Is Nutrition Counseling for You?
A personalized approach resolves many food-related problems
When it comes to losing weight or managing disease, many opt to navigate difficult dietary changes and behavior modification on their own. Some may believe that nutrition counseling is too costly, or reserved for very ill or obese patients. But whether you have a chronic condition like diabetes, or an everyday challenge like allergies or weight management, a personalized, professional approach may help you achieve long-term good health.
Edye Wagner, RD, LDN, CDE, is an experienced, licensed nutritionist, a certified diabetes educator, and manager of Clinical Nutrition Services at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. Here she answers some common questions about nutrition counseling and the value of her experienced team.
Q: What does a nutrition counselor do?
A: Nutrition counselors provide education and nutritional programs to prevent and treat diseases and manage weight loss. Many clients are referred by a physician because they have diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular or gastrointestinal problems, and they need help changing their diets to manage the effects of disease.
Besides caring for patients in the hospital, we see outpatients with a variety of nutrition needs such as allergies or gluten issues and parents with children who have special dietary needs. Many are here because they’ve heard—through word of mouth—about our successful weight loss programs.
Q: How do you help people struggling to change their diet?
A: We take an individual approach. We know that what works for one person doesn’t work for another. We let our patients determine what’s important and set their own goals—we don’t insist on what we think is the right way. In fact, a nutrition counselor acts more as an educator or coach. We use meal plans and exercise recommendations.
But we also have alternatives for people who find certain effective tools—like food diaries—stressful or difficult to maintain. The sessions are private, and we’re nonjudgmental. We avoid being too restrictive; sometimes we can add certain foods back into the diet, depending on the patient. Fortunately, today’s grocery stores have many alternatives for patients with special dietary needs.
Q: What works best for losing weight or giving up certain foods?
A: When it comes to trendy diet plans, one is no better than the next. A long-term common sense approach is more effective. Studies show that accountability and commitment also make a big difference. The clients who achieve excellent weight loss results are those who followed up with us over several months. High quality, professional care and support services are critical. In 2010, we saw a combined weight loss of 300 pounds among 45 of our patients. In this field, those are really good numbers.
Q: Do nutritionists specialize in certain areas?
A: Northwestern Lake Forest’s team of nutritionists is experienced across a range of health needs. I specialize in eating disorders and children with epilepsy, and I coordinate our accredited outpatient diabetes education program. The program includes a team of specially certified nurses who provide comprehensive care to diabetes patients. We develop meal plans and exercise programs that help manage their condition and even lower blood sugar levels in some cases.
Jessica Larson-Patrick, RD, LDN, works with inpatients, acute care, pediatric and cancer patients, gestational diabetes and gastrointestinal issues. Colleen Humann, MS, RD, LDN, works extensively with inpatients and outpatients specifically with diabetes, gestational diabetes, cardiac issues and rehab, cancer patients, eating disorders and gastrointestinal issues, along with wellness and weight loss of all ages.
Q: What kind of training does a nutrition counselor or dietitian have?
A: We use the words “nutritionist” and “dietitian” interchangeably, but dietitians typically receive more training than nutritionists. Christi, Jessica and myself are all trained dietitians registered and licensed with the state. Dietitians have an undergraduate degree in food and nutrition that includes many science-based courses. Dietitians also do postgraduate work, completing an internship and/or a master’s degree as well.
Q: What else should people know about nutrition counseling?
A: Food has an incredibly strong relationship to health risks, and our goal is to move people toward long-term, healthier living. We also work within our client’s current lifestyle and budget. We suggest checking with your health insurer. Medicare and private or group insurance plans often cover nutrition counseling for specific reasons.
Keep in mind that you do not need a physician referral to use our services (though some insurers may require it). However, we do receive many physician referrals—even from physicians not affiliated with Northwestern Lake Forest. The word-of-mouth we’ve enjoyed among patients extends to the local medical community, and we’re very proud of that.