What Does a Dietitian Do?
By Zeina Wu
You have likely heard these titles used interchangeably:
- Nutrition coach
However, these terms are not the same. Many people can call themselves a nutritionist or nutrition coach; however, a dietitian, or registered dietitian, requires extensive education and training. When seeking nutrition support from a professional, make sure to look for a dietitian!
Note: The terms “dietitian” and “registered dietitian” are used interchangeably in this blog.
What is a registered dietitian?
A registered dietitian is a food and nutrition expert who has:
- Earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
- Completed specialized coursework from an accredited university/program for dietetics
- Participated in a specialized internship program
- Passed a national board exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration
Registered dietitians are also required by law to complete continuing education to maintain their licensure to practice ethically. Many states also require a state license to practice dietetics. So, in summary, dietitians know what they are talking about when it comes to food and nutrition.
Nutritionists and nutrition coaches are not required to have the extensive educational background that dietitians must have, and they are not held to national standards to ensure ethical practice. When searching for a dietitian to help support you with your recovery, it is important to make sure you find someone who is credentialed.
Role of a dietitian
Dietitians act as your food and nutrition experts. They have a deep understanding of the critical role food plays in the body and can help you heal your relationship with food.
They teach you the fundamentals of nutrition and how it can impact your health and development. Dietitians help individuals and their families translate nutrition facts into tangible actions and goals that can be used in day-to-day life to meet your needs.
What does a dietitian do?
A dietitian can do the following:
- Provide education on the role foods play in the body
- Help you figure out what foods best nourish your body
- Create an individualized meal plan
- Teach you how to understand your body’s needs
- Work alongside your other medical professionals to help you meet your goals
- Help you on your journey to creating a peaceful relationship with food
- Help you navigate restaurants and grocery stores
And so much more!
“It’s an honor to walk alongside someone, often during a very challenging times in their life, and support them in finding new approaches to eating,” shares Adee Levinstein, MS, RD, LD, CEDS-C, clinical dietitian training specialist at Eating Recovery Center (ERC). “Foods contribute so much more than just the nutrients they contain, and it’s incredible to see my patients integrating back into their lives, engaging in activities and relationships they value.”
What makes ERC’s dietitians unique?
All dietitians who join our team go through extensive training to ensure they provide a weight-inclusive approach to dietetics . Weight-inclusive care within nutrition means that our dietitians work to ensure they are helping you nourish your unique body, respecting that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
We offer a safe and supportive environment and an all-foods-fit approach . This acknowledges that all foods can be part of a balanced diet and no foods are “good” or “bad.” Providing variety with food allows us to honor all realms of our health: physical, social and emotional . Incorporating a variety of foods ensures that our body is getting all the nutrients it needs to thrive.
This approach sets a strong foundation with nutrition that allows you to develop a peaceful relationship with food.
Our dietitians are an integral part of our compassionate care team. They work alongside your other providers (psychiatrist, primary care doctor, therapist) to ensure you are provided with the support you need to heal. It is common for nutritional needs to change throughout your recovery, and our dietitians are here to make the process as seamless and stress-free as possible. They can provide you and your family with the education and support you need to build confidence in your body and your ability to appropriately nourish it.
How can a dietitian help me with an eating disorder?
Dietitians can help your brain and body heal from an eating disorder. Levinstein explains:
“At ERC, our dietitians support nutritional rehabilitation, psychoeducation, emotional support, and overall treatment planning for the patient. They are a key player on the team, working in collaboration with the rest of the care team to highlight both nutritional progress and areas that need continued support, which are critical components of the recovery process.”
You may be asking yourself, how can a dietitian help me in my own recovery? Often, when seeking recovery from an eating disorder, the need for a dietitian can be overlooked. Sometimes you may even be concerned that a dietitian will just say “eat this, not that” or you may be worried that meeting with a dietitian will result in the creation of more food rules.
However, our approach to nutrition education and rehabilitation is different. We believe:
- All foods fit.
- Health is not black and white.
- Anyone can start building a peaceful relationship with food.
Levinstein explains, “Our approach to nutrition comes from a space of building consistency, balance and variety in the most liberalized way possible. We take an individualized approach to ensure each person’s nutritional needs are met.”
We use the food exchange system when creating a specialized meal plan to ensure you are meeting your body’s unique micronutrient (think vitamins/minerals) and macronutrient (think carbohydrates, fats and proteins) needs. This meal plan will serve as the foundation to renourish your body and restore its ability to transition into intuitive eating in the future.
Our dietitians are here not only to help ensure your body is receiving the nutrients it needs to heal but also to teach you how foods are used in your body. We help you build confidence in understanding your body’s needs and how your body can communicate those needs to you.
We also help you learn how to meet your nutritional needs outside of treatment, with practical skills you can use when grocery shopping or eating at a restaurant.
What does aftercare look like?
After getting the care you need, our team will ensure you have a smooth transition to outpatient care. If you have already been working with an outpatient dietitian, we will communicate with them to coordinate care. If not, our team will provide a recommendation for an outpatient dietitian that specializes in eating disorders near you. You can continue to work on your nutrition goals and create new ones as you progress through recovery.
Our dietitians are here to support you. Fill out this brief form today or call us at 866-622-5914 to speak with our team and get matched with the exact support you need.
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