“Twenty percent of the dietetic majors indicated some degree of vomiting after they stuffed themselves. This was in contrast to the combined total of approximately four percent for the other two majors.”
This, according to a study article published in the Journal of Nutrition Education (1).
You might be seeking help to improve your eating habits. You might want to feel better about yourself and have better relationships with your body and eating. I understand that; I really do. And I warn you: Be careful where you turn for help.
According to a study article published in the scientific journal Nutrition & Food Science (2):
“Nutrition students had a low mean BMI [body-mass index] of 21.8 kg/m2 [kilograms per square meters]. Despite this, the majority (90 per cent [sic]) were dissatisfied with their body; with 83 per cent [sic] wishing to be thinner and 60 per cent [sic] overestimating their body size. The BITE [Bulimic Investigatory Test, Edinburgh] questionnaire [a measure of bulimia and other eating disorders] revealed that 30 per cent [sic] scored for disordered eating and 10 per cent [sic] scored for Bulimia Nervosa [sic].”
You might expect nutrition students, who are soon-to-be nutrition professionals, to be masters of eating well and to have very loving relationships with themselves, their bodies, and eating. This isn’t the case. You might expect nutrition professionals to be able to help you learn to eat well and to improve your relationship with yourself, your body, and eating. But a person can’t give you what they don’t have.
Keep in mind that this third or so that meet the criteria for disordered eating are only the leading edge of this problem. Disordered eating occurs on a continuum ranging from clinical eating disorder, to subclinical eating disorder, to various neurotic approaches to eating. Considering that fact that 60 percent of subjects in this study overestimated their body size, 83 percent wanted to be thinner, and 90 percent were dissatisfied with their bodies despite having a low body-mass index says only one thing: epidemic. Nutrition departments are both welcome homes and breeding grounds for these troubled people.
What’s being done about this? Not much according to a study article published in the Canadian Journal of Dietary Practice and Research (3):
“We developed a questionnaire specifically for this project and distributed 664 copies electronically, using contact information obtained in collaboration with Dietitians of Canada and the International Confederation of Dietetic Associations. Using the 101 questionnaires returned from 14 countries, we found that 77% of respondents felt eating disorders are a concern among nutrition students; however, only 15% of programs had policies/procedures to help address these disorders. Forty-eight percent of respondents thought screening for eating disorders would be a good idea; however, 78% of them believed screening would involve ethical issues. In conclusion, eating disorders are a concern in nutrition faculties around the world, and while most feel something should be done, ethical dilemmas contribute to confusion over the best approach.”
It appears the fox is guarding the hen house. The nutrition students of yesterday are the nutrition professionals of today and the cycle continues. It’s the blind leading the blind. The troubled leading the troubled.
And the troubled leading you. The leaders of eating well in our communities struggle in droves with body-image disorders and eating disorders. This means not only the direct services you might receive from these professionals, but also the articles, books, and all the media they put out are deeply tainted. Both highly dysfunctional approaches and overt disorders are being passed on to you, the consumer of eating advice.
This has been going on for decades according to a study article published in the scientific journal Health Education Research (4):
“As early as 1989, Betty Larson wrote about a new epidemic of females in food technology and dietetics training who were exhibiting characteristics of eating disorders, including body size overestimation and a pre-occupation with weight, shape and food. She then commented about the ethical dilemma of allowing these young women with eating disorders to study in such careers that revolve around food and health, both for their own well being [sic] and that of their future clients. Research in this area has since confirmed that body dissatisfaction, dieting and disordered eating behaviors as well as sub-clinical and clinical eating disorders are indeed more prevalent in this group of food and nutrition professionals.”
This is the very culture where diets, calorie counting, and ever-changing lists of “good” and “bad” foods come from. These are the epic failures the body-image-disorder-infested, eating-disorder-plagued nutrition profession have given us. This is the very culture, through the aforementioned practices, that’s created the epidemic of weight cycling (a.k.a. yo-yo dieting) and introduced a whole new eating disorder to the world in the last two decades: orthorexia.
I’m not criticizing any person for struggling with body image and eating. I’m open about my struggles with body image as a teenager and into my early 20s. I have great compassion for anyone who struggles in these ways. I coach many people, including many people you wouldn’t expect to struggle with body image and related exercise disorders and eating disorders, including world-class athletes, esteemed counselors, and yes, many nutritionists. They come to me referred by someone who knows I have both the sensitivity and acumen to help them learn to eat well on top of learning how to heal from their body-image disorders and underlying shame. Sometimes they come directly to me when they meet me and they can tell I have what they want: true, deep acceptance of myself and my body along with freedom to exercise and eat peacefully and joyfully from that foundation of acceptance. I’m not criticizing anyone struggling with these challenges.
My concern is that everything that comes out of the nutrition culture is created in this toxic petri dish. The aforementioned study subjects who struggle in droves with these matters are the very people working in nutrition laboratories, doing nutrition dissertations, giving nutrition talks, even shaping public policy around nutrition. Many physicians, without the expertise or time to help their patients with eating well, often unknowingly refer their patients to these same nutritionists. Many of them are unaware of the studies I’ve described here.
I invite you to question the primary products of the nutrition field: diets, calorie counting, and ever-changing lists of “good” and “bad” foods. Diets are also called cleanses, detoxes, and similar names. Calorie counting in other forms is counting grams of carbohydrate, fat, and/or protein or counting “points” of different food types. The “good”-and-“bad”-foods approach created the disastrous low-fat movement of the 80s and 90s and the disastrous low-carb movement of now. The common denominators are exclusion and restriction. That’s really what the troubled nutrition field has given us: exclusion and restriction (and now you know why!). Exclusion and restriction are insane approaches to the life-giving act of eating.
It pains me deeply when someone comes to me and says, “I’ve struggled with my weight and with eating my whole life.” If you’re one of these people, you have my fullest compassion. You must break away from the mainstream nutrition community and find someone to work with who can help you establish a loving relationship with yourself, your body, and eating. You must look more than skin deep. If you look only for a lean body, you’re not looking for the right stuff. Have a conversation with a professional and listen well. Do they have a loving relationship with themselves, their body, and eating? Do they truly understand your struggles? Are they genuinely compassionate? Do they possess a real acumen for helping you feel better about yourself and more confident in your ability to eat well? When you find such a person, breathe easy. You’ve finally found someone who can help you learn what you’ve been trying to learn all these years. Things are about to turn around for you.
(1) Comparison of Eating Patterns Between Dietetic and Other College Students. Journal of Nutrition Education, 1985, 17(2), 47-50.
(2) Body Image Dissatisfaction Among Food‐Related Degree Students. Nutrition & Food Science, 2012, 42(3), 139-147.
(3) Dietitians and Eating Disorders: An International Issue. Canadian Journal of Dietary Practice and Research, 2012, 73(2), 86-90.
(4) Body Image, Dieting and Disordered Eating and Activity Practices Among Teacher Trainees: Implications for School-Based Health Education and Obesity Prevention Programs. Health Education Research, 2008, 24(3), 472-482.
Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.
There’s a place below to share your feelings on this article if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you.