About the Author
Renee McGregor is a qualified Dietitian and as she says " I am passionate about nutrition and enjoy making the science simple and practical to follow; no fads, no feelings of deprivation, just sensible dietary solutions."
Renee works with elite athletes in a number of disciplines and has just published her first book Training Food which has proven to be very popular.
It’s been a way too long since I wrote my last blog; there have been some guest blogs on topics from hero foods to low carb, high fat diets for ultra endurance athletes, but I thought it was high time I wrote one for my own website!
The topic of todays blog has played on my mind for many months, it crops up in all aspects of my job; whether working with elite athletes, recreational gym users, other parents or as my role at Anorexia and Bulimia care charity.
Anyone who knows me well, understands that I’m not one for confrontation; and yet recently I have found myself being drawn into very heated discussions. So what can this topic be that causes a normally very calm and mostly rational individual to actually see red and voice her concerns?
It is the rise of unregulated, non-qualified “nutritional experts”. They take the form in many guises from celebrity health and fitness bloggers, nutritional coaches and therapists. As one of my esteemed colleagues, Catherine Collins, has described so brilliantly, “they do a great job of spreading nutri – babble and pseudo science.” Or as I tend to put it #foodfads!
I think a lot of the problems come from the fact that the term “nutritionist” is not protected. So anyone from personal trainers who have covered a few modules in nutrition to nutritional therapists can call themselves a “nutritionist”. And yet their lack of knowledge and evidence based nutrition is not only frightening butdangerous; I have put a summary table below so you can see the real differences.
In recent months I have come across several very concerning cases. One such is a young girl I started working with just a few months ago. She was struggling with bloating, abdominal discomfort and had started to lose weight. Her Mum became worried and so took her to a Nutritional Coach, who charged them an awful lot of money to do an “allergy test” and told this 17 year old she was allergic to wheat, gluten, dairy and sugar. However provided her with no information about what to use as alternatives but more importantly did not really do a full nutritional assessment. If she had been a qualified nutritional practitioner, she would have picked up on the fact that actually this young girl was trying to find wrong with her diet as she was showing signs of an eating disorder; her periods had already become irregular. Instead the nutritional coach just reinforced the messages that certain foods were “wrong” for her to include in her diet without any scientific evidence at all. Within a few weeks his young girls weight had plummeted; she had become even more fearsome of food, her mood was low and due to the restrictions on her diet, her body was starving and so she was now showing full signs of Anorexia Nervosa.
We have now been working together for 3 months and her weight is slowly restoring, we have managed to re-introduce wheat, gluten and sugar with no ill effects. Her anxiety around these foods is still high but with encouragement and support from her family, and myself she is starting to face her fears. After my initial assessment, I also wrote to her GP and suggested that she be referred for psychological support, which is now in place.
Similarly, just a few weeks ago, another client emailed me desperate for some advice; she too had been to see this very same nutritional coach. Once again the infamous “allergy testing” was performed and surprise surprise, the same result – no wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar. The big issue this time? This lady had only recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. She was on medication but her symptoms were still very severe and this was affecting her confidence and day to day life. Crohn’s disease is an auto immune inflammatory bowel disease; remission is achievable but when someone is in an active phase of their condition, nutritional needs differ, depending on the severity of disease. In this case we have started with a few foods diet to help establish some calm to her symptoms before we re-introduce foods and build her diet back slowly.
These are not isolated cases, I could give you many more examples, like the young sportsman who wanted to build muscle and lose body fat. He went to see a Nutritional therapist this time, to be given the most basic nutrition advice I’ve ever seen and was then asked to buy carb binders and other supplements to help him achieve his goals! Just to add, this chap was from a different country and was completely confused by the advice he had been given; more to the point after 6 weeks his body composition had not changed! He has now been working with me for 6 weeks and has lost both weight and increased muscle mass, using real foods no fads!
And how can I forget the Personal Trainer who had actually bought my book, and then presented herself to a well known cereal brand as a Sports nutritionist and wanted to do some talks on “Training Food!” she got caught out as she made a statement on social media and luckily this got picked up and dealt with!
Social media – although a great medium for providing information, it sadly doesn’t separate the ill advice. This is where the celebrity food blogger turned “nutritionist” really make their mark. With like of Deliciously Ella, Hemsley & Hemsley, Sam Faiers and now Fearne cotton all publishing books, blogs and Instagram posts of “wholesome” meals and snacks with hashtags such as “superfoods”, “clean”, “refined sugar free”, “Gluten Free” is any wonder we are confused? And yet what right do these individuals have to tell us what to eat? What valid qualifications in nutrition do they have? None. And yet they sell a lifestyle – if we eat like them then of course we expect we will look like them! In a society where we are becoming increasingly image conscious, this just demonises food groups and increases our guilt associated with eating them.
I had another young client who had suffered with an eating disorder in the past but was actually generally doing well – managing to maintain her weight and take part in life again. She came to me as she wanted to check her diet was balanced and meeting her requirements – and yet when we talked about carbohydrates, she told me that the only carbohydrate she could eat was sweet potato. When I questioned her about this she said it was because all the nutrition posts she follows “allow” her to eat sweet potato but nothing else. When I explained that carbohydrate was carbohydrate no matter which form it was in, she was actually quite taken a back! Obviously I would generally recommend whole grain versions but even that meant she could eat more than just sweet potato!
It’s the same with sugar! Yes sugar is easy to eat to excess and this is the key message that needs to go out there. And obviously If we eat anything to excess, we run the risk of gaining weight. Being very overweight has its links to health problems. I’m not denying this at all but it does irritate me when recipes for refined sugar free cakes or puddings are posted using coconut sugar or honey or molasses or maple syrup. It’s all SUGAR! It doesn’t make the cake any more healthy or change the calorie content! The key message here needs to be, if you want cake, have cake, as long as you don’t eat it to excess, it’s not a problem. And having a gluten free brownie made with molasses doesn’t make you virtuous and definitely doesn’t give you the excuse to eat more just because its #clean!
So the key difference between regulated practitioners and non regulated; a registered dietitian (regulated by HPCP) or a registered Nutritionist (regulated by the Nutrition Society ) only provide advice that is evidence based. The term ‘evidence based’ is thrown around a lot. I know even the nutritional therapists (MBANT) will say they use evidence based nutrition. Indeed it is possible to find a paper on pretty much any topic you want and so if you want to prove Gluten causes weight gain and bloating then you probably could, However the main difference is that we, regulated practitioners, will research all available information and then use the most trustworthy source – not all journals and articles are equal in merit, in our day to day practise. We will generally always use real food over supplements and we have a legitimate degree which covers aspects of biochemistry and physiology as well as nutrition so we understand how the body works!
So next time you read an article about nutrition, please check it comes from a regulated practitioner and lets stop the #foodfads!
Below is a summary of the real difference between Dietitians, Nutritionists and Nutritional therapist but for more information please visit:
If you have any questions, concerns or just want to get in touch with Renee, pop through to her website.