It’s happened to me so many times in so many situations. I’m sitting with a group of people, sometimes people I know well and sometimes people I’ve just met. However these people know me in these settings, they know I’m a dietitian. As with most social gatherings, food is part of it. It might be a meal at a banquet, a wedding, or out at a restaurant. Maybe it’s ordering pizza with friends. Just as we start to eat, someone says something to me along these lines: “I normally don’t eat like this, I know I shouldn’t be eating pizza.”
They apologize to me for eating.
I think the biggest misconception about dietitians is that we are somehow anti-food. Because our profession is inescapably tied to weight – which is logical – the assumption is made that we must detest any food that may be high in calories, and judge those around us who eat those foods.
Every dietitian I know loves to eat delicious food. For example, I have yet to meet a dietitian who does not eat pizza. I eat pizza. I enjoy pizza. I would like to help more people understand how they can enjoy pizza and also have a healthy lifestyle. You can have both, if you understand the full picture of what your body needs, how often it is reasonable to eat pizza, and what portion of pizza satisfies your hunger rather than mindlessly overeating.
I’ve worked with far too many people that have poor relationships with food to believe that feeling shame and guilt around eating are effective in improving eating behaviors. Shame and guilt around food fuels eating disorders, but it also fuels overeating and obesity. Ironically, most people who feel shameful about their eating habits are the same people who self-soothe with food. It’s a vicious cycle.
Food is not the problem. Food is the solution. Lack of education, inadequate means to cope with stress and emotion, lack of awareness of bodily cues, economic inability to purchase nutritious food – these are problems. When you remove these types of barriers, it’s much easier for people to understand how a food like pizza can fit.
If you’re eating pizza every day, because you’re stressed, bored, or upset, because you don’t know what could better nourish your body, because you can’t afford anything else, or in portions that exceed what your body needs, then yes, you need to examine your situation for the good of your well-being. A dietitian can help with each of these problems, or point you in a direction to address them. But if you sit down to dinner with a dietitian, please don’t apologize to them for what you’re eating. Believe it or not, we eat pizza too.