What to Expect From a Dietitian

Woman buys fruits and vegetables at a market
A registered dietitian can help you make nutritious food choices. (Image: LDProd/iStock/Getty Images)

If you need help with a healthy diet, whether you’re overweight, underweight or just need more nutritious food, visit a registered dietitian. Before making an appointment, make sure the professional you have chosen is a registered dietitian, not a nutritionist. Anyone can call himself a nutritionist, but R.D.s must take a national exam to become certified. Expect your first session with an R.D. to take between 45 minutes and an hour.

Questions

During your first session with the dietitian, both of you will ask a lot of questions. If you have a particular dietary need – such as if you’re a vegetarian or have celiac disease – ask the dietitian if he has experience in that area. You need a dietitian who works within your needs. The dietitian will ask you what types of foods you like to eat, how often you eat and what specific concerns you or your doctor have about your current diet plan. If a physician has referred you for a medical condition, the dietitian will look at your lab results, medications and any conditions that could affect your digestion or ability to absorb nutrients.

Food Log

One of the first things your dietitian will ask you to do – perhaps even before your first appointment – is keep a food log, recording every single item that you eat. The log should track at least three days, but a week is ideal. The log should include the time you ate, if you were with anyone and how you were feeling. This can indicate any emotional or behavioral problems with eating.

Menu Plan

Once your dietitian has reviewed your food log, the two of you will likely work together on a meal plan. If you like a structured routine, the dietitian will work within your medical, cultural and personal dietary requirements to plan out all of your meals. If you prefer a freer approach to eating, the dietitian could instead make suggestions on how to improve your diet. This could include creating goals such as adding two more servings of vegetables per day to your diet, decreasing soda consumption or increasing intake of whole grains.

Follow-up Appointments

Not everyone will make a follow-up appointment with a dietitian, but more appointments allow the dietitian to review how well you’ve been following your meal plan or nutritional goals, whether the plan is working well for your lifestyle and if it is making a difference in your medical diagnosis. The dietitian will continue to work with you and educate you on proper nutrition until you are confident and able to make the best dietary choices on your own.

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