Friday, February 28, 2014

No Longer Credentialed, but Still Thinking

Growing up, in our family room we had what my mom called a "hutch." It was some kind of two-part, buffet-type piece of furniture with cabinets on the bottom and shelves on the top. It was massive. The shelves, originally intended to display china or serving pieces, were chock full of cookbooks . . . and diet books. Lots and lots of diet books.

My mother was never, ever overweight but that didn't stop her from pursuing the cultural ideal and trying every new diet that hit the books. I started young reading those books and educating myself on the likes of cellulite and calories and the tricks of the trade. By age 14, I was all-out dieting. By 16, I had gotten pretty darn good at it. What began as an innocent "lose a few pounds" effort turned into an eating disorder. And it almost killed me.

After I began recovering from the Pit of Hell, which included my first encounter with a registered dietitian, I chose to put much of the knowledge I had already gathered to good use. I opted to major in nutrition at the University of Tennessee.

I was part of the Coordinated Undergraduate Program in Dietetics, which basically crammed four years of academics plus a one-year internship into just four years. The early-on classes were tedious (general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, analytical chemistry, to name a few) but the later classes I loved. Body parts and diseases and lab values and consumer trends and on and on. And I loved working with patients.

My first job out of college was at a hospital here in Western North Carolina. I dealt with some general med-surg patients and I had the orthopedic floor, but my main responsibility was inpatient cardiac rehab nutrition education. I developed a voracious appetite for the latest research and even considered moving deeper into the medical field as a physician's assistant. Instead, I met my husband.

When he moved to Atlanta, I followed him there and got a job at another hospital. This time I was thrown into some areas that were way out of my comfort zone (ICU) and others that had my heart (Eating Disorders). There, I was primarily responsible for the nutrition portion of the Preventive Medicine program. It was a great job and paid quite well but the management was terrible and, after a few months, I quit.

Little did I know, when I quit, how hard it would be to find another job in the field. At the time, 60% of the registered dietitians in the state of Georgia were in Atlanta and a large number of them had gotten their Masters of Medical Science degrees from Emory. How can anybody compete with that?

After three months of job hunting, I gave up and took a job as a receptionist at my church denomination's headquarters. I never worked in the nutrition field again. Two years later, hugely pregnant with my first child, I gave up trying to take the Continuing Education and paying the large annual sum to keep up my professional registration. Thus ended my life as a registered dietitian and credentialed nutrition professional.

That doesn't mean, however, that I haven't paid attention. I have watched fads come and go lately with more vigor than before. People no longer have to pick up a magazine or book to find nutrition information or misinformation It is all right there now at the click of a mouse or, even better, on their phone.

I have written before a number of times about why I don't jump on these bandwagons. I have ranted about all the questionable advice out there.

I may no longer be a credentialed professional (that doesn't stop a lot of people anyway) but I would like to be able to share some of my thoughts. I do believe that my formal education has value. I believe that my work experience in the field has value. I believe that my recovery from an eating disorder has value. I believe that what I have learned about people has value. And most of all, I believe that what God has taught me about food and priorities and life has value.

So brace yourself for my opinions, coming soon, to a blog post near you.

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