What is a dietitian?
According to the Dietitians of Canada (www.dietitians.ca), an organization representing professional dietitians nation-wide, dietitians are practitioners who have met the national standards for education and training and who are members of their provincial regulatory body.
From hospitals to fitness centres, schools to private practice, the recent trend toward healthier living and eating practices means dietitians are now found in a full spectrum of workplaces, and can be an integral part of your healthcare team.
With specialized training in the nutritional management of clinical conditions, as well as in health promotion and disease prevention, they are able to offer you advice on healthy food choices, common diet pitfalls and how you can maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle.
Who needs a dietitian?
For many people, a visit to the dietitian comes at the urging of their family physician who believes they will benefit from one-on-one counselling and individualized diet plans a specialist can offer.
"My clients often come see me on the advice of their family doctor, or after they've tried all the fad diets and realize they need a more long-term solution," says registered dietitian and nutrition consultant Sari Grossman. "Although the most common reason clients seek me out is for weight loss, these clients often have conditions such as high blood sugars or high cholesterol that, with the weight loss, improve or even disappear."
She says that she sees clients of all ages, but most are men and women between the ages of 40 to 60 years old who seek advice on how to manage emerging health problems and implement healthy eating habits.
"I think more than ever people are busy – balancing careers, families, but forgetting to take care of themselves," she says. "As a result, stress, a lack of exercise and poor diet catch up with them around this age and health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure tend to surface."
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However, you don't have to wait for health problems to arise to give your diet a makeover. Dietitians are trained to advise everyone from athletes to pregnant women on how to make the most of their food choices. They work with you closely to help identify problem eating habits, answer questions about the nutritional needs of you and your family and offer practical advice on how to start on the right path toward heathier and fitter you.
How to find a dietitan that's right for you
When looking for a nutrition expert, Grossman says it's important for people to be aware of the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist so that they can make an informed decision about their caregiver.
The title "dietitian" is protected by law through provincial legislation, so that only qualified practitioners who have met education qualifications can use that title.
"Our competence is regularly monitored, so your quality of care is assured," says Grossman. "Conversely, the term 'nutritionist' is not protected by law in some provinces, so people with various levels of training and knowledge may use this title."
Once you have narrowed down your focus, shop around until you find a dietitian whose goals and values match your own and whom you feel comfortable with. Don't be afraid to ask questions, such as how much you will be charged, how long each appointment is, what is covered at each appointment and what are the booking and cancellation policies.
"Divulging those less-than-stellar, maybe embarrassing food habits isn't easy for anyone, so make it a professional you feel you can trust," says Grossman.
Where to look for a dietitian
To find a registered dietitian in your area, check out the Diatitians of Canada database:
www.dietitians.ca/find or, if you are a resident of Ontario or British Columbia you can use a toll-free telephone service to link you to a registered dietitian who will answer your nutrition and healthy eating questions free of charge.
EatRight Ontario, 1-877-510-5102
B.C. Dial-a-Dietitian, 1-800-667-3438
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