This year I started dietetics. But, what even is ‘dietetics’ anyways? What do dietitians do? Do we simply look good in lab coats with fruit on our desks?
Dietitians are the experts in food and nutrition (you can read about it here). I made the exciting transition at the beginning of the year from Nutrition Science to specialised study in Nutrition and Dietetics. So dietetics is… ?
Yes, I googled ‘dietetics’ (now we both know exactly what it means).
My first dietetics semester is done and I’ve made it through my dietetics 1, nutrients and metabolism, and public health nutrition subjects.
Dietetics was easily my favourite subject. I can now estimate how many carbs, protein and fat you eat in a day (nerdy, but I think it’s cool!). The key is that nutrition is different for every person.
Public health nutrition was all about developing a nutrition program to address a key public health issue. My project tackled childhood obesity.
Here are five key things I took away from my first dietetics semester.
1. It depends
This is the most common phrase I heard all semester (well, apart from references to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating). When you’re dealing with chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, everything is black and white. But when you’re dealing with a real person, it’s nothing like a hypothetical patient in class. Is the person willing to change? What changes are they willing to make? What is their family situation? What do they expect of you as a dietitian? What conditions do they have? Is your advice realistic?
It depends. The answers are different for each person. You have to be flexible and learn quickly that there are a variety of approaches for a variety of people.
2. You really need to be a food expert
Your friends have probably started seeking your advice on different products or brands, and this is no different for patients. It’s challenging if you don’t shop for groceries or you avoid the middle aisles of the supermarket. If you’re a dietitian who’s vegetarian, you need to know the different cuts of meat that your patients eat. You need to get your head around the products available where your patients shop and how expensive they are. If you don’t shop in the middle aisles of the supermarket, start looking there (I tried it here).
Clients want your opinion on the foods they eat. How can you effectively recommend food and practically implement treatment if you don’t know what’s available?
3. Dietitians do more than help people eat their veggies
Dietitians also work in hospitals (often helping people gain weight). If someone is in hospital and needs to be fed in a tube, you can be sure that a dietitian worked out just how much they need to be fed.
But there are all sorts of dietitians. Some work in mental health, in surgical wards, with cancer patients, with stroke patients and the list goes on.
We also do a lot of calculations.
A dietitian can work in research, with the community or media, in food service (think the planning of meals to large scales like a hospital or nursing home), working in food manufacturing or even work in private practice.
4. Practice talking to people
Knowing the textbook answers will only get you so far. You need to talk. Talk to real people and explain the diet disease relationship out loud. And you need lots and lots of practice. After all, as a dietitian you’ll be talking with people all day long. Start practicing as early as possible.
It not easy translating the science of nutrition into everyday language, so start practising.
5. Food is not always the answer
The biggest lesson learned is that food can’t cure everything, despite what many think. It plays an important role in healthcare and in the management of many conditions (which is why I’m studying dietetics!). But dietitians must know when we’re needed, and when we need to refer people on.
If you’re studying dietetics or have recently finished, I’d love to know what you’ve been learning, let me know in the comments. And if you’re not studying or in the field and something surprised you, let me know too.