The Importance of Getting it Right: Nutrition Misinformation can be Harmful
By Flavia Herzog Liebel MA, RDN, LDN
Have you ever played whisper down the lane (aka telephone) when you were a child? You may remember one person would whisper a phrase or word into the ear of the person next to them, who would then repeat exactly what they heard to the next person and so on and so on. At the end, what came out rarely ever matched what the first person said. The end result usually didn’t make sense but was always funny! ‘Funny’ is certainly the goal in a childhood game, but not so much when dealing with something as important as nutrition. As a dietitian in private practice who specializes in eating disorders, I have often said that nutrition information is the world’s worst/most dangerous game of whisper down the lane. In my sessions, “Is it true that…” is often followed by a statement or question that varies from slightly inaccurate to potentially harmful. One example that comes to mind is the athlete who told me that they would not eat a banana (which is an excellent source of carbohydrates and potassium) because it was “full of fat” (it is not, there is less then ½ a gram). The other highly worrisome example is when clients tell me they are eating their weight in grams of protein (protein needs are calculated by converting our weight in pounds into kilograms, and then multiplying that by .8 to 1.0; not by eating 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight). In my experience, I have found that most people wholeheartedly believe the misinformation that has worked its way “down-the -lane” to them. Just as in whisper down the lane, the information started off accurate but as it was shared over and over, it had become less and less accurate and ultimately is unrecognizable from where is started.
In my private practice, 90% of my clients struggle with an eating disorder. I am therefore part of many treatment teams that are comprised of amazing therapists, psychiatrists and medical doctors. The treatment team approach has been proven highly effective because all members of the team collaborate and create a united front against the eating disorder. When working as part of an eating disorder treatment team, inaccurate nutrition information that has been “whispered down the lane” to a clinician is not only potentially physically harmful, it can be emotionally harmful to the client as well. When a client receives nutrition information from a therapist/psychiatrist (It is nearly impossible to work with someone with an eating disorder and not, at some point, be discussing nutrition) that is the opposite of what their dietitian is telling them, it breaks down the trust between the client and the eating disorder treatment team. A client’s trust with their treatment team is paramount and when that trust is doubted from a client perspective even for a moment, it gives the eating disorder more power. This is especially true of the client-dietitian relationship since the dietitian is often viewed as an adversary. Of equal concern is when there is NO dietitian on the treatment team. There are a number of reasons this may occur (see insert). In these circumstances, it is not uncommon for a therapist or psychiatrist to find themselves discussing any number of nutrition-related topics. No matter the circumstance(s), it is imperative that clinicians share only scientifically valid/evidence-based nutrition information with their clients. They should not be sharing their opinions, nutrition myths or inaccurate information. If you are discussing nutrition with a client, do you know with 100% certainty that what you are providing is evidence -based information? Or is it possible you are repeating what you’ve heard from someone else, something you believe to be true but may not be able to verify or validate? The best way to ensure that you are providing accurate information is to check your source. Most popular sources you need to be wary of include:
Blogs or Instagram accounts NOT written by an RD or a PhD in nutrition
“Nutritional” websites that are selling you something
Health or Wellness Coaches -that are not RDs or do not have a degree innutrition
Fad Diet books /programs
Personal Trainers – that are not RDs or do not have a degree in nutrition
Note: Athletic Trainers do have significant education, some of it is in nutrition but typically it is only basic nutrition
A nutritionist that is not a Registered Dietitian
Sources you can trust for accurate nutrition information:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics www.eatright.org
Dietary Guidelines for Americans www.Health.gov
National Institutes of Health www.NIH.gov
US Department of Health and Human Services www.HHS.gov
URLS that end in .gov, .edu or .org
Reputable websites, to determine if it is reputable check that:
Studies are cited
The article is supported by research published in scientific, peer-reviewed journals
It lists references and studies used to support claims
Learning the truth about nutrition and the human body is a critical piece to eating disorder recovery. When the entire treatment team works together to provide accurate, consistent nutrition facts it is very impactful. Our clients need and deserve to learn the truth from those of us that they trust the most, otherwise their eating disorder can win.
About the Author:
Flavia Herzog Liebel MA, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist in private practice- Therapeutic Nutrition LLC. She has over 19 years of nutrition counseling experience. Her areas of expertise include eating disorders, sports nutrition and weight management and she uses a non-diet approach, and helps her clients develop intuitive eating. Prior to going into private practice Flavia worked as a pediatric outpatient dietitian at Einstein Medical Center and as an outpatient Nutrition Therapist at the Renfrew Center.
Flavia also works as a consultant for St. Joseph University women’s basketball team, Surfside Fitness and Wellness Concepts. Some of her previous consulting work includes Next Generation Dining & Vending, Guardian Nurses, Philadelphia Maven (as a featured writer), Keystone Eye Associates, Zarett Rehab and A Chance to Heal.
Flavia has presented at the Pennsylvania Dietetic Association annual conference, Hawaii Dietetic Association annual conference, Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) and The Renfrew Center annual conference.
In addition to the work described above, Flavia is often interviewed as a nutrition expert. Most recently she appeared on “Healthy Living”, as part of the Health and Wellness web series. She has also appeared on CBS 3 NEWS, Speak Up!, CNN Comcast Newsmakers, Good Day Philadelphia, and Your Morning on CN8. To learn more about her practice visit www.TherapeuticNutritionLLC.com.