I get asked this question far too often so it only seemed to be appropriate to have this subject be my first blog post.
A Dietitian does many things, but to put it simply we promote health through food. We work with people, families, communities, cities, media, healthcare professionals and anyone you can possibly think of to achieve this. There are many types of Dietitians that function in many roles, but the primary objective is to promote health through food. This is not to mean that Dietitians are the food police, we are far from that. In fact Dietitians will often be the first to advocate for all foods belonging in all diets, we just promote responsible eating to achieve better health.
You may be confused at this point because you may think that a Nutritionist or Holistic Nutritionist does the same thing. Well, you’re partially right, but a Nutritionist doesn’t have anywhere near the same amount of training, liability or qualifications that a Dietitian does. In Canada, the term Dietitian is a legally protected term. This means that anyone calling themselves a Dietitian has received a diploma from an accredited university program, have completed either a strenuous Dietetic Internship or Master’s Program and have completed a competency exam to protect the public and to ensure a high standard of care. Unfortunately a Nutritionist does not have the same training. To give you an example, my 3-year-old Chocolate Lab is a Nutritionist. He took the exam by me setting up his toys assigning multiple choice answers to whichever toy he chose and guess what? He passed and has his Nutritionist Certificate! Additionally, a Nutritionist does not have the same level of liability in their practice that a Dietitian has. Dietitians make recommendations to manage your health based on evidence-based practice guidelines that come from multiple scientific research papers. Unfortunately this standard of care is not the same for anyone that calls himself or herself a Nutritionist. Don’t believe me? My Chocolate Lab, Chewbacca, is available for consult at your request. What this also means is that a Dietitian is legally and financially responsible for your health through food. We can be fined and have our licenses revoked should there be any malpractice, unfortunately the same cannot be said about a Nutritionist.
Now at this point you may think that I’m being a bit hard on Nutritionists and Holistic Nutritionists, and unapologetically I am. This is because as a Dietitian I believe that people should have to right to accurate and scientifically proven information, not be prey to whatever new trend is being touted by the likes of Dr. Oz, Hollywood celebrities, personal trainers or anyone else not fully qualified to give nutritional advice. Think of it this way, if you were renovating your house would you ask your carpenter to fix your plumbing or electrical? I’m hoping your answer would be ‘no’ because that’s exactly what’s happening when you take dietary advice from someone that isn’t qualified to give you dietary advice. Not to mention that it’s pretty scary knowing that they can literally tell you anything they want and not be professionally responsible for it.
Now at this point you may be wondering what a Sports Dietitian is simply because that’s what I am and you’re reading my blog. Well a Sports Dietitian is someone that has received additional training to understand how food interacts with the body to promote the best athletic performance possible. Following the same legal, professional, and financial responsibilities that a Dietitian has, a Sports Dietitian exists to give you the best information that research has to offer. Now I bring you back to the renovation example I used earlier, because the fitness industry is notorious for people unqualified to discuss nutrition. I’m not saying that they don’t have any information; I’m saying that they don’t have the same knowledge or training. After all, we live in the information age but knowledge is scarce. Think of it this way, the fitness industry will promote hundreds of dollars in supplements to either ‘burn fat’ ‘bulk up’ ‘tone up’ or my favourite ‘enhance immunity’ but they never promote REAL food. Most of the clients I’ve seen purchase over $600 in supplements per month, but completely neglect the therapeutic value of food and eat horribly.
If you want concrete, scientifically proven information to enhance your athletic performance through food go see a Sports Dietitian. They may seem expensive at first, but if you truly value your health and athletic performance it’s well worth the investment. After all, doesn’t it make more sense to invest in your money in you own health and active living? I should think so.