Nutrition is considered a primary therapy because is it the foundation of many treatment plans and because it is the building block of a healthy lifestyle. From diabetes to heart disease, the effects of serious medical conditions can be managed, mitigated or even prevented with a well-informed nutrition plan.
Easier said than done, right?
We all eat food, so, to some degree, we’re already experts. However, even pros can form bad habits over time. And that’s where a Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) can help.
A dietitian is a certified health expert who helps treat or manage conditions through specialized nutrition plans. At the Outpatient Nutrition Counseling program at Washington Hospital, RDs like myself, focus on giving patients the education and tools to make good food decisions, change their eating behaviors and use nutrition as a foundation for achieving their individual health goals.
In order to be called a Registered Dietitian or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, an individual has to receive a 4-year degree from an accredited program, complete an internship, and pass certification through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Board of Directors or the Commission on Dietetic Registration, then take continuing education courses throughout their careers. In addition, many of the RDs on staff have graduate degrees in dietetics and/or certifications in specialized fields like food allergies, diabetes, and weight management.
We use this specialized knowledge to educate our patients on how what they eat affects their health goals – whether that’s stabilizing blood sugar levels, decreasing inflammation, managing weight, or improving digestion. Staying away from fad diets, we focus on building healthy eating plans that fit with our patient’s tastes, lifestyle, and nutritional needs. Our goal is to make healthy eating accessible to everyone, which can happen with some basic changes in how people think about their food and meals.
So, what is the foundation of a healthy eating plan?
What you eat. While recommendations will vary based on preference and health goal, we recommend each meal be comprised of ½ fruits and vegetables, ¼ lean protein and ¼ whole grains and that you use a 9 inch plate.
How much you eat. In general, women need 1,600 – 2,400 calories per day and men need 2,000 – 3,200 calories per day to maintain their body weight depending on their level of activity and age. That’s why one of the first things that a dietitian will teach a patient is to be mindful of caloric intake by controlling portion size. What we don’t want to do is deprive people of foods they like. Instead, the focus is on portion and other preparation options that can make meals healthier but just as enjoyable as the higher calorie option.
When you eat. When managing a disease with diet, eating at regular intervals helps medications to work properly. In addition, eating on a regular schedule helps prevent between-meal snacking and aids in meal planning and preparation.
Forming other healthy habits. Nutrition is only part of living a healthy lifestyle. In addition to maintaining a proper diet, it’s important to get the recommended amount of exercise, get enough sleep, have a social support network, and manage stress in healthy ways.
With so much nutrition information out there and so many diets to choose from, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There’s also a lot of misinformation online that can be dangerous for people with certain preexisting medical conditions. However, with the guidance and support available through nutrition counseling, such as the Washington Hospital’s Outpatient Nutrition Counseling, you can learn the skills needed to be mindful of the foods you eat so you can live a longer, healthier life. And, when in-person nutrition counseling is not an option and consumers have to rely on information on the internet, then it is critically important that the information is coming from a nutrition professional and that the nutrition information is appropriate for them, if there are medical conditions that need to be considered when changing what you eat.