Should You Get a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist?
A registered dietitian isn’t just someone who tells you what to eat or puts you on a meal plan. Their skill goes well beyond that. These experts are professionals who have specialized training in food, diet, and nutrition and can help clients with a range of needs, including weight loss, medical nutrition therapy, family eating, and more.
In order for someone to call themselves a registered dietitian (RD) or a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN) (two credentials that mean the same thing), they have to meet certain criteria. That includes completing a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and an accredited supervised practice program, passing a national exam, and taking continuing professional educational requirements, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In addition, states may also require licensing, and you may see this reflected with the letters LDN (licensed dietitian-nutritionist) or CDN (certified dietitian-nutritionist), the Academy explains.
Be wary of the general term “nutritionist,” says Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, chair of the department of nutrition and dietetics and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “‘Nutritionist’ isn’t a protected term. Anyone can call themselves this — and they do. It’s important to know the credentials of the person you’re considering speaking with. If they call themselves a nutritionist, you want to be hesitant to start working with them,” she says.
Therefore, one of the more important points to remember before hiring a dietitian is to make sure that they are an accredited RD or RDN first. In doing that, you can be confident that they have the expertise necessary to guide you safely and appropriately, no matter your concern.
Registered Dietitians Can Help You Manage Disease
Whether you have type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or digestive diseases (such as irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease), a registered dietitian can help you design an eating plan that will help manage those conditions.
What you eat can also play a big role in reversing the course of disease or preventing it all together. Take prediabetes, says Dr. Wright. “We know type 2 diabetes is a continuum and it can take 5 to 10 years before prediabetes advances into full-blown diabetes. We can work with these patients to prevent that from happening,” she says. (Those with prediabetes have a 50 percent chance of developing diabetes within the decade, according to the Cleveland Clinic.)
Another example is kidney disease. An RDN can help you tailor your diet to avoid the future need for dialysis or a transplant. In addition, says Wright, more effective management of chronic disease through lifestyle measures like diet and exercise can decrease or eliminate the need for medication or improve how well it works.
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If Your Starting a Family (or Have Young Children), an RD Can Make Mealtime Easier
Pregnant moms may visit an RDN for guidance on how to eat to support a growing baby. New moms who are breastfeeding might also want to see an RD to ensure that they’re taking in enough calories in order to successfully feed their newborn, as well as nutrients like calcium, to make sure they’re getting what they need for their bodies to be healthy, says Wright. Have kids who are picky? There are many RDNs who specialize in family nutrition and can “help work with the family and make sure they’re getting the nutrients they need, as well as giving parents strategies to improve eating,” she says.
An RD Can Help You Lose Weight Successfully and Safely
In a world of fad and crash diets, it’s easy to hop on a trendy diet plan. But if weight loss is your goal, it’s beneficial to talk to an RDN first. “Weight loss is all about meeting the client where they are, learning about their lifestyle and motivations, and working collaboratively to help individualize a plan that will work for them and help them reach their goals,” says Wright. This is different from being handed a specific diet with a list of rules to follow, which might not match up with your lifestyle, cultural preferences, or tastes, or may leave you with potential nutrient deficiencies.
An RDN brings their knowledge of nutrition plus their experience with past clients to address potential pitfalls or barriers and set up strategies that they’ve seen successfully work before, says Wright. In addition, as an expert, they can help you get through a plateau or maintain weight loss after you’ve reached your goal. “It’s this lifestyle support that reinforces health in the long term,” she says.
How to Find (and Afford) Working With a Registered Dietitian
Many registered dietitians take insurance, while some do not, and directly charge clients their fees instead. Before signing up with anyone, ask if they take insurance and see if they are currently accepting yours. Often, an RD will list the name of the insurance groups they take or list their fees on their website. If that’s not available, then inquire directly.
During the pandemic, the world of virtual care has opened up. There are serious advantages of connecting with an RDN through telehealth, including cutting commuting time or expanding access depending on the location you live in, adds Wright.
A good place to start your search for a qualified RD-RDN for in-person or virtual appointments is at EatRight.org using their Find a Nutrition Expert tool.
You can also consider contacting your local hospital system (that takes your insurance), which may have outpatient dietitians that they work with, notes Wright. Medicare Part B may also cover medical nutrition therapy if you have diabetes or kidney disease, notes Medicare.gov. Always check your coverage first.
If those options are not accessible to you, then a more financially feasible one may be signing up for an RDN’s group coaching class or online programs and courses. For something less intensive, many RDNs also offer meal planning guides available for free or purchase through their personal website. If you’re not sure what avenue is right for you, check to see if the RDN you’re considering working with offers complimentary 15-minute introductory calls to fully assess the options that work best with your budget.
The Bottom Line
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out, poor nutrition puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, as well as obesity. “Food is medicine. Whether it’s a little tweak of your diet or ongoing support for a serious condition, a registered dietitian can optimize your health and wellness,” Wright says.