When I first started as the Director of Nutrition Counseling at the Domar Center for Mind Body Health four years ago, we had a “get to know each other” meeting of all the staff starting out at the center. I was honored to be a part of the team — as the Domar Center is a beautiful place with amazing clinicians doing incredible work (as a mom what could be better than helping other women have babies!), and I was thrilled to be there.
So there we were, at this meeting — a nutritionist and a group of psychologists, acupuncturists, and administrative support people sitting around a table, right in the middle of which sat a beautiful birthday cake. Turns out it was Alice Domar’s birthday and we were going to celebrate with her at the end of the meeting. Unbeknownst to me, while I’m sitting there thinking I could go for a little bit of chocolate cake, everyone else in the room is thinking “how are we going to break out this cake in front of a nutritionist?”
Although this isn’t an uncommon situation, ask any nutritionist and they’ll tell you this kind of paranoia is totally unnecessary. Contrary to popular impression, nutritionists aren’t the “food police.” We like food! Witness a group of nutritionists dining together in a restaurant and this would be abundantly clear! In fact, as I always say, we like food so much we majored in “it” in college!
Aside from the as-expected health and nutrition courses (along with many semesters of anatomy and physiology and chemistries!), nutritionists have to take a few food prep courses, like quantity food production, for example, where we get to cook and then eat our concoctions! We also learn a lot about how to make food look appealing as well as be good and healthy for you (white fish, potatoes and cauliflower would earn you a failing grade in color presentation).
I make this point because what nutritionists do is not to try and get people to give up all the foods they love — but learn to incorporate them into an overall healthy diet that is based on lean proteins, like lean meat, seafood and poultry. This should also include adequate amounts of a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and reasonable amounts of fat, mostly in the heart healthy olive or canola oil, avocado, nuts or seeds form. If you learn to find satisfying choices within these options to eat most of the time, what you do as an occasional splurge ““ like celebrating a birthday with a friend ““ is inconsequential.
Realistically, many people struggle to eat this way, and seek our help on how to make it happen. But rest assured any nutritionist you see (hopefully!) won’t be handing you a list of foods you can never eat again unless you have a severe allergy to something. Ideally the emphasis should be on adding healthy foods to your diet more than subtracting others.
So the next time you’re paranoid that a nutritionist is analyzing what you eat in front of her or him — consider what we might think you’re thinking of when eating cake in front of you!
ABOUT HILLARY WRIGHT, MEd, RD, LDN
Hillary is a registered and licensed dietician with a Master’s degree in Health Education from Boston Univeristy, and has over 18 years experience counseling clients on diet and lifestyle change.
After 12 years as a nutrition-based educator for Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates (HVMA), Hillary transitioned to a part-time position at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She is also the founder of New Vision Nutrition in Arlington, Massachusetts — a private nutrition consulting practice that includes nutrition counseling, public speaking, and teaching nutrition to colleges and institutions.
She is a contributing editor and regular writer for the newsletter “Environmental Nutrition” and is currently working with the Arlington Public Schools on grant-funded programs designed to increase nutrition, education and physical activity in the community. Hillary’s clinical interests include women’s health and nutritional management of polycycstic overy syndrome (PCOS). Her book, “The PCOS Diet Plan” — the first nutrition-based PCOS written by a registered dietician — will be released in 2010.