By Natasha Persaud

If you're reading this article, the chances are that your doctor has recommended that you see a registered dietitian to help you lose weight or manage a medical condition. You probably have some basic questions on your mind. So we asked Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) to give us the scoop on how this health care professional can help you.

What does a registered dietitian do?

“A registered dietitian translates the science of nutrition into practical solutions to help you live healthier,” says Tallmadge . “Your doctor may refer you to one to prevent or manage a medical condition, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders or obesity. The dietitian creates a personalized nutrition plan for you after considering your medical history, family history, weight history, lifestyle and personal goals.”

How can a registered dietitian help me lose weight?

“Weight loss is not just about looking good, but feeling good,” says Tallmadge. “Carrying extra pounds is a factor in several health conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. A dietitian teaches you strategies to lose weight and maintain a slim body, in about 12 sessions.

“People who try to shed pounds on their own typically choose a diet that’s too rigid or drastic. Some avoid eating during the day, only to end up overeating later on. For others, mindless habits sabotage their diets. An emotional eater, for example, reaches for food when she’s feeling down or depressed. A social eater consumes more when he’s around family or friends.

“I help them find a way of eating that is satisfying and nutritious. We’ll make a schedule to control appetite. I also may offer shopping tips and tasty recipes.” When it comes to dining out, “we’ll figure out how many times a week they can splurge at a restaurant, and discuss healthy menu options.” Other tips: Weigh yourself on a scale regularly to track your progress and stay motivated, and use a pedometer (an electronic, portable step counter) to increase your physical activity from day to day. “Research shows that small, easy changes are the most effective,” says Tallmadge.

How can diet help me control my blood pressure?

“To lower borderline or high blood pressure, I’d suggest an exercise program, stress management and the DASH eating plan,” says Tallmadge. “The DASH diet, developed by the National Institutes of Health, is proven to lower high blood pressure. It’s low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat and emphasizes fruits, vegetables and fat-free or low-fat milk products.”

How can a registered dietitian help me manage my cholesterol?

“Losing weight, becoming more physically active, and eating a healthy diet improves cholesterol levels,” says Tallmadge. “Here’s where I might start:

In the first week, we’d record your weight, what you eat and when. In week two, you learn how to reduce the saturated fat in your diet that contributes to your high cholesterol. In week three, I might introduce a portfolio approach by adding foods known to lower cholesterol (e.g., soluble fiber from soy, oats, wheat barley, etc.) and get into other positive eating habits like consuming omega-3 fatty acids from fish and other foods.”

How can a registered dietitian help me manage diabetes?

A dietitian helps the patient eat right to maintain normal blood sugar and an active, healthy lifestyle. “My personal goal is to help patients improve to such a degree that they take less medication or, even, become able to not take their medication,” says Tallmadge. “Ultimately, the decision is made by the patient and her doctor.”

Will insurance pay for a registered dietitian?

“Insurance will often cover what we term as 'medical nutrition therapy,' says Tallmadge, “especially for a medical condition such as diabetes, or cardiovascular issues like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.” Medicare covers nutrition counseling for people with diabetes or kidney disease if they have a doctor’s prescription for it. “We believe Medicare should also cover cardiovascular issues, but it doesn’t yet,” says Tallmadge.

How can I find a registered dietitian?

Dietitians work in private practice, within medical practices or in hospitals. You can locate a registered practitioner through the ADA website, eatright.org.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 01 Jul 2008

Last Modified: 12 Dec 2011