Drop your chia seeds!
Strongerinstyle speaks to Registered Nutritionist about status protection, clean eating fads and the dangers of self-proclaimed Instagram ‘food experts’.
Registered Nutritionists have urged the Government to regulate the profession’s status. 2016 was a big year for a rise in fitness blogs and new diet fads backed by influential food bloggers. But the rise of self-proclaimed food advisors has lead to a significant backlash by health professionals who say this could be putting clients at risk and a petition that has gathered over 10 000 signatures.
The petition says “Currently, due to lack of regulation, anyone can set up and practice as a nutritionist, nutritional therapist, meaning there is no real protection for consumers. The Government should take action to prevent unqualified people from potentially putting people’s health at risk.”
The Association For Nutrition told Strongerinstyle: ” There are a lot of untruthful and non-evidence based claims made in the press. This can confuse the public. If the public and press were to understand the difference between a Registered Nutritionist and someone without qualification around food it could help raise awareness and protect the public from false and potentially dangerous claims about foods.”
As a qualified nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed (RNutr), AfN Registrant, says the loose use of the term nutritionist is first and foremost to blame for the confusion.
She would like the Government to “make ‘Registered Nutritionist’ a statutorily protected title so only those who meet the science-based standards can be registered and actually call themselves a “Nutritionist”. At the moment, anyone is legally entitled to use the term “Nutritionist”. Government should also put in place protection of function for Registered Nutritionists and Dietitians so that those who do not meet the standards cannot just call themselves something different like a nutrition coach or advisor and give false or potentially dangerous advice”
An alarming element of the social media ‘Clean Eating bloggers’ movement is categorising foods as clean or unclean.
Bloggers such as the Hemsley sisters have been heavily criticised by health care professionals on the ‘ clean eating’ restrictions they impose on their diets and promote to their audience.
But “What does clean eating even mean, as it seems to mean completely different things to different people; Vegan? Raw food diets? Avoidance of processed foods? Home-cooked only? Fresh ingredients? Who knows, the definition is up for grabs and depends largely on an individuals’ interpretation of what ‘clean’ really means.
“Additionally, clean eating suggests that other ways of eating are ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’ and this isn’t the message that Public Health Nutritionists and dietitians have been trying to get across about our food. It’s actually not very helpful to make people think that some foods are ‘bad’ or ‘good’ as it often stirs up negative emotions when eating. For example, we eat a large bar of chocolate and we feel guilty or like a failure when in fact, healthy eating is all about context!
“If you eat well the majority of the time, then having chocolate or cake, or anything you fancy isn’t ‘bad’ at all. I’ve been trying to help people understand the moderation side of healthy eating since I started my career, and I’ve seen first-hand how overly restrictive diets can have the exact opposite impact on a person’s health.”
And she isn’t the only one that has an issue with the term.
Fitness Instagram star Alice Liveing, famously known as ‘Clean Eating Alice’ confessed to regretting using the term as her brand in an interview with Glamour earlier this year.
“It’s actually not very helpful to make people think that some foods are ‘bad’ or ‘good’ as it often stirs up negative emotions when eating. For example, we eat a large bar of chocolate and we feel guilty or like a failure when in fact, healthy eating is all about context!”
However social media fitspo creators are not the only ones under fire. The traditional media are said to have their share of responsibility.
“There are a lot of untruthful and non-evidence based claims made in the press. This can confuse the public. If the public and press were to understand the difference between a Registered Nutritionist and someone without qualification around food it could help raise awareness and protect the public from false and potentially dangerous claims about foods.” she said
So how can we tell which nutritionists are qualified and what are some warning signs to be aware of?
“A Registered Nutritionist will be at least university qualified in nutrition science and also have more than 3 years’ experience post university, as well as be listed on the Association for Nutrition’s UKVRN and abide by their standards of ethics, conduct and performance. This includes only using evidence-based claims and statements about nutrition and health. RNutrs will also be aware of their boundaries when it comes to offering nutritional advice and be aware of when and how to refer on e.g. for someone who has a medical condition.
“You’ll find RNutr after their name or they will refer to themselves as a Registered Nutritionist. Otherwise, they will not talk about food and nutrition in black and white e.g. X causes/cures Y. They may also talk about research and will highlight often that “more research is needed” rather than offering a statement or opinion on health and food.
She adds: “Some major warning signs include “Black or white talk – food just doesn’t work like that. Recommendation of avoidance of foods without medical advice. Working in clinical areas such as eating disorders (without clinical support), or on medical conditions such as IBS or cancer. Not having a rounded approach to nutrition and health. Believing extremes.”