Stop comparing yourself to…….. other dietitians!
This one goes out to all of my fellow RDs.
Today’s very special guest article is written for you, by a lovely dietitian by the name of Jess Serdikoff
Jess is concerned about how dietitian’s view and treat themselves, so she’s decided she wants to do something about it.
As a dietitian in private practice, her words rung true with me and it’s a real pleasure to be sharing them with you here today.
I know this is something that many of you will need to hear, enjoy it.
3 Steps To Becoming A More Confident Dietitian
All of my hard-working, ambitious, stressed out dietitians who are wearing six different hats, possibly still recovering from all that grueling schooling, and fueled by an unparalleled passion for helping the people they meet.
Our entire academic career is focused on how to prepare us to serve people and make their lives better; but how much is being done to prepare us to take care of ourselves?
Giving our all to our patients; seeing the injustices of our healthcare system; and working through behavior change: as uplifting as the work can be when we witness firsthand a patient breakthrough, being a dietitian can be exhausting.
Over the years of working on my own mental health as a healthcare professional in order to better serve my clients, as well as mentoring and networking with other dietitians, I’ve noticed one theme coming up over and over:
Perfectionism, or the Fear of Not Being Good Enough
Perfectionism is often reinforced in our younger years because it’s that quality that drives us to excel in school. Being a perfectionist often goes hand in hand with having grit – the ability to put your head down when the going gets tough and soldier through.
So when you have to take A&P, Biochem, and Advanced Human Nutrition in the same semester for example, perfectionism’s got your back. It keeps you from missing deadlines and it helps you shine as a “real go-getter.”
Perfectionism also, however, takes a toll on our mental and emotional states when we create unrealistic standards and pressure ourselves to uphold them. Although we may maintain the outward appearance of being high-achieving hard workers, it often comes at the expense of our inner sanity and happiness.
Maybe it all hits the fan during a big work project you refuse to delegate because you’re afraid it either won’t get done, or it won’t get done well. You try to do it all yourself and wind up having a stress breakdown every day after work until the project is over.
Or maybe it’s when you’re the only dietitian at a social gathering and people around you say things like “of course the dietitian is going to choose a salad” or “what do you mean you’re eating a cookie, aren’t you a dietitian?” You just want to eat in peace but aren’t even completely sure how anymore because you just can’t seem to win no matter what you choose.
(Not that I’m speaking from personal experience on those examples…ahem…)
Do you know what the hardest manifestation of perfectionism was for me to work through? When one of my former clients passed away from heart disease, I was overcome with feeling personal responsibility for not being “good enough” as a dietitian to help before it was too late.
That fear of not being good enough, of disappointing ourselves or others — of being, ultimately, imperfect – is the root of much of our stress as dietitians.
So how do we stay ambitious and hard working without letting the darker sides of perfectionism – anxiety, overwhelm, and stress – take over?
Step 1: Stop Overcommitting
Before we can start talking about trendy self-care, we have to diffuse the stress bomb that’s ticking away on so many dietitians’ backs. It starts with our time management and to-do lists.
- Find one thing on your to-do list you tell yourself you “need” to do…that you really don’t. And then…don’t do that thing. Make a note when the world keeps spinning. Repeat.
- Break your tasks into actionable baby steps so you don’t have this vague, daunting project like “work on diabetes class” looming over you and giving you anxiety.
- Cross at least one thing off your own agenda before appeasing the demands of others (incoming emails, last minute requests, etc.).
Step 2: Embrace “Unproductive” Time
How do you make a muscle stronger? First, you exercise it…but then you have to rest it. Part of transcending perfectionism involves putting the to-do list down and letting yourself just chill.
- Meditation can feel intimidating but it has, hands down, been one of the most successful strategies I’ve used for learning to get comfortable with my mistakes and imperfections.
- Carve out time every week to do something that brings you joy but has nothing to do with your to-do list or nutrition. Take an aimless walk outside. Lay on the floor next to your dog and daydream. Cook something totally frivolous that isn’t on a meal plan but just sounds cool.
- Give yourself transition time: before work, between work and home, before bed, and in the middle of grueling tasks. Don’t force your brain to be “on” all the time.
Step 3: Remind Yourself of Your Expertise
Perfectionism would have us believe that we aren’t good enough and we should be doing better if we want to be taken seriously as health professionals. But we’ve worked hard for our credentials and we have to remember that we are qualified, period.
- Keep a list of responses to those food critics in your back pocket, for those social gatherings when people will inevitably make a comment that makes you self-conscious of your decisions.
- Reflect on your accomplishments every single day. Even on those days where you feel like you didn’t do anything right. Especially on those days, in fact.
- Create a list of positive mantras that you can say to yourself when you’re feeling insecure. They sound silly at first, but remember that our thoughts shape our perspective on the world…and ourselves.
Being a dietitian may be hard, but your perfectionism allows you to do hard things. Now it’s time to start using that personality trait to your advantage so you can continue achieving your goals, but without all that stress weighing you down.
And if you start to doubt yourself, remember: whatever path you’re taking or looking for, you’ve got this.
Just don’t forget to take care of yourself along the way.
Jess Serdikoff is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and coach for fellow RDs. Her background in mentoring nutrition students, dietetic interns, and new RDs, showed her how many future and current dietitians struggle with the same perfectionism and lack of confidence she, herself, felt when she was new to the field. Drawing from her passions in intuitive living and personal connection, she now specializes in empowering new RDs with three years of experience or less diffuse stress and build confidence so they can finally start turning their vision for themselves and their lives, personally and professionally, into reality. Connect with her on Instagram at @empowering.dietitians!