What Is Nutritional Counseling?

Nutritional counselors, also known as dietitians, help patients identify and manage food and nutrition-related concerns through short- and long-term treatment strategies. Nutritional counseling is commonly applied to patients experiencing neuromuscular or musculoskeletal disorders, digestive ailments, obesity, diabetes, menopause, pregnancy, allergies, among other conditions.

By analyzing and assessing diet and exercise habits, nutrition is seen as a key factor in establishing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Without adequate nutrition, a large number of diseases can ensue in part due to the vulnerability placed on the body. Nutritional counselors aim to find integrated ways to set goals and help patients achieve them. When nutritional counselors assess patients, individual profiles are analyzed. The information the patient receives from the counselor is contingent on their lifestyle (vegetarianism, for instance), age, life stage (menopause, pregnancy), and medical history.

Nutritional Counseling incorporates weight monitoring and education about weight, food records, self-control strategies, meal planning, and problem-solving skills. Instruction of food planning and self monitoring is seen as instrumental in getting patients to follow a specified program.

The Work of Dietitians
Dietitians and nutritionists plan nutrition programs, helping to prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits while addressing dietary imbalances. They also recommend specific dietary changes to fit a person’s temporary condition. (Recommending extra folate for pregnant women, for instance.) Dietitians often work in hospitals and schools, applying their services through education and research. Clinical dietitians provide nutritional services to patients in institutions by assessing patients’ nutritional needs, developing and recommending nutrition programs, and evaluating the results with other professionals to coordinate medical and nutritional needs. Community dietitians counsel individuals and groups on nutritional practices aimed to prevent disease and promote health. They work as independent contractors with healthcare facilities or engage in their own private practice, screening clients’ nutritional needs and offering regulated approaches meeting them.

Eating Disorders
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) sets guidelines and protocols for the practice of nutritional counseling. In 1996, it defined guidelines for medical nutrition therapy for many medical conditions related to nutrition, which included eating disorders.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) considers nutritional counseling as one of the most important treatment elements for people with eating disorders. Nutritional counseling is viewed for its role in motivating patients to agree to reestablishing healthy eating habits. In this context, nutritional counseling is seen holistically, in terms of how it fits into ongoing support to patients and their families.

Nutritional counseling in this context attempts to correct irregular eating habits, replacing it with a balanced approach to food and weight control. It provides a synthesis of information and practices, drawing from many fields including cognitive-behavioral, relational, and educational techniques. It is considered a part of overall treatment, not as a single-source approach. As such, it employs the support of other treatment methods, which can include psychotropic medications and psychological counseling.

Collaborative rapport between patient and counselor is considered essential for treatment success. The counselor addressed entrenched food beliefs, behaviors and attitudes revolving around food, how, when, and how much to eat it – amounting to a complex equation. Counseling environments must be secure, safe, and supportive, where the patient receives helpful information from the counselor in a direct but non-intrusive manner.

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