Happy March – it’s National Nutrition Month®! The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), of which I am a brand new student member, promotes nutrition big time every March with a new campaign. This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward” – a simple reminder that every bite counts. Each time we reach out our forks, or our spoons, or our hands, we are influencing our health. If every bite counts, that means even small shifts can add up over time! You know that commercial that asks “What if one pushup could prevent heart disease? Wishful thinking, right?” It has truth to it. What if each one choice you make does influence your health and progress towards your goals? They actually do. Every berry, every step counts.
The AND’s goal is to get the word out about the best ways to fuel our bodies, and about who and where to turn to for good advice. There’s a lot of bad advice out there. Think about it – in America, most of us eat at least 3 times a day. Since everyone eats, everyone tends to have (consciously or unconsciously) a personal philosophy about eating – what makes them happy and why. However, the difference between your average Joe and the dietetic professional (no offense, Joes) is that the dietetic professional has spent years studying and perfecting his or her nutrition knowledge! They’ve considered the research, studied the effects of foods on the body, and learned from the best about the science that is nutrition. You and I can certainly eat healthily, and share our trial-and-error knowledge with our friends and families. As far as true nutritional advice goes, though, the pros are the best bet. They know the best practices, and can tailor those to the individual.
One element that many people don’t understand is that everyone’s “healthy” won’t look the same. People have different energy needs, body compositions, food preferences, cultural practices, schedules, budgets… and the list goes on. A Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) (terms are interchangeable – we are moving towards the use of RDN) can work with the individual, determining the best dietary practices for them, dismissing nutrition myths such as “fruit is too high in sugar to be healthy,” or “I can eat as much food as I want as long as it’s ‘clean.'” They can help you build your diet to include foods you love and to get all the nutrients you need. They can provide solutions to difficult food dilemmas – like how to eat well during the school or work day. They can even help you achieve weight goals, and to understand truly how much food your body needs. They work in a huge variety of settings – from collegiate and professional athletics, to hospitals, to weight loss clinics and eating disorder treatment centers. Many do a lot of online/ social media work, and get nutrition knowledge out to the world via youtube, blogs, etc. – two of my absolute favorites are Becca Bristow and Kara Corey. (Check them out on youtube for epic healthy eating tips!) Others travel and speak to schools, or work in schools, or work with entire communities. They are even present in the food service industry. Did you know there are RDNs that work for Hershey’s and McDonald’s? Yeah. It’s a wide open field.
March 8th is RDN Day, which focuses on cultivating awareness for the profession. I can’t wait to join the ranks (hopefully you’ll see me wearing my RDN pin in 2020!) so that I can serve as a credible, trusted source of nutrition information to others. Right now, I’m still learning all the things a RDN needs to know – how different foods affect our bodies, how to determine how much a person needs and how to best achieve dietary goals, what motivates hunger, how to decipher research studies, etc. (Did you know new nutrition research comes out every single day?) I’ll be sure to share with you what I learn along the way. I’m not even sure what area of dietetics I want to work in yet – that’s why I’m glad there are so many different areas in the field to choose from!
You might wonder why I’m passionate about nutrition, and how “RDN” became my dream job. I did do a biography project on professional chef Rachael Ray in 5th grade, so it may even have been in me way back then. I watched the food network a good bit as a kid. It’s good, clean TV. Anyway, my family has always been a little different in terms of our eating habits, and making healthier choices. I got more into it as I got older, and in high school I developed a reputation for being “the healthy girl.” You know, people thought I lived off of apples and salads and never splurged (not true by the way). But, for a long time, I have been interested in healthy eating. I like the way it makes me feel, and perform.
After becoming a college athlete, I became interested in nutrition for performance even more. I run cross country and track, and nutrition is highly influential in our sport (maybe more than in some others). If you run, you know that you must consider what you eat before you run! There are a rare few that never have any GI distress, but most of us have to watch what we eat before a run. Anything with too much fat or protein or fiber (or too much of anything, actually) – can be devastating, especially to endurance events. Your body needs to put most of its blood circulation toward the muscles that are working, so digestion doesn’t get much attention for the duration of the run. The food in the stomach just sits there – and can create an uncomfortable situation for the athlete. Struggling with a sensitive tummy, and figuring out how to best manage running eats, is one reason I’ve thought a lot about nutrition during college – and researched a lot. Here are two more.
Cross country is considered one of the highest risk sports for the development of body image issues and eating disorders, due to the fact that having less weight to carry makes you faster. Seeing all the thin girls on the starting line can also get in your head if your mind isn’t right. You might be thin – but you can always find someone else thinner, or more cut, and think you’d like to look like her. You’d be faster if you looked like her. (This doesn’t affect just females, either!) Though appearance or figure-focused sports don’t “cause” eating disorders, or their milder cousin, disordered eating, they can increase the likelihood that these will develop. I’ve watched friends struggle with messed-up relationships with food, and it’s really scary. It straight up sucks joy out of your life, but its so hard to let go and return to normal. Watching others worry so hard and be handicapped by food – food, which is supposed to be a blessing from God – is sad. It’s also sad because I’ve experienced those feelings myself. Restricting your diet to the point that you eventually pig out, and hate yourself more, and try harder to do better, and become obsessed – it’s no way to live. I want to pursue health, and help others pursue it as well. It’s a much better use of our time than the cycle mentioned above.
Finally, I’ve experienced and studied the benefits of a truly healthy diet on longevity, health, and quality of life. There are magnificent implications. Simply modifying your diet can reverse heart disease and hypertension, keep diabetics limbs intact and vision clear, aid in the reduction of inflammation and bodily pain, and more. A healthy breakfast can improve the school day. Adequate water intake can decrease irritability, thus improving the quality of conversations and relationships. Obtaining a healthy weight can improve self-efficacy and also slash disease risks. Simply feeling healthy helps me to lead a better life myself. More energy for me means more love gets shown to others. This is such an incredible area to influence the lives of others – and I’m honored to have found it and to have the opportunity to work in it. Everyone eats – and what we feed ourselves matters.
I’d like to share this perspective from a real RD who we know and love at Troy – Dr. Teresa Johnson – on what her career means to her. (Words hers, emphasis mine).
“What does being an RD mean to me? Relevance. Everyone eats. Nutrition is multi-dimensional with cultural, religious, medical, physical, emotional, genetic and social implications for EVERYONE. I can’t think of a single academic discipline that nutrition issues do not reach. From a historical perspective, we could not have cities without the mass production of food. Without the food industry, we would still be working all day long to procure food and there would be no highly developed career structures- everyone would be distracted with food procurement. From a business perspective, typically one of the top three expenses of tourism or medical public event is food. The implications on food and health/sport performance is obvious.”
“So for me, being an RD means that my profession is relevant to all areas of academics, industry and individuals.”
“As for the future, I have no crystal ball but I believe the next tidal wave impact to health care will be genomic medicine. This includes nutrigenomics. I believe diets will be individualized based on a person’s individual genome to prevent/treat chronic and perhaps even acute diseases.”
“As for RDs, I believe their place in the future will be bright provided they increase their scope of practice skills- which is already happening. Many are certified to place feeding tubes. RDs are increasingly incorporating the nutrition focused physical assessment in their practices which identifies malnourished patients, gets treatment for them and is greatly increasing hospital revenue streams. In some cases this is saving rural hospitals. RDs are writing diet orders. Many are earning practice specialty certification- all good developments.”
Well-spoken by a dietitian of decades. I’d also like to emphasize that the field of sports dietetics is GROWING. In 2007, 13 NCAA Division I Universities had full-time sports dietitians. That number has more than quadrupled in the past 10 years. I’d love to see my university join that list in the near future. If those numbers don’t speak for themselves…
We’re growing. We’re relevant. The Association of Nutrition and Dietetics is changing the way America eats – and obesity, eating disorders, and chronic disease all better watch out.
I hope you’ve found yourself inspired. Happy National Nutrition Month,
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
-Lao Tzu (Quote of the week for the AND)