The world is full of messages about nutrition, health, and wellness.
The magazine in the checkout at the grocery store preaches the amazing results of one diet, while an Instagram influencer you follow swears by another, and your friend from high school sings the praises of a third on her Facebook feed.
There is no shortage of information, but have you ever thought about the quality of it?
Lucky for you, registered dietitians exist.
What Is A Dietitian?
Registered dietitians are food and nutrition experts.
Dietitians are formally educated and highly trained to provide evidence-based medical nutrition therapy. This means they use the latest scientific research in their approach to guide you to a healthier life.
Dietitians are also trained in nutrition counseling and can help you build a tailored nutrition plan to achieve your nutrition and health goals.
While dietitians do many things, there are some limits and things they do not do. Dietitians, like other health professionals, have a scope of practice that they will not operate outside of. Additionally, dietitians are obligated to act ethically and not recommend anything that may harm their clients.
As a registered dietitian myself, I am familiar with what dietitians do and do not do because I work with clients like you every day.
In this article, I’ll outline what dietitians do and don’t do so you can understand what to expect from a dietitian and decide if working with one of us can help you achieve your goals.
What Do Dietitians Do?
Provide Nutrition Counseling
One of the main things that dietitians do is practice nutrition counseling.
Nutrition counseling is a collaboration between a dietitian and a client where both parties work together to alter the client’s diet to achieve a goal.
The goal itself can range from losing weight to managing a chronic illness to simply wanting to live a healthier, happier life.
Nutrition counseling involves diving into what you eat, as well as why you eat the things you do, when you eat, how much you eat, how you feel about food and your body, and more.
While the nutrition counseling process is collaborative, the dietitian is the guide of the process. He or she will provide direction to help you, as the client, move toward your healthiest self.
Help Work Healthy Eating Into Your Life
While dietitians are trained in evidence-based practice and know the scientific reasons why you should eat a certain way, they are not simply here to tell you exactly what to do.
Instead of just telling you to eat more vegetables, a dietitian will work with you to adjust your eating habits over time to allow you to eat in a way that is healthier for your body.
Instead of telling you to eat very specific meals at very specific times, a dietitian will work with you to build an eating pattern that is realistic and sustainable for you to follow in the long term.
One of the best parts of working with a dietitian is that you receive personalized nutrition recommendations, not blanket recommendations that may or may not work for you. You and your dietitian are a team that navigates eating together.
Help You Understand Your Body
You may have heard a dietitian or nutritionist say something along the lines of, listen to your body or figure out what works for your body.
If you’ve heard this and thought it sounds great, but you’re not sure how to do it, a dietitian can help. Dietitians can help you figure out what works for you so you can optimize your health.
Build A Healthier Relationship With Food and Your Body
While many people seek out diets or nutritional guidance wanting to lose weight, that is not all that dietitians do. In fact, many dietitians do not believe in fad diets because they damage your relationship with food and your body.
Many dietitians are passionate about helping people like you achieve your nutrition and health goals while maintaining or strengthening your relationship with food and your body.
Working with a dietitian can help you look and feel your best without compromising other areas of your health.
Follow A Holistic Approach
While dietitians mainly focus on food, nutrition counseling is often a holistic process.
Holistic nutrition counseling incorporates more than just what, when, and how much you eat. It also takes into account the balance of your diet, the variety of foods you eat, and the practice of moderation.
Additionally, a holistic approach will touch on factors that affect the way you eat including your exercise, sleep, stress, mental health, mindfulness, self-care, and more.
While dietitians are not experts in these areas, they will provide general guidance on many of them. If your dietitian believes any of these factors needs a deeper look, they will refer you to the appropriate professional so you can get all of the help you need.
What Don’t Dietitians Do?
Give Quick Fixes
I would be willing to bet that when you see quick fixes and fad diets promoted, it’s not by dietitians.
Dietitians do not believe in these approaches because they have the education and training to understand that these approaches do not work. While you may see quick results, it is almost impossible to sustain them.
Dietitians want you to find a sustainable approach to achieving your goals, then be able to easily maintain the goals you’ve achieved.
Suggest Drastically Cutting Anything From Your Diet
Again, if you see anyone recommending drastically reducing the numbers of calories you eat or suggesting completely cutting out entire food groups, they are likely not a dietitian.
Dietitians are trained in a well-balanced approach to eating, which allows a wide variety of foods and allows you to get all of the nutrients you need.
Drastically reducing what you eat puts you at risk of becoming malnourished, and that is not something any dietitian wants to see.
Rely On Supplements
As I just said, dietitians want you to eat a varied, well-balanced diet that allows you to get all of the nutrients your body needs.
Dietitians often take a food-first approach, meaning that you should aim to get all of your nutrients via food, not supplements.
The use of supplements is fairly self-explanatory. Supplements should supplement your diet. You should not have to rely on pills and powders to achieve your daily intake goals.
Dietitians will recommend specific supplements on an individual basis if they will benefit you. However, they won’t recommend relying heavily on them.
Make Individual Workout Plans
Creating a specific exercise plan is not within the scope of practice for a dietitian.
Dietitians are trained in nutrition, not exercise science. They can provide you with general exercise guidelines including how much exercise you should aim to complete and what types of exercises will help you achieve your goals.
However, dietitians are not trained to create specific plans that include how heavy your weights should be, how many repetitions to complete, how many sets to complete, how many miles to run, etc.
The only exception here is a dietitian who is also educated and trained in exercise science or personal training.
Simply Tell You What You Want To Hear
Dietitians are food and nutrition experts, which means they have a solid foundation of knowledge on those subjects. They are also trained to read and interpret scientific research and will share that knowledge with you.
If you are looking for someone to tell you what you want to hear and back up your ideas about food and nutrition, a dietitian is not the person for you.
For example, if you wholeheartedly believe in the keto diet or intermittent fasting and are looking for someone to reassure you of your approach, a dietitian is likely not your answer.
Will A Dietitian Help You Reach Your Goals?
If you are looking for a quick fix that involves drastic measures, a dietitian is not the right fit for you.
If you want a workout plan and supplement regimen, a dietitian is not the answer.
If you’re simply looking for someone to tell you what you want to hear, a dietitian is not going to be worth your time, effort, or money.
However, if you are looking for holistic nutrition counseling, a dietitian will provide that.
If you are hoping to gain a better understanding of your body and how to eat for it, a dietitian will help you with that.
If you are hoping to work healthy eating into your life while improving your relationship with food and your body, a dietitian is your answer.
If you started reading this unsure of what dietitians are, what they do, and if a dietitian can help you, I hope you found your answers.
If you answered yes to the questions above and are ready to dive into nutrition counseling with a dietitian, we are here for you. Schedule a free consultation today to learn more about our approach to personalized, nutrition coaching.
If you’d like to learn a little more about our team of dietitians and nutritionists before diving in, you can read about all of our team members and see if anyone seems like a good fit for you.
If you’re interested in learning more about OnPoint and the experience we provide to our virtual, one-on-one nutrition counseling clients, learn more about our client experience here.
Liz has been reading nutrition labels since she learned how to read. Growing up with severe peanut and tree nut allergies she learned that it’s important to know what you are putting into your body. She made her first big lifestyle change as a freshman in high school, when she decided to become a vegetarian. However, it wasn’t until she took a food class in Italy as part of a study abroad program in college that it clicked in her mind that she wanted to make food and nutrition her career. Liz graduated from Penn State University in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in Nutrition, as well as a bachelor's degree in Marketing. She completed her dietetic internship with Aramark in Philadelphia, and her master's degree at Northeastern University shortly after.