A letter to my new grad self…

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.

Tips for Future Nutrition Professionals

Nutritionist. Medical Student. Nigella Fangirl. Bookshelf Elf. Tiramisu Connoisseur. Intuitive Eater.

So! You want to be a Nutritionist or Dietitian? Maybe you’re about to start your study or you’re nearing the end of your degree (Congrats!).

Maybe you’ve got “that piece of paper” and SO much knowledge…but where to from here?


Thinking about Private Practice?

Here are a few tips and things to think about before embarking on a career in private practice…

    • It’s tough out there – there’s no sugar coating that fact, so be prepared to struggle at times and work hard. Success doesn’t come over night for most, but working in private practice for yourself, or within a team is extremely rewarding. Establishing yourself takes perseverance, hard work and long hours!


    • You might need to start small or ‘safe’, starting your practice one or two days a week with income supporting you from another role is an attractive option.


    • Find your niche and rock it! Do not, and I repeat, do not try to be all things to everyone. You will burn out.

    • Have confidence, or at the very least slap a smile on and stand tall ***no one needs to know if you’re winging it!***


    • Don’t be afraid to colour outside the lines, being unique, creative and fuelled by passion will help you shine in this industry.


    • Always, always, always, speak the truth & your truth. Don’t buy into the latest trend, stick to your guns even if it’s a little scary.

    • Be fearlessly visible. Let your voice be heard, on the interwebs, social media, heck to anyone who wants to hear it!


    • Network. Do not underestimate the power of a genuine network of like-minded colleagues. Especially if you’ve had a schamozzle of a day or you need to bounce ideas around.

    • Connect with other fields and professionals, cross refer, work together, support your clients with a multidisciplinary approach.


    • Read, listen, research. Stay up-to-date in your chosen niche.


    • Realise you don’t need (nor can you) be the ‘expert’ in every area of nutrition, know and accept your limitations – establish a good referral network so you know who you can refer clients out to should you need to.



    • Get yourself a mentor & engage in reflective practice.

Bottom line: if you’re passionate about the work you do and the people you serve, things just have a way of falling into place!

Jess x

Jess is the lead nutritionist at Body Balance Nutrition and a clinical skills coach for nutrition professionals entering private practice.

Jess is the lead nutritionist at Body Balance Nutrition and a clinical skills coach for nutrition professionals entering private practice.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned in 5 Years.

Lessons in Private Practice


DEC, 2016

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Postgraduate and Early Career Nutrition Conference in Christchurch.

I spoke about my experiences in Private Practice, sharing 5 lessons I’ve learned (often the hard way!) these past 5 years.

In follow up to that talk I’ve put together a 15 page workbook, to help new nutrition professionals considering private practice.

It was a great day, with the morning session dedicated to the presentation of dietetic and nutrition student research in a supportive environment. I was particularly excited to hear the research coming out of the University of Otago around body image and dietary restraint. Rachel Bensely and Rachel Kerr both presented their Dietetic Theses in this area.

“Craziness breeds opportunity. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” – Bron King

Bronwen King, the keynote speaker, addressed the room of new or recent graduates about the challenges we face as nutrition professionals in a world full of instagram nutritionists and celebrity gurus. It truly is a case of just because you eat and operate a colon does not give you the authority to advise others on their health and nutrition!

In this challenging environment working as private practice nutritionists we need all the help we can get to stand out and shine brighter than our less qualified (and often more vocal) competitors. This 15 page workbook presents 5 practical tips for university qualified nutritionists and dietitian’s considering a foray in private practice.

“Just Ditch the Diets” – the new clean eating?

Intuitive Eating Just ditch the diets

As someone who considers themself to know a bit and be fairly passionate about the non-diet approach and particularly Intuitive Eating; I’m worried.

I’m of the opinion that the non-diet approach is fast becoming hijacked.

Hijacked as the latest nutrition trend, the latest ‘clean-eating’, by well meaning health and wellness coaches, both online and in clinical settings. Unfortunately it’s coming out in the wash as a holistic diet dressed up as a non-diet.

My concern is; if someone has “failed” at dieting, which if they’re like 95% of dieters they will have…and turn to non-dieting to try and resolve their food relationship, but it’s really another covert diet and they fail at that…. then what?

They’ll likely feel a deep sense of failure, further erosion of confidence and they might and quite rightly so lose trust in the non-diet approach. However, the approach they took wasn’t really a non diet approach to start with!

Whhhhaaaaattttt are you twittering on about you may ask!?

The comments or insta-captions below have inspired this article:

“Healthy living is about balance…Everything in moderation…. I eat super clean 80% of the week and treat myself the other 20% of the time! [followed by an emoji overload] #ditchdiets #moderation #healthyhappybalance #buymyfunfreecookbook”


“Oh my gosh guys! Sometimes I eat non dairy free, non gluten free, woo-woo free and nothing bad happens! Treat yo’self [emoji giggly monkey)] #intuitiveeating #balance #indulgence”.


“Enjoying this, raw, beetroot, avocado, matcha, sprouted bean, activated nut, kombucha, sauerkraut cake. ZOMG! #treatday #balance #moderation #intuitiveeating #nonasties #sugarfree #treats”


Lol. Wut. What even are this? These are typical social media snapshots of covert-dieting pretending to be non-dieting and total DRIVEL that’s what!


Captions and posts like those above (ok, ok I added a few of my own touches in there for humorous embellishment but you get my drift!) are in my opinion, the hijacking of components of an evidence based practice by picking and choosing sound bites that fit the; “this is easy, love yourself! Anyone can do it, but you must eat clean, sugar free, gluten free, dairy free (heh!) to do so” ethos.

This sort of commentary and social media dialogue is so far removed from the actual needs, thoughts and feelings of anyone battling the scales, dieting, and their body image. Advice such as “just love your body!” or “ditch diets” is not helpful and in my experience and observations…harmful. After all it’s not just that easy (*fingersnap*). You need direction, a plan of attack and support to go from diet-pro to a non-dieting-body-attuned-self-guru!

How on earth can we ask someone who has dieted for many years, struggles to feel confident about their body or their food choices to just suddenly “love their body”. (?!?!?!?!?!?!? puzzled emoji). How about starting with body acceptance. Or maybe even just body tolerance. Baby steps.

How can we suggest “just eat everything in moderation! Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full.” to a dieter who no longer knows what moderation is? I’ve worked with women who claim they are more confident in their ability to explain the meaning of life or decipher the Da Vinci code than describe what moderation around food is. There is no concept of hunger, fullness or satisfaction to a longterm dieter, it has been stuffed down, over ridden and ignored for so long. It needs to be reconnected with, relearned and trusted.

To go from diet-pro to self-aware-food-guru (because that’s what you become – the EXPERT of your own body) there’s a lot of work to be done. There’s remodelling of faulty beliefs about food and body image, there’s a relationship with food that needs to be stripped back, the helpful bits kept and strengthened and the unhelpful elements challenged.

So any way….what is the purpose of sharing this concern… this worry with you?

Anyone can have a voice or an opinion on all things health, wellness and nutrition in this internet age (for better or for worse)…. So I guess I’m asking you, my audience, to be discerning readers. If you see “moderation” or “non dieting” rhetoric popping up on social media…and you will now that the popularity tide has turned and we are turning our backs on ‘clean-eating’ (phew!). 

Be critical readers. Be critical consumers.

Ask yourself; does the post contain contradictions? Does it illicit feelings of guilt or failure, because after all it’s “supposed to be easy” to ditch diets and love your body! Is the person posting said profound wisdom of “moderation 20%, super clean 80% and loving their body 100% of the time”, asking you to buy something? A book, tickets to their sold out national speaking tour, or 12 weeks of coaching (for the conservative price of 6 weeks of your salary??!?). If you can answer yes or I don’t know to any of the above have a chuckle because you know better than to absorb the faulty message (or buy a faulty service!). Now go and treat yo’self with all that saved moolah!


Do you know someone in your life who might benefit from reading this? Sharing is caring! x