What to Know About Working With a Nutritionist

woman talking to doctor

Have you ever considered working with a nutritionist? These health professionals can guide you in the use of nutrition science and help you figure out how to use food to meet your health goals. 

Before you schedule an appointment, here are a few things you should know:

The Word “Nutritionist” Encompasses a Wide Range of Health Professionals

While most people think the word nutritionist describes an accredited health professional, the word itself has no legal meaning. In some states, there are no limits on who can call themselves a nutritionist or perform nutrition counseling. In other states, it’s a criminal offense for anyone other than a Registered Dietitian (and a few other exempted professionals) to perform nutritional counseling.  

When searching for a nutritionist, look for a health professional with extensive education in the science of nutrition. A Registered Dietitian can provide nutritionist services. Other professionals who may provide nutritionist services (depending on the state) include nurses or others with degrees in Food Science, Human Nutrition or Food and Nutrition. Avoid nutritionists who lack professional health education and experience.

Nutritionists Provide Individualized Health Counseling

Group weight loss and fitness programs are great, but some people prefer an individualized approach. A nutritionist takes the time to get to know you and your lifestyle. An initial appointment with a nutritionist typically includes an assessment of your current diet, health and activity level and a discussion of your health challenges and goals.

Nutritionists work with their clients to create eating plans that meet the clients’ needs. So while public health officials have issued broad dietary recommendations that apply to all American adults, a nutritionist can help you figure out which foods fit into your lifestyle and support your health goals. A nutritionist would craft a different plan for a 43-year-old female vegetarian who plans to run a marathon than he or she would for a 43year-old-female who prefers a meat and potatoes diet, hates fruit and has high blood pressure. 

Nutritionists Serve a Variety of Health Goals—Not Just Weight Loss

Nutritionists are well versed in the relationship of food to health. They keep up on the latest health and nutrition-related science and can help you apply those scientific insights to your life to achieve your health goals.

Nutritionists help people who want to lose weight develop eating plans that lead to weight loss without sacrificing health. They also counsel people with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease food allergies and cancer. Specifically, they help them learn what foods and eating patterns improve health and which foods and eating patterns may exacerbate disease. Nutritionists can provide nutrition advice to people dealing loss of appetite due to dementia or cancer. Some nutritionists also specialize in working with people who have eating disorders.

Insurance May Cover Nutritionist Services

The Affordable Care Act requires most health insurance companies to provide screening and counseling for obesity. Different plans interpret this directive in different ways–some provide telephone-based counseling, some pay for group sessions–but your plan may pay for some type of nutritionist consultation. Health insurance may also cover nutritionist visits related to a chronic health condition, such as diabetes. 

According to available research, insurance coverage of nutritionist services may be a smart investment. At least one study has shown that patients with diabetes who see a nutritionist are more likely to stay healthy (and out of the hospital) than similar patients who did not see a nutritionist. 

All things considered, a visit to a well-qualified nutritionist is a good investment in good health. 

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