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What Can a Dietitian Do For You?
Shamera Robinson Answers by Shamera Robinson

What Can a Dietitian Do For You?

The thought of meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can be intimidating, especially when you don’t know what to expect. It’s easy to believe a dietitian will give you a strict meal plan or lecture you on all the foods you cannot eat. However, a visit with the dietitian can actually help you figure out how food can work in your favor.

What is a Dietitian?

Dietitians are food and nutrition experts that have at least a Bachelor’s degree in nutrition (most have Master’s degrees), have completed at least 1200 hours of supervised practice, have passed a national registration exam, and maintain their expertise through ongoing continuing education. Dietitians have the credentials “RD” or “RDN”; some may also have “CD” or “LD” (certified/licensed dietitian), and some specialize in diabetes education (“CDE”—Certified Diabetes Educator). Some people may call themselves “nutritionist” without these credentials, however Registered Dietitians are the only providers that are qualified to provide nutrition therapy. 

What to Expect When You Visit a Dietitian

Believe it or not, food isn’t usually the first topic of discussion. Most dietitians will begin the visit by reviewing your family and medical history because these key factors that influence your nutrition needs. Your personal history with food can also play an important role in this conversation. For example, being raised in a home where sugary drinks, like juice and soda, were the only options may help explain a challenge that you face as an adult. Your dietitian is your teammate working with you to reach your health goals and sharing this information can help them better support you.

Discussing Your Food Choices

Now it’s time to talk food. After understanding your history, the RDN will likely want to know about your food choices from day to day. It may be tempting to leave certain foods off the list, but remember your dietitian is there to help you and not to judge your food choices. In fact, dietitians want to learn your favorites, so they can work with you to incorporate those foods in a balanced way. There is no one-size-fits-all eating pattern and a dietitian will not push a meal plan on you. Instead, RDNs will review your history, understand your food preferences, and partner with you to add more food options, healthy swaps, and variety to your routine.  

Setting Your Goals

While dietitians are considered food and nutrition experts, you are the expert on yourself. After talking about your eating habits, a dietitian will ask what changes are most important to you and team up with you to set small, realistic goals. If you don’t drink much water and it is important to you to drink more water, then a small goal may be to drink at least two cups, or 16 fl. oz., of water per day. You will be responsible for setting your goals and making the change, but your dietitian will be there to give you helpful strategies, hold you accountable, and cheer you on each step of the way.  

Paying For Your Visit

The cost of visiting a dietitian varies, but medical nutrition therapy is covered by many different insurance plans. Medicare covers medical nutrition therapy for diabetes and kidney disease. If you do not have Medicare, then you can check with your individual plan by calling the number on the back of the card for specific coverage details. Ask them how many hours you are allowed each year for billing codes: 97802 or 97803 if you have diabetes or prediabetes.

If you believe working with a dietitian will be helpful on your journey to wellness, then ask for a referral from your doctor. You can also get started now by finding a dietitian in your area—find one here.

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