We had the pleasure of speaking with Emily Opthof about her work as a dietitian. She provides a better understanding of some of the basic concepts of nutrition.
BRIA: What is the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?
Emily: The main difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian is how they are regulated. A “nutritionist” is not a regulated title and does not require specific education. For example, someone in the middle of completing their degree to become a dietitian could call themselves a nutritionist. There is no regulatory body that oversees the qualifications of a “nutritionist,” so they may or may not be fully qualified to talk about nutrition. Registered dietitians, on the other hand, have specific educational requirements and standards to meet in order to have this title in the same way that doctors and nurses are regulated. Dietitians are also required to maintain professional standards and complete re-licensing every year. Overall, a registered dietitian is a regulated provider who has obtained specific training and qualifications to provide safe and evidence-based care.
BRIA: What is the link between nutrition, mental health and well-being?
Emily: First, assessing someone’s access to food is an important consideration from the lens of social determinants of health— the ability for a person to plan meals, get to a grocery store and cook can impact the amount of nourishment the brain acquires. When we think about metabolism, we often think about weight; however, it’s much more than that. Our metabolism affects the way every single organ functions, including the brain. For example, if a person consistently has difficulty eating enough foods or being able to purchase and prepare food, they might not have an adequate level of nutrition to support neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation or problem solving. People who have different mental health conditions or neurodivergence, such as ADHD and autism, may also experience varying levels of food cravings. So, dietitians work to support these individuals to eat foods that feel good to them, while protecting the nutrients they require to be healthy. Dietitians also consider the impact of medications that their clients are using when treating mental health concerns, because they may interact with nutrients or require additional nutrition considerations.
BRIA: What is a “non-diet” and a Health At Every Size management plan?
Emily: The “non-diet” approach to nutrition is a shift away from recommending restrictive eating patterns to control the body’s shape, size, and weight. Instead, it puts more emphasis toward health-promoting behaviours that help people become and stay healthy over a longer period of time. The Health At Every Size (HAES) care model views bodies as diverse and unique in their achievement of health, and avoids stigmatizing based on weight, as we now know better that it is not the main factor of our health. With this type of management plan, dietitians look at issues such as whether their clients have eaten enough and regularly during the day, sleep hygiene, and stress management. Finally, dietitians can provide some support around choosing exercise and finding what feels good to clients as exercise. Using these factors overall, instead of just focusing on weight, allows dietitians to provide whole-body health in a more inclusive way.