DIY or Not: Should I See a Dietitian?
Pay off debt.
Save more money.
Every year, these are three of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. While LearnVest has always been able to help you achieve the first two goals, we haven’t taken a crack at the third one … until now.
Losing weight—and keeping it off—is elusive for many Americans. Part of it may be how imperceptibly we gain weight. While the conventional wisdom is that people put on weight during the holidays, it turns out that only 10% of Americans gain five pounds or more in that period. What happens to the majority of us is something called ”the holiday creep.” This seasonal weight gain is just one pound for most people, but the majority don’t ever lose it, and that single pound, year after year, adds up.
So, what to do? Fad diets and cleanses can be pricey, and the weight often piles back on as quickly as it came off. On the healthier end of the spectrum, registered dietitians are proven to help clients lose weight and maintain their health, but individualized attention also comes with a steeper fee.
And while a dietitian’s services can be expensive (anywhere from $100 to upward of $500), your insurance may foot the bill if you have certain medical conditions, like diabetes. Alternatively, you can often save money for a dietitian’s services, tax-free, in a health flexible savings account. (Find out more flexible savings accounts here.)
Before we start, let’s define the terms: Registered dietitians (who often identify as RDs) must complete training programs, receive certification and complete continuing education requirements. In contrast, nutritionists, in many states, are not regulated and may not have received official training, so make sure that any dietitian or nutritionist that you are considering has up-to-date certification and appropriate training.
In this edition of our DIY or Not series, we spoke to Elyse Gropper, a registered dietitian and a certified holistic health coach who specializes in women’s health and wellness. She told us when you need a dietitian’s tough love—and when you should go it alone.
Don’t Call Me If …
You’re happy with your weight and your energy levels are good.
There’s so much emphasis on looks and appearance in our culture, and it often creates an overwhelming pressure to be skinny. If you’re more or less happy with your weight and feel generally energetic, you don’t need to see a dietitian. It’s great to be educated, but you don’t want to risk becoming overly or unhealthily obsessed with food or nutrition.
You’re going through a lot of serious life changes.
Dietitians will often suggest overarching lifestyle alterations, so you shouldn’t see one if factors in your life are already in flux or out of control. Adding more change will simply overwhelm you, and you won’t be able to concentrate on your goals. Wait until the dust settles in your life before calling a dietitian, if you want to see one.
You’re looking for a quick fix.
A dietitian can’t give you a magic potion to lose five or ten pounds. If you’re just looking to lose a little weight, and you’re not looking for a complete overhaul of your lifestyle, try harder to balance your food and your exercise to see if you can lose weight yourself, without shelling out money for professional help.
You’re not willing to cut out alcohol (or at least cut back).
You need to be willing to compromise on alcohol intake. Many women are unwilling to do so, especially around the holidays, but drinking is basically excessive, empty calories. If you’re not willing to cut back severely, or cut out alcohol entirely, then you shouldn’t see a dietitian.
You don’t have a lot of time right now.
If you’re going to pay to see someone about changing your habits, you should make sure you’re ready to use the tools they give you—and have time to do the homework, too. I make all my clients keep a food journal to become more mindful about what they eat. It’s not just writing down food intake: I make them rate their hunger level and fullness after eating, as well as encouraging them to reflect on their daily goals and what they’re grateful and thankful for. All of this takes thought and time.
(Also try our Food for a Month series for super-quick, healthy and delicious recipes.)
You feel uncomfortable examining your relationship with food.
“Primary food” is what nourishes you as a person, and it includes your relationships, your spirituality and your career. “Secondary food” is what you eat. If you feel uncomfortable examining the different roles each play in your life, or don’t want to work toward changing your lifestyle as a whole, you might not be ready to see a dietitian.
Maybe Call Me If:
If you’re pregnant and feel like you don’t have a good sense about how to eat well or properly nourish yourself, consider seeing a dietitian. If you gain too much weight during pregnancy, you’re at risk for developing gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, which can be dangerous. Many women feel like pregnancy is an excuse to go to town and eat loads of junk, but trust me: If you gain 50-60 pounds instead of 25-30, it will be even more of a struggle to lose that weight after the baby is born.
You’re having fertility issues.
If you’re not in optimal health, it could affect your fertility. If you don’t feel healthy or eat well, and you’re experiencing difficulty getting pregnant, consider calling a dietitian to learn how to better nourish yourself.
You’re overweight but healthy.
If you’re technically overweight, but your physician says you’re healthy, the question is: How do you feel about yourself? If you’re happy with the way you look and feel, then don’t call a dietitian. But if you’re not happy with your image in the mirror, consider calling someone who can help you lose weight in a healthy manner.
You’re underweight and want to gain weight.
Gaining weight in a healthy manner can be difficult: You don’t want to simply load up on bad fats, sugars and empty calories. If you don’t know how to gain weight in a healthy way, consider seeing a dietitian. She can show you how to incorporate healthy fats and nutrient-dense, high-quality foods to encourage healthy weight gain that will keep you energized.
You want to lose weight in a healthy manner.
I’m not going to tell you that you need to see a dietitian to lose weight. Some people have enough nutritional tools and education at their disposal—and can follow their own advice—to lose weight in a healthy manner on their own. If you don’t already have this knowledge, there are diets that promote healthy weight loss, like Weight Watchers, that can get you started on the path to lasting weight loss (plus, it’s cheaper than seeing a dietitian). However, if you’ve tried programs like this before with less-than-stellar results, you should consider seeing a dietitian for a more individualized plan.
Call Me If:
You’re working out, but not seeing results.
A lot of women work out every day but don’t know how to fuel their bodies properly, which means they won’t see optimal results, like weight loss or increased muscle tone. If you’re exercising a lot, you need to know how to encourage muscle recovery and learn how to implement protein in your diet. If you’re not seeing results from exercise and you’re eating healthily, call a dietitian to find out what you’re missing in your diet.
You’ve recently been diagnosed with a food allergy, sensitivity or other related condition.
Most doctors don’t give enough nutritional information to show you how to live a full life with a newly diagnosed food allergy or sensitivity. Gluten sensitivities, celiac disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or lactose intolerance are very common. A dietitian can show you how to incorporate new foods and substitutes into your lifestyle so you can be healthy and eat well, even within a restricted diet.
You aren’t eating well, and it’s affecting your energy.
If you have a hard time waking up in the morning, get tired in the middle of the day, don’t have the energy to exercise or feel like you can’t carry out your daily tasks—and a visit to the doctor turns up nothing suspicious—then it might be time to take a look at your diet. If you’re not eating well but don’t know how to do better, consider seeing a dietitian, who will be able to show you how to better fuel your lifestyle to give you more energy throughout the day.
You’re going through menopause and are gaining weight, despite eating well and exercising.
During menopause, it’s common for metabolism to slow down as estrogen levels change. Gaining weight becomes easier, while losing weight becomes more challenging. Even if you exercise, you may not see the same results you are used to. However, changing up your diet, introducing more superfoods and whole foods, decreasing your dependency on “diet” foods and sweeteners, and starting a vitamin regimen can help you lose weight. If you fit this profile, see a dietitian to find out how to jumpstart weight loss.
You’re an emotional overeater, and it’s causing you to gain weight.
I’m a registered dietitian, but I also have a certificate in holistic health coaching, which means I have training in looking at how food fits into the bigger picture of our lives. If you’re an emotional overeater, consider seeing a dietitian who specializes in holistic health to learn strategies for gaining control over habits you’d like to change.
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Your weight is fluctuating.
If your weight goes up and down, and you can’t seem to stabilize it, consider seeing a dietitian. You clearly know how to lose weight, but if it keeps going back up, you don’t know how to maintain a stable body weight. A dietitian will work with you to find the best weight for your body, show you how to maintain that weight and help keep you accountable, so you don’t let yourself slide.
How to Find a Dietitian That’s Right for You
If you decide that you should see a dietitian, here are some steps to finding a professional that will best serve your needs.
- Ask your physician to recommend a registered dietitian, or search for a registered dietitian through the American Dietetic Association’s site. Enter your zip code and your special needs (women’s health, eating disorder treatment, diabetes management, etc.) to filter dietitians.
- Contact two or three dietitians who best fit your needs based on their specialties, location and fee, and ask if they offer a free consultation.
- If so, meet with them to learn more about their approach to weight management and nutrition. It’s important to find a dietitian who you feel you can confide in and who you have a rapport with. Gropper says, “The more open and honest individuals are about their issues, the more tools, strategies and tips I can give them to meet their specific needs.”
Elyse Gropper is a registered dietitian and certified holistic health coach with a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science. She specializes in women’s health and wellness, which includes overcoming emotional eating, weight management, eating for energy, and disease prevention and recovery.