Get the Answers You Need to Maintain a Healthy Diet
You’ve taken that intimidating first step: you’ve decided to see a dietitian. Now, the next step is to figure out how you can make the most out of your visit. Getting the results you want is all about asking the right questions when you arrive for that first appointment.
Your first appointment – the initial consultation – is where your dietitian will collect the background information they need to assess and diagnose your dietary needs. Without this step, they would not be able to accurately implement a plan to help you meet your health goals. After the initial appointment, your dietitian will likely want to book a number of shorter follow-ups over the following months.
What is a dietitian?
Different from a nutritionist, a Registered Dietitian is a provincially regulated healthcare professional. This means they are held accountable by provincial regulatory bodies and are able to accurately assess, diagnose and treat nutrition-related issues.
“Registered Dietitian” is a legally protected title. Other titles such as Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Nutritional Practitioner, RONP, RNCP, ROHP, RHN or CNP are not regulated, and therefore are not held to the same rigorous standards.
Ask yourself: What are my goals?
You may not realize that a dietitian’s area of expertise extends far beyond weight loss. Whether you’re looking to manage a health issue, gain weight, or get an expert’s point of view on finding (and sticking with) the perfect diet for you, your dietitian will help clarify the scientific elements of nutrition in a way that enables you to achieve your goals.
Once you have identified the reason for your visit, you can begin thinking about what to ask your dietitian. Together, you will develop a personalized plan that works for you, your lifestyle and your body type. While thinking about what you’d like to accomplish with your dietitian, consider:
- Weight loss
- Weight gain
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Prenatal/pediatric nutrition
- Managing vitamin/mineral deficiencies
- Managing chronic health issues
- Diets (vegan, keto, pescatarian, etc.)
Questions to ask your dietitian:
1. What is a healthy weight range for me?
There is often a significant difference between what you want to weigh and what you should weigh. It depends on height, body type, and pre-existing conditions like eating disorders, diabetes or pregnancy. You could be shooting for a number that’s too small, which could result in malnutrition. Or, your desired weight could still put you in the overweight range. You should also ask how quickly you should be losing or gaining weight, because extreme fluctuations come with potentially severe health risks. A healthy goal is usually between one and two pounds per week.
2. How much should I be eating?
When it comes to common foods, there are quite a few factors that affect how much you should have. Portion sizes and calorie counts are not universal – differences in age, gender and activity level all have an impact on how much an individual should eat.
3. What am I missing from my diet, and where can I get it from?
Specific diets and health conditions require substitutions for common foods like meat, dairy, pasta and other high gluten foods. Many times, common symptoms like dizziness or an upset stomach actually point to bigger problems that can be aided by changing your diet, like low iron or high cholesterol. Alternatives can be tricky to find, but your local dietitian will be able to point you in the right direction and assist in creating a meal plan that works for you. They may even have recommendations based on quality and price!
4. What is the one best piece of nutritional advice you can give?
Often, this is a bit of a “catch 22.” Put simply, there is no universal cure-all way to improve your nutrition. That said, it’s still important to ask, because your dietitian may have recommendations for you based on your medical and dietary history or based on their knowledge of your eating habits. They may also recommend immune-boosting foods – such as yogurt, citrus fruits, and almonds – or foods that provide other essential vitamins and health benefits.
5. Do I have allergies or sensitivities? (Ask about any symptoms you are regularly feeling)
Chances are, you may already know about most of your food allergies and sensitivities. However, that’s not always the case. Food allergies can develop later in life. There is also a chance that you are experiencing symptoms you didn’t know were the result of a food sensitivity. For example, many cases of Celiac Disease and lactose intolerance go undiagnosed, because many people attribute the symptoms to other things. At your initial consultation, it’s important to discuss this with your dietitian so they can provide you with the most accurate care.
6. Can you help me prep a meal plan that is ideal for my body and goals?
Many dietitians include meal planning in their services. Not only would a well-developed meal plan keep you motivated to put your dietitian’s advice into practice, but this is also a great exercise to help your dietitian get more familiar with your lifestyle and eating habits. Remember to always check with your doctor and pharmacist about how a specific medication interacts with food, and ensure you relay that information to your dietitian at this stage. They can help you develop a safe and realistic meal plan that fits your schedule and lifestyle, and most importantly, they can give you the tools to stick with it.
7. What are good sources of protein?
Meat, fish and eggs are excellent sources of protein, but depending on your dietary restrictions, it can be difficult to find substitutes. Before you begin dieting, it’s important to discuss suitable alternatives with your dietitian to ensure your body is getting the protein it needs. Lentils, beans, nuts and soy-based meat substitutes like tofu are all suitable alternatives. Your dietitian may even be able to recommend a tried and true recipe or tell you where to go for the highest quality ingredients.
8. Are my genetics important in factoring in my weight/diet goals?
Many problems such as diabetes, celiac disease, heart disease and even hyperemesis (extreme morning sickness during pregnancy) are hereditary conditions. This means it’s crucial to discuss family history with your dietitian. This gives them a chance to introduce preventative foods, such as foods that are low in cholesterol or trans fats. These predispositions could also be influencing your symptoms, so discussing your family medical history could provide some much-needed clarity.
9. Can you help me find alternatives to junk foods?
Whether you are looking to drop a few pounds or simply eat cleaner, it’s almost never a bad idea to keep an eye on your junk food intake. In some cases, your dietitian may recommend that you stop eating junk food altogether. This usually happens out of necessity due to a medical condition, such as diabetes. Not to worry; your dietitian will likely be able to recommend an alternative to keep the cravings at bay.
10. Are there any foods you recommend that I stop eating completely?
The answer to this question will most likely be “no.” Dietitians rarely recommend that you stop eating certain foods. Instead, most recommend eating in moderation. Notable exceptions to consider, however, are dietary restrictions resulting from medical conditions like Celiac Disease or an allergy.
Whether you’ve just booked your consultation or you’ve been regularly visiting a dietitian, it’s never too late to start asking the right questions. Remember to ask questions that apply specifically to you and try not to over-generalize. Everyone’s nutritional journey is different, and a dietitian’s job is to help you figure out what that means for you and your goals.