Day in the life of a dietitian: Common-sense consumption

By Matt McIntosh

MorethanFarmingWant to lose weight, ward off diseases, or avoid growing a third and rather grotesque limb? You’re in luck, because there are plenty of experts out there who would love to help you determine what specific food item is killing you.

The paleo-diet, extreme low-calorie diets, gluten-free choices, carbohydrate cycling, and many other ingestion regiments target specific food groups in an effort to – supposedly – improve your physical and mental longevity. For those not grappling with specific intolerances or food allergies though, such diets don’t necessarily work, and finding credible answers about food and its relation to your health can be a tough slog.

Fortunately, Canada’s 8000 registered dietitians are here to help cut the hogwash. It’s an important role to be sure, and one that Canada is celebrating today with National Dietitians Day.

Kate Park is one of Canada's 8,000 registered dietitians helping consumers find credible answers about food and its relation to health.

Kate Park is one of Canada’s 8,000 registered dietitians helping consumers find credible answers about food and its relation to health.

“All foods have a role to play. That’s something I always try and make sure the people I talk to understand,” says Kate Park, a registered dietitian working in Hamilton, Ontario.”

“Sexy solutions and magic-bullet type answers tend not to be true. Everybody has different issues, and different goals too, so they require different approaches. Dietitians help people find what approach works best for them.”

With a Masters of Applied Nutrition from the University of Guelph, Park has been working as a registered dietitian for over seven years, and is currently employed with the Hamilton Family Health Team. Her tasks on any given day can vary quite a bit, she says, and include everything from helping individuals attain their weight loss goals to hosting lessons on healthy eating.

Group cooking workshops, for instance, are one of the projects Park is particularly proud of. While helping to educate participants on nutrition and healthy eating, the group lessons also include cooking demonstrations, as well as information designed to connect the meal in question to local farmers.

“I’m from an agricultural area, so I’ve always had some idea of how much work goes into getting food to the grocery stores,” she says. “Unfortunately a lot of people have never had any exposure to farming. We partner with the local farmers market and many local farmers to help establish a connection and promote food skills at the same time.”

Park says a significant part of her work with individual clients – and a client’s initial consultation in particular – involves an in-depth conversation on what the person’s needs are, and the best way to go about achieving their goals.

In addition to being a registered dietitian, Park is also a “certified diabetes educator” – a title she was spurred to acquire after seeing the detriments of diabetes in her home community. In this role, Park explains that she helps people with diabetes find proactive nutritional solutions for their condition, and works to promote diabetes awareness and prevention.

“I always thought a lot could be done to prevent diabetes,” she says.

Because Park works in primary care – or the part of our health care system dealing with patients seeking general rather than highly specialized treatments – she has the opportunity to see people “progress in their journey” to better health; indeed, she says seeing people happy and healthy is the most rewarding part of her job.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Parks also says the take-home message she tries to impart centres on two things: Take nutrition information you read and hear in the media with a grain of salt – pun intended – and take time to enjoy food.

“Food can be demonized, and if we always look at food as a battle we can’t enjoy it,” says Parks. “Move away from convenient and processed foods, but remember that all foods have a purpose.”

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