Forget Your MD. Who’s Your RD?

By Tracy Morris

You grew up with a family physician or pediatrician, then made an appointment with a women’s health practitioner along the way. Medical checkups, we get. But how about that annual diet checkup?Registered Dietitian looking at an apple

The American Dietetic Association thinks you should have your very own Registered Dietitian.

They’re serious. They’ve named a special day to promote awareness of the big health dividends connected to professional guidance on eating right. March 13 is Registered Dietitian Day.

I hear what you’re thinking. “I’m a strong woman. I’m smart and successful. I don’t need advice on what to eat.”

I felt the same way until I interviewed a few experts. In fact, I venture that for most of my life, my eating habits have been relatively educated and — the harder part of the puzzle — disciplined. I was just one of those lucky kids who actually preferred vegetables to candy. Weird, but true.

After interviewing several Registered Dietitians, though, the idea of having my very own bona fide food expert is appealing.

Why do I need a Registered Dietitian?

We know the basic food groups and which ones to focus on. We know to stay away from saturated fats. We know to avoid canned and processed foods. If we use them anyway, we know to read labels. We’ve been told that sugar-free foods can be high in fats and vice versa. Most people believe that an RD’s role is in schools and hospitals.

Admittedly, the most health-conscious of us can find our heads spinning by what sounds like back-and-forth research reports spit out by the news media. Eggs are bad. Eggs are good. Drink red wine. Don’t imbibe at all. Chocolate has mysteriously beneficial properties. Well, only the chocolate that few of us eat. Who has the time to keep up with the latest data?

An RD has that kind of time.

Can’t my doctor advise me?

Lona Sandon, M.Ed., R.D., L.D.“Contrary to popular belief, we are NOT the Food Police,” jokes Lona Sandon, M.Ed., R.D., L.D. Sandon, who is an Assistant Professor at University of Texas Southwestern, is working with the American Dietetic Association to get the word out that physicians are medical experts — not nutrition experts. “Most people may not know that primary care doctors typically don’t also have nutrition education in their medical schooling.”

One benefit of an appointment with an RD is that you’ll get a full hour of her day. The typical time spent by patients with a physician in this country ranges around 10 minutes.

First appointments with an RD start with history-taking. You’ll reflect back on your typical diet for different periods of time — the past 24 hours, the past month, etc.

Optimally, the RD will have on hand any medical history or records either sent prior by your referring physician (a typical ‘must’ for insurance coverage in most policies) or that you’ve brought to the appointment. Current or previous medical conditions will be the first topics discussed.

A nutrition client’s goals are put on the table next. Not everyone who sees an RD is there to lose weight. Holistic-minded physicians fortunately recognize the tremendous impact that food can have on several health conditions, for example, metabolic syndrome and chronic infections. Athletes who are serious competitors are frequent RD clients.

A conversation about your lifestyle will shed more light on the ultimate result. “We look realistically,” Sandon emphasizes, “at what kind of time you have available for food preparation. Do you eat out very often and need to continue doing so? Do you exercise and how? Are you a snacker? Who shops for groceries in your household? A strategy is then developed to move the client toward a healthier eating plan,” says Sandon. “Then we schedule a follow-up appointment so we can assess whether or not progress is being made toward achieving the client’s goals.”

Sandon says that clients who see the most success are usually the ones who come in for their follow-up visit. Part of the reason is the sense of accountability that returning clients have, similar to support groups like Weight Watchers.

“People who come in the first time and announce, ‘My doctor said I have to see you’… they’re often the ones who don’t follow through with the plan we devise,” she says good-naturedly. “But the ones who come in because they’re afraid of having a heart attack or some other nutrition related condition — they’re the most motivated.”

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