Every week I get two or three emails from Paleo advocates saying they want to, are in the process of, or are thinking about pursuing a degree in nutrition. Each email starts basically the same way – “My name is (insert name) and I want to be a Paleo RD like you, but…” Yep, there’s always a ‘but’. Okay, let’s continue… “But… I don’t want to listen to, learn about, go along with the traditional ‘healthy’ diet guidelines and teachings.” “Do you have any suggestions for me to get my degree, and become an RD without having to sit through these classes?”
So, a little background – when I was in college paleo wasn’t as popular as it is now (it’s been awhile – yes, I’m getting old…). I was your typical endurance athlete and prescribed to a low fat, high carb, and for a while vegetarian diet. Yep, I was batting for the other team… Of course, time has passed (quite a bit of time…) and I’ve changed my philosophy – we’ve all got to start somewhere and rock bottom is as good a place as any… I was not faced with the same dilemma as the individuals sending the emails, but I can definitely see where they are coming from.
As far as suggestions and ways to ‘get around’ the Food Plate – let’s consider a couple scenarios… Think about your car – it needs gas to run, right? Now, the price of gas is a little ridiculous; and you (if you’re like me) probably don’t agree with or want to pay the high price – but… Yep, there’s that ‘but’ again – But, without gas your car is going nowhere fast. So, you’ve got a couple choices. Do you have to fill the tank? Nope, it’s totally up to you – but (there it is AGAIN), if you choose not to you better be ready to break out the two-wheeler and/or your walking shoes. Odds are you’re going to suck it up, fill the tank and pay the bill. Okay, next scenario (in case that one didn’t apply to you) – We are taking a trip to my hometown (also known as – ‘map dot’), we’re cruising down main street (all three blocks of it…) and notice the sign that says “Speed Limit – 10 mph” (no lie…). Considering we are the ONLY car driving down the street and we can see the end of the street, just past the railroad tracks where the U-Turn sign is; the 10 mph limit seems downright RIDICULOUS!!! But… (yep, again), being from this town you know that there is a very ‘delightful’ town police officer that likes to sit at the end of the street (gas station parking lot) and ‘kindly remind’ you to obey the sign. So, although you don’t agree with the exceptionally SLOW speed given the length of and traffic ‘flow’ on main street you go 10 (or park at the other end and walk – it’s just about as fast), to avoid a lengthy conversation about ‘what could have happened if’ you had been going 11 and cat, dog, or person ran out into the street.
Alright, enough ‘scenarios’ – I think you get the point. If a degree in nutrition and becoming an RD are truly your goals; you will suck it up, learn the material that’s taught and pass the exam. This is not to say that you can’t bring up alternative ideas in class or privately to your professors – you may be very surprised as to how open they are to other ideas. Understand that they are in much the same situation as you – there are certain things that they must teach as part of their job requirements. That doesn’t mean they don’t agree with what they are teaching, but they too are open to new ideas. Also, contrary to what many people think; a degree in Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science entails MUCH more than just learning the ‘Food Plate’ – in fact, there is VERY little of that at all. College nutrition courses are much deeper than junior high health class. Courses in Nutrition and Metabolism, Nutritional Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, Medical Nutrition Therapy, Counseling Techniques, Community Nutrition, Food Microbiology, Food Chemistry, etc. are extremely valuable and very light on ‘healthy whole grains’. The education you receive prepares you for the situations you will encounter with clients and on the job. You will be ready to explain your recommendations backed by science, understand and ‘decode’ research and statistics, and as an added bonus (post internship and exam), be an RD.
Next up on the professional block we’ll talk about working in a field, where paleo isn’t cool – yet.