“I already know what I should be doing, I just don’t do it” is a common refrain. And every so often patients will say: “I’m a bit nervous to meet with you today” before confessing that he or she ate everything in sight the night before, worried that all of their favorite foods will be banned. Dietitians are not the food police but specially trained health care providers who can help make smart (and delicious) healthy food choices.
What is a dietitian?
Dietitians are food and nutrition experts and educators who understand the science behind nutrition and know how to distinguish facts from fads. Dietitians have spent more time learning about nutrition than any other health care provider.
What type of education and training do dietitians receive?
Although there are a few different paths to becoming a dietitian, typically it includes:
- Earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nutritional sciences
- Completing a 1,000-hour internship
- Passing a national registered dietitian exam
That’s why we’re often brought in to work as part of your health care team that includes your primary care doctor and any specialist you may have like a cardiologist, endocrinologist, physical therapist or others.
Dietitians don’t have a set agenda. Our primary goal is to work with you, to meet your chosen health-related goal. For example, many patients see a dietitian regularly to help work toward weight loss goals. The first visit is generally a one-hour consult where we review details on eating and lifestyle habits such as:
- What you eat and drink, how much and when
- Motivations for eating
- Weight loss and gain history
- Food allergies
- Physical activity
- Lab results or important body metrics
The answers to these questions give us better understanding for making personalized nutrition recommendations and education. For example, if a patient enjoys eating a lot of fruit, we may review the fiber and calorie benefits of eating blueberries versus a banana. If she is not a fruit eater to begin with, but eats a lot of salads, we review the benefits of choosing a variety of different colors of vegetables and explore ways to incorporate healthful sources of protein and dietary fats to bring nutritional balance to meals.
We meet with some patients at least once per month for up to 30 minutes and discuss eating plans. We review successes with making different food choices (i.e. choosing a salad instead of French fries with her sandwich at lunch) and how to repeat those successes in the future. We talk about behaviors that did not work, and what strategies could be adjusted or trialed. We set goals to establish a clear idea about what how to make healthier food choices.
Nutrition education is woven into every visit, making sure it’s relevant to a patient's needs and lifestyle. We often use food models such as measuring cups, food scales, plates, educational handouts and diagrams to visually show what we teach. Routine follow-up can be bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even yearly.
Discuss Your Health Goals with a Polyclinic Dietitian
Call 206-860-2208 if you are interested in meeting with a dietitian at The Polyclinic to help you reach your health goals. Visits do require referrals. Be sure to check with your insurance carrier about your benefits for medical nutrition therapy.