Vegetarian since she was 12, Samantha O’Toole has been passionately researching the healing power of nutrition for many years. Yet her pursuit of a career in dietetics left her feeling frustrated, confused, disappointed, and rejected. The close-mindedness she noticed among many dietitians was quite similar to my own negative experiences. Fortunately, one incident changed her mind and helped restore my own faith in dietitians!
Blog Post by Samantha O’Toole, RD
I was in the nutrition office with the team of dietitians, and someone told a story of a patient they saw earlier that day. This patient was just diagnosed with cancer and requested that a dietitian visit her room. She asked the dietitian if there were any anti-inflammatory foods that she could eat that would possibly slow the progression of her cancer. The dietitian laughed and told her that food would have no effect on her current condition. She convinced the patient that the best and only advice was to follow through with treatment and be sure to consume enough calories, no matter what the source. All of the dietitians rolled their eyes at this story as if they were annoyed with popular beliefs that food can be powerful during treatment of disease.
I sat there in silence, feeling personally insulted. In fear of losing my internship, I chose not to speak up that day. What I really wanted to do was find out where that patient was, run to her bedside, and tell her the amazing benefits of loading up on fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods during this crucial time. Although I never had the opportunity to meet that patient, that day did confirm to me that I didn’t just want to be a dietitian — I needed to be one. I wanted to protect all patients who were eager to learn more about what food could do for them and how it could affect their health condition. I wanted to provide them with all of the information I had on whole-food nutrition, and not judge them or assume what they would be willing to do based on their current lifestyle.
After I passed my test and obtained my credentials as a dietitian, I was determined to find other dietitians who believed in the power of food like I did. I found a wonderful group within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics called “Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine.” They provide resources for professionals and consumers that focus on holistic nutrition, where the goal is to find the underlying cause of disease and then attempt to heal the body with whole foods and mind-body medicine. If a patient is looking for a dietitian whose practice is more alternative than traditional dietetics, their website at integrativerd.org provides an easy search feature to find one closest to home.
Currently working as a community dietitian, teaching classes and providing one-on-one counseling, I am constantly amazed and inspired by the changes my patients make. I am grateful for all of the disappointing things I saw in the hospital because without them my passion to support and protect my patients may not have grown so strong. I always tell my patients that they must look out for themselves. Just as it is common to seek second opinions from doctors and surgeons, the same should be done when choosing a dietitian. So whether you have just been diagnosed with a chronic illness, or you simply want to improve your wellbeing, remember that you deserve top quality health care, which should include a holistic nutrition plan that is personal and effective.
When I had the opportunity to hear Susan Silberstein from BeatCancer.org lecture on Fighting Cancer with Your Fork, it was like a breath of fresh air. She taught everything that I believed in, and she did not hold back. Being in the integrative field of health care you can feel very alone and that you are constantly fighting against conventional medicine with a small army. Susan reassures all integrative and holistic health care professionals that food really can be the answer and should always be considered when battling a disease like cancer. I am thankful to have met her and continue to spread the word about her amazing work at the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education.