Why I Rarely Give Nutrition Advice
As I’ve progressed through my personal training career I’ve given less and less nutrition advice. When I first started I would tell clients to cut out things like soda, add more protein, and eat more vegetables. Sounds like good advice, right? The more I learned about nutrition the more I realized that my advice wasn’t really helping anyone.
Here are a few things that I learned that made me avoid giving nutrition advice to my clients:
It’s really freaking complicated
Registered Dietitians are the only profession truly qualified to give nutrition advice. In order to become and RD, you need to get a Master’s degree, complete an internship, and take a difficult test. It’s really freaking hard. That’s because nutrition is actually really complicated. An RD knows how to help people eat a diet that will keep them healthy, address nutrient deficiencies, and work with medical problems.
I took one nutrition class in college. It scratched the surface on…everything. There is no way that it prepared me to give nutrition advice the same way that an RD’s training would. The more I learned about nutrition the more I realized that I didn’t know very much. So, I had a choice: do I focus on training people or put in the effort to learn nutrition instead? I stuck with training.
It can be dangerous
There are some very serious problems that can come out of very simple nutrition advice.
It can be very difficult to tell if someone has an eating disorder. Without proper training it is almost impossible to tell right off the bat. Giving nutrition advice to someone with an eating disorder is very dangerous because they will interpret it differently. They might be extremely self-critical and believe that they need to be much more rigid with their diet. On the other hand, they might take nutrition advice too far and see it as an open invitation to restrict their diet. Either way, giving nutrition advice to someone with an eating disorder is very dangerous and will almost always be interpreted in the wrong way.
It’s crazy how many food allergies there are. As someone who has no food allergies I sometimes forget that some people need to avoid certain foods. This makes even the most simple nutrition advice “an apple a day will keep the doctor away,” potentially lethal. An RD is trained to recognize and work around allergies, but a trainer is not. I never ask people what their food allergies are because there isn’t any food in a gym, which means that I might tell them to eat something that they are allergic to.
Food is composed of chemicals. Medicine is also composed of chemicals. Sometimes these chemicals mix and cause bad reactions in the body. Since I wasn’t trained as a dietician I don’t know how to avoid potentially dangerous food and drug combinations. Without knowing, I might tell someone to eat something that ends up harming them or rendering their medication useless. I would rather not take that risk and avoid nutrition advice altogether.
It doesn’t work
Trying to change the way that someone eats is difficult. We base so much of our identity around the food that we eat that it’s almost as difficult as convincing someone to change who they are. If I’m already working with someone to change their exercise habits, do they really need to worry about their diet as well? That can be too much change at once.
I prefer to start with exercise. It’s easier to convince someone to do a little extra exercise each day than to start changing their diet. When they start to get used to working out, nutrition advice becomes important, but I think exercise is the place to start.
The food that we eat has been blamed for things like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It’s almost as though we forget that those things can easily be caused by a lack of exercise or poor mental health. People tend to spend WAY too much time worrying about nutrition. Chances are that you don’t need to worry about what “superfood” to buy next or how much vitamin B-6 you consumed today.
While the food that we eat gets blamed for all major health problems, I believe that it isn’t any more important than exercise or mental health. As a society we would be much better off if we spent less time worrying about the food that we eat and more time on exercise and taking care of our mental state.