Should you be pushing past imposter syndrome when you may actually be one?

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Sep 16, 12:01 PM in . No comments.

Last week, I noticed one of those free “challenges” pop up on my Facebook and decided to have a look and see if I could learn anything to help my visibility on social media. You know the type? Email challenges sent to you every week for a couple or weeks and an invitation to join a group with likeminded people all having a go at the challenge? It all looked fine and dandy and the lady in charge had a video clip encouraging us all to be “visible” and to deal with issues such as shyness, esteem issues and the dreaded “imposter syndrome”.

“I’m IN,” I thought!

I need a push and we can all suffer from a bit of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome?

According to psychology today-imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behaviour where an individual doubts their real and legitimate accomplishment and has a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. The term was founded by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have.

So, in a nutshell, imposter syndrome is thinking you are not good enough and feeling like you will get “caught out” as being so, despite having all of the skills and proof that you are definitely “all that”.

So, back to the group

So, it all started to get a little uncomfortable.

There were so many enthusiastic posters introducing themselves and their health and well-being businesses. People with no qualifications, no registrations, people with no experience, some who had “done it themselves” as their only training, people with non-credible training, some who had “read up on it all”, some “specialising” in fad diets or supplements with no evidence behind them.

While I admire the passion that some people have around nutrition and the drive to help others, (God knows we need more of that), I think that we are treading on very dangerous ground here.

I’m all in favour of knowing your worth and being confident about what you offer as a service but there must be limits to an understanding of where our expertise lies. It’s all well and good to discourage Imposter Syndrome but it is also important, for the protection of the public, to encourage people to know their scope of practice.

Dietitians* are experts in Nutrition and Diet with a bare minimum of 4 years University training and then with considerable postgraduate training following that. In a Dietetics course, students have extensive training in biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, public health, nutrition, statistics, professional practice and ethics, clinical medicine, pharmacology, food science, clinical practice and nutritional therapy, research methods, metabolism, communication and health promotion. Following this, Dietetic students do at least 14 weeks of “on the ground” supervised training in NHS Hospitals, including nutritional assessment, intervention and planning, counselling and treatments. By the end of this period, students are running their own wards and clinics and must pass minimum competencies to prove clinical judgment and patient safety before being passed.

It is a very difficult placement.

Even after graduation, Dietitians are obliged to continue their education. In the first few years, there is preceptorship and competencies to be met. Most go on to specialise, which means even more specific and specialist training. This may be in the form of an MSc (such as in Advanced Dietetic Practice, Allergy, Diabetes, Gastro), a PhD or skill-specific training.

It is an ongoing and continuous process.

So, why am I on about this?

Whilst I don’t much like imposter syndrome, (hell no I’m against it), I think it is healthy and rather important to understand our limits in scope of practice when the external evidence of accomplishments isn’t there. This is vital for the protection of the public and for ensuring quality and respect for the science of nutrition and the nutrition professions.

How can people respect what we do as Dietitians if people with no education, training and credentials to speak of are encouraged to push themselves as experts and to push past so-called “imposter syndrome”?

This displays a very limited understanding of the truth behind nutritional science, professions and evidence-based practice and undermines people’s claims of being an expert in the first place. Hell, how can you say you are an expert in nutrition when you have no clue how nutrition professions work?

This is also dangerous. Unsupported nutritional advice and claims can be harmful and, in fact, illegal.

Is this being elitist? Nope! This should be the case even within the profession. Dietitians themselves absolutely should defer to other Dietitians with expertise in specialist areas rather than trying to deal with everything without the additional skills and training. Dietitians should also know when they are outside their own scope of practice and should refer on to the appropriately trained professional where needed.

So, where does that leave us?

I’m not saying Dietitians are the only ones who can “do nutrition”. I am not saying you aren’t good enough. I’m not discouraging people who have a passion for health and nutrition in general and admire the drive and vision of many starting their wellness businesses.

What I would say is, rather than jumping in and beating so-called “imposter syndrome”, have a look at what it really means – a fear of being thought a fraud and in which individual doubts their real and legitimate accomplishments.

You may actually be an imposter. Sorry about that.

By all means, run ahead with that business but do a skills and training inventory. Stop trying to “dumb down” nutrition. Train, upskill, study if you need to. If this won’t be possible for you then please do try to utilise the skills and expertise of someone who actually has the correct training, experience and expertise and is a registered professional. Work in with a consultant Dietitian, have your work reviewed to ensure a sound and credible evidence base. Have a Dietitian write your articles, review your book, check your claims, train your staff.
Seriously, we would LOVE to help, just ask us!

Knowing your scope of practice doesn’t mean hitting an invisible “DO NOT PASS” wall, it means working in partnership with real experts to build a sound, credible and safe business that you can take successfully into the future. We all want the same thing, to help more people, but we want to make sure this is being done safely.

*Dear Registered Nutritionists, please note in this post, I am using Dietitians as an example as I am one but totally respect degree qualified and registered Nutritionists as much as Dietitians and agree that you should also be the experts consulted on matters around nutrition.

Image from google for reuse

Tags: Cpd, Dietitians, Expertise, Imposter Syndrome, Nutritionists, Partnerships, Registration, Training

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.


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