Is Nutrition a Piece of the PT Pie?
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes
We all love food, right? I mean, it's something we come across every single day and are constantly making decisions about.
What will I have for breakfast or lunch? What should I buy at the store? Where should I shop? Can I just cook that instead of ordering out? How much should I eat today? It's endless. And the science behind it can be overwhelming at times.
Coming out of high school I was so fascinated by food and how its' consumption affected the human body, I pursued a degree in dietetics. For those of you who do not know, dietetics is essentially the study of human nutrition and the regulation of "diets," (a word I try to avoid, but that's a separate conversation).
I wanted to help people make the right decisions about the foods they were eating and the patterns they created as time went on. I felt at the time that nutrition was the most significant key to health, well-being, and longevity, although that feeling of significance eventually changed.
I was aware that my next hunch existed, as it was beneficial in my own life, but after delving into the research and working with people a bit more, I realized nutrition was not the only factor affecting health, well-being, and longevity. Movement was the element I was missing.
So like any other crazy person (kidding!), I started working toward an exercise science degree simultaneously with dietetics, essentially hoping to do something with 2 bachelor degrees.
Nearing the end of my undergraduate career, I realized that if I was going to incorporate movement into practice, I needed to join a profession that specialized in it. This led me to the path of wanting to become a physical therapist. I took the degree in dietetics, settled for a minor in kinesiology and business, skipped on the RDN (registered dietitian nutritionist) track at the time, and headed for physical therapy school.
As a new physical therapist student I was a bit overwhelmed that first year—I'm sure the students reading this can relate—although I was excited for all the new things I was learning. Movement became my life and took over the spot of the most significant key to health, well-being, and longevity, leaving nutrition in the shadows.
But as my physical therapist education started to evolve, things started to click in a sense that I realized everything was intertwined, meaning there was more behind the elbow tendinopathy or MCL sprain, there was a WHOLE person. It wasn't just how that person moved—or didn't move—it was also how the person fueled their movement through nutrition that greatly affected outcomes. This epiphany became my "aha" moment.
To me, it made sense in that the type of energy a system consumes will depict the efficiency and effectiveness of its output, and that the physical therapy profession that seeks autonomy and status as a primary health care provider would be educated on this fact. But it wasn't happening, the connections were not being made, and nutrition education continued to be left in the shadows for physical therapists.
It was this idea that led me toward another lofty professional move.
After working a bit as a travel physical therapist, I decided to put my full-time physical therapist career on pause, and I went back to school. I entered a distance dietetic internship program to get my 1200 hours of supervised care. Along with my dietetics degree, it was another requirement needed to sit for the national RDN board exam.
With all that said and done, I was happy to finally add RDN to my alphabet soup credentials—something that I should have done years ago.
So this is my argument. What a person eats will ultimately affect their rehab outcomes, their risk of developing chronic disease, and their quality of life and well-being, which is why I believe nutrition should be an integral part of every single PT plan of care.
Yes, this will require discussions about scope of practice, when to refer to a RDN, as well as academic conversation about integrating nutrition into the physical therapist school curriculum, and to what extent. While these might sound daunting to some, personally, I find it exciting and, more importantly, necessary when it comes to treating our patients.
Today, my current mission is to leverage the expertise I have as both a physical therapist and registered dietitian and push for more nutrition expertise in physical therapist practice.
Going back to those first questions of what defines health, well-being, and longevity, I now know it's not just nutrition and movement, but a multitude of factors, all of which a health care provider should address to truly transform society.
Join Patrick on the next APTA Student Assembly #XchangeSA chat happening January 14, 2018. Patrick will talk about all things nutrition and how it fits within physical therapists' practice.
Patrick Berner, PT, DPT, RDN, is based out of Greenville, South Carolina. You can connect with Patrick through his website or on Twitter at: @pbernerspt.