LAD Annual Conference- Key Takeaways...and Gripes

Today, I attended my first LAD Annual Conference (Los Angeles District of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).

I went into the conference with an open and eager mind, as a student of dietetics and not yet connected/integrated fully within the system. I went alone, which in itself can be an awkward situation, because I had to actively seek out connection with others.

The positive takeaway from my first Dietetics Conference experience: I actually felt, for the first time in my science career, like I belonged. I understood all of the concepts discussed and was very interested in the topics, which was such a nice experience. I also felt that the topics for the day were very timely, well-researched and informative— I walked away with more knowledge than I came to the event with, so that is a big positive.

However, the areas in need of improvement were glaring.

First, I felt that the 30 minutes allotted to each speaker to dive into very complex topics such as intuitive eating, fasting and gut health— was simply not enough. Each topic deserved 1 speaker, as opposed to 2, and a full hour. 30 minutes felt rushed and a bit chaotic. I’m not a fan of presentations that feel disjointed and every presentation did. So, more time to relax, be more engaging, authentic and detailed would be helpful for everyone.

Second, I appreciated the approach to each topic: providing two converging perspectives for balance— but it honestly felt like completely different topics with this angle. It was mostly “dietitians who work with eating disorder patients versus research dietitians and functional medicine doctors.” Not surprisingly, the dietitians who work with eating disorder patients have a very black and white view on…basically everything. There was no openness to discussing the possibility of new research being helpful for specific populations, because they believe everything is “not enough evidence to support.”This is a bit frustrating to me— someone who is both an eating disorder survivor/18 years recovered, and open-minded to the possibilities/new doors research can open for us… If I didn’t believe the evolution of research wasn’t promising…if I didn’t believe people with a history of disordered eating can develop a healthy and balanced relationship with food with time and a desire to….If I wasn’t a success story, I wouldn’t do this work.

Third, I believe that the real balance we all are seeking lies somewhere at the intersection of research, functional medicine and nutrition…I don’t think that because the population you work with is primarily disordered with food is a good enough reason to write off possibilities for balance and positive nutrition. I don’t believe that people who have restricted food in their past can’t ever approach an elimination diet when necessary with a healthy mindset in their future….

I believe this because I have done it. I did an elimination diet for 30 days and maintained a hormone-focused diet and supplement regimen for 3 months and completely reversed postpartum thyroiditis. I WOULD NOT have accomplished this without a healthy and balanced approach to every aspect of lifestyle, including fitness. And once my thyroid normalized, I returned to my normal diet. At the end of the day our bodies want homeostasis and that requires adaptability.

IT IS POSSIBLE. We have to believe this and encourage the people we work with to believe it as well.

I think taking a hard stance, whether dietitians accept it or not, even on a subconscious level, can influence the people they work with.

What I found most interesting was the gut health topic, in which a functional medicine doctor talked very clearly about the benefits of blood tests to determine allergies, intolerances, inflammation markers etc., followed by a dietitian who works with mostly disordered eating patients and those with GI issues (IBS, auto immune, etc.). The functional medicine doctor, during the Q&A session that followed their presentations, said that he rarely comes across an anxious patient— even with elimination diets and reintroduction. The dietitian, however, said that most of her patients are anxious, believes elimination diets are bad for everyone and there’s not enough research to support eliminating foods to relieve symptoms of specific health issues, disorders, etc. She believes it is all connected to the gut-brain connection (I partially support this) and we have to heal this through talk therapy.

My question is— why be a dietitian? Why not be a therapist? Mind you, I have not worked with the disordered eating population…but I don’t need to. I technically AM this population… perfectionist, Type A, Obsessive, picky eater (but really I just like what I like and don’t care for what I don’t like— I have always been this way and I see no issue with it…it’s the intention behind choices that can be problematic, not our likes and dislikes).

I know balance exists. I think the “I haven’t seen it so it can’t exist” or “there isn’t enough research” can be a scapegoat…a lazy tactic, if you will, to not address the elephant in the room— that Americans live in very unhealthy extremes.

I wholeheartedly appreciate the intuitive eating movement for what it is and what it wants to be— a solution to an overarching problem in our society and culture— that food has been demonized, and our bodies—EXTREMELY demonized— for too long. And as a result, many Americans go through cycles of restrict, reward (binge), restrict, reward…at least 1/2 of the population engages in this behavior.

In an effort to move away from calorie counting and feeding into diet culture, the dietetics profession has moved in the opposite direction, promoting body positivity and “health at every size,” and while I’m a big supporter of this movement, I do feel that naturally thin people like myself are being lumped into a new shame category now—a category that says that if I’m thin and don’t eat the donut offered to me, there is something wrong with me. This wasn’t the intention of the creators of the intuitive eating approach, but it’s how it gets interpreted and disseminated to the public.

I believe most people need to learn how to eat properly for their body. I believe most women have body image issues (including dietitians). I believe we just need to get over it and embrace ourselves regardless of our “issues” and learn to eat real fucking food.

NO healthwashing. NO paleo…keto…and every other name for a diet disguised as a non-diet.

Just food.

And the research side of it…well, I like to geek out on it because it’s interesting to me and because I believe that a strong foundation of good nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits can only be enhanced by evidence-based research.

But I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere if we can’t keep an open mind about topics outside of our experience. Especially areas of research that can help specific populations, like say cancer patients or those with degenerative brain diseases (don’t count out keto as a possible helpful approach to Alzheimer’s, for example. Research is new but promising).

I find the word “myopic” to be so interesting, because it’s often used by people who are, in fact, themselves myopic.

My heart and mind are open to all kinds of possibilities. And I hope to remain this way through every challenge and opposing viewpoint.