When Should You See a Dietitian?
Fad diets today often carve away entire food groups. Meanwhile, conflicting dieting information circulates online at breakneck speeds. In today's digital world, it's more helpful than ever to work one-on-one with a specialist who can hone in on the specific results you need.
But do you really need help? In this post, we'll look at reasons you'd want the support of a registered dietician before moving forward on your own.
What Is a Dietician?
A dietician is a professional who helps people set goals for their diet and council them through changes they need to make. A certified dietician has at least a four-year degree, and about half of all dieticians have graduate degrees and specialize in fields like sports, oncology, or renal nutrition.
Dietician vs. Nutritionist
The word dietician is not interchangeable with nutritionist—they're completely different titles. Registered dieticians (RDs), also known as registered dietician nutritionists (RDNs), are certified to treat food-related challenges in a medical setting. "Nutritionist" refers to the larger umbrella encompassing dieticians but also includes the less qualified.
What Do Dieticians Do?
A dietician listens to your health history and diet habits. After identifying problems, they work with you to set goals and create a new dietary framework you can follow. This often includes measured doses of nutrients and a plan for how you'll shore up deficiencies. Your dietician may ask you to keep a food log and write down everything you eat in a notebook.
You can also learn practical dieting advice from a dietician on managing temptations and making effective lifestyle changes. No matter your needs, you can expect a tailored approach with your preferences and other idiosyncrasies in mind.
When to See a Dietician
Thinking your diet needs professional help? Here are the major reasons to consult with a dietician:
You Want to Lose Weight
Whether you've been trying to lose weight or you're just getting started, a dietician can help make sure you're not spinning your wheels. In fact, their job is to use science to help you achieve your weight loss goals—and to ensure your nutritional requirements aren't neglected in the process.
Optimizing your diet for weight loss means fueling your body with nutrition that amplifies fat burning and maximizes muscle building. Besides eliminating foods quickly stored as fat, you also need to drop your daily caloric intake. A dietician can teach you how to count and track your calorie intake, as well as your caloric expenditure from exercise so that the balance tips in favor of weight loss.
You're Having Problems with Digestion
Poor digestion isn't just uncomfortable. It also affects nutrient assimilation from food, which in turn affects everything as it relates to your health. If you have chronic symptoms of gas, bloating, abdominal cramping, or diarrhea, a dietician can help you identify the cause. They can suggest eliminations, new food combinations, and natural supplements based on your symptoms while ensuring nutritional requirements are met. If you have a diagnosis like celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), an RD can help you make the necessary changes to your diet that will improve your health.
You're Trying to Gain Muscle or Improve Performance
If you have specific goals for muscle gain or enhancing your sports performance, a dietician can help you reach your goals by customizing the best diet to complement your personal exercise regimen. Whether you're training for a marathon or a powerlifting meet, a dietician can prescribe the right foods to fuel your workouts for optimal performance. Of course, gaining lean muscle mass can't happen through exercise alone. Muscle development relies on getting quality sources of protein and carbohydrates, as well as healthy fats like omega-3s.
You Suspect Nutritional Deficiencies
Unfortunately, the typical American or Western diet isn't optimized for meeting all your nutritional requirements. Doctors often recommend supplementation for nutrients like vitamin D and iron. Vitamin B12 deficiency (linked to chronic fatigue) and calcium deficiency (associated with osteoporosis) aren't rare either. Magnesium deficiency is another common issue, which can cause chronic fatigue and anxiety.
Whether you've tested for nutritional deficiencies or feel like you aren't getting everything you need from your diet, a dietician can assess the nutritional content of your diet and suggest the right changes. They can point you to supplements supported by research that shore up deficiencies and teach you how to plan meals around your nutritional needs.
You're Managing a Chronic Disease
High blood pressure? High cholesterol? These are symptoms of heart disease that require dietary changes for management. Medical providers refer patients to registered dieticians because they have a scientific understanding of food and drug interactions and special diets for people with medical conditions. With the expertise and experience of a specialized dietician, people living with autoimmune disease, diabetes, or even cancer can learn how to use their diet to improve symptoms and manage their condition.
You Want to Try a Specific Diet
Have you wanted to go paleo but worry you won't know what to eat? Maybe you want to switch to a plant-based diet but are afraid of causing deficiencies. Whenever you alter your diet vastly, especially if you're expecting science to deliver results, it's best to have an RD guide your transition and monitor the effects of your new diet.