I graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Nutrition, but it only took six short months after being on the job to abandon that degree. Though the field wasn’t for me, I learned a lot and can happily apply that knowledge to my own life. So, it wasn’t a total loss.
Recently, a local personal trainer displayed a nutrition certificate that he was able to obtain from an online course in a few months. While I applaud his efforts to further educate himself about the world in which he works, I feel it is part of my old job to tell my fitness buddies to proceed with caution when accepting a diet plan or diet advice from a personal trainer.
Back in the day, I worked as a nutritionist for a doctor. When patients came to me, I already had access to their charts-medical history, family medical history, blood work, blood pressure, and current medications that the patient was taking. Based on all of this information, I was able to make informed decisions on realistic diet recommendations for each person.
In contrast, other than whatever information you decide to divulge about yourself, personal trainers do not have any information on you in which to base their nutritional guidance, nor are they trained to deal with any underlying medical conditions. The blunt truth is that even if they did have your chart work, they would not be able to properly utilize the information to give you a diet plan that is truly best for your body.
Before I discovered running, I tried the gym thing…twice. I hired personal trainers both times. The first personal trainer I hired suggested protein bars (which were actually loaded with sugar) prior to the workout. I declined and just stuck with a snack that was more appropriate for me. However, the second trainer (let's call him Tim) encouraged me to try his diet, which pretty much consisted of protein shakes and fruit. Other than my height and weight and a quick BMI calculation, Tim had no further details about my health. So, when I decided to inform him that I was a type 1 diabetic, I expected him to alter his diet advice. Instead, Tim's response was, “Great! So, a protein based diet is perfect for you!” I was amazed that, even with his obvious lack of knowledge, he was still confident in his advice...for a type 1 diabetic.
It was then that I started wondering about the accountability of personal trainers. What if I didn’t tell Tim about my health, followed his diet, and wound up in the hospital? Is he liable for giving me a diet plan that he technically is not licensed to give? Or does the responsibility lie on the client to disclose medical issues before going on a diet suggested by an unqualified person? I don’t know the answers to these questions. But my gut feeling is that a trainer is the expert at fixing the outside of your body, while a dietitian is better qualified to fix the inside.
I'm hopeful that my experience with Tim isn’t the norm. But I think it's important to be cautious when accepting generic plans. This is not only limited to advice from personal trainers, but also from your buddies who swear by products that incorporate shakes, pills or some other type of fad into your diet. While I'm sure their intent is not malicious, before committing to a product or a plan suggested by a non-professional, ask yourself if you could see yourself using this plan/product for the rest of your life. Ask yourself if the person promoting it is qualified to tell you what to put inside your body. Ask yourself if you are 100% sure that it is safe...for you. If you are unsure of your answers to these questions, then I urge you to move on and consult with a registered dietitian, or at the very least, your doctor, to find a plan tailored to your body and to your health goals.
(Tip: There is a difference between learning how to eat right and going on a diet. Sometimes, they aren't the same thing. Keep this in mind when making food and supplement choices.)
I am a huge supporter of being healthy and fit, but I firmly believe that getting there the right way is imperative. Seeking the right health plan for yourself may take more work than simply ingesting a shake or signing up for a gym. Remember- this is your fitness journey, and cutting corners shouldn't be an option.
It's hard to lose if you surround yourself with professionals who are most capable of devising the best plan for you. So, choose your team wisely, and then simply follow your sculpted path to the healthiest you.
Good luck and happy new year!
*This piece was published on Reality Moms on January 7, 2017.