Welcome to episode 35! On today’s episode, we are talking to Dalia Kinsey, who is a weight neutral Registered Dietitian and school nutrition specialist on a mission to make nutrition simple, accessible, and fun. Dalia reached out to me to talk about the intersections of race, gender, and weight as well as cultural competence and diversity in dietetics.
In this episode, we talk about:
- Dalia’s experiences with race
- Microaggressions in Dietetics school
- Why correlation does not equate to causation
- Cultural competence in dietetics
- Implicit vs. explicit bias
- Weight bias in health
- Self-acceptance before all else
Lack of diversity in the Dietetics field is something that’s talked about frequently because it’s very obvious. Becoming a Dietitian is incredibly expensive, and you have to go an entire year working for free while paying for it all. This is an enormous privilege and not feasible for a lot of people. Dietitians are notoriously thin white women, so it’s not the most welcoming profession for people of colour, in bigger bodies, of various gender identities or abilities. Dalia has such a unique perspective on her experiences of becoming a Dietitian, so I wanted to bring her on to discuss these conversations in nutrition.
Dalia’s Experiences With Race
It’s amazing that people are starting to talk about race, because it was not talked about even 10 or 20 years ago. Even still, it depends on what part of the country you’re in and who you surround yourself with.
That being said, with social media you can put yourself in a bubble and forget that the conversation is not mainstream. Dalia noted that it must be really strange for non-racist white people to think that everyone is over it, but then have someone remind you it’s still a thing.
Dalia lives in a town in the South where she feels comfortable, but there are still towns that she won’t drive through or will avoid going to in the evening. There are even some states where she wouldn’t feel comfortable going to or wouldn’t want to get pulled over by a cop in. Overall she feels pretty safe, but there are times that she doesn’t feel at home in her own country because she is a woman of colour.
Microaggressions in Dietetics School
Dalia lived in the Atlanta area and went to school at Georgia State, which is right in the middle of the city. When you look at the school’s marketing materials, the university is all about diversity and her first two years were in line with that. When she got into the core dietetics courses, she experienced a complete 180. Diversity disappeared. That could have been fine- you don’t necessarily need to be around people who look like you all the time. The issue was that it felt like she was paying to be insulted every single day.
In several classes, it would come up that black Americans are suffering from obesity due to lack of education. Although it was never said, the underlying theme seemed to be that black people are too stupid to even feed themselves.
The core of the program had about 30 women in it, which included an Afro-Latina lady who self-identified as black. People in the program told her that she was not black. That’s not okay.
There were 4 people in the program who were from different cultural groups and all self-identified as black. They had nothing in common, but the blanket statements made it seem we were all the same. That would be like saying all people with blue eyes tend to struggle and be low income. HOW? It’s one physical characteristic, so why are we sitting here in a program that claims to be evidence-based, and making these ridiculous statements. Especially when there are people of colour in the classroom who are trying to challenge these statements and are silenced. It made no sense.
Microaggressions are incredibly draining, and they can have health consequences too.
Imagine chronic, low-grade stress that never goes away because you don’t know when it’s going to happen again. It’s a lot. As a woman, think about a time when you were in a room where your gender wasn’t welcome and you had to constantly prove that you belonged there. It’s the same thing.
Cultural Competence In Dietetics
Why would we ever assume we’re being culturally appropriate or culturally competent by memorizing a list of preferences based on skin colour? This is something else Dalia saw in school, in cultural sensitivity class. Students were told that if they had a client who appears Hindi, then they’d be vegetarian. They were told that African Americans enjoy soul food. Are we sure? How about we try to be client centred instead of memorizing a list of cultural stereotypes? That’s not being culturally sensitive, especially if you’re not asking for input from the other people in the room.
When you know better, you do better. But when you’re being guided by professionals who are older and seasoned, of course you’re going to do the assignment you’re given and not think twice. That’s not the young person’s fault. It’s the fault of the person who sold the workbook or textbook. They’re the ones who should know better by now.
Weight Bias In Health
Even though it sucks to be othered, it can enhance your critical thinking skills. When you see everyone around you making assumptions about a group, and you know it not to be true, it helps you realize that just because it’s common knowledge doesn’t mean it’s true. People take their biases with them everywhere, and it affects everything.
When Dalia struggled with symptoms of Grave’s disease, she couldn’t get diagnosed because she kept gaining weight. Every physician could only talk about how her fat was causing these problems. When she was having intense night sweats, she was told it was because people with more fat tend to be hotter. Well, she was fat before and didn’t wake up drenched, so what else is going on? Her issues were continually blamed on being fat, when that was the symptom, not the actual issue.
There are biases wherever you go, and it’s such a shame we don’t have the training to at least try to prevent it or address it productively. Down the road, people who are 30 years younger than us will be so much farther along, but it has to start somewhere. If we’re just waiting on people in positions of power to get a clue, it’s going to take way too long.
Prevalence, Risk, And Race Assumptions
There is a conversation in public health about why we take the prevalence of developing certain conditions and assume there’s a clear cause. (For example people in bigger bodies have a greater risk of developing diabetes or heart disease). Just because there’s a risk of something, doesn’t mean you’re going to develop it because of your weight. It is not cause and effect. It is a statistic, an observation of a big group.
The same thing happens with race and socioeconomic status. People of colour tend to have higher rates of disease, so the conversation shifts to assuming that these poor black communities don’t know how to feed themselves. That’s where this line gets drawn- we see the prevalence and risk, but we don’t use our critical thinking to ask why. That’s when the bias comes in to assume it’s because of X, Y, and Z. What if the reason was because of the immense oppression these groups face? We know that oppression is incredibly harmful for the body, and we see it with weight as well.
You’re always going to be influenced by your environment, so it’s important to be aware of confounding factors and social assumptions that impact studies. Why do we keep looking at specific characteristics instead of access to food? Or the effect of stress? Maybe it’s not that people of colour have that much in common, but they’re all being subjected to a similar othering.
Implicit vs. Explicit Bias
In our country, at some point we created a false dichotomy when it comes to racism. To be racist is so offensive, and we think of it only as extreme hate mongering. That’s not the only way that racism shows up. It’s in the air. You need to be self-aware and try and do better about making people feel welcome.
It’s impossible to live in America, or even the planet, and not be racist to some extent. This is a white country, but by and large we’re doing better and getting better as a whole.
Explicit biases are what we can work on, while the implicit takes time and is a reflection of our explicit actions. Some things are just so deep that will be nearly impossible to erase with the culture we live in. We can only do so much, and it takes time. It’s an inside job. It takes critical thinking and putting aside our egos to unpack this stuff and heal those inner biases.
Doing The Inside Work
Dalia has been trying more than ever to let other people’s racism be their problem, and work on the areas where she is privileged and clueless. You can only reduce it going forward, so it’s not useful to sit there and dwell on past actions. A little guilt can be helpful, but not when it’s making you retreat into yourself. It’s about humble recognition of your past and knowing that you can do better going forward.
It’s especially hard for women to deal with past actions and realize they’re not perfect. But question that too- who said you had to be perfect and feel shame every time you make a mistake? How does it serve you to feel all that shame? If you feel like everyone’s going to abandon you and kick you out, let’s think rationally. No one is going to throw you away because you made a mistake. As long as you’re open to the conversation and leave your ego at the door, it’s going to be okay. You’re not being put on trial.
Self-Acceptance Before All Else
Dalia just wants everyone to be kind to themselves and others. When we look at intersectionality, it’s all connected. People who are hurt tend to hurt other people. It’s hard to be more loving when you don’t accept yourself. How could you get to the point where you’re able to reject other cultural biases if you can’t accept that your larger body is okay? What hope do you have? You can’t opt out of that foolishness with whatever bit of privilege you have.
Shut it all down, think critically, and be nice.
Dalia Kinsey is a weight neutral Registered Dietitian and School Nutrition Specialist on a mission to make nutrition simple, accessible, and fun. A firm believer in the power of diversity, she encourages dialogue about cultural competence and inclusion in the dietetics profession. She prides herself on using her new podcast School Nutrition Dietitian as a platform to strengthen K-12 nutrition through inclusion and a variety of perspectives.
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This post was transcribed and edited by Brittany Allison, Intuitive Eating Dietitian. You can find her on Instagram @thefoodfreedomlife.