March 06, 2019
A typical day for me as a registered dietitian includes meeting with patients presenting me with the latest fad diets and the accompanying dizzying claims.
Recently, a client wanted my opinion on the “super detox diet,” a diet of shakes designed to remove toxins and promote weight loss. I have people who ask me daily about going “gluten-free” a la Gwyneth Paltrow, who claims going gluten-free has changed her life.
I don’t blame my patients for being confused. Fad diets are a dime a dozen and hard to escape. They are promoted in magazines and newspapers, and on TV and our social media feeds. Those before-and-after pictures on Instagram? I’m always skeptical. Is it an angle change? The lighting? Maybe those people did lose the weight, but did they do it by following a crash diet that avoided essential nutrients? That’s harder to determine in a before-and-after, but so much more important.
In order to separate fact from fiction, you need to bring someone onto your health team who can provide accurate diet and nutritional information. These days there are so many choices between health coaches, nutritionists and registered dietitians. But knowing the differences between them is critical in reaching your goals:
Health coaches may have a certification or degree in nutrition, and are often brought in by physicians, gyms or even some insurance offices to help educate and support patients in achieving their health goals that are provided by a dietitian and/or physician.
The title “nutritionist” or “nutrition expert” is not regulated like the registered dietitian. Because it is a general term, anyone can label themselves as a nutritionist. Nutritionists typically do not have the same professional training as a dietitian, but could have completed a certification program or have a degree in nutrition. While they do not have the credentials to treat diseases, such as celiac disease, cancer and diabetes, they can offer support in creating and supporting a healthy lifestyle.
A registered dietitian (RD) has a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from a U.S.-accredited university. My coursework and clinical rotations, for example, were approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Passing a national examination is mandatory to practice, and continuing professional education requirements are required annually to maintain registration and license.
Dietitians use science-based research so you can be confident to receive the most up-to-date and reliable information. When it comes to nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, diseases and supplements, registered dietitians work with your physician to help guide you to the best diet and lifestyle plan based on your unique needs.
If the latest and greatest diet touts results that seem too good to be true, then they probably are. My recommendation is to find an RD to be your coach, cheerleader, and most importantly, your advocate. To find one near you:
• Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.
• Request your health insurance company’s database of covered dietitians in your area.
• Ask your doctor. There could be an RD they already work with.
Emily Rubin, R.D., has been a registered dietitian with Thomas Jefferson’s division of gastroenterology and hepatology for 18 years. She is the dietitian for their celiac center, Fatty Liver Center and Weight Management Center. She is also the public relations chair for the Philadelphia Dietetic Association. She will be writing occasionally on topics related to nutrition and dieting.