While every dietitian has a different way of conducting an initial session, and every client’s initial session will be different, there are some major goals of an initial session.
1. Get to know each other.
Your dietitian will likely ask questions about your daily routine, lifestyle, and food habits. She (or he) may also ask about any diet education you’ve received and your past dieting history.
She’ll also share about her approach, tools she brings to the table, and provide an overview of what this session and your time working together will look like. Often, she’ll see if you have any questions as well.
2. Assess your nutrition status and dietary needs.
Your dietitian will ask questions about medical diagnoses and any medications or supplements you’re taking. Diet plays a significant role in the management of many diseases and conditions (that’s likely why you’re seeing a dietitian after all), but the management of each is often drastically different. For example, I’ll make very different recommendations for someone with celiac disease who has unintentionally lost a lot of weight and someone with diabetes who wants to lose weight. She’ll also see if there are foods or supplements that interfere with how your medications work.
She’s likely to also ask about your regular eating habits. She may conduct a very detailed assessment using a 24 hour recall or a food frequency questionnaire, or she may elect to paint your daily eating with broader strokes, asking you to talk through what you usually eat in a day. Here, she’s listening for patterns and what factors (e.g., time, taste preferences, routine) impact your food choices. At this point, she may note that your diet is fairly low in a particular nutrient, like fiber or calcium, and she may make recommendations for ways to increase your intake of those nutrients.
If you have brought lab work or your physician has sent your lab work to her, your dietitian will also review your labs (likely with you) and identify any abnormal labs that are relevant to nutrition. For example, I look at certain labs on a CBC panel for anemia; fasting blood glucose and A1c for diabetes; and BUN, creatinine, and eGFR for kidney disease. She will then use those labs to guide her recommendations.
3. Provide education on the nutrition management of your disease, condition, or concern.
Have you ever done a quick search on your disease, condition, or concern and nutrition only to find conflicting information within the first 5 minutes? There’s so much nutrition information out there, and so much of it, while often written by well-meaning people, is either wholly inaccurate, incomplete, or not actually relevant to your concern. One of my favorite things as a dietitian is seeing someone’s worries release when they find out they don’t have to follow this or that fad diet to lose weight. They don’t have to forever avoid a particular food again to manage their diabetes well. They don’t have to avoid all delicious food on a gluten-free diet.
Often, some education on a particular disease process is needed to help explain how nutrition can manage that disease. I love this part, and so do many dietitians. Many of us are teachers at heart and seeing light bulbs go off as people become informed about their disease/concern and empowered to make real life changes to improve their health makes the job worthwhile.
4. Discuss goals and next steps.
If you’ve ever been around a dietitian for more than 5 minutes, you’ll find most of us are goal (and detail!) oriented. You likely won’t leave a dietitian’s office without homework (I often ask for at least 4 days of food logs after the first session) or a goal for either your time working with a dietitian (e.g., lose x amount of weight, have blood sugar below x 2 hours after meals) or a personal goal for the week (e.g., drink 8 glasses of water a day, eat at least 1 high fiber food at breakfast).
Dietitians know lifestyle changes can be difficult. It’s not that the changes themselves are necessarily hard, but the internal struggle within us, our present wants and life’s demands vs. our future needs, makes change hard. We come alongside our clients to help build support, bring in tools and ideas, and help identify and build on motivation to make small, sustainable changes that can result in major benefits to their health.
Interested in Seeing a Dietitian?
If you are located within the State of Louisiana, you can call my office at 337-466-6899 to schedule an in-person or telehealth appointment. If you are located outside of the Louisiana, you can find a dietitian near you by using the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Find a Nutrition Expert program.