Food seems to be a simple thing—you eat when you’re hungry, right? For many people, that’s not the case. There are a number of factors that can make food seem overwhelmingly complicated. There are budget issues, taste preferences, food allergies, ethical concerns, medical conditions, and mental health disorders that can make choosing a healthy diet difficult.
What many people don’t realize is that many of their issues could be alleviated by chatting with a registered dietitian (RD). RDs are trained to deal with all of the previously mentioned diet dilemmas, and more.
Not only are many people unsure about what RDs do, but they also believe seeing an RD will mean being shamed, lectured, or forced to change their habits. This is far from the truth, but it keeps many people away from getting assistance that could improve their health and reduce stress.
So what is visiting a registered dietitian actually like? It can vary depending on what your needs and goals are, but the first appointment tends to follow a similar structure.
1. Your RD will ask about your needs.
Even if they were already told this information, your RD will probably start by asking, “So what brings you here today?” This is your chance to share your concerns so that you and your RD can get on the same page about what to work on.
Your personal needs are important because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. Some common reasons people may book an appointment with an RD are:
Managing a medical condition (e.g., heart disease or type 2 diabetes)
Treating digestive problems that affect diet, like irritable bowel syndrome
Losing or gaining weight
Recovering from an eating disorder
Dealing with food allergies or intolerances
Learning simple meals to cook with your family
Or getting important nutrients while pregnant or breastfeeding.
As you can expect, each of those needs requires pretty different approaches, so it’s important to identify your problem and make it clear to your RD before moving on to any recommendations.
2. Your RD will get to know you and your eating habits.
Your RD wants to work *with* you, so they’ll want to know your likes and dislikes, how your time and budget affect your cooking, and if you’re dealing with any medical conditions or allergies.
Knowing how you currently eat makes a big difference in how your appointments progress: It allows them to set realistic goals that work for you. For example, if you really hate yogurt, they’re not going to spend weeks convincing you to join the Daily Yogurt Club.
3. Your RD will challenge you (but not chide you).
It’s a myth that your RD will immediately tell you to eat nothing but kale, quinoa, and alfalfa sprouts, and scold you for your cookie weakness. FYI, dietitians eat cookies, too (and they’ll be the first to admit it).
Your dietitian’s job is to educate you on the nuances of nutrition and how it affects your goals, and to motivate you to build new habits that get you closer to your goals. They don’t want to be the “food police.” Instead, they will try to share tips to overcome your personal dietary challenges, give guidelines to tweak your diet, and clarify common nutrition myths.
One of the ways they will challenge you is by leaving you with fair and reasonable goals to try to accomplish before your next session. They might give you specific things to try, or ask you to keep a food diary to monitor your habits and moods about food.
As they challenge you, remember that your RD can’t force you into anything; Their job is to empower you, and the choice to change is yours.