What Happens in a Dietitian Appointment?
May 4, 2022
Congrats! You are ready to take charge of your health and wellbeing and you’re booking your first dietitian appointment (or discovery call). You may have a mix of feelings, ranging from excitement about getting started, to nervousness about sharing your story or not knowing what to expect.
The purpose of this article is to outline the process and answer any questions you might have about what happens in a dietitian appointment. We will cover topics including how to select the right dietitian, what happens in initial and review consultations, and frequently asked questions.
Choosing the right dietitian
There are a few factors to consider when choosing the right dietitian for you. Let’s start by defining the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist, because this can be a confusing area when choosing your health professional.
Nutritionists vs. dietitians – what’s the difference?
All dietitians are also qualified nutritionists, but a nutritionist is not necessarily also a dietitian. To become a nutritionist, you don’t require the same level of qualifications required to work as a dietitian.
Unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, even if they have no qualifications in the field of nutrition. This is because the term ‘nutritionist’ is not protected by any governing body.
Dietitians, on the other hand, are required to follow a strict pathway that includes a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree. The degree includes thorough training in nutrition therapy and counselling.
Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) are registered with Dietitians Australia and are required to abide by a set code of ethics and conduct. They must complete 30 hours of continuing professional development each year to maintain the credential.
APDs are able to provide services funded by Medicare, DVA and NDIS, and most health insurances provide rebates. They will regularly communicate with other members of a multi-disciplinary care team including General Practitioners, psychologists, gastroenterologists and diabetes educators amongst others.
Dietitians can work privately or in hospitals, aged care facilities, schools, corporate health and government or food industry roles.
All of our dietitians at Plant Nutrition and Wellness are APDs.
Areas of specialty
Did you know that most dietitians specialise in certain areas of nutrition or health concerns? For example, areas of expertise or interest include diabetes, gastrointestinal health, paediatrics, fertility, sports, plant-based nutrition, or metabolic or renal conditions.
On the PNW Clinic team, we have three dietitians with different areas of interest. Whether you need help with emotional eating, eating disorder recovery, fertility and pregnancy or gut health, we’ve got you covered.
It’s time to meet the team – allow us to introduce ourselves!
Kiah is the founder of the PNW Clinic. She works in the areas of eating disorders, disordered eating and plant based nutrition and is passionate about helping women build a healthy relationship with food and their body. She believes that eating should be easy and enjoyable – not the cause of guilt, stress or anxiety.
Megan loves showing her clients how to make healthy eating easy! She works in the areas of eating disorders/disordered eating, plant-based nutrition and gut health. She takes an all-foods-fit approach and enjoys helping clients find a sustainable way of eating that works for them in the long term.
Georgia specialises in the area of vegan nutrition, pregnancy, gut health and weight loss surgery. She works closely with bariatric surgeons for the nutritional management of patients pre and post-surgery. She also loves working with her clients on the pregnancy journey – whether this be optimising their diets in preparation for pregnancy or helping them meet their nutritional needs through every trimester.
Getting the most out of your dietitian consultation
Once you’ve selected the right dietitian for you and booked your initial appointment, it’s time to prepare. Let’s chat about what happens in a dietitian appointment!
An initial consultation is the first step in working with your dietitian to achieve your health and nutrition goals. The initial consult is 60 minutes and during that time your dietitian will ask you about your current eating habits, lifestyle, food preferences, and goals. They will work with you to develop a plan that’s tailored to your unique needs and situation.
Review consultations (which usually last 45 minutes) with your dietitian will cover wins, challenges, areas for improvement, and troubleshooting based on your nutrition and lifestyle goals. At each session, your dietitian will also provide further education and resources individualised to you.
To make sure you get the most out of your dietitian consultations, here are our top 4 tips!
Tip 1: Identify your main concern
It is likely that there are a few things you want to change or work on. However, we can’t address every issue all at once – that can be overwhelming!
Sustainable habit change starts with identifying the factor that will have the biggest impact on your life and gradually building in steps to achieve this. Your dietitian can help you with this if you are unsure.
Examples of sustainable habit change include the following:
- Having a balanced breakfast each day instead of skipping breakfast
- Having full serves of plant protein at lunch/dinner
- Trying one new recipe each week
Tip 2: Consider your relationship with food
In your consults, your dietitian wants to understand you as a person. We want to know about your nutrition journey and how your relationship with food has changed over time. Consider the following:
- What struggles have you had with food over the years?
- What diets or nutrition changes have you tried in the past, and were they sustainable?
- How do you value food within your life?
- Is food a source of enjoyment for you, or do you feel guilt or anxiety around it?
At The PNW Clinic, we are passionate about providing a safe space for you to share your story in which you feel heard, seen and understood. We are not here to judge you, rather to provide support, accountability and guidance as you find a balance with nutrition that works for you.
Tip 3: Come prepared!
To get the most out of your session, consider bringing a list of questions or topics that you’d like to ask about. Asking questions can help demystify confusing topics like fasting, supplements, or dietary patterns such as low carb or vegan.
Keeping a food diary between appointments can be an important tool for tracking progress, accountability and saving time during sessions. It can be difficult to remember what you ate yesterday, let alone 4 days ago. Your dietitian may suggest completing a food and mood diary if you struggle with emotional eating or disordered eating. These are very helpful to identify patterns and come up with solutions.
Tip 4: Understand your motivation
One thing that can help you to overcome challenges during your nutrition journey is understanding your motivation.
Perhaps, for example, you want to improve your relationship with food. But why? We want to dig a little deeper.
- What does an ideal relationship with food look like for you?
- How will it improve your quality of life to have less anxiety or thoughts around food?
- How could a better relationship with food improve social eating occasions for you?
We suggest taking some time to consider what really motivates you and why your health and wellness is important to you. You can come back to these reflections at times when you have challenges along your journey.
Frequently asked questions
You may still have some questions about what happens in a dietitian appointment. We’ve put together a list of questions that prospective or new clients often ask about the process of working with a dietitian.
- Do I need a referral from my GP?
This can be helpful for accessing rebates through Medicare if you are eligible, however, it is unnecessary. Anyone can book an appointment with one of our dietitians without a referral.
- Will you give me a meal plan?
Our approach is different for every client. Some people benefit from very structured meal plans and other clients prefer to work on much smaller goals e.g. having a balanced breakfast. We will explore the best strategy for you during our consultations. Our ultimate goal is for you to feel confident in making informed decisions about food rather than following a set meal plan forever.
- How often will we be working together?
This depends on the coaching option you choose and on which dietitian you are working with. There may be options for a membership, packages or pay-as-you-go consultations. In the beginning, most clients will work with us weekly or fortnightly. This depends on the unique situation or whether there are higher needs for monitoring and support (for example, in eating disorder recovery). Over time, sessions may occur further apart as they move from the intensive phase to more of a check-in.
- Do you recommend supplements?
Yes, we will routinely recommend supplements to correct nutritional deficiencies that cannot be met through a food-first approach. However, we prefer to minimise the use of supplements where possible as they can often be expensive or burdensome to take on a regular basis.
- Will I be counting calories or macros?
Most of our clients do not record their food intake to this level of detail. There are some circumstances where it can be helpful (for example, in sports nutrition) and circumstances in which it might be inappropriate (e.g. eating disorder recovery).
Summary and final notes
Embarking on your journey towards better health and wellness is exciting! It’s important to be patient with the process and have a long-term outlook. After all, you are trying to set up healthy habits for life, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
It’s important to choose the right dietitian for you based on whether their areas of interest align with your health goals or concerns.
Understanding what happens in a dietitian appointment is important to help you feel confident and prepared. Some top tips for making the most out of your dietitian consultation include identifying your main concern/s, considering your relationship with food, coming prepared with a food diary or questions, and understanding your motivations.
This article was written by PNW Clinic dietitian Megan Boswell.