Top 10 Common Mistakes I Made as a New Dietitian: Part 1

As many professionals reading this may know, the field of clinical nutrition often attracts a particular type of individual. My cohort in undergrad was full of hard working, organized, and motivated students. In other words, we were all extremely focused with “type-A” personalities.

Or at least, that’s how we want to be perceived. One of the most interesting parts of maturing both personally and professionally is understanding that people are not always as put together as they may appear and EVERYONE makes mistakes.

This makes for an interesting pattern of growth for new dietitians. Exiting school with their color coded highlighted notes, white lab coats, and stiff dress pants; into the world working with REAL LIVE humans.

It has been a humbling journey of self reflection and growth in my 6 years working as a clinical dietitian in the field of eating disorders. Today, I want to share a few of the biggest mistakes I made as a baby RD. This is in an effort to show that we are not perfect and we can all improve.

I hope this article provides a dose of reality for future, novice and seasoned RD’s alike.

Top 5 Mistakes

1.       Work-life balance

2.       Assuming I always know what’s best 

3.       Taking things personally 

4.       Focusing too much on calculations

5.       Over prioritizing problem solving 

scrabble blocks that spell out "learn from failure"
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Work-Life Balance

When I first started, I had NONE! I gave my all to my job and felt pressured to impress my coworkers with my ability to say YES to everything. You know what this leads to…burnout! And boy did we get there quickly.

Research shows, the field of eating disorders has one of the top burn out rates for dietitians and I can fully understand why. We are constantly taking in the anxiety and trauma of our clients. If you don’t take the time to step away and decompress, it will seep into your personal life.

The most ironic part of this is that working in a mental health setting; I am constantly surrounded by therapists and people who literally exude self-compassion and understanding.

So what do we do here? We set hard limits in our schedules. You wouldn’t ask your dentist office to stay an hour later to accommodate you, right? We ask our clients to prioritize their care and we will meet them in the middle. If we aren’t careful and stretch ourselves too thin, we won’t be able to give clients all they deserve.

Take your PTO! Stop stockpiling it. PTO is a benefit that is MEANT to be used. For your own sake and the sake of your clients, take it!

Assuming I Always Know What’s Best

Taking it back to the type-A personality, this can sometimes manifest itself as a “know it all” presentation. In school we are encouraged to stake our places as THE nutrition professionals. Dietitians have historically been taken for granted, and have had to fight for respect in the medical field.

Although this has created a highly competent and confident group of professionals, it can also create a tendency to lead with our brains and not leave much space for openness and flexibility. 

Our clients are the experts. Although we know how carbohydrates digest and metabolize in the body; the client has a life of experiences, both lived and learned. If we don’t take a step back and let them teach us about their perspective, we won’t connect and might miss important details! 

Finding this balance between listening and educating is a skill that takes time to develop. While you’re on your way there, pay attention to how much you’re talking during sessions versus how much you’re listening.

Taking Things Personally

I remember in grad school I had to take a strengths finder test (The CliftonStrengths Assessment) and my top trait was W.O.O. (winning others over). Essentially I have an amazing skill of connecting with others and building rapport with them and I take great pride in this.

So you have to imagine that having a client ghost me or choose to leave my services because we “aren’t a good fit” was hard to not take personally.

But truly it IS NOT PERSONAL.

We will not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, it doesn’t mean we aren’t competent. It doesn’t mean we aren’t good people. In my case, it CAN mean they were not ready to hear what I had to say or they simply did not “click” with me.

As long as I am doing my best to serve every client I get paired with, that is good enough.

Focusing too Much on Calculations

Humans are not math equations, despite what we learn in school (which is laced with diet culture).

Dietitians are traditionally educated with an emphasis on weight management calculations and in preparation for hospital settings.

I do not remember learning ANYTHING about alternative nutrition interventions such as intuitive eating, mindfulness, or the role mental health plays in our overall well-being.

This set us up for a hyper focus on calories in/calories out and on macronutrient management.

Unfortunately, these expectations are not sustainable and can increase rigidity around food rather than trusting our natural body cues to do the work for us. 

Over Prioritizing Problem Solving

I personally feel this is a mistake that anyone working in a service-based industry is bound to make at one point or another.

It is so easy to get narrow sighted and jump straight into problem solving. However, this misses out on the very necessary “you are working with a human” component of our jobs.

When you work with people, you are stepping into unknown territory with literally every new interaction you have. If we don’t take a pause to understand each other’s perspectives, we’ll never achieve goals together.

We all come with unique histories, social upbringings, and life situations. As providers, sometimes the most helpful thing we can do is wait to intervene until we have truly heard what our clients have to say.

Some of the best sessions I have had with clients have probably been 80% listening and rapport building and only 20% intervention and goal setting.

How can we effectively help someone if we don’t fully understand them?

Wrapping up my thoughts…

These past 6 years have truly been some of the most enlightening of my career. I may not have all the answers, and I have noticed my confidence grow. I finally feel like an expert in my field.

One contributing factor to my career success has been consistent clinical supervision. Through my job, I have the opportunity for consistent supervision by both therapists and dietitians within the eating disorder space.

These individuals have helped me navigate sticky ethical situations, clinical conundrums, personal work-life struggles, and everything in between!

Taylor and I feel it is so important for other dietitians out there to get the same type of support. That being said, we are beginning to offer clinical supervision services this month!

If you or anyone you know would like to increase your confidence in treating those diagnosed with eating disorders, check out our professional offerings to learn more about how we can help you!

As always, stay well and f*ck diet culture!

Jessi

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