Tips for Female Small Business Owners Running a Nutrition Private Practice

Tips for Female Small Business Owners Running a Nutrition Private Practice

Every year on the anniversary of my nutrition private practice, I share a post for aspiring nutrition entrepreneurs. This year I wanted to focus on tips for female small business owners. Last week I was on a panel for local female entrepreneurs, and I left feeling so inspired hearing about the stories of local women I admire! Reflecting on the event, I realized that getting over all the gendered crap I had picked up from society was probably the biggest barrier in starting and growing my practice.

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What to expect working with a non-diet dietitian

What to expect working with a non-diet dietitian

As a non-diet, private practice dietitian, there’s a lot of misconceptions about what we do, and I think a lot of those misconceptions can make people afraid to reach out for help. Will you be told what you can and can’t eat? Will you be judged for your weight or eating choices? Will you be lectured about nutrition the whole time? Learn what to expect working with a non-diet dietitian in this article.

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What It's Like To Be A HAES Informed Intern

What It's Like To Be A HAES Informed Intern

Are you a dietetic intern or dietitian who is committed to HAES, but in an environment that isn’t? Read this guest post by dietetic intern Lauren Newman on how to deal with being a HAES informed dietetic intern, and work with dietitians and professors who may not know about Intuitive Eating and health at every size.

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A Post for Discouraged Dietitians

A Post for Discouraged Dietitians

Feeling discouraged as a dietitian? You're not alone. I've talked with dozens of dietitians who have felt the same way, and I was definitely there for years. I was convinced I wasn't very good at my job, and that I wasn't actually helping anyone. In hindsight, that may have been true. Preaching weight loss and portion control wasn't actually helping anyone. The key for me in finding confidence in my practice was fully committing to a weight neutral, HAES practice. 

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Intuitive Eating and HAES Q&A for Dietitians + Launch of Fall RD Entrepreneurs Symposium

Intuitive Eating and HAES Q&A for Dietitians + Launch of Fall RD Entrepreneurs Symposium

Today on the blog I'm sharing information about an RD Entrepreneurs Symposium I'll be leading a seminar in, and answering some burning questions from my RD readers on the principles I use in my non-diet practice. Click for an intuitive eating and HAES Q&A for dietitians that'll give you insight into how to use these non-diet principles in a diet obsessed world. 

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Tips For Running a Nutrition Private Practice

If you enjoyed my post "What I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Nutrition Private Practice", you'll love part 2 "Tips for Running a Nutrition Private Practice" packed with the lessons I've learned in the last year! 

Tips for Running a Nutrition Private Practice by Columbia SC based dietitian and blogger Rachael Hartley

Update: I now offer career coaching calls for aspiring private practice dietitians! Check out my service page for more information. 

For the past two years, April 4th has held a special meaning to me. Well, really for 32 years it's held a special meaning for me, since it's my birthday ;) But two years ago, it gained an even more special meaning when I decided to quit my job and start my private practice on my 30th birthday. I guess I have a flair for the dramatic!

To celebrate, last year I wrote a post about lessons I wish I knew before starting my practice. In the year since, somehow it's become one of the most popular posts on my blog. I had no idea the response it would get! I received huge numbers of emails from students, interns and dietitians with questions and asking for support - I so wish I had the chance to sit down with each and every one of you and chat personally, or at the very least have the time to respond to every email. But alas, one of the realities of running a business is that it takes a lot of time, so for this post and the last, I would greatly appreciate it if you write your questions in the comments so everyone can learn from it.

Today I'm sharing part 2, how to run a nutrition private practice. If you haven't already, read part 1, where I share what led up to my decision to start a private practice and what I learned in my first year.

Here's the gist of how I got here - after changes were implemented at my work that would severely impact my ability to help people, I leaped into private practice with nothing remotely resembling a plan (this I do not recommend but in my situation, I needed to jump). I basically count the first 9 months of my practice as a throwaway. The first three I had zero clue what I was doing, hardly any clients and was fairly certain we were going to end up living on the streets in a cardboard box because of my boneheaded decision. The second three months, I had accepted a prn clinical position at a hospital helping while one of their RDs was on maternity leave. I was working 2 days a week doing something I hated, but you do what you've gotta do, and that gave us the flexibility to travel. At the same time, I was taking every client and paid opportunity that came my way, which turned out to be a decent amount, but I was undercharging and not working with people I would consider my 'ideal' client - everything from home tube feeding (whaaaatttt??) to diabetes to people who definitely weren't ready for a non-diet approach to eating I so believed in. I was burnt out, working really long hours for little pay, but more importantly, little fulfillment. I realized what I was doing wasn't sustainable, so I basically stopped marketing and spent the rest of the year actually creating that plan I probably should have had in the first place.

I'm not sure what prompted it, but there was one day I did a lot of thinking about how I wanted to make my clients feel versus what specific area of nutrition I was interested in practicing. The word joy kept coming to me. That's where I came up with my mantra of 'live joy, give joy' which has guided so many of my decisions and interactions since. I wanted to bring more joy and happiness to food and eating, hence my tagline 'rediscover the joy of eating'. I also thought about what was robbing people of their joy - being stuck in a cycle of dieting, chronic health conditions that sucked energy and life, depression and anxiety, two incredibly common and under diagnosed conditions...this would be where I focused my practice.

So, I brushed off that Intuitive Eating book I had read years ago and really started marketing a non-diet approach. I created the Good Mood Food series and started a discussion on how nutrition impacts mental health. And I decided to get certified as a LEAP therapist to help those difficult to treat health conditions like IBS, migraines and autoimmune disease (although that didn't happen till the very end of the year because, well, life).

I like to keep it real here, so I won't say business shot up overnight and within months I was running a thriving private practice - I wish! But business grew steadily, my clients were happy and I felt confident in the steps I was taking. In those months of planning, I set a "content" goal (as in this is what I can be content with) and a "dream" goal. I'm now firmly in that content spot and I think my dream goal may be right around the corner with the launch of the Joyful Eating, Nourished Life program! I've had a few other exciting milestones this year. I went to FNCE, the national dietitians conference for the first time this year in Nashville (also a fun excuse to slumber party with my gals Min and Meme). I went to my first sponsored trip with California Almonds where Alex and I first came up with the concept for Joyful Eating. In the summer, I moved into my new downtown office.

Perhaps most importantly, I learned a lot in this past year! The first year was all about learning through failure, which is a good thing! But thankfully this year I learned much more through success! Here's the lessons and knowledge that had the greatest impact in the 365 days since my last birthday for all you aspiring (or current!) private practice dietitians:


A mastermind group is essentially a group of similarly-minded professionals who get together on a regular basis to brainstorm, set goals, troubleshoot and support each other. Since Blog Brulee, a sponsored blogging conference, I've been in a blogging mastermind group with my pals Min, Meme and Marisa. We even launched a modern Southern food ecookbook together! This year, I joined a counseling mastermind group with Anne, Alex, Robyn, and Kylie. We're all similarly minded, working in intuitive eating and/or with eating disorders, so it's great to have a group to bounce ideas off, brainstorm for our clients and just chat with an awesome group of women.

As early as you can, I encourage you to start a mastermind group with other RDs in a similar field. Even if you're currently in clinical or working in a community setting, it's a real game changer! So often we feel alone in what we're doing, so having that sounding board for ideas or sharing in struggles is really important. Here's a great article on how to start a mastermind group. 


One of the biggest frustrations for many dietitians is setting themselves apart from other nutritionists/coaches. I'm not one of those RDs who think only dietitians can contribute to the discussion of food. There are SO many highly qualified nutritionists, therapists, naturopaths and doctors working with nutrition. But, I do share in the frustration of having six years of education and having to compete with people who have done a short online program that focuses more on marketing than nutrition science, or worse, someone just trying to sell a product.

After working with a couple clients who had developed disordered eating after becoming coaches, I had a realization. One of the criticisms of RDs is that we're too traditional and not open minded to new science. Sorry RDs, but sometimes I agree. But I understand why - we've seen so many fads and trends come and go, when something new pops up it can be easy to dismiss! In a world that loves their expensive juice cleanses, fad diets and quick fixes, people who don't have the background training in nutrition are just as susceptible to pseudo-science. As an RD, the idea of staying on the cutting edge without embracing these things is daunting. Embracing intuitive eating and body positivity with health at every size (HAES) is a way you can be a part of a trend, but one that's backed in science!

Update: This is a fantastic YouTube video on working HAES into medical nutrition therapy practice, perfect for those of you still working in a medical setting!


Another way to set yourself apart? Consider accepting insurance. I currently don't, but I'm in the process of it with a company called Healthy Bytes. Initially I decided not to because reimbursement rates were so low here in SC. Plus, the paperwork takes forever and I heard so many horror stories of people not getting paid after insurance companies didn't reimburse - it just wasn't worth it. But I always struggled with that decision because although I obviously want to run a financially viable business, I hate for money to be a reason someone can't get the help they need. That's why I was excited to find Healthy Bytes, a company that goes through the whole insurance application process, simplifies the paperwork and prescreens clients to see if they're covered, so you know exactly what they owe at the time of service. I'm waiting to hear back from insurance companies, but hoping to get started soon!


In part 1, I encouraged everyone to start a blog if they're thinking of starting a private practice. I still stand by that recommendation, because it helps you build an online presence, hone in on your area of passion and speak to your ideal client. That said, it's easy for the blog to take over. There's so much advice out there for bloggers trying to make a business out of their blog it's overwhelming - trying to keep up with it all is a full time job on it's own! I get that there are a lot of people who are trying to become professional bloggers and certainly there's plenty of money to be made in blogging, but me, I'm not trying to be the next Pinch of Yum. Carefully consider the role of your blog in your business. I could spend hours learning to create videos, spend thousands on a fancy food photography workshop and dedicate hours trying to build a twitter following, I don't, because it's not a very effective way for me to reach my future goals.

[Tweet "Best advice for aspiring private practice RDs from @RHartleyRD! #RDchat #RD2B "]

Need more guidance? I now offer career coaching calls to aspiring private practice dietitians! Hone in on your dream business and create an action plan for success. Check out my service page for more information.

Additional Resources:

I feel crazy honored to have been a presenter at the RD Entrepreneur Symposium, teaching a seminar on harnessing your unique voice to attract your ideal client. The symposium is packed with 18 expert sessions from six figure dietitians and marketing pros designed to give you actionable steps to grow and start your business. As someone who spent hours (and I mean HOURS!) on google trying to figure out what to do to get clients and the logistic/legal side of business ownership, I can't stress enough how valuable it is to have all your information in one place! Get more info and sign up here!

Now, I'd love to hear from my RD friends! What are your thoughts on my advice? Anything you would add or change? Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below! 



What to Know Before Starting a Nutrition Private Practice

Opening my business is the scariest, yet most rewarding decision I've ever made. Today, I'm sharing what to know before starting starting a nutrition private practice for any of you aspiring entrepreneurial dietitians. 

What to know before starting a nutrition private practice

Note: If you have any specific questions about starting a private practice, please ask in the comment section versus email. I SO wish I had time to answer each one of your emails individually, but unfortunately one of the realities of running a business is that it takes a lot of time!

Update: I now offer career coaching calls for aspiring private practice dietitians! Check out my service page for more information. 

Update 2: Check out the bottom of the post for more resources! 

Tomorrow is my 31st birthday. Insert the cake and balloon emojis that I don't know how to put into my blog because I'm technically challenged!!

This year, April 4th has a special meaning to me. One year ago today, I nervously walked into my bosses office, put in my 3-week notice, and quit my well paying, government job with great benefits so I could pursue my dream of opening a private practice.

When I announced it on the blog last year, I eloquently summed it up by stating "OMGAOHTIOAFJDIAFOJESAFSHJIFNJ;A IEROR SA." I still kinda feel the same way. Y'all, I am one of the most rational and level-headed people on this planet, not to mention, kind of a weenie that's scared of just about everything. The idea of running my own business was terrifying, and still is. I felt confident in my skills as a dietitian and nutrition coach, but running a business?? Not so much.

Self(ie) Employed, Day 1

A year later, and I am sill no expert. Much of what I've learned has been through failure, not success. Still, I get emails every week from dietitians and nutrition students, wanting to know how I got here and looking for advice on how to start their own private practice. Apparently, I look like I've got my act together! Although I'm still learning, I thought it would be helpful to sum up what I've learned and what I wish I knew before starting my private practice. First, I'll answer this question....


It was always my dream to start a private practice. In college, I wanted to open a wellness studio for moms and kids where they could exercise together in a fun, play-centered environment and take cooking classes and nutrition seminars. Looking back, I don't really like kids nor do I like exercise, so clearly, it wasn't such a great idea. Still, I had an entrepreneurial bug.

My dietetics internship at Emory was clinically focused, and after I graduated, I started working in a clinical position at a small, community hospital. My job let me dabble in a little bit of everything. I spent each morning in the ICU doing critical care nutrition, but I also taught nutrition classes for cardiac rehab, saw outpatient appointments, and counseled inpatients on the heart unit.

After almost 2 years, I left that job, moving to Columbia to be near my boyfriend, now the hubs. I got a job at a large medical center as an outpatient dietitian, providing individual nutrition counseling and teaching classes. At the time, I called it my dream job. I loved working with Veterans and I felt both successful and challenged in what I did. Over time however, I realized in that type of setting where client load and numbers rule, I couldn't provide the type of care that truly transformed health and wellness. I wanted to be able to provide more intensive, diverse and holistic nutrition services than a large medical center could allow. Plus, I had recently started a blog that was starting to become profitable and nurtured my creative side. I wanted to what I could make out of it. Over the course of two weeks, I learned of a change at work that was going to set me back career-wise and make it hard for me to help my clients, Scott got a promotion, and I stumbled upon an office I could afford.

All signs were pointing for me to move on. So, without much planning or foresight, I left to start my business.

Private Practice Dietitian

In the last year, there have been ups and downs, but as I round out 365 days of being my own boss, I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I've made in my life. No, my business isn't exactly where I want it to be, but it's getting there, and I'm feeling fulfilled, inspired and helping a lot of people in the process. Still, looking back, I could have been a lot more prepared! Here's what I wish I knew and what I've learned in the past year.

[Tweet "10 Things To Know Before Starting a #Nutrition Private Practice @RHartleyRD #RDchat"]


1. You don't have to be a clinical dietitian. I repeat, you do not have to be a clinical dietitian to get your "base knowledge." Pursue the path you want, right off the bat, whether that's public health, nutrition counseling, school nutrition or hey, maybe clinical. It's the best way to gain the skills you need for the career you truly desire. That said, inpatient, hospital jobs are easier to find and I hear from many aspiring private practice/nutrition counselors that took a clinical job out of necessity. Make the most out of the experience. Many dietitians think patients don't want to learn when hospitalized, so they bump education consults to the bottom of their priority list. To a certain extent that's true - someone still halfway anesthetized from surgery or vomiting up blood doesn't want to chat about food, but many still do. When I was working clinical and covered a cardiac floor, I put tons of time and effort into educating and coaching those patients. It gave me basic counseling skills, and when I saw many of those patients again in cardiac rehab, they had made big changes based on what we talked about.

2. Think about your passions. Start using this time to figure out you're passionate about and start developing that into a marketable skill. Love photography? Invest in a camera, sign up for courses and maybe a career in food styling or blogging awaits. Are you a yogi? Take courses and read books on mindful eating. Athletic? Pursue a certificate in personal training, which would be a great combo with nutrition coaching.

Nutrition Entrepreneur

3. Make the most of your internship. Most internships offer elective rotations. Work with a private practice dietitian and get a glimpse into what they do. I SO wish I did this when I was an intern.

4. Start a blog. Even if you have no aspirations of becoming a blogger, I highly recommend starting your own blog. You don't have to share it with anyone - it can be something for you keep to yourself! Blogging helps you identify your passions when you pay attention to what topics you're drawn to. And by putting everything in writing, it solidifies your personal nutrition philosophy and beliefs.

5. Do things that scare the s*** out of you. Every day of running a business, you're putting your entire heart and soul out there for the entire world to see, connect to, disagree with, embrace or reject. The idea that you can fail in a very public way is terrifying and awful, but if you give into that fear, you'll never have the chance to succeed. Get used to doing scary things, whether it's public speaking, signing up for a new workout class by yourself or just striking up a conversation with a stranger (preferably one that's not driving a white van). You might fail, get rejected, and/or look like a total moron, but you'll also learn that it's a lot less traumatic than you feared.

Multitasking. Practicing for a nutrition seminar while squeezing in a run.


1. Start now. No, I don't mean go out and quit your job today. But do start taking steps towards opening your practice, whether it's networking with other private practice RDs, reading books or taking a business course, or joining the nutrition entrepreneurs dietetic practice group. Start building the business skills you need so it's not so overwhelming when you finally do open up shop

2. Don't be afraid to sell. This was a big fear for me, and still is. But, it's kinda essential to having a viable business. When I first started, I sold nutrition counseling sessions a la carte because I didn't feel comfortable pressuring people into spending lots of money. I figured if they loved the initial session, they'd schedule follow ups. That happened sometimes, but mostly, clients went in expecting a total transformation with one session - not so realistic. Since then, I've started selling nutrition services in packages, and it's been much more successful for me, AND for my clients. Remember, you are providing a valuable service and deserve to be compensated fairly for it and if you're providing a valuable service, people won't have a problem paying for it.

At least once a day, get outside and enjoy this view. Just a few minutes makes a world of a difference for your day.

3. Get training in health coaching. I cannot stress the importance of this for everyone who dreams of nutrition counseling. I think were many dietitians go wrong is with an emphasis on education, which is rarely helpful for clients. They can read a book and know what to do - it's your job to break down barriers, foster "aha" moments, motivate and THEN educate. I was lucky to have access to two different health coach certificate programs though my last job, but if I hadn't, I would sign up for Wellcoaches training immediately.

4. Expect clients to have barriers. A comment I frequently hear from aspiring private practice RDs is "I want to work in a setting where clients want to change." The presumption is that if someone pays money to see you rather than getting counseling for free or covered by insurance, then they'll follow your advice to the T. While all of my clients at some level are ready to change, what I've learned is that everyone has barriers and at some level, is ambivalent about changing their diet. Counseling in private practice is NOT easy!

5. Learn to say no, even in the beginning. When I first started my business, I took every paid opportunity that came my way. I was placed on the referral list for a large hospital and immediately started receiving tons of referrals, most of which were for clients outside of my ideal base. A few months later, I accepted a prn job as a clinical dietitian, which turned into 2-3 days a week, because I couldn't say no when they needed help and I was scared of not making money. I was focused on making money, not building a business. After 6 months of private practice, I was overwhelmed, not all that fulfilled and the prn job had stagnated the growth of my business.

Luckily, I was able to recognize that, take a step back, think about branding and relaunch with a new business plan when I relaunched my site. Since then, business has been growing steadily in the direction that I want. One thing I learned - if your reaction to an opportunity isn't "YES!!" then your answer should be no.

Since starting my practice, I've learned SO much, but in hindsight, I wish I had done more planning and preparing. One thing I've realized from the vast number of emails and comments I've received since this post is that aspiring private practice RDs desperately need guidance! I know I did - and still do!! If you are looking for a business coach, I highly recommend Marjorie Geiser (<--- affiliate link). She is a dietitian and successful business coach who helps dietitians and coaches create a thriving practice that doesn't interfere with living a life they love. I've found a huge benefit just from her free weekly newsletters!

Any private practice RDs reading this? Would love to hear your advice! Hey, I'm still learning too!


I feel crazy honored to have been a presenter at the RD Entrepreneur Symposium, teaching a seminar on harnessing your unique voice to attract your ideal client. The symposium is packed with 18 expert sessions from six figure dietitians and marketing pros designed to give you actionable steps to grow and start your business. As someone who spent hours (and I mean HOURS!) on google trying to figure out what to do to get clients and the logistic/legal side of business ownership, I can't stress enough how valuable it is to have all your information in one place! Get more info and sign up here!


I've worked with Nicole Culver, a dietitian and business coach and she is absolutely fantastic, and launching a 3 day workshop for aspiring dietitian entrepreneurs. Sign up for the free panel Q&A call with 6 expert dietitian entrepreneurs (including my dear friend Anne Mauney from Fannetastic Food) on March 14th, 2017. Or, you can sign up for her self study program filled with fantastic workshops from leading dietitians!

Update 1: Check out Part 2, tips for running a nutrition private practice, written on my 2 year anniversary of starting Avocado A Day Nutrition!

Update 2: I get a ton of questions about HIIPA! Here's a great article on it.

Update 3: I now offer career coaching calls for aspiring private practice dietitians! Check out my service page for more information. 

The top five lessons I've learned as a RD

Happy Registered Dietitian’s Day! March is National Nutrition Month and today is the day we celebrate dietitian’s commitment to improving lives through good nutrition. So don’t forget to hug a dietitian today! P.S. I accept virtual hugs.

This May will mark six years that I have been practicing as a registered dietitian. Throughout my education and dietetics internship, I was blessed with incredible professors and preceptors who inspired me to reach my full potential. Really, I can’t brag enough on the ladies (and one token man!) who trained and educated me. However, even though I’m not longer pulling all-nighters in the library and trudging my way through 600+ page books (Game of Thrones series excepted), I’ve learned more about nutrition, wellness and counseling in the years since I "finished" my education.

For those of you soon-to-be-dietitians, current dietitians, and really anyone in health care or wellness, I’d like to share the five biggest lessons I’ve learned since starting to practice as a RD. I learned these lessons the hard way, through struggles and failures, so hopefully you won't have to!

1. Everyone wants to feel healthy - their definition just might be different than yours. 

About three years ago, I completed a fantastic health coaching program that taught techniques from the field of psychology to promote healthy lifestyle changes. While discussing motivation, the professor made the statement “not everyone wants to be healthy.” For those who work outside of health care, this may seem wholly inaccurate, but when you see the dangerous behaviors many undertake with full understanding of the consequences on a daily basis, it seems pretty fair. I often reminded myself of this “fact” when I was counseling a particularly difficult patient – it made me feel better if I wasn’t able to help them. But what I’ve come to realize is that they either a.) have a different definition of health than I do or b.) they have set a limit to the level of health they can achieve. If you are able to redefine what it means to be healthy, as more than the absence of disease, or break through their barriers to change, then you'll be able to help people reach levels of health they never thought possible!

2. Correcting people is dumb. 

There’s no shortage of inaccurate and scientifically unfounded nutrition advice on the internet. I’ve heard all sorts of crazy things from my clients. Sometimes it’s outdated information, but often times it’s just exaggerated or totally wrong. I used to correct people on this. One day, I corrected a man on the old aspartame causing bladder cancer topic, which caused him to become quite perturbed. It caused irreparable damage to the patient-provider relationship I was trying to build. It was pointless for me to correct him, as I don’t even recommend the use of artificial sweeteners. Now, I try not to correct someone unless their belief is causing them harm. Really, the only reason to argue with someone is to prove you're smarter, and no one has ever changed because they thought their dietitian was smart.

3. Small, consistent changes are the most powerful.

When I first started nutrition counseling, I felt the need to squeeze every bit of information I could into each appointments. I pointed out every single area of concern in my client’s diet – too much sugar, not enough vegetables, unbalanced meals, skipping meals, not cooking enough, hidden sources of trans fat….and on and on I went. In hindsight, it was overwhelming and feeling overwhelmed rarely motivates one to change. I’ve worked with a few people who were really and truly ready for complete and total diet overhauls, but for the most part, small, consistent steps are more achievable and successful in the long run.

4. Listening > Talking

When I worked as an inpatient dietitian, I knew what I was going to tell my patients before I even saw them. I had a whole little lesson plan memorized for any possible consult. I went in their room, asked a few questions, gave my spiel, and stopped for questions. I thought I was doing a good job because I was getting good feedback from the patients, but when I moved to outpatient nutrition counseling and started seeing people for follow-ups, I quickly learned this doesn't work. When you talk more than you listen, you miss out on the big picture. I've heard you should do as much listening as you do talking and I think 50/50 is a good balance. As dietitians, we should be counselors and coaches, not educators.

5. It’s okay to be wrong.

In the past six years, my view on many nutrition topics has evolved. When I graduated with my degree in nutrition, I used splenda in my coffee, often packed Lean Cuisines for lunch and couldn't tell you the first thing about our food choices and sustainability. Looking back, I cringe a bit. One of the main issues I see with dietitians today is that we're often scared of new information, especially if it doesn't fit in with what we think to be true. But nutrition is a new and evolving field of science, and that's what makes it so fascinating and dynamic. Being able to say you were wrong really means you're still learning. And that, my friends, is a good thing. 

Are you a new or practicing dietitian? What are some of the lessons you've learned?