Unlearning What I Was Brainwashed to Believe as a Registered Dietitian (Part 1)

Written by Jennifer Broxterman, MSc, RD
Registered Dietitian, Founder of NutritionRx

Hands up if you’ve had to go through some major unlearning as a health coach.

Can you relate to this sentiment? 

You spent money, often a LOT of money to learn something important from a knowledgeable source, and yet after trying to put it into practice in the real world, something just wasn’t clicking the way it was “supposed” to.

Let me admit my biggest unlearning, and what it’s taught me now ten years into being a Registered Dietitian (RD). This might even make many of my fellow Registered Dietitians, university professors, and public health educators mad, but I feel it’s important enough that it needs to be said.

Most of my Foods & Nutrition undergraduate degree, and nearly all of my dietetic internship (a one year gruelling experience working in a hospital to get ready to practice as an RD on your own), was mostly a waste of time. It took a LONG TIME (5 years of my life), and cost A LOT OF MONEY (tens of thousands of dollars), yet contributed very little knowledge and skills to what I do today.

What School Taught Me

  • I learned about the Food Guide, and how to teach the food guide recommended number of servings to sick people, such as to those living with diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions where prevention should have been the focus in the first place. 
  • I learned how to cost menus for long-term care facilities where the goal is to squeeze out the mandated minimum best nutrition plan for the cheapest cost. 
  • I learned how to calculate calories, and macros, and write up meal plans for different people and different disease states. 

I’m shaking my head now, and I can feel many of you judging me and my education (or saying this is why Registered Dietitians suck), but at the time, I really thought I was paying for a top notch degree in Foods & Nutrition. I was eager to get out into the world and help others make positive food choices, and at the time, I really did think it was the best path to be able to serve others when it came to coaching healthy eating. 

I Was Brainwashed

  • I was brainwashed to think that Registered Dietitians are the best, and only qualified source to talk to people about nutrition.
  • I was falsely taught that it’s illegal for anyone besides an RD to offer nutrition advice.
  • Illegal, yes, that’s the actual language that was used, as if someone is going to go to jail for educating a client to eat more veggies or add a salad to their dinner.
  • Our learning culture was toxic, and frowned on personal trainers, nutritionists, and other health coaches (heck, even other healthcare providers like doctors and nurses) from discussing healthy eating with their clients, because we were told these professions lacked the training and knowledge we held as RDs. 
  • We were taught that nutrition is “our territory”, and they were wrong to step into our arena. (ouch, that’s bad!)
  • This is NOT true, and I write more about it here. Can personal trainers and nutrition coaches offer nutrition counseling? 

It pains me to even write this, and I most certainly DO NOT hold these views anymore. I haven’t been a part of a cult, but it felt pretty cult-like. Today, I consider anyone who supports the mission to help others live a healthier lifestyle through better nutrition choices an ally and friend! 

It took some serious unlearning to realize that nutrition education is not just in the domain of Registered Dietitians, and that we all have a role to play in shaping healthier communities to help fight the battle against chronic disease. The more people helping, and the better we cooperate as a team, the better the outcome for society instead of this toxic us vs. them mentality between Registered Dietitians and other nutrition coaches also trying to help.

What My Dietetic Internship Taught Me

  • In my internship year, I was taught to teach the same low-sodium “heart health” resource over and over to heart attack patients within hours or days of their admission to hospital. 
  • It was the same mind-numbing approach, patient after patient, to ensure each person got their allotted “15 minutes with a Registered Dietitian post-heart attack talk”, as if that would magically cure all of the dietary and lifestyle patterns that linked together to lead to this unfortunate health crisis. 
  • There was no assessment of whether the patient was ready, willing, and able to talk about their nutrition choices. 
  • There was no individualization to what the patient wanted to focus on. 
  • Heck, we didn’t even stop to think “is this even the BEST TIME to talk to someone about their nutrition when they’re lying in a hospital bed in recovery from cardiac surgery?”, because we knew that if we didn’t stop by the patient’s room ASAP, the hospital would discharge them back into the community, never to be followed-up with again… unless a second heart attack occurred. 

As an aside, no wonder our general healthcare system is called “sick care”!

I left my internship year depressed, yet determined. 

My First Year of Being a Registered Dietitian

Against the advice of my RD friends, I opened a private practice called NutritionRx right out of internship. I had no business training, no entrepreneurial experience, yet a burning desire to get as far away from “sick care” as I possibly could. I KNEW there had to be a better way to help people make positive nutrition choices to hopefully avoid the fate of the many sick patients I encountered in my year of hospital training. 

Next, I Tried to Follow What I was Brainwashed to Do

Check out part 2 here!




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