The Cocktail Party Conundrum: Why Dietitians Don’t Always Tell You They’re Dietitians
Happy Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day! Since deciding to become a dietitian back in 2010, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to leave my life as an advertising exec behind. Except in social situations. When I’m at an event making small talk with people and someone inevitably asks what I do for a living (a perfectly reasonable and polite question), I often pick between 3 answers: SUP Instructor, Yoga Teacher, or actually tell them I’m a Registered Dietitian.
You may ask why wouldn’t I just tell them I’m a dietitian. Technically I’m not lying about any of these options, as they are all hats I wear. But you’ll see the reactions can be very different given the response I choose.
OPTION 1: SUP INSTRUCTOR
When I tell someone I’m a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) instructor or SUP yoga teacher, these are the common reactions I get:
- What’s that?
- Wow, you must have great balance. I could never do that!
- OMG!!! That’s been on my bucket list. I’ve been DYING to try SUP! When? Where? Give me the info! I’m totally coming to a class.
I typically give this response in the summer when I’m looking to promote our SUP classes to bring in more business. It is also a quick escape route if I really want out of the conversation I’m in. Unless someone has done SUP before, is a fellow teacher, or professional racer, the conversation can end pretty quickly.
OPTION 2: YOGA TEACHER
When I tell someone I’m a Yoga Teacher, these are the common reactions I get:
- That’s nice.
- Wow, you must be super flexible! I can’t even touch my toes.
- OMG!!! I LOVE yoga! Where do you teach? What style? Give me the info! I’m totally coming to a class.
I typically give this response when it’s not summer and I don’t have SUP to promote. Also serves as a quick escape route out of the conversation. Unless someone is a fellow yogi, they don’t usually have much to contribute. But if they are a fellow yogi, then I’m thrilled to chat yoga, share my input on local studios, and ultimately take some fun yoga pics to post on Instagram later on once we’ve become yoga BFFs.
OPTION 3: REGISTERED DIETITIAN NUTRITIONIST
When I tell someone my actual full-time profession as a dietitian, these are the common reactions I get:
- Oh man, please don’t look at my plate. Of course TODAY is the day I decide to cheat!
- I bet you eat healthy all the time.
- What are YOU eating/drinking?
- How many calories are in each item on that table?
- I didn’t think you people drink.
- What is your opinion on ___ diet? ____ disease? ____ controversial nutrition topic?
- Dr Oz just recommended ______. What do you think?
- I’m super into nutrition too! I only eat organic and clean foods.
- I thought about doing that, but I didn’t want to work in a hospital.
- That’s so cool! Since you love nutrition, you’d be a perfect person to become a rep for <insert name of BS supplement/shake/quick fix weight loss company here>
- That’s perfect – I’ve been looking to make an appointment with one! Here’s what I’m currently doing… (launches into 15 minute conversation about diet & exercise habits/history or lack thereof)
As you can see, when I tell someone I’m a dietitian, it has a tendency to open a rabbit hole. And not always one I’m thrilled to jump down. As someone who loves to network and always keeping my eyes open for business opportunities and partnerships, I do my best to assess the room or my audience first before I reveal I’m a dietitian. Otherwise my social time is over.
THE REASON FOR MY HOLDOUT
You know how you don’t want to work and be on the clock 24/7? Neither do I. And you know how you’d be angry if your boss asked you to do something but you won’t get paid for it? I feel the same way. So if you start telling me your diet history and what you’re currently doing, I will politely hand you my business card (because I ALWAYS carry these with me) and ask you to call me during business hours to make an appointment. Please don’t try to finagle a free nutrition consult as I’m trying to enjoy my wine and cheese and Mr E is standing next to me at an event.
JUDGEMENT FREE ZONE
I have a secret: I’M NOT THE FOOD POLICE! I could care less about the food you’re eating. And I’d prefer you didn’t stare at my plate either. A party, wedding, baptism, meeting, whatever the social situation may be, is not the time to be comparing plates and complaining that your really wanted X but chose Y instead because you believed it to be a better choice. I’m not the Good Fairy who is going to validate your decision, nor am I the Bad Witch who will reprimand you. All I ask in return is that you don’t my choices either. Because there’s as much chance you’ll see a salad on my plate as you will a delicious piece of chocolate cake. If you ever see me staring at your plate, it’s because I have Food FOMO and want to know if you’re enjoying the item or want to know where I can get one of my own. Life is short- don’t spend your time judging your own food choices or others.
I’M NOT ALONE!
When I asked my fellow dietitian colleagues if they also withhold info about being a dietitian, the response was pretty much as I expected and for similar reasons as noted above. Other reasons expressed include not wanting to be body judged if not the “typical” fit dietitian size, avoiding Mommy Judgement, and just wanting to enjoy their time away from work.
Here’s the responses a few on my colleagues go with when someone asks them what they do:
- Waste Water Management
- Mad Catter / Animal Rescuer
- Preschool Teacher
- Aged Care
- Fertilizer Analyst
- Social Media Specialist
- Food Blogger
- Communications Specialist
- Healthcare Worker
- Healthcare Technology
- Stay at Home Mom
- Healthy Living Blogger
- Adjunct Professor
- Personal Trainer
Despite those who choose to change their identity, there are still many dietitians who stand land and proud about our profession. Angela Lemond of Lemond Nutrition is perfectly happy to tell people what she does. “I’m pretty darn proud of being a dietitian so I’m happy to tell people. I have a private practice that sees people for all types of things, so it enables me to tell people how we specialize in so much more than weight loss. I discuss various Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) and our clinical pediatric specialties. They find it pretty interesting, actually.”
A few have found tricks around navigating the conversation to turn the focus away from the “diet” in dietitian. Julie Harrington says, “I do add that I’m a dietitian, but then also follow up with that I am a chef and culinary instructor. That usually helps break the dietitian stigma barrier a little because then the conversation turns to about food.”Lauren Harris-Pincus always tells people she’s a dietitian with the caveat, “I won’t judge your order (dinner, shopping cart, etc.) if you don’t judge mine.”
HOW TO AVOID SENDING US TO DIETITIAN WITNESS PROTECTION
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I LOVE being a dietitian! I’ve never worked with people who are so helpful, ready to mentor, and happy doing what they do. I NEVER encountered this in the advertising world. Quite frankly I still have a few scars left on my back from being stabbed a few times by conniving coworkers. So to continue keeping us happy and NOT avoiding telling you what we actually do, here’s a few things you can do to help us out:
- Don’t expect a free nutrition consultation
- Don’t ask my opinion on everything
- Don’t run away from me screaming or cover your plate
- DO ask what’s the difference between a dietitian & nutritionist (I’ll happily talk to you about that one!)
- DO tell me about your favorite foods, restaurants, and recipes
- DO cheers me to having a good time at said social event
IF YOU’RE AN RD, DO YOU AVOID TELLING PEOPLE?
IF SO, WHAT IS YOUR ALTERNATIVE IDENTITY?
ARE YOU DIETITIAN PROUD?
SHARE HOW YOU’RE CELEBRATING RDN DAY BY TAGGING ME (@mandyenrightRD) ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND USING #NUTRITIONNUPTIALS!