Yesterday I had the opportunity to network with dietetic interns and nutrition students at The Sage Colleges in Troy, NY. It made me reflect on my career and background A LOT. I haven’t had to tell my whole story in a while so it was extremely humbling to do so. I spoke to 6 different groups of aspiring RDs all within a 3-hour time span. The students and interns were so attentive and incredibly eager to learn about how I got into nutrition and any advice I had for them. It made me realize how far I’ve come and how I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up 🙂
There was one question that stuck out to me and it’s been weighing on me really my whole career. This particular student asked me “how do you handle nutrition fads versus facts?” I thought to myself “good question, I do it daily.” I thought about it all night and figured it might be better to share with all of you then just her and the few students at the table.
My Nutrition Background
When I got into nutrition, it was mostly by accident. I saw a class called “Nutrition 101” and told my mom I was signing up for it. She laughed and said, “ok, Laura, whatever you think will work for you, but you might not like it.” She laughed because I was the queen of chicken fingers, mac & cheese, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. I ate peanut m&ms at swim meets and I despised broccoli. I mean, honestly, she was right to think I was crazy for wanting to take a nutrition class.
I signed up anyway. There was something about the allure of getting to talk about food all day long that I couldn’t shake. Not to mention learning about the metabolism of nutrients was fascinating. When I realized how important it was to fuel my performance in the pool, I was sold. While there is ALOT more to my story than just Nutrition 101, I’ll leave it there for now and go into this whole concept of fads vs. facts that has me all hung up. To put it simply, I credit my education and experience for how I am able to deal with the fads vs. facts.
Fads vs. Facts
As a dietitian (yes, I’m biased) I was not just taught the food pyramid like many on the interwebs like to suggest. Instead, I was taught how to critically think through problems related to health, wellness, fitness, etc. I was evaluated on my motivational interviewing skills and was allowed to practice under the supervision of practitioners for 1200+ hours before going at it alone. I was expected (and still am expected) to back everything I say, write or do with research and am told to “do no harm.”
How does this have anything to do with fads vs. facts?
It has EVERYTHING to do with it.
Fads come and go. They can be a one-hit wonder like the Macarena or a cyclical craze like bell bottoms & man buns. Fads are not always right or wrong or black and white, but they are usually blown way out of proportion.
A fad (as defined by Dictionary.com) is defined as “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.”
On the other hand, a fact (as defined by Dictionary.com) is defined as “a thing that is indisputably the case” or “a piece of information used as evidence or as part of a report or news article.”
Unfortunately, these two are not always mutually exclusive. There are some fads backed by facts and some facts that lead to fads. So what are we to do about it? Sit in a corner, eat a pint of ice cream and hope fads will just go away already.
When dealing with fads we must look at the facts and think critically through the situation. If something seems too good to be true it almost always is. If a diet worked for one person and they tell everyone to try it, it most likely will fail many who follow suit.
Why? Because of science! We are all unique individuals with a different genetic makeup, living in different environments, with different lifestyle habits, resources, and diets. We cannot jump into a fad hoping that it will work for us just because our favorite celebrity had overnight success. We must critically think through whether the diet first makes any sense, second has research to back it and third makes sense for us, the unique individual.
One Hit Wonder Fad Diets
Examples: The Cabbage Soup Diet, Grapefruit Diet, The Master Cleanse, Tapeworm diet….and so many more…
These are more of your classic “out there” diet fads. They are extreme in nature, may work in the short term and almost always backfire. They have little to no facts to back them up and they do more harm than good to most. These have all mostly died a good fad diet death and unless we forget history (as humans often do) they should never be brought back to life.
Cyclical Fad Diets
Examples: Keto, Intermittent Fasting, Juice Cleanses, Atkins/South Beach/Low Carb, etc.
These are diets that have facts to back their use, which is why they continue to come back into play. They tend to be therapeutic in nature and are really great for those that NEED them. Sounds good, right? Yes. So why are they cyclical then?
Fads that are cyclical are great for therapeutic reasons but for the general public tend to be unsustainable and not incredibly effective. Take Intermittent Fasting for example, I just had a client email me asking my opinion on the matter and here was my response:
How to Find the Facts?
It can be hard to separate the fads from the facts and sometimes the lines are blurred so it’s completely understandable. Here are four tips to get you started.
- Use common sense first. If the person writing and/or telling you the information has no credentials or experience, question the advice and ask them for more information.
- Remember science matters! Look for evidence-based information, aka research that backs up what is being said. If the person is unable to back up what they are saying, say goodbye.
- Know that there is no perfect diet. Trust the person/people who explain BOTH sides of the story so that you can get an unbiased viewpoint and understand if it will work for YOU.
- Simple answers usually mean complex understanding. If the person explaining it to you is unable to dumb it down for everyone, they most likely do not fully understand the facts, and they are more likely to promote fads.
If you are at all confused or skeptical, feel free to reach out, I’m happy to help you sort through the fads and facts, and if I can’t I have a great network of smart individuals who can help too!
Nutrition Networking Night 2018
The event yesterday featured 7 dietitians all with different experience and expertise. I still feel like I’m a student and wondered if anyone would find my story or experience helpful. I was wrong. Why? Because I realized I am no longer just the student but also the leader and mentor to the next generation of dietitians. The students and interns asked such great questions and I saw myself in a lot of them. I hope that at the very least I inspired some of them to trust their gut and go for their dreams.
Corny, I know, but when I was in school no one told me I could do whatever I wanted as a dietitian. They told me I could work in clinical, community or food service, I just had to pick. However, nutrition is such a huge field and dietitians are needed in so many roles that I hope I was able to show the future RDs that you can create your own path, you may just have to pave it yourself!
Thank you to all who came yesterday, if I met you please feel free to reach out! You inspire me to continue on my journey and I hope in some way inspired you too.