At some point we’ve all fallen victim to a dodgy diet that promised to shave kilos, increase energy, cure cancer (shame on you, Belle Gibson) and miraculously transform our lives and our bodies. Not so surprisingly the majority of these diets are found online, particularly via social media, with the person/people selling them claiming to be some sort of health guru.
What is surprising – and what I found to be most shocking – is that you don’t necessarily need to be qualified in order to give (and sell) nutritional advice or plans. In fact, according to one of Australia’s leading dietician/nutritionists Susie Burrell, completing an online course of only a few weeks is enough merit to warrant calling yourself a ‘health advisor’ or ‘expert’. A few weeks! That’s like calling yourself a practising doctor after one semester at uni – where is the logic?
Understandably, results speak for themselves, so when we see incredible before and after photos it’s inevitable that we’re going to associate whatever program they’re on with success. What we fail to take into account is where/who the diet came from, if it’s right for OUR body and the implications this might have on our health and mental attitudes in the long-term.
Susie (pictured below) insists that the only profession who is “scientifically trained to give a range of applied nutrition advice,” from sick to healthy people, is a dietician. This means that qualifications such as a diploma in health or an undergraduate degree in health and nutrition don’t cut it, she says.
“A dietician is an accredited profession which requires a minimum of 4 years of university study, along with ongoing education and accreditation to give applied nutrition advice to individuals,” Susie explains.
But with so many popular diets now available at the click of the purchase button, how do we distinguish a dodgy diet from an appropriate one? We put all of our questions to the trusted dietician, who also specialises in customised eating plans, to enlighten us.
What type of ‘health guru’ or certification would you say is the least credible?
At least an undergraduate university degree that includes the study of physiology, metabolism and biochemistry.
What are some red flags to look out for?
If they do not mention their training or qualifications I would be wary – ‘health coach’ or ‘nutritionist’ should instantly encourage you to do more research as anyone can call themselves a health coach or a nutritionist with minimal training, if any.
Ideally, what should a good nutrition program include?
Dietary plans and programs written by someone who is qualified and accountable. Direct access to this professional for specific issues/questions. Dietary changes and plans that are sustainable, have a minimal number of calories and that do not require you to eliminate whole food groups.
Regularly eating clean foods and treats containing ‘healthy sugars’ gets the tick of approval by a lot of ‘experts’, can you clarify this?
If it sounds suspicious, it is usually a sign you need to be careful. If it sounds too good to be true it usually is and it is common sense that food is not ‘dirty’ – and then sugars, no matter which type, are still sugar. Just because the latest guru says differently, be questioning.
What’s the worst fad diet that you’ve come across in the last few years?
Lol, there are so many. I think the idea of quitting sugar but then eating coconut oil, rice malt syrup and dates is ridiculous. I also think that juicing, as even a short term diet option, is dangerous and damaging to metabolic rate long-term.
If you can’t afford to enlist the help of a dietician or nutritionist, what should you do?
You know, there is so much sound dietary advice out there. You can simply purchase a diet/exercise book written by a dietitian or well-known and respected trainer which often contain nutritionally sound meals plans.
After recent backlash, where do you see the health industry going?
As there is more and more interest in health and well being, there will be more and more people out there trying to make money out of it. The key is to go with professionals who are qualified to be giving specific dietary advice.
Go with your gut. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is and at the end of the day, weight-loss and weight control takes hard work, commitment and life long focus – it is as simple or complex as that.
Image via Random House