I'm a dietitian and no, I'm not judging you for what you're eating.
As a dietitian who practices a non-diet approach and believes all foods fit, I'm not exactly what people expect when they hear the word "dietitian." When people find out what my profession is while they're eating, they often try to hide any treats they may be eating or say something along the lines of "don't look at what I'm eating!" I would like to say that you don't have to make an excuse or hide what you're eating- I promise you, I'm not judging you for what you're eating. Most dietitians aren't either.
Before I went into private practice, I avoided telling people I was a dietitian at all costs. In response to "what do you do for work?" I would simply say I worked in a clinic just so I didn't have to deal with people hiding their food or feeling the need to justify their food choices. Heaven forbid if I as a dietitian were eating a piece of cake- the reaction would be something along the lines of "are dietitians allowed to eat that?" or "that must be really healthy if you're eating it!"
From the reactions I get from people, I'm pretty sure most people believe dietitians only eat salads, would never eat chocolate or some candy, and certainly believe that you should only eat "healthy" foods all the time. I think this is because in our society, this is what we think healthy eating looks like so of course it makes sense that people would think dietitians eat this way.
Never eating for enjoyment isn't healthy!
The thing about this is eating only "healthy" food at all times and never eating for enjoyment is NOT HEALTHY from a mental and emotional health perspective. The ideal our society holds for what healthy eating should look like is actually pretty disordered. When someone extremely restricts their intake, cutting out sugar, gluten, dairy.... the list goes on, they're praised for their discipline and willpower. In reality though, this could be leading to nutrient deficiencies not to mention the fact that this person may be socially isolating themselves to avoid eating those foods.
When taken to the extreme, this fixation with only eating "healthy" foods can turn into orthorexia, which literally means "fixation on righteous eating." Someone's food choices can become so restrictive that there isn't enough variety or calories in the diet, leading to deficiencies and health problems!
As someone who sees people who struggle with disordered eating, I've heard more stories than I can count from people who say they were praised for their eating when in reality, they were struggling with an eating disorder and needed help, not praise.
So I don't have thoughts of concern in my head when I see someone enjoying a piece of cake or a cookie. I have thoughts of concern (still not judgement though!) when they tell me they have eliminated foods from their diet like sugar, gluten, dairy, etc. and that they are counting every calorie because it makes me concerned about their relationship with food.
Food isn't 'good' or 'bad'- it's just food!
We live in a society that places moral judgements on food- eating foods with sugar, refined flour, high in fat, etc. is considered "bad"' which makes people feel guilty for eating them.
The idea that foods are 'good' or 'bad' is something I really try to steer people away from. Are some foods higher in nutrients than other? Of course. Are there negative health effects to eating too much sugar? Probably (although not as much of an effect as genetics, environment, discrimination, and trauma.) The thing is though, there are negative health issues with consuming too much of anything! Too much kale can cause problems for your thyroid. It is possible to get water toxicity. Variety in our eating is the key to getting all the nutrients we need for good health.
Not everyone has the ability to choose their food
It's important to talk about that not everyone has access to a variety of foods. It is a really privileged thing to be able to buy and eat foods that you enjoy so it's really essential that we keep this in mind when we have these conversations about food.
Food insecurity is a real problem here in Canada and around the world and that is so much more of a problem for people's health than what food those with the privilege to choose to eat decide to eat. It's also important to remember that for those struggling with food insecurity, often foods that are inexpensive ways of getting enough energy such as fast food and packaged, highly processed foods, are the only way many people can feed their families.
When we place a moral judgement on food, not only are we taking away the importance of emotional and mental health around food, we don't take into account that for many people, that is their only practical option for food.
When we place that moral judgement on food, you are also pretty much setting yourself up for failure. When we deprive ourselves of certain foods, it makes us want them more. So let's take chocolate as an example. If you label chocolate as 'bad' and try to eliminate it, you might not eat it for a while. Your desire for chocolate if you enjoy it though, will go up and up until you eat it.
You probably won't eat a square or two- you'll probably eat the whole bar- or maybe two. You might eat an amount that will make you uncomfortable. Then you'll beat yourself up for 'being bad' and tell yourself tomorrow you'll be 'good' again by depriving yourself so the cycle of restricting, overeating, guilt, and more restriction continues. That does not mean something is wrong with you. It means your body is reacting to restriction in a completely normal and predictable way
As a dietitian, I take a different route: instead of eliminating foods and placing labels on foods, why not realize that enjoying foods is important? Just like no one would agree that it's healthy to work all the time and never have fun, I believe it's not healthy to only eat foods because you think you should and never have foods you enjoy! With more and more research emerging on the effects of stress on our health, is adding more stress to our lives by worrying about what to eat truly health promoting? I don't think so.
And please, the next time you meet a dietitian, please don't judge what they're eating! This also goes for any person actually. Everyone has different needs and circumstances and you never know what is going on with the other person. Plus, what other people choose to eat is none of our business unless they ask our opinion.
If you've gone to see a dietitian and felt judged, I'm really sorry. If you're looking for help, try to find a weight-inclusive, non-diet dietitian to help you!
If you find yourself judging the food choices of others because of the impact you think it will have on their health, I encourage you to take that energy and put it towards actually helping to improve the health of others by doing things that promote food sovereignty. Donate to a charity that helps people to access food, whether that is time or money. Write a letter to your politician supporting improved social supports. Think about what we can do to make a positive difference instead!