When You Consult an Expert

Whether you seek nutrition counseling on your own or followup from a doctor's referral, here's how you can make the most of your time with a qualified nutrition professional. For an office visit . . .

• Have a medical checkup first. A qualified nutrition professional needs to know your health status before providing dietary guidance. Your healthcare provider can share your blood pressure and information from blood tests, such as blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose (sugar), hemoglobin, and hematocrit levels, among others.

Some health problems are managed in part or completely by diet and perhaps physical activity. If so, your doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian for appropriate diet therapy. In many states, private health insurance and managed care plans cover nutrition counseling (also known as medical nutrition therapy) with a registered dietitian for some health conditions, such as diabetes. Ask for a referral if you qualify.

  • Share your goals. If you seek nutrition advice on your own, know what you want to accomplish. Do you want to lose weight? Gain weight? Have more stamina for sports? Improve your blood cholesterol levels? Live a healthier lifestyle? Think about your goals ahead . . . and make them realistic.
  • Forget miracles and magic bullets. A qualified nutrition professional will focus on changes in your lifestyle and food choices, not on quick results, miracle cures, or costly dietary supplements.
  • Tell about dietary supplements you 're taking. That includes herbal remedies and botanicals. Some supplements interact with medications (even over-the-counter types), rendering them ineffective or causing harmful side effects. See "Food and Medicine " in chapter 22. Dietary supplements taken in very large doses also may cause adverse health reactions. See chapter 23, "Supplements: Use and Abuse."
  • Keep an ongoing personal health record to share and aid decisions about your nutrition and healthcare.
  • Be prepared to answer questions. Expect to talk about your eating habits, adverse reactions to food, dietary supplements, your weight history, food preferences, general medical history, family history of health problems, medications, special diets, any nutrition instruction you've had, and your lifestyle habits. With those insights, a dietitian can help you customize food and nutrition advice for your lifestyle and health.
  • For weight counseling or sports nutrition, expect to have your weight and body composition checked— usually height, weight, and a skinfold measurement in several spots on your body (or other techniques to measure body composition).
  • Ask for clarification. If you don't understand the terms used in the counseling session, ask! Terms such as "blood glucose level," "HDLs," "triglycerides," "anaphylactic reaction," and "trans fatty acids" are nutrition-related lingo. Know what they mean.
  • Be specific with your questions. You're the most important person on your healthcare team. You can only comply with dietary recommendations if you have a clear understanding of the advice offered.
  • Be open to professional health advice. For example, if your healthcare provider talks about your weight, it's for your own health benefit.
  • Keep careful eating records—if you're asked. Record everything you eat and drink, including snacks, perhaps for several days. Record the amounts (in cups, ounces, tablespoons, or the like) and how the foods were prepared, such as "fried" or "baked." For other tips, see "Dear Diary..." in chapter 2.
  • Involve your family. If you take a nutrition class or meet with a nutrition professional, bring your family and friends along. Support helps ensure success.
  • Follow up, as advised, so your progress can be monitored and your questions answered. Follow-up visits are great moral support, too!
  • Stick with it! A change in body weight, blood cholesterol levels, and other physical conditions may take time. With your healthcare provider and support team, plan for gradual results.
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