Working with a registered dietitian can help you create specific, individualized healthy habits and fine-tune ways to stick to them so they become part of your lifestyle. Scheduling an appointment with a registered dietitian can be daunting if you don’t know what to expect. Here are 10 things to keep in mind that can help you understand what working with a registered dietitian means:
NOT ALL NUTRITIONISTS ARE DIETITIANS
Registered dietitians receive a high level of training before being able to practice. This includes an undergraduate degree in nutrition and dietetics, year-long dietetic internship (the majority of which is in a hospital), passing an exam and keeping up with continuing education. Registered dietitians also have to abide by a code of ethics and many also have master’s degrees in nutrition.
Dietitians can call themselves nutritionists, but not all individuals who call themselves nutritionists are dietitians. In fact, there are few and sometimes no requirements in terms of education and training when it comes to using the term “nutritionist.” Meaning, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Make sure you look for the “RD” after your dietitian/nutritionists name or “RDN” which stands for registered dietitian nutritionist. It’s also a good idea to inquire about their education level before deciding to work together.
THEY ARE NOT THE FOOD POLICE
Yes, the word “diet” is in dietitian. But that doesn’t mean we are going to put you on a diet. In fact, many dietitians (myself included) identify themselves as “non-diet” dietitians. This means we won’t put you on a specific diet where certain foods or food groups are off-limits. Instead, we’ll switch the focus on what foods to eat more of and other healthy habits that are meaningful to you.
THEY CAN HAVE SPECIALITIES
Just like doctors, dietitians often have specialties. This can be specialty certifications, like a CSO (oncology) or CSSD (sports nutrition), that require extra training hours and passing an additional exam. Dietitians can also be specialized in that they only see certain patient populations — such as gastrointestinal, diabetes or women’s health — and have expertise in those areas. Try to look for a dietitian with a specialty in an area that is most beneficial to your specific health needs and goals.
THEY CAN BE HOLISTIC
Just because dietitians receive rigorous scientific training doesn’t mean we avoid the bigger picture beyond food when working with clients. For example, in every session, I make sure to address a client’s sleep, stress levels, social connections and enjoyable movement in addition to nutrition. It’s important to take into account lifestyle as a whole to help people feel their healthiest and best.
THEY MAY ENCOURAGE YOU TO DITCH THE SCALE
There is more to overall health than a number on the scale, which is why not all dietitians give you weight-focused goals. Instead, targeting health-promoting behaviors and non-scale goals can be more effective and make a greater difference in the quality of life for the long-term.
THEY THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
The notion that you see a dietitian to get a general meal plan and go on your way is usually more of a quick fix, as opposed to a useful tool for maintaining long-term healthy changes. Look for a dietitian who will take an individualized approach with you that gets creative when it comes to your specific likes and dislikes, lifestyle and both short- and long-term health goals.
THEY CONSIDER THE EMOTIONAL SIDE OF FOOD, TOO
Many people have complicated relationships with food and their bodies. Creating and fostering positive relationships is often an important part of a nutrition care plan a registered dietitian can help you with.
THEY USE AN EVIDENCE-BASED APPROACH
During training, registered dietitians learn how to interpret scientific literature and translate those results to recommendations for clients. There is a big difference between using anecdotal evidence or a “this worked for me” approach and using actual science when assessing an individual and coming up with an individualized plan. Research exists for our benefit, and knowing how and when to use it for the health of clients is important.
THEY MAY NOT BE COVERED UNDER INSURANCE
Many private practice dietitians do not take insurance, and working with them can be costly. It can be helpful to think of your work with a dietitian as an investment in your health, like a gym membership or therapy, which will very likely pay off in the near future. What’s more, private practice dietitians also offer a sliding scale for payments to meet the needs of those who may not be able to cover the full price of sessions.
However, some insurance companies do offer reimbursement for services after you’ve received them, so it’s helpful to check with your insurance company first. There are dietitians who take insurance, and some may require a referral from a doctor or that you have a particular condition (i.e., diabetes or an eating disorder).
FINDING A GOOD FIT IS KEY
Finding a dietitian you trust who is a good fit for your needs is crucial. You may need to speak with a few RDs before you click with one. Many dietitians offer free introductory phone calls to answer your questions and so you can get a feel as to whether you may want to work together.