These past few years I have seen several articles on why you should see a dietitian for any nutrition/food related questions or concerns. These articles are great. They go in to detail about how a dietitian has to have at least a bachelors degree and is required to do a hands on internship at several different clinical, community and food service settings before taking the RD exam. Yes, that is correct, dietitians have to pass a national exam in order to earn those credentials. Dietitians also have to do continuing education in order to keep the credentials. Some states , like Texas, require dietitians to also be licensed. Those are all fantastic reasons on why you should always seek out a dietitians help.
However, today I want to highlight one important skill that *most* dietitians have that really makes all the difference. That skill is knowing how to counsel.
You could have an appointment with the smartest person in the whole universe but if they do not know how to teach you in a way that you understand, help you learn how to apply said knowledge to your life and help you tackle challenges along the way then honestly you are going to leave that appointment thinking the whole thing was a complete waste of time and money.
Each time I meet with a patient I consider the situation to be similar to a puzzle. I first gather some information from you and get to know you. This allows me to see what the puzzle pieces are suppose to look like. And then I usually show you some new pieces to the puzzle (or in other words provide some education). Lastly, I discuss barriers that could prevent you from putting the pieces together and reaching your end result. If we have additional appointments, then I will always discuss challenges and try to help you find ways to overcome those challenges.
Still confused on why having this skill is so important?
Let me share an example where having counseling experience truly makes all the difference. I am a member of different fitness/health groups/ pages on Facebook. I mainly join these out of pure curiosity to see what others say regarding nutrition topics. The other day a young lady posted asking for help. She was not sure if she was eating enough protein to reach her goals. A young man responded with “you need 0.8 times your body weight”. The conversation goes on and the lady who was asking for help stated that the number seemed way too high and impossible. It ended up being 150 grams of protein a day. The man who provided the answer goes on to give suggestions on how she might get that much protein in a day. Meanwhile, I am sitting here reading through the comments and just shaking my head. Yes, this guy has the correct information for the most part. The recommendation for protein for a normal healthy adult is 0.8-1.0 g per KILOGRAM. This lady was obiviously multiplying by her weight in pounds. If she would have multipled her weight in kilograms with 0.8 then she would have got 68 grams of protein per day. So the number this guy was telling her to eat was more than double what her body actually needs. When she expressed her concern with that number of grams of protein, the guy did not stop and analyze the situation to realize the miscommunication that had happened. (I am giving him the benefit of the doubt here that he actually knew it should be in kilograms). Instead he just tells her that is what her goal should be and tells her what foods/supplements to eat in order to get there. (Not to mention that this guy knows absolutely nothing about this lady’s medical history. There are certain situations where too much protein could be harmful. )
I cannot tell you how many times I have to analyze conversations and make sure to ask the correct questions in order to successfully understand and help my patients. Many times people may not know what they need help with or what questions to ask. They only made the appointment and showed up because that is what their doctor told them to do.
So what is the take away from this post?
Please always choose a registered dietitian for your nutrition related questions and concerns. Not only do we have the knowledge to help you but we also have the skills to help you learn and successfully use what you learn. And in case you were wondering…. we do actually take a class in undergrad that solely focuses on nutrition counseling. This is also an area of importance/focus during our internship. Lastly, let’s not forget all the counseling experience dietitians get daily during their normal work routine.