Everyone seems to “know it all” when it comes to nutrition. That’s what they claim anyway.
Shock and surprise when their “advice” doesn’t work out though (are we really surprised?).
You need science-based answers when you make changes that affect your health–not questionable advice your coworker swears by.
So working with a registered dietitian or a nutritionist can be helpful. Because they know a lot about food and how it affects our bodies, so they can help you meet your nutritional needs.
But not every dietitian or nutritionist is going to be right for you.
Weed out the wrong ones by asking the right questions. This post dives into what questions to ask a nutritionist so you can find the right nutritionist or dietitian to help you.
Why it’s important to see a Nutritionist
Your best friend, your mom, and your colleague will tell you what you should be eating…
But if you want a real professional to educate you on smart food choices, see a nutritionist or a dietitian. There are several reasons why you’d want to see a nutritionist:
1) They can give you science-based advice for your specific needs and health goals.
And they’ll help you plan a balanced diet that fits your lifestyle and preferences. Nutritionists or dietitians can also help you with portion sizes, food groups, and meal planning.
That seems basic, but healthy eating is complex. Think of it like a skill you need to learn (and often relearn) over time.
2) Debunk myths and misinformation
“a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”
“whatever you eat at night just turns to fat”
“juice detoxes will cleanse your body”
There’s a lot of information about food and nutrition out there. And you can find “evidence” to support just about anything if you look hard enough (Some people look really hard).
Coffee is the devil one minute, then it’s fine the next. It’s enough to give anyone whiplash and make proper nutrition feel confusing.
Nutritionists and dietitians can help you separate fact from fiction and provide you with evidence-based information. And I mean real evidenced-based facts. Not something that a few studies observed once and can’t be repeated reliably.
3) Long-term support
It takes time to make sustainable changes. Let’s say you want to switch to the Mediterranean diet, but that’s completely different from your current diet, that’s going tot take time. A nutritionist or dietitian can help you set realistic goals to increase your chance of successfully making a change. And support you as you make progress toward your goals.
4) Holistic Approach to Wellness
A healthy diet is one piece of the health puzzle. Nutritionists and dietitians get the intricate relationship between nutrition and your overall well-being. They’ll help you take a holistic approach by looking at things like toward a holistic approach stress management, sleep patterns, and your emotional well-being when it comes to your diet.
5) Disease Prevention
Your diet plays a huge part in preventing diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. And a nutritionist or dietitian can give you the nutrition counseling you need to reduce your risk. For example, maybe you diet could use more whole grains or more healthy fats. A nutritionist or dietitian can then help you figure out how to include those nutrients in your diet.
Now, if you’re already dealing with a specific health condition like diabetes or chronic kidney disease, you need to see a dietitian. Not a nutritionist.
Nutritionist are not Dietitians (Who to See and When)
“Nutritionist” is the most confusing title. Because people use it to mean both “nutritionist” and “dietitian”. But they are not the same in the United States.
Both want to help you make healthy choices. But you need to know who to see and when because it’s your health we’re talking about.
What Dietitians Do
Registered dietitians (aka registered dietitian nutritionist) are healthcare professionals. They are the nutrition expert. They can:
- Provide medical or general nutrition information
- Give you personalized nutrition advice, like your estimated calorie intake needs
- Help you manage a chronic illness through medical nutrition therapy
You’ll find dietitians in hospitals, clinics, school nutrition and even foodservice.
What Nutritionists Do
Nutritionists are not healthcare professionals. They can provide general nutrition information (think guidelines, nutrition tips, and healthy eating habits). They cannot (and should not) give you personalized nutrition advice. You’ll find them in places like WIC, school nutrition, and foodservice too.
You’ll also find a lot of them on social media…
But beware. There are 2 types of nutritionists:
- The social media guru. They wake up and decide they have the passion to teach others about nutrition. Then they parade around in cute workout clothes and talk about how their super clean eating healed their medical condition. Now follow them and buy their coaching.
Do they have good advice? Sometimes. Should they tell you what to do with your health?
- The nutritionist who has a real degree in nutrition, food science or something similar. They probably have a credible certificate too. These people know what they’re talking about.
This is an unpopular opinion in the dietetics field, but I’m gonna say it– It’s ok to see a nutritionist. They can help you give you general dietary advice, they just can’t give you personalized nutrition advice.
This is what counts as personalized nutrition advice
- Daily calorie intake
- carbohydrates, protein, and fats intake
- fluid intake
- Micronutrients to manage a medical condition
Only a dietitian should give you these numbers.
It might seem silly that a nutritionist can’t help you with this…
But think of it this way–it’s like getting a prescription. Because your diet is directly linked to your health. So if you’re not giving it essential nutrients or the right amount of these nutrients, your health is gonna suffer. Especially if this happens over a long period of time. Medical conditions like osteoporosis– when bones get brittle (usually in elderly women)– can develop after a lifetime of not having enough calcium.
If you’re a healthy person and want to learn how to make a balanced meal, or switch to a plant-based diet, it’s fine to see a nutritionist. They can give you valuable guidance. But if you want specific numbers, have health issues or an eating disorder, only a dietitian has the level of education, training and professional authority to help you (the right way)
4 Questions to ask a Nutritionist about Their Qualifications and Experience
1. Are you a registered dietitian or nutritionist?
2. What certifications or degrees do you have?
3. How many years of experience do you have?
4. What type of clients do you work with?
Know when to talk to a nutritionist or dietitian so you can make informed decisions. But how do you prepare for your first consultation so you know you’re working with the right person for you?
Here’s a list of specific questions to ask your nutritionist or dietitian so you can understand their:
- communication style
- how they support their clients throughout their wellness journey
Questions to Help you Understand Your Nutritionist’s Approach
- How do you assess my nutritional needs?
- What factors do you consider when helping someone make changes?
- How do you factor in personal preferences and cultural considerations?
- What does a typical session look like?
Clarify Communication and Availability
- How often should we meet?
- How do we communicate (in-person, phone, email)?
- Do we communicate only in meetings or can I contact you in between sessions?
- What’s the average response time if I contact you in-between sessions?
Understand Behavior Change and Support
- How do you help clients with behavior change and motivation?
- What skills do I need to make the changes I want?
- Do you provide educational resources or materials to help?
- Are there support groups, communities, or additional services available?
Monitor Progress and Make Adjustments
- How do we track progress towards my goals?
- When should we reassess my dietary plan?
- What milestones should I look for?
- What’s a realistic time frame to start seeing change?
It’s really important to listen to how your nutritionist or dietitian answers these questions. Listen for both the content and the way they answer these questions. Because that will tell you a lot about whether this person is the right one for you.
And if they are the right person, here’s how you can prep for your first meeting.
Preparing for Your First Consultation with a Nutritionist
You want to get the most out of your sessions.
So before your consultation with a nutritionist or dietitian, here are some key steps to take:
Get your relevant info together
- Personal health history: Think about your medical history and any relevant health conditions you have. Make a list of any chronic diseases, allergies, or previous surgeries you’ve had. Also write down any medications or supplements (like a vitamin supplement) you take. This information will help the nutritionist or dietitian get a better idea of your health background so they can help you.
This will also help you figure out if you need to see a nutritionist or a dietitian specifically.
- Dietary habits: Look at your current eating patterns and habits. Keep a food diary for a few days– track what you eat and drink. And include portion sizes and any sauces, seasonings and cooking methods. But don’t change what you eat just because you’re tracking your intake. It’s not uncommon for people to try and eat healthier when they have to input their meals. Resist the temptation. Because we need the real picture before we make changes. Don’t worry, your nutritionist or dietitian is NOT judging what you eat (and if they are, get a new one).
- Activity level: This one’s self explanatory. How active are you in a day? And what types of activity do you do? Don’t worry if you think you’re “not active enough”. You want to be as real and honest with your nutritionist or dietitian so they can help you get from where you’re at to where you want to be.
- Food allergies or dietary restrictions: Make a note of specific foods or food groups you need to avoid like peanuts or dairy.
- Goals: Think about your specific goals. For example, if weight loss is your goal, decide that that means to you. Are you looking to actually drop numbers on the scale or look more toned? Also consider what your timeframe looks like. Or maybe you have high blood pressure, so your goal is to lower it.
The Real Goal of Your first Session
A lot of people want to walk away with a meal plan and a to-do list after their first session with a nutritionist or dietitian.
But if your nutritionist or dietitian is a good one, that’s not what you’ll get. Because the first thing they need to do is get to know you, your diet and your lifestyle. And most importantly, they need to know what motivates you.
Because it’s easy to change your diet. But you won’t overhaul your diet and lifestyle habits overnight. So your nutritionist or dietitian will spend your first session listening to what you (really) need and want, so they can help you plan the right changes. That work for you. Not some cookie-cutter plan you need a personal shopper, trainer and chef for.
If you get that, that’s a red flag.
And speaking of red flags….
Cut and run if…
If your nutritionist or dietitian:
- promises you unrealistically fast results
- pushes a fad diet
- Talks about what you “should”, but doesn’t really listen
Cut and run.
This is your health. You’re in charge. And you need a nutritionist or dietitian who is compatible with you.
A nutritionist or registered dietitian can give you science-based answers about healthy food choices. Depending on who you see, they can give you personalized advice, bust myths, and give you long-term support. But, it’s important to ask the right questions to you work with the right person. Before your first meeting, gather relevant info and set goals. Then use these 20 questions to see if your styles are compatible. Make sure the nutritionist fits your needs and don’t be afraid to cut and run if you see red flags.