When it comes to nutrition and food-related matters, the expert that usually comes to mind is a dietitian. But what does a dietitian really do and when is a trip to one necessary?
What you need to know about dietitians
Dietitians are the experts you should consult if you have concerns about your food consumption and nutrition. They are knowledgeable about the human body’s dietary requirements for it to function properly as well as food-related conditions such as food sensitivities. They can also teach you proper eating habits, recommend which type of diet suits your body’s needs, identify offending foods or the foods that trigger your body’s negative reactions or symptoms, advise you on how you can manage the symptoms of your food-related conditions, and support you on our journey towards a healthier lifestyle.
Read more: What is a Dietitian?
While they are not doctors, accredited practising dietitians are still qualified to provide a wide range of support and services including professional consultation and recommendation of nutritional treatments and dietary plans for their clients with various conditions such as food intolerances, gastrointestinal diseases, obesity and cancer.
Read more: What is an Accredited Practising Dietitian?
When should you see a dietitian?
There are specific circumstances that call for an immediate consultation with a dietitian. But in most cases, a person’s attitude towards his/her health dictates when he or she will see a dietitian.
Some individuals immediately book an appointment with a dietitian if they experience persistent aches, discomfort or other signs of a disorder after ingesting a particular food. Others see a dietitian upon the advice of their doctor, usually after they receive a medical diagnosis about their condition.
But for most people, seeing a dietitian is their last resort. Only after they have exhausted all their options, tried every home remedy solution and conducted self-administered treatments that did not work do they finally decide to get help. Not only does this contribute to their prolonged discomfort, but it also increases their risk of late diagnosis and a potentially more undesirable outcome.
If you find yourself in any of these five situations, see a dietitian as soon as you can:
1. See a dietitian if you have been diagnosed with certain health conditions.
If your doctor has diagnosed you with diabetes, or any of the food allergies and sensitivities, digestive and gastrointestinal diseases, eating disorders, heart diseases, and cancers, seeing a dietitian is a critical step towards your treatment and overall well-being.
Diabetics have food restrictions like certain types of carbs and sugar. Because of this, they may not be getting the right amount of nutrients their body requires. They also need to adjust their food intake to help manage their glucose levels. A dietitian can help diabetics by recommending alternatives to the specific carbs they cannot eat and teaching them carbohydrate-counting techniques to help them regulate their blood sugar levels.
Food allergies and intolerances
Depending on the severity of your food allergy or intolerance, a dietitian may recommend that you either limit your consumption or completely avoid eating the specific food(s) that your body cannot tolerate or digest. This dietary modification should not be done without the advice and supervision of a dietitian; otherwise, it will increase your risk for nutrient deficiency. A dietitian may suggest food substitutes and supplements to ensure that you are still receiving the right amount of nutrients even after you have removed these offending foods from your diet.
Digestive disorders and GI diseases
A dietitian can help you make the necessary adjustments to your diet so you can better manage your digestive and gastrointestinal condition. These adjustments may range from a reduced consumption of particular foods, replacement of these foods with more suitable foods, and supplements to complement your new diet and lower your risk for malnutrition.
A common tendency for people with these mental disorders is to go on fad diets, without really knowing how these diets can affect their whole being. Together with mental health experts, dietitians can give individuals diagnosed with eating disorders a better understanding of their overall health that goes beyond weight and physical appearance. Equally important is that dietitians also help lower their risk of malnutrition by providing accurate information about the role of specific foods in their health and nutrition.
Heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
Individuals with high cholesterol and high blood pressure are at risk for developing heart disease—the leading cause of death in Australia—but adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a healthy diet can reduce it. Dietitians can guide you in making appropriate changes to your diet to lower your cholesterol level and improve your blood pressure. They may recommend healthier alternatives to the foods you are currently eating, suggest ways on how you can lose excess body fat, and give you tips on how to avoid eating foods that increase your risk for heart disease.
Dietitians can guide and adjust a cancer patient’s diet to address various symptoms and nutritional concerns. For instance, some side effects of cancer treatment—like swallowing difficulties, sore mouth and throat and taste changes—may impact what you can eat and drink. A dietitian can help you get the most out of your limited food choices while ensuring your body’s nutritional needs are being met.
2. See a dietitian if you are undergoing major life changes such as a pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Women’s nutritional requirements—such as folate, iron and protein—increase during pregnancy and while they are breastfeeding their infants. For this reason, the type and amount of foods you were eating before you became pregnant or gave birth to your baby are no longer suitable for you during your pregnancy and after childbirth. Seeking the help of a dietitian can help pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers meet t dietary requirements and nutritional needs for themselves and their babies. This will reduce their risk for nutrient deficiencies that could increase their baby’s chances of developing birth defects or having an impaired development.
3. See a dietitian if you are unsure about the nutritional needs of your baby, child or elderly loved one.
Many first-time mothers struggle with feeding their babies or children, often relying on advice from well-meaning but often mistaken friends and family members. This can have many undesirable consequences such as a higher risk of malnutrition for their child and negative ideas about eating and food that could last until their adulthood. Parents can avoid all these simply by consulting a paediatric dietitian who can help educate them about the nutritional needs of their child. They can also give tips about meal planning for children, particularly for picky eaters, to ensure that they receive the right amount of nutrients their bodies need for their normal growth and development.
If this is your first time to take care of an elderly parent or family member, you may also struggle with planning their meals, especially if they are suffering from particular health conditions. Seeing a geriatric dietitian will make this process easier for you while giving your aging loved ones a higher chance of improving their health.
4. See a dietitian if you want to change your diet.
If you are considering any specific diet (e.g., gluten-free, keto, or vegetarian), don’t just jump into it without seeking the advice of a dietitian. Changing your diet is a major decision that will affect every part of your life. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, or done carelessly. Consulting a dietitian before you embark on a gluten-free/sugar-free/meat-free life will lower your risk of malnutrition and its negative effects.
According to research, regular consultations with a dietitian can help you improve your lifestyle and maintain your proper eating habits. The close supervision and monitoring of a dietitian will also have a positive impact on your health, especially if you need to make a lifestyle change as a result of your post-surgery treatment or while you are recovering from a serious illness.
5. See a dietitian if you want to lose or manage your weight.
Dietitians can help you plan your meals to assist you in losing, gaining or maintaining your weight. Their extensive knowledge of human nutrition enables them to develop a customised diet plan so you can achieve your desired weight without compromising on your health. They can also offer expert advice and support to guide you through your weight management program every step of the way.
Read more: Types of Dietitians
Your health can’t wait
We urge you to book an appointment with an accredited practising dietitian (APD) immediately if any of the five circumstances above apply to you. Remember, your health is one of your most priceless possessions. Don’t compromise it by delaying your consultation with the experts.