tips on how to modify it to make it less morbid. Perhaps this is the secret ingredient. Simply saying “I know you love tasty food. If you see a dietitian, we will teach you how to have your cake and eat it to, without also ordering a side of “chronic, life-threatening disease”.
Fourth Year Student Dietitian, University of the Sunshine Coast (QLD)