There are many misperceptions surrounding what a dietitian can do to help you in life. The range of our services is tremendous, and addresses most aspects of eating and exercise behavior needed to sustain long-term quality of life. In order to help you understand what a dietitian does and does not do, I present a brief overview below which can better prepare you should you decide to consult with a dietitian. Bear in mind that each dietitian has a unique counseling style, and various areas of strength. For example, I consider myself to be a seasoned generalist, with the following areas of specialization: weight management, gastrointestinal diet therapies, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiac disease, cancer, wellness, and nutritional supplement strategies. So, let’s discuss what dietitians can do for you:
- Listen. You speak and we listen. By gathering information relating to your diet and lifestyle we are able to launch a realistic food plan tailored to your specific needs. For my practice, this initial information gathering session is a minimum of 2 hours. By the end of the appointment, you will have your own personalized food plan.
- Evaluate. We evaluate your food intake patterns and work on improving them to help you achieve your health and weight goals. Evaluation processes vary from dietitian to dietitian. Most dietitians would like clients/patients to document their food intake. As of this month, I have a new online platform for clients to document their food. This means I can see how you are doing between appointments!
- Provide accountability. Often, sticking to a diet and exercise plan requires having someone to oversee it. Dietitians offer this accountability by helping you to monitor your diet and eating behavior on an ongoing basis. That way, it becomes more difficult to put off your healthy lifestyle goals.
- Offer support. Starting a new diet or exercise regimen is not an easy process. Dietitians provide encouragement and support, and help you brainstorm ways to keep you on the path to a healthier lifestyle. We have suggestions for how to eat well away from home, eat well when there is no time, eat well when you are not feeling well, and eat well when life gets in the way.
Clearly, dietitians play a crucial role in the formulation and maintenance of your diet and exercise plans. However, while I cannot speak for all dietitians, there are a few things that I do not do in my practice:
- Create prefabricated cookie cutter food plans. While certain tools such as the new USDA food plate and old food guide pyramid have a place in nutrition education, such tools are not the centerpiece of my counseling. Each client is presented with cutting edge information and individually tailored recommendations.
- Write prescriptions. While clinical dietitians generally have significant medical knowledge, they are not physicians and do not prescribe medicine. I may, however, suggest supplements if I find a nutritional gap in your diet based on your food preferences and my monitoring of your diet.
While I have no magic wands, I am confident that in working together, I can help you achieve your goals for a healthier lifestyle. A few examples from my 25 years of nutritional counseling best illustrate this:
- A physician referred a patient to me who needed to lose 100 pounds in order to undergo a heart transplant. After receiving my nutrition counseling services, the patient lost the 100 pounds, and ultimately no longer required the heart transplant. His significant weight loss allowed for his cardiac enzymes and heart function to return to normal.
- Hundreds of my patients have had their physicians discontinue certain medications altogether as they have either successfully lost weight or modified their diets to address their specific medical conditions. Although many physicians are frequently surprised at the outcome of medical nutrition therapy, I don’t believe most dietitians are at all surprised because we know counseling and diet therapy are effective!
As you can see, the impact of nutritional consulting can be tremendous. Dietitians are able to do a great deal to help you achieve your diet and exercise goals, and ultimately help you on your path to a healthier lifestyle.