1. He or she may not even be qualified. In a world where not every state offers nutrition licensure, it’s very difficult to discern the true nutrition expert from the phony. There are many nutrition credentials, some of which sound credible and even prestigious, but in reality they have no legal definition, and thus virtually anyone-even someone with no education beyond elementary school-can use them. In some states, the terms “nutritional consultant”, “nutrition counselor”, and “nutritionist” and even the term “dietician,” when free-standing can be used by anyone and are consequently meaningless. The registered dietician credential and state-certified credentials (a Certified Dietician-Nutritionist, in New York, a state that doesn’t license nutrition professionals, for example) do offer you an assurance that you’re listening to someone qualified, but because terms are confusingly similar and misleading (to use the term “certified nutritionist,” in New York, for example, one must be state-certified, while a “nutritionist” who happens writes he is “certified” may not be state-certified), the best way to assess if someone should be doing the job they’re attempting is simply to ask. In a non-threatening way, ask the person you will be consulting with what his/her credentials are. Inform them that you’ve heard that nutritionists may or may not be qualified. Chances are, if they are doing what they should, they won’t mind answering your questions.
2. The best weight-loss tools and advice are for free. With the internet, you can learn anything you’d like about nutrition and health at the click of a button. You can get free advice on potential food cures, search government databases for healthful tips, and find excellent recipes. Want to find out how many calories you need per day? You can find a free online calculator that will give you a good estimate at USDA.gov. It will also provide tips for a healthy eating plan. You can read how to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate, or the number of calories your body uses per day, but searching “weight management” on google and narrowing your search to websites that end in .org or .edu. You can find answers to everything from “how many calories are in a pound of fat” (the answer is 3,500) to estimates of “how many calories will I burn if I jog for an hour?” Once you know how many calories you should eat, and know how many calories there are in a pound, you can subtract 500 calories from the estimate to lose a pound a week (thus creating a 35,00 calorie deficit per week). To stick within your calorie limits, you can search the number of calories virtually any food is. Also, the best nutritional information on any product will usually be found in on the food label and in the ingredients list. You’ve just got to possess the stamina and dedication to search for websites that teach you how to properly utilize these tools. For great places to start, look at choosemyplate.gov, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Website at eatright.org. Once there, you’ll be able to access a wide swath of nutritional tidbits that you’ll be thankful to know. WebMD is another excellent source of credible material. With a little use of some discretion before trusting anything you read, you can learn virtually anything you want to know.
3. Weight loss can come with serious risks. Rapid weight loss, and even mild weight loss in some cases, can lead to low blood pressure, heart arrhythmias and even gallbladder stones. Losing weight too quickly can also cause amenorrhea, or lack of menstrual cycles, which can interfere with fertility. Yet another side effect of weight loss: without your period, estrogen levels are decreased, which greatly increases your risk of osteoporosis. In sum, there are a host of dangers, and if you want to avoid them, you want to keep your weight loss goal to not greater than one pound per week.
4. Weight loss is an uphill battle. Your body is genetically predisposed to prefer to store fat than to lose it. If you start to lose weight, your body will employ mechanisms to prevent weight loss further weight loss and it may even try to make you gain the weight back. You will start getting hungrier, become more fuel efficient (so spending fewer calories for the same jobs and requiring more exercise to burn the same number of calories) and on top of that, because you’re losing body mass, require fewer calories to support less tissue. When a person loses weight, their blood levels of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone” increase substantially, while, because they are losing fat, their levels of leptin (a hormone released by fat that tells you that you are full) decrease simultaneously. Your muscles become better at utilizing food, leaving you using less energy throughout the day. There’s a biological reason so few people keep weight loss off long-term. The bottom line: it becomes harder and harder for you to lose weight every time you try
5. Much of weight loss is behavioral, not nutritional. In today’s fast food nation, where everybody’s so pressed for time that they graze at the computer desk and munch at work while handling money, it’s no wonder we have obesity statistics that look like those we do. That’s because when you actually take the time to sit down to a meal, you’re more likely to feel you’re getting full than if you’re, say, wolfing down a hotdog on a street corner. It takes 20 minutes for satiety to register in your brain, so taking big bites while multi-tasking is an easy way to get 500 calories in without feeling it. Slow down. Chew your food thoroughly. Take a break when you’re no longer hungry. Eating the right things in the wrong manner is as bad for losing weight as eating the wrong foods in the right manner.
6. Some of us endorse products we would never eat ourselves. Most nutritionists actually do practice what they preach (at least most of the time), yet for money, some bad apples in every field will endorse products they are repulsing to field experts. Most dieticians will not switch up a good quality, wholesome peanut butter for some calorie free peanut butter that’s artificial and chock-full of chemicals and sugar substitutes, and yet there’s a registered dietician endorsing these products. Most nutritionists would not trade off an apple for “no sugar added” apple juice, and don’t believe that everyone could benefit from a multi-vitamin despite our fortified foods. Similarly, nearly every nutritionist wouldn’t endorse a diet pill over doing it the right way, and yet nutritionists do these things. Why do we do it? Product endorsements pay well, and sadly, many fall prey to endorsing some of the most nutritionally-grotesque and nutritionally-unfortunate products on the market. Do yourself a favor: use your own judgement rather than an endorsement. If a product is laden with chemicals, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t be eating it even if there’s a nutritionist standing behind it. Or, verify with someone credible who doesn’t work for the company at issue if the food or product in question is a smart choice.
7. We don’t eat “health” foods or “diet” foods, most of which are processed and not very good for you. Health foods are a big market. Yet most nutritionists don’t go for that $8 whole grain organic bread or that $6 flax seed pancake. Forgetting the fact that most of us are on a budget these days, and spending big bucks on staples is not very practical, there’s something not very pleasant about eating abnormal things that resemble what’s found in bird cages. At the same time, most of us don’t down whey protein shakes if we’re not body-building or swallow fish oil. Instead, We eat! Normal whole grain bread, the better of the cereals, whole protein sources, nuts, and fruits and vegetables. You can’t live your life chalking down things you hate. Doing so is counterproductive and may leave you unhappy. And isn’t the whole point of obtaining good health to fell good and achieve a better life?
8. She may be overcharging you. You may be able to visit a nutritionist for free if you call your insurance company and ask for someone on your plan. Nutritionists only accepting cash are often unqualified, because insurances won’t traditionally pay someone who is unqualified. In fact, insurance companies do the work for you through a credentialing process that nutritionists must go through to join their plans. It doesn’t hurt to call your health insurance before you spend cash on something you could have gotten for free, less copays.
9. She herself likely struggled with weight problems. When entering college, students have a wide swath of different fields they can enter. Nutrition is one of the most challenging majors, often requiring over 70 credits of nutrition-specific courses including, but not limited to, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, and microbiology. In addition, relative to other fields that require similar schooling and coursework, nutrition is one of the lower-paying fields. Therefore, unless someone is specifically motivated to work hard for not-the-greatest pay, there’s usually something about the people who enter the nutritional field, or what they’ve experienced, that drives them to enter a field where they can help others through food. Often it’s because the nutritionist dealt with food or eating problems earlier in life. Surveys of nutrition students reveal that many were obese as teenagers, struggled with eating disorders, experience irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease, or underwent some other nutrition-related problem that got them interested in this field. It’s usually no coincidence that an eighteen-year old is particularly interested in a health-conscious agenda when so many teenagers aren’t. We see from older adults that it’s only later in life, when people experience health problems themselves, that they take an proactive interest in their health. If you ask your nutritionist what drove her to enter this field, you may be surprised it’s for the very reason that brought you to the nutritionist in the first place.
10. We are not the most effective weight reducers in the industry. Instead, weight loss surgery is by far the most effective and has the best weight-loss track record. This however, is not because of anything nutritionists do wrong or surgery does right, but rather because surgery is forced control. You can eat fast food after you come for our advice with no immediate adverse consequences. If you eat the same fast food meal after surgery, however, you’d probably vomit. Nutritionists can only do so much. If our clients don’t listen, or can’t understand that to every action there are consequences, surgeons may be able to do what we can’t.