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The Real Poop

Cheat day. (Source)

There's a weight loss revolution sweeping the nation. Couldn't you tell from all the long lines at Burger King and overstocking of Hostess products in grocery stores?

It's true—we have a health problem in this country, and it's not just the "fat" thing. Our poor collective diet has caused countless cases of diabetes (which is one of the most expensive diseases to treat), and it derives directly from an excessive intake of corn syrup (mostly). We live fast-paced lives, and it's often much easier to pull through the drive-through than to pick up ingredients and cook something at home.

In the long run, though, you're shaving years off your life. When you look at it that way, don't those chicken nuggets lose a little bit of their luster? And when you see other people scarfing down that unhealthy food, don't you want to tell them to quit it? And then offer some suggestions for improvement? Preferably without getting yelled at, and while getting paid a comfortable $55,000 per year (source)? 

Well, you can do that if you want. It's called being a dietitian.

Dietitians are the people trying to right the national ship, so to speak. As a country, we're heading for an iceberg—and not the lettuce kind, either. The kind that's made of sugar and held together with bacon. 

Part of the problem is there are so many differing opinions—and some just plain misconceptions—about the best way to get in shape and start taking care of your body. So, let's begin with some food myths that drive dietitians insane:

Myth: High-fructose corn syrup is worse for you than sugar.

Fact: The composition of high-fructose corn syrup is pretty much identical to sugar. This means sugar and corn syrup similarly affect blood levels of insulin and satiety hormones. It all boils down to the fact that both can make you tired and fat. Like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Myth: Microwaves cook nutrients out of food.

Fact: Regardless of whether you're grilling or microwaving food, the heating and cooking time contributes to nutrient loss. The longer and hotter you cook food, the more vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin B you'll lose. Frying your chicken with a magnifying glass on a hot pavement is no better.

Myth: Food allergies make you gain weight.

Fact: A food allergy can cause cramping, swelling, hives, and possibly breathing problems if you digest even a small amount. A food intolerance causes digestive problems like bloating and constipation. If you have a food allergy or intolerance, your body wouldn't metabolize the food and you'd likely lose weight (if ingesting minor amounts of allergens).

Myth: Eating small meals throughout the day boosts your metabolism.

Fact: Every time you eat your metabolism revs up slightly, but the amount of calories you lose is so minimal that it really doesn't make a difference. Eating between meals can keep you from getting so hungry that you scarf down one of everything at Taco Bell, though.

Dietitians are experts on nutrition and food—which is a good thing, because we make food-related decisions each day that affect our health. Dietitians are the people who tell you that cheese puffs aren't actually a food group. They explain nutrition issues, develop meal plans, advise clients about their eating habits, assess patients' health needs, and keep up to date on the newest nutritional research.

Whenever an academic or medical research paper on food is published, dietitians have to educate themselves on new findings and change their approach to consulting patients or educating the public. Simply making them sit down and watch the movie Wall-E isn't going to drive the point home.

For instance, in the early '70s, word started to spread about eggs raising people's cholesterol levels. Studies showed that high levels of cholesterol increased a person's chance of heart disease. 

Medical professionals and dietitians assumed that any food raising the cholesterol levels in our bodies—like eggs—must be eaten sparingly. Based on the research, dietitians warned people about the risks of eating a three-egg omelet in the morning.

Throughout the years, newer studies have shown that trans fats, fried foods, and artificial flavorings were the real culprits behind high levels of cholesterol. Long story short, the egg is back in its rightful place in a healthy diet. 

As long as you don't gobble down a whole package of them every day, you should be okay. Of course, don't take our word for it—if you have high cholesterol, you should follow whatever your doctor or dietitian tells you to do.

Dietitians work at health clinics, government agencies, non-profit organizations, hospitals, and schools. Often, patients are referred to dietitians for customized meal planning advice. 

Dietitians may also go into business for themselves; self-employed dietitians get to set their own hours but have to pay for the overhead costs to run their office. In addition, they get stuck having to deal with insurance companies, unless they work for a health clinic or hospital.

Who becomes a dietitian? People who love food, research, nutrition, and science, usually. To become a registered dietitian, you'll need a bachelor's degree in dietetics. Note that there's a huge difference between science and dietetics on one hand, and Scientology and Dianetics on the other. Even if Tom Cruise is pretty fit.

You get to study all the fun stuff in college like biochemistry, microbiology, and anatomy. After you graduate, you must complete a program in nutrition and dietetics verified by the Accreditation Council for Education. Following the program, you'll need to pass an exam, after which you can officially start yelling at any client who has trouble putting down a box of Oreos.

Dietitians are sometimes met with opposition from their clients. It's no surprise that people don't want to trade in their deep-fried Snickers bar for a stalk of celery. Or that people who must go on strict diets to regulate their insulin, lose weight, or lower their cholesterol levels may not greet meal plans with open, flabby arms.

I'll take that Snickers now. (Source)

That's why it's important for dietitians to back up their advice with the latest research. There's a new finding nearly every week that changes the way we perceive food. For example, sugar doesn't make kids bounce around and go nuts. Unless you have diabetes, sugar won't make your blood sugar crash. Turns out kids are hyperactive because they're...kids. Yeah, the scientists were pretty surprised too.

Dietitians are sometimes called the food police. (Their nightstick—a French roll.) Without their help, many people wouldn't change their poor eating habits. Go into this field with some thick skin and a healthy sense of humor (emphasis on healthy).