Now I Get Why It’s Hard to Get It

In June I joined a small group of San Francisco-area dietitians to chat about nutrition information in the media, why people trust Dr. Oz and Beyonce more than their friendly neighborhood RD, and what we can do to get a credible voice heard. No small task! But suddenly many things were clear to me.

I also recently tested a quickly rising nutrition coaching app to get the “user” experience for a change. The chronicles of this experience have provided some entertainment to office and household chatter, but in all seriousness, it was ridiculous. So let’s start there.

Day 1: The process starts with what I thought was a good profile set-up, clever questions and answers with personality, directing you to select the “right” coach from a few options. I answered “I want to feel healthier”; the app suggested I lose12-pounds, which should have been red flag #1. After skimming through basic Coach bios and interests, I picked one (all are Dietitians). Since this is just a test, I admittedly didn’t put too much thought into who I worked with; I also knew I could “Switch Coaches” if needed.

The first screen I saw after selecting a coach read, “If you post pictures of your food everyday I can help you!” — (Coach) And I was like, well, that’s probably not gonna happen. And that shouldn’t be EXACTLY what you need to help me, right? Well. We’ll see how this goes.

I entered my dinner that night which, within 10 minutes, was met with a comment: “This is probably higher in fat than expected…”. Impressive response time! But you just ruined my dinner for me while I’m eating it. And also, I don’t mind that it’s “high” in fat (compared to what?) because the sources were an oil-based dressing, ~1/4 of an avocado, and a sprinkling of pepitas. Man, what about some credit for eating vegetables? What about noting why these fats are healthy, vs. slathering this salad in ranch dressing? How about balancing the commentary with something good, or a little encouraging nudge? Sheesh.

Day 2: Coach randomly sent me a very general “Top 5 Ways to Eat Healthy!” — am I not eating healthy? — followed by “Four Spring Healthy Habits” -….well, fine, but it’s JULY. Summer. Right? No question as to what my goals are, or reason why these random “tips” were sent. There were also comments on my meals, again noting what was missing or could be better, serving size assumptions, little credit to what was “good”, maybe one or two vague tips.

I’m already exhausted by this and start dreading the meal logging. It’s a total buzzkill.

Day 3: An unsolicited question came to my messages: “Where are you getting your calcium?”, noting that I “don’t drink milk.” Apparently I’m “at risk for osteoporosis” (based on what information, exactly?), especially with “less weight” for weight-bearing exercises. Odd, since there was another suggestion to watch portion sizes so we can “get those last 5#!”. I have a low lactose tolerance, so I choose to skip dairy and know there are plenty of other ways to get calcium. But when I played along and asked was recommended, Coach said: Calcium supplements. Great. This is going so well!

Day 4: Coach sent me a link to Women Health Magazine’s “Top 10 Healthy Eating Myths” that Nutritionists wish you knew weren’t true, and said “…to consider what you are thinking is a healthy diet”.

Oh, man.

This is where Coach & I hit a huge freaking wall. This is where I was like OKAY YOU’RE DONE. This was completely unsolicited and inappropriate, to say nothing of the fact that as I scrolled through the article I thought about how I had displayed nothing that would cause an attentive coach to think I believed any of these myths. “Myth: eggs aren’t healthy!” — I had posted two breakfasts with hard-boiled eggs. “Myth: I can’t eat after 6pm” — I logged dinner as past 6pm three days in a row. “Myth: I need to juice/detox” — I’ve said nothing to that effect, nor have I posted any “juices”. “Myth: fat will make you fat!” — Uh, on the contrary, Coach, you keep telling me I’m eating too much fat. The list goes on…

I took about an hour to collect my thoughts and calm the F down, because for some reason this just totally did me in. On the one hand, as a Dietitian, I can’t begin to imagine basically saying to someone “You THINK you eat healthy but you are SO WRONG” and considering it helpful. I also can’t imagine making someone scroll through TEN “nutrition myths” to give them a picture of what “is” healthy. Why not just say: here’s one theme I see happening with your diet, let’s talk about it. And on the other hand, as the “user” here, What prompted you to send this to me? What are you trying to point out? What about my diet is unhealthy and WHY? This doesn’t answer any questions, it just brings up so many more.

I immediately sent the app an e-mail to switch my Coach. Three days later: still waiting, still getting meal “comments” from Coach 1, and still dreading putting every meal in there. But I’m trying to get a real sense of this experience — I’m trying to be patient, giving it more than just 6 frustrating days.

All of this to say to consumers, clients, nutrition-questioners: I get why it’s hard to “get” healthy eating. I know first-hand that it can be challenging to find quality and credible nutrition information online, or even in print. And within the dietetics profession, I know that many of us have different views on what a “healthy diet” is. I’m all about variety, but damn, it gets confusing. And we’re not being clear enough about what we believe, and more importantly, why we believe it.

I expected my coach to be encouraging, knowledgeable, and informative. Instead I met some unanticipated and unhelpful “tough love”, was given instructions that wouldn’t be clear to the everyday consumer, and was never asked “What are your goals? How can I help you?” I got mostly negative feedback that wasn’t balanced with actionable suggestions, and have started opening the app hesitantly, bracing myself. Had I turned to this app in true hopes of changing a few habits and feeling healthier, I’d already feel defeated, less than one week in.

If you want to work with a dietitian, this is not meant to discourage you. Rather, assume every nutrition/health professional has good intentions and wants to help you improve your health. But remember that it’s totally okay to work with someone and decide if it is/is not a good fit; it’s okay to move on to the next. And remember that we learn from you, too! As a dietitian, this taught me a good lesson. Not about how to eat healthier or get more calcium or not eat past 6pm (Myth! Busted!), though I’m sure my diet isn’t perfect. Just to take a step back more frequently, look at things from a different perspective. It was a reminder that without confidence, consideration, and clarity, no message worth hearing is received.

Our profession has some progress to make! I promise you we’re working hard to get there.


Originally published at heathercaplan.com on July 15, 2015.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Heather Caplan, RD’s story.