When “consult your doctor” may not be helpful: nutrition

March 22nd, 2009  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  9 Comments

“Consult your doctor” is a common piece of advice given to folks who are considering starting a nutrition and exercise program. Unfortunately, this places upon doctors a responsibility for public education for which they may not be qualified. Nobody teaches doctors to squat and deadlift; likewise, most doctors aren’t trained to give nutrition advice. (Which doesn’t stop them from giving advice on all of that stuff, unfortunately.)

A new study examines whether the nutrition education of medical students is any better these days, after decades of hopeful coaxing from the nutrition world. The verdict? Nope. They can probably give you some basic advice like “don’t eat a hot dog you found in the parking lot” or “vegetables are important”, but for advice beyond that, consult a qualified nutritional professional.


  1. rooroo says:

    March 22nd, 2009at 10:44 am(#)

    The last place I’d go to for fitness or nutrition advice is a doctor (for the record, I’m a medical student). A fellow medic told me that women shouldn’t do full push ups from their feet as it… causes the uterus to stretch.

    Nothing stretches the uterus like, I dunno, a baby?!?

  2. shrillharpy says:

    March 22nd, 2009at 5:33 pm(#)

    “Don’t eat a hot dog you found in the parking lot.”
    Now I know what I’ve been doing wrong!
    But as to your point, I consulted with a nutrionist a few months ago and he had some pretty sage advice. The best and most pointed was “Ignore the BMI; it’s B.S. Look at body fat percentage instead.”
    Funny how many doctors have never received that memo.

  3. mountaineer says:

    March 25th, 2009at 10:03 am(#)

    Yeesh! Of course you should consult your doctor before making any drastic changes in your life regarding nutrition and exercise! They should give you the “medical” okay, and then send you along to a nutritionist and trainer.
    Contrary to popular (I guess 75%) opinion here, I do not think all doctors are idiots. Sure there are some, but there are plenty of idiots to cover all professions.
    My MD is not only NOT an idiot, but she is a nutrition and fitness role model to anyone who has ever seen her professionally or casually. In fact, she was the person who, quite some time ago, provided me with your website for some free, non-bullshit advice on fitness and nutrition, Krista. I have been an avid reader ever since, and I love this site.
    That being said, I really hope you just forgot to add a little disclaimer on this topic, even though I think I’m stating the obvious: Of course not all doctors are idiots. Of course some know what the hell they are talking about. C’mon people!

  4. Mistress Krista says:

    March 25th, 2009at 2:51 pm(#)

    Nobody is saying “all doctors are idiots” — that’s a pretty broad inference from this post. The issue is really about who is qualified to make what recommendation. What is interesting about the original article is also that the medical students themselves were the ones who highlighted deficiencies in their knowledge — not their patients.

  5. mountaineer says:

    March 25th, 2009at 4:11 pm(#)

    Okay. That was just what I perceived the general undertone to be.

  6. Toby Wollin says:

    March 26th, 2009at 6:46 pm(#)

    If doctors have any failing, it appears to be that they just don’t have the time to keep up with anything. Basic nutritional stuff is not something that is really covered well in medical school – ask ’em to name the 8 facial nerves and you’ll get a winner every time. But nutrition?

  7. habereno says:

    March 27th, 2009at 8:09 am(#)

    I am an MD and I agree wholeheartedly — most MDs don’t have the training to really provide great nutrition/fitness counseling. There are, of course, the few of us who have taken it upon ourselves to learn about nutrition, fitness, and training — primarily for own benefit — who end up passing the information along to our patients. There is not, however, a formal curriculum in medical school or any part of residency training (unless, perhaps, you are an obesity or physical medicine & rehabilitation specialist) to teach you about nutrition or fitness.

    The thing we ARE qualified to do is to evaluate patients for reasons why they might be unsafe to undertake a rigorous new exercise program — e.g., evaluating someone for early signs of heart disease or lung disease which would impair their ability to undertake a strenuous program.

    The caveat to seeing a nutritionist — at least in my experience — is that many nutritionists don’t have training tailored towards ethnic foods and cuisines, so you have to choose carefully who you’re going to see if you are say, a Vietnamese diabetic. I can’t even count the number of Asian/Latino (insert your favorite rice-loving ethnicity here) diabetic patients who come back to an appointment with me after meeting with the nutritionist and exclaiming to me in bewilderment, “They want me to STOP EATING RICE!!!” or (perhaps even worse) “They want me to eat BROWN rice!!!”

    Lastly – and then I will quiet down – many nutritionists in the clinical setting focus more on tailored counseling for patients with specific illnesses. For example, a particular nutritionist might be great at counseling patients on what to eat if they are diabetic, have kidney disease, have liver disease, have celiac disease, etc. This does not necessarily translate into a great fund of knowledge about optimizing diets for fitness or for athleticism. The best way to find someone who might be more knowledgeable in that regard would be to look and see if the person you’re seeing looks like someone who is concerned about their own fitness in general — they are more likely to have invested their own time and energy in learning about such matters and would probably be better suited to counsel you on such things!

  8. Just Right Fitness says:

    April 7th, 2009at 7:20 pm(#)

    Just found your site- really great!

  9. miamore says:

    September 23rd, 2009at 10:53 pm(#)

    for this kind of advice, you should seek a dietitian because they are certified through a board, nutritionist can be certified through online programs alone!

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