Should you call on a dietitian-nutritionist?
A registered dietitian isn’t just someone who tells you what to eat or gives you a meal plan. Their know-how goes far beyond that. These experts are professionals who have specialized training in food, diet, and nutrition and can help clients with a variety of needs, including weight loss, medical nutrition therapy, family nutrition, and more.
For someone to be called a dietitian (RD) or dietitian-nutritionist (RDN) (two titles that mean the same thing), they must meet certain criteria. This includes earning a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and an accredited supervised practice program, passing a national exam, and meeting continuing professional education requirements, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Additionally, states may also require licensing, and you may see this reflected with the letters LDN (Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist) or CDN (Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist), the Academy explains.
Beware of the general term “nutritionist,” says Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, chair of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “’Nutritionist’ is not a protected term. Anyone can call themselves that – and they do. It is important to know the credentials of the person you plan to speak with. If they call themselves nutritionists, you must be hesitant to start working with them,” she says.
Therefore, one of the most important things to remember before hiring a dietician is to make sure that they are a credentialed RD or RDN first. By doing so, you can be sure they have the expertise to guide you safely and appropriately, whatever your concern.
Dietitians can help you manage the disease
Whether you have type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or digestive conditions (such as irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease), a dietitian can help you design an eating plan that will help you manage these conditions.
What you eat can also play an important role in reversing the course of disease or preventing it. Take prediabetes, says Dr. Wright. “We know that type 2 diabetes is a continuum and it can take 5-10 years for prediabetes to develop into full-blown diabetes. We can work with these patients to prevent that from happening,” she says. (Those with prediabetes have a 50% chance of developing diabetes within a decade, according to the Cleveland Clinic.)
Another example is kidney disease. An RDN can help you adjust your diet to avoid the future need for dialysis or a transplant. Additionally, says Wright, more effective management of chronic disease through lifestyle measures like diet and exercise can reduce or eliminate the need for medications or improve their effectiveness.
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If you’re starting a family (or have young children), a dietitian can make mealtimes easier
Pregnant mothers can visit an RDN for advice on how to eat to support a growing baby. Nursing new moms may also want to see a registered dietitian to make sure they’re getting enough calories to feed their newborn successfully, as well as nutrients like calcium to make sure they’re getting what they need. need for their body. be healthy, says Wright. Do you have difficult children? There are many RDNs who specialize in family nutrition and can “help work with the family and make sure they’re getting the nutrients they need, as well as give parents strategies to improve their diet,” says -she.
An RD can help you lose weight successfully and safely
In a world of fad and emergency diets, it’s easy to jump on a fad diet. But if weight loss is your goal, it pays to talk to an RDN first. “Weight loss is about meeting the client where they are, learning about their lifestyle and motivations, and working collaboratively to help individualize a plan that will work for them and help them achieve their goals,” explains Wright. It’s different from being given a specific diet with a list of rules to follow, which might not match your lifestyle, cultural preferences or tastes, or which might leave you with potential nutritional deficiencies.
An RDN brings their knowledge of nutrition as well as their experience with past clients to address potential pitfalls or roadblocks and put in place strategies they have already seen successfully, says Wright. Plus, as an expert, they can help you break through a plateau or maintain your weight loss after reaching your goal. “It’s this lifestyle support that builds long-term health,” she says.
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How to Find (and Afford) Work with a Registered Dietitian
Many Registered Dietitians carry insurance, while others do not, and bill their fees directly to clients instead. Before signing up with someone, ask if they take insurance and see if they currently accept yours. Often, a dietitian will list the names of the insurance groups they take or list their fees on their website. If not available, inquire directly.
During the pandemic, the world of virtual care opened up. Connecting to an RDN via telehealth has some serious benefits, including reducing travel time or expanding access depending on where you live, Wright adds.
A good place to start your search for a qualified RD-RDN for in-person or virtual appointments is on EatRight.org using their Find a Nutrition Expert tool.
You might also consider contacting your local hospital system (which takes your insurance), which may have outpatient dietitians they work with, notes Wright. Medicare Part B may also cover medical nutrition therapy if you have diabetes or kidney disease, Medicare.gov notes. Always check your coverage first.
If these options are not available to you, then a more financially feasible option may be to enroll in a group coaching course or online RDN programs and courses. For something less intensive, many RDNs also offer meal planning guides available for free or for purchase through their personal websites. If you’re unsure which avenue is best for you, check to see if the RDN you’re considering working with offers free 15-minute introductory calls to fully assess which options are best for your budget.
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As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) point out, a poor diet puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and obesity. “Food is medicine. Whether it’s a small change in your diet or ongoing support for a serious illness, a dietitian can optimize your health and well-being,” says Wright.