A letter to my new grad self….
Sarah Peck NZRD, specialist Eating Disorder, Non-diet, HAES Dietitian
Well you have finally graduated and can call yourself a dietitian. When you started studying, your only certainty was that you genuinely wanted to help people, now you are filled with knowledge and skills to take on the nutrition world. You feel important, not in an arrogant way, but dietitians are considered the experts on all things nutrition. You don’t come out of 4 years of intense study to not know the answers or where to find them……. right?
You will find a job in private practice which suits you well. You like to be able to spend more time with people. Weight loss counselling seems appropriate for you. If you are honest, it fulfils your need to help and fix. People are looking for the answers to fix their bodies, and they will come to you to find those answers. You are also very much a people pleaser, so meeting client’s expectations is important to you.
Your clients are successful at first, you will feel good at your job, but after a while, your clients are struggling to stick to the advice and plan you gave them. You try harder to understand the complexities and individual circumstances which drive their food choices, you will work tirelessly to come up with many different ways they can make this work.
Yet still after a few sessions clients are coming back saying they have failed, or worse yet they don’t come back at all, all too ashamed to admit they have failed again. In their mind, it is one thing to fail a generic or fad diet but the feelings of failure are magnified when they can’t be successful with the advice and support from a dietitian, an expert in the field, which is tailored to their own individual needs and circumstances.
At first you start to think you are just terrible at your job, but then you start to realise this way of practicing which is considered ethical in our profession feels outright wrong, in fact it feels incredibly unethical. You start to question everything you have learnt. You fall from such a high place of feeling like the expert to feeling like you know nothing at all. What was all that study for? You start to question if this is the career for you.
Changing direction works for a while, taking on clients with IBS, allergies, paediatrics you name it. You are again fulfilling that need to help and fix people. This is your flight response to those uncomfortable feelings that weight loss counselling gave you. But eventually you start to find the same patterns with your clients – feelings of failure, lack of trust in their bodies, poor relationships with food. Upon reflection you realise that the flight response may not be the best path.
You start to wonder what the fight response might look like.
On searching for an answer, you realise this picture is bigger than you ever thought. You will read about other approaches. You will learn about Non-Diet approach, Intuitive Eating, Mindful Eating and Health at Every Size (HAES). You read more and more. Finally, you feel like you have found your place and your home. You find a community of like-minded professionals. What you will learn will not only validate your own thoughts and feelings about weight centric health care and nutrition education but makes you realise how much more you have to learn.
You will find a group of health professionals who are so encouraging and willing to share their wisdom. There is no competition just lifting each other up. This community and these approaches will save your career.
There will be many important lessons along the way but the most career saving lessons will be the following:
Weight does not equal health
This will be the first big lesson you will learn. You always had a feeling this was the case, but you were taught otherwise. However, you will learn that there is a huge amount of science that tells us weight does not equal health. You will be relived to find weight neutral approaches are very much evidenced based practice, but built on the foundations of compassion. This meets your values both professionally as a dietitian and personally as a fellow human being. The perfect match.
You will feel like you have de-skilled
When you first discover these weight neutral approaches to dietetics, your mind will be blown but it will at first feel very de-skilling and that is scary, however it opens the door to so much learning. Professional development will no longer be a chore but something you seek out constantly.
You will learn to stop talking and start listening – You will learn more from your clients than you ever did studying nutrition. You were trained to talk and educate but this is no longer your best skill, you will learn to stop, listen and truly understand another’s experience, perspective and truth.
You are no longer the expert
One of the best gift’s you can give your client is your trust. When you give meal plans to a client you are implying you don’t trust them and nor should they trust their own body. Working with your client so that they can learn to trust their body again, sitting with them while they become the experts on their own body really will be a game changer for you and your clients. You are there for guidance, support or ‘advice’ when you client truly needs it rather than assuming it is what they need.
You will be challenged
Acknowledging your own privilege will be the key to unlocking a flood of compassion for your clients and human beings in general. You will care more deeply than you ever did before. You will get angry, sad and upset around issues of stigma and shame. You will become sensitive and defensive to other’s negative opinions and attitudes towards larger bodies and all other social justice issues. You will notneed to go out looking for examples of weight stigma, you will find them online, in your community and in everyday interactions with people. You will examine your own biases and how they may affect your language and practice. You will do all of this with curiosity and self-compassion. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made and will make in the future as you fumble your way through.
You will be rewarded
The rewards are not your client’s successes or reaching their goals, your rewards are not going to be huge financial gain or a million followers on social media. The rewards are that you will have true connection with your clients. You will get to know them, you will hold space for them. The true reward for yourself is peace! The peace you gain from working from a place of authenticity and compassion for yourself and others. The peace you gain from no longer feeling you are part of the problem.
And so finally to my new grad self, listen to your instinct, it is right. Be brave. Keep learning, keep challenging yourself and others, keep caring deeply and definitely keep fighting!!
Sarah Peck is Auckland’s Body Balance Dietitian supporting eating disorder recovery. Sarah specialises in childhood and family nutrition, food flexibility and improving relationships with food and your body.
As a non-diet approach Dietitian Sarah can support you to regain trust in your body through intuitive, mindful eating practices and self-compassion.
Sarah is available for 1:1 consultations and facilitates the in school program “Feeding our Futures” supporting teachers to engage in safe conversations about food and bodies, and the delivery of developmentally appropriate nutrition education in the classroom.