“So what do you do?” A well intentioned question that people ask when you meet for the first time. Hopefully, if you are proud of your career or the work you do, this question is a great entry way into bragging a bit. However, for me, I dread giving a response and usually say sheepishly, “I’m in healthcare.”
Usually I can change the topic fairly quickly before they probe some more, but sometimes I’m caught and have to tell them I’m a registered dietitian.
I’ve gotten many responses throughout my short time of being a registered dietitian. People mean well, but their responses often rub me the wrong way:
“Oh, you help people lose weight.”
“What do you think about (insert fad diet)?”
“Can you make me a meal plan?”
These responses, I realize, may seem innocent and well intentioned; however, chalking my career up to helping people lose weight is offensive. I have spent countless hours training to write prescriptions to nourish critically ill patients with tube feedings and intravenous solutions just to keep them alive. Also, no - I don’t want to make you a meal plan, because you’ll probably not actually follow it and the fad diet your friend told you about is a horrible idea.
See what happens? I start fuming on the inside. I try to avoid this conversation because it’s usually something I don’t want to get into in a social setting. Trying to explain my views on dieting, weight stigma, and mindful eating isn’t at all a light conversation, and it is difficult to explain in a socially polite 30-seconds.
I’ll notice that people watch my every move. Let's say for example I am at a party where there is cake. If I eat the cake, people look at me like I’m the worst dietitian ever. If I pass on the cake because I don’t like it or don’t feel like it (I’m not a fan of sheet cake anyway) people compliment my “will power.” It feels like I can’t win.
Besides how it makes me feel, people tend to assume that I’m judging their eating habits. Dietitians are often looked at as food police. People literally hide “bad” food from me, often as a joke, however I think there is some genuine guilt behind those actions.
The times when I feel the worst for introducing myself as a registered dietitian is when I am chatting with a larger person. I’ve oftentimes felt and seen a person’s behavior change as they start to express embarrassment over the perceived judgments I have of them. My heart breaks and I pray I get an opportunity to share the Health At Every Size® message with them, so I can clear things up and help them feel some relief about what I believe.
My husband caught on to my avoidance in “self-promotion” pretty quickly. He questioned me and always encourages me to speak confidently about my career and my opinions. He’s right, because thin people need my message as much as large people do.
I love my profession, I love my career and I love that I have “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist” after my name. I’m empowered knowing that nutrition is a fairly new science and that it’s a predominantly female-driven field. I love eating just as much as anyone else. I enjoy variety, I overeat at times, and sometimes I go an entire day without eating anything green. Sometimes I feel too lazy to exercise, but other times I can’t wait to go outside for a run. It’s fun for me to try cooking a new recipe, but other times I order take out.
My hesitation with telling people I’m a dietitian is the same feeling I get when I tell people I am a Christian. People meet me with judgement and almost immediately write me off as being religious and judgmental - the two very things that Jesus hated.
I am trying to learn to be unapologetic about who I am and what I stand for. But man, we live in a critical world and it's so hard! I realize that my identity is not found in what I do for work, however it very much affects the type of person I am and the people I am called to love. Most people, if they spend enough time around me, figure out pretty quickly that they don’t have to feel guilty for the food they eat in my presence, nor for how much space they take up. That’s something I am proud of. The spirit of who I am as a registered dietitian is more powerful than the labels that are surrounding my career. Thank you Jesus for that.
Nicole resides in the East Bay Area where she works in private practice as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She is a new Mom and serves alongside her beloved husband in their local church. She completed both her bachelors degree and her dietetic internship at California State University, Chico, where she was also a NCAA cross country and track athlete. Through those experiences, God prompted her to help people of all shapes and sizes discover body peace and acceptance through the unconditional love of Jesus. Nicole most enjoys spending time around a table and cooking for the people she loves.