This past week I had the pleasure of attending the 2019 Today’s Dietitian Symposium just a quick drive away from home in Scottsdale, AZ. If you aren’t familiar with Today’s Dietitian, it’s a top-notch print magazine and online publication nutrition professionals look to for reliable, evidence-based health and nutrition information. In addition to their publications, the brand offers an annual roaming conference in May. This was my first time attending, and I learned a ton!
Although I’m not a dietitian (and I was literally the only dietetic technician I saw at the conference–ha!) I didn’t feel out of place. As a health and wellness freelance writer, I try to stay pretty hip to the latest research and trends. The sessions felt digestible, and, for the most part, very helpful.
I shared a bit on my social media channels about what I learned at the symposium, but wanted to go more in-depth here on the blog. Here are four of my top takeaways from the two-and-a-half days:
1. Now is a great (but also super challenging) time to be a nutrition professional
Nutrition is sexy! People care so much these days about what they do and don’t eat. The public is seeking diet advice under every rock and behind every tree (and definitely on every shiny website and image-conscious Instagram post). Because of this uptick in interest, now is an awesome time to work in nutrition. As I’ve found in my own brief career, there are innumerable opportunities for credentialed professionals. The conference displayed the immense variety of the nutrition working world.
On the other hand, it also highlighted some of the ways being a dietitian (or NDTR like me) is more difficult now than ever. At the moment, there’s a MAJOR emotional component to people’s beliefs about food… so although, as scientifically trained nutrition professionals, we might emphasize our credibility by pointing to our degrees and the hard evidence behind our advice, this isn’t necessarily what the public wants. We’re living in an era of hashtags and sound bytes, not deep analysis or thoughtful reflection. It can be really tough to make the truth about nutrition compelling to the average consumer.
Secondly, in this age of social connectedness, with a million platforms to join and products to promote, it can feel like we have to be all things to all people. Be an influencer! Build your Twitter following! Secure brand deals! All while keeping up with the studies, determining your audience, and figuring out how much to charge for your services (oh, and maintaining your own svelte figure, because who wants to listen to an overweight dietitian?). Anybody stressed yet?
2. Networking is worth it — and it’s a pretty small world
One of my biggest goals for attending the conference was to meet and mingle with fellow nutritionistas. Mission accomplished! Despite my natural introversion, I went bold with introducing myself to strangers–and often found the person I had just said hello to was a mover and shaker I’d heard of before (hashtag #starstruck). I assembled a dozen business cards from other RDs over the course of the conference and was not shy about putting my own out there, either, like…
Not only was it cool to rub shoulders with some big names in the industry, it was also just great to sit down and chat with like-minded nutrition professionals. We’re not that big a club, so we get pretty excited when we meet.
3. Nutrition science has come a long way — but we still have further to go
Justified or not, nutrition science gets a bad rap for constantly changing. “First they said eggs were bad, then they were good, now they’re bad again! What can you even believe?” goes the common criticism. (As Michael Pollan famously said, “Nutrition science is where surgery was in about 1650–you know, really interesting and promising, but would you want to have them operate on you yet?”) But I felt impressed at the TD Symposium with how cohesive most of the messaging from dietitians actually is.
We know a lot of things for sure: Overconsumption is a problem in this country. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains should be emphasized, no matter who you are (almost). Fad diets are usually a bad idea. Gluten and dairy are not the enemy. Overall, I think we’re getting a handle on a lot of tricky topics.
I will tell you, though–no joke–I sat in on concurrent sessions that appeared to give conflicting advice about carbohydrates and fats. The first presenter seemed to be saying we should embrace low-carb diets to treat obesity and heart disease. The second said we still need to focus on limiting fat (especially saturated fat). In the presenters’ defense, they both said a lot had to do with the quality of carbs and fats…but still.
4. Nutrition professionals need to be kind, flexible, open-minded, and show our love of food!
Dietitians and NDTRs are competing with a lot of other (sometimes very loud) voices when it comes to giving the public sound, evidence-based nutrition counsel. To stay relevant, we have our work cut out for us. Some of the best advice I heard at the Today’s Dietitian Symposium was about the soft skills side of being a nutrition professional.
Gone are the days of beating people over the head about diet changes. It doesn’t work (and it’s really not fun for anyone). We have to approach clients/patients/friends/readers with kindness, flexibility, and open-mindedness. For eating, one size definitely does NOT fit all. How can we help people to enjoy their food while making positive changes? How can we “liberalize” instead of restrict? I think these are extremely important questions everyone working in nutrition should consider.
Finally, the best approach to food and diet is FUN! I absolutely love the concept emphasized at the conference that dietitians and DTRs need to show people how much we freaking love to eat. (I mean, I hope for me it’s obvious, given the name of this website…) Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s our job to help others as a cheerleader and fellow lover of food.
So thanks, Today’s Dietitian 2019 for an informative, interesting conference! Hope I can make it next year in Savannah, GA!