I’ve realized lately that many people are still confused as to what a dietitian does. It can be incredibly confusing as we live in a world where there is currently a nutrition expert epidemic going down. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go check out my post here about it.
What Does a Dietitian Even DO?!
It seems that many people believe dietitians are the food police, or we are in charge of what goes on peoples’ food trays in the hospital. While, yes, there are dietitians who do that, we are SO MUCH MORE than that. We have 4 years minimum of undergraduate education (with Masters Degrees being required by 2024), 1,200 hours of supervised practice (aka real in person hands-on experience), a board exam, and a requirement of 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years to maintain our RD credential. We go through very similar undergraduate training as doctors and then on top of that are required to take many nutrition classes as well as anatomy & physiology and so much more.
None of this is meant to act as a brag. Instead, I want to show you what our background is and why the career deserves so much more respect. Yes, there are not-so-great dietitians out there but hey, there are not-so-great EVERYTHINGS out there so calm down and listen up. Dietitians are meant to help you with your food, diet, lifestyle, etc. We are trained to get to the root of the problem, spot deficiencies and help you become healthier whether there is a disease involved or not. We specialize in behavior change and are meant to use an unbiased client-centric approach (aka our OWN diets do not sway our decision on what our client’s diets should be).
While I could continue to get frustrated about it, I’m trying to channel this frustration and instead educate people. So today, I want to educate you on why you might need or want to see a dietitian. After all, a lot of people feel like they have to wait for everything to be terrible to see a dietitian and that’s not at ALL the case.
15 Reasons to See a Dietitian
While you certainly can (and should) see a dietitian when you are having symptoms that are affecting your health, know that you can see a dietitian even if you just are curious about trying a new diet or have questions about what it is you are eating. Here are my top reasons to see a dietitian:
1. You’re healthy & curious.
If you want to know if what/how you’re eating is right for your health and goals, even with no overt symptoms to complain of, it could be helpful to discuss with a dietitian.
2. Your relationship with food needs help.
If you are looking for help building (or rebuilding) a healthy relationship with food & diet and are trying to figure out how to navigate the world of food and nutrition, a dietitian can help.
3. You have ANY digestive complaint.
Digestive complaints can range from gas, bloating, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, stomachaches, etc. Meeting with a dietitian can help guide you on diety &/or lifestyle changes to make. Don’t just guess or go off google, ask a professional.
4. You want to improve athletic performance.
You want to gain insight into how to fuel your sport/activity and/or gain some competitive advantage through diet/lifestyle. You may even want to seek out a Sports Dietitian (you’ll see CSSD after their name) as they specialize in the timing of nutrients, energy needs, supplements, and more as it pertains to sport/activity & performance.
5. You are either always hungry or never hungry (aka lack of appetite).
Hunger is a very important indicator to help guide your health. You may wake up in the middle of the night hungry or maybe you don’t even know what hunger is or is supposed to feel like. Hunger should be normal and recognizable and easily fixed with food, end of story.
6. You are experiencing fatigue even when sleeping 8+ hours.
Being tired when you go to bed is normal. Being tired around the clock and not being able to function or feel like you are going to fall asleep at inopportune times is NOT normal.
7. You are often sick and/or injured.
This is NOT normal. Your diet and/or lifestyle may be contributing to this an guess what?! You can feel better and can stop getting hurt. Seek help.
8. You are experiencing hormonal issues including (but not limited to): loss of menstruation, lack of sex drive (or ability to perform), infertility issues, etc.
This can look different to anyone but if you are feeling like your hormones are or could be off, it’s time to talk to someone.
9. You are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant.
This also applies to those who are post-partum and looking for help with breastfeeding, post-partum health, etc.
10. You want help with meal planning.
Note: some dietitians may not provide meal plans but aim to help you learn how to do it for yourself! I do offer meal plans, if interested.
11. You are dealing with thoughts or actions of disordered eating.
Note: if you are experiencing an eating disorder it is very important to seek help from a dietitian that specializes in the field! You could also look at online resources for Eating disorder treatment to know more about your ailment and take necessary steps for the same.
12. Abnormal bloodwork.
You have abnormal bloodwork (whether self-tested or through a doctor) and/or have been told by your doctor you need to change your diet.
13. You have diagnosed and/or suspected food allergies/intolerances/sensitivities.
It’s important to work with someone who can guide you through a food allergy/intolerance/sensitivity instead of just guess or google your way through it!
14. You have been diagnosed with a chronic disease.
This can include diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, IBD, IBS, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, etc. However, if you have a family history of any chronic disease, it may be best to see the RD BEFORE you are diagnosed with such a disease.
15. You want to manage your weight.
I almost didn’t but this one on here, hence why it’s last, but think it’s worth noting. Weight is NOT the only marker of health, but it can be important to work with a professional if you think you need to or need help to gain, lose, or maintain your weight.
Get Help from the Expert
It’s crazy to me that when we need our car fixed, we go to the mechanic. A toothache or checkup? Dentist. A hair problem or want/need? Hairdresser. A suit tailored? A Tailor. Help to find a new house? A real estate agent. And the list goes on.
However, when we want help with nutrition we go through about 10 options until we (hopefully) land on a skilled individual like a dietitian. I understand there may be a time and a place for health coach or nutritionist BUT do your research as many only have personal (very biased) experience to rely on and have not been properly educated on how to handle clients and behavior change.
I hope this helps you understand all the ways you can use a dietitian! Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions or want to know if you should see a dietitian.
Pin Now, Hire a Dietitian Later
This is great and I love this post! It makes so much sense, especially when we are in a world full of healthy food bloggers and instagram influencers who make things look pretty, but may not have the credentials – thank you! Quick question – would love your thoughts on health coach certification programs like Institute for Integrative Nutrition or Nutritional Therapy Association. I love the idea of health coaching and continued personal development around nutrition, but are these credible and worthwhile programs?
Laura Ligos, MBA, RD, CSSD says
It totally depends what you are looking to gain from the certification! Personally, I think programs like that are best used for personal development and not as much for applying it to client/patient care! While it can certainly work if people know their scope of practice, it often seems that many abuse this and don’t observe the scope! Happy to discuss further 🙂
Thank you for the input! I am always attracted to and yet wary of these coaching certifications for many of the reasons you described.