Making the Most of your Dietitian Appointment: What to Expect

When you are in the business of helping people, excellent customer service is not only imperative to getting more business, but it is also important for credibility. There are many ways to define good customer service, with most people putting a high priority on efficiency, politeness, attention, and reliability. Good customer service seems to be a dying notion, at least in my experience. Why is that? Are companies not placing emphasis on quality and manners? I doubt that. Are we just becoming too cynical and lazy? Are our expectations too high? 

Customer service can be a 2-way street, even though the responsibility is heavily placed on the one providing the service. Be that as it may, the response of the one in service is certainly influenced by the actions and responses of the person receiving the service! It isn't hard to notice when a session is going downhill, or simply going nowhere. I can expend a lot of energy trying to save it, and get back on track, which is what my instinct tells me to do. Sometimes, however, you have to know when to call it a loss, and know that you are never going to see that client again. I hate to lose someone after one visit, but I have to wonder, had we both known each other's expectations up front, would the session have gone differently? 

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When a person comes to see a Dietitian, it is either by personal choice, or by the strong recommendation of their doctor, or a combination of the two. I would estimate that between 30 and 50% of the people that I talk to are actually ready to make LIFE LONG changes and are serious about paying more attention to their health needs. The people that aren't truly ready to make a commitment are not wasting my time, but they may be wasting their money. I don't like to waste people's money. If someone just wants basic information on a sheet of paper, they don't have to see a Registered Dietitian for that - a Dietitian appointment can be SO MUCH MORE than that!  I don't think that many people really understand what we are trained to do, particularly in weight management. I have told people bluntly that I don't think that they are putting priority on their health needs, and that they will not achieve good results until they are ready for a serious commitment. I am not judging their choices, but I am trying to get them to be truthful with themselves. Is that bad customer service? When a customer comes to me for professional advice, they expect me to be honest and truthful, and that is what I deliver. That is what you should expect from all of your health care providers. 

Before you decide to make an appointment with a Dieititian, I recommend reading these points. 

1. Ask yourself, are you ready to commit to changes that need to be life-long? This is not about a quick-fix diet or gimmicks. They don't work for various and obvious reasons. Dietitians work on establishing new and healthy habits that are to be incorporated into your lifestyle, so it is a long-term commitment. New habits are related to thoughts and behaviors, not just about how we shop. Weight loss is one thing, but weight maintenance after the loss is VERY hard. Once the honeymoon is over, can your love endure through the ups and downs? 

2. Are you willing to make the time investment required to form new habits? If unhealthy eating habits such as binge eating, purging, emotional eating, and sugar addiction have lasted for years, be realistic about how long it takes to change these habits into healthy ones. Eating healthier and living healthier requires a time investment - for planning, cooking and preparing meals, Dietitian appointments, exercise, etc. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to work with the Dietitian to implement new thought processes and behaviors surrounding food. 

3. Be prepared to make follow-up appointments. Look at a Dietitian as you would a Life Coach or a Personal Trainer. Would you see a personal trainer just once to get into shape? No - you would develop a program and schedule regular visits to maintain accountability. It is the same with a Dietitian. Please don't just walk in and ask for a sheet of paper and expect that to be it, at least from the Dietitian's viewpoint. A Dietitian is meant to be your coach, your support and guidance - through the good times AND bad. People don't follow-up when they believe that they have been unsuccessful, but that is exactly the reason TO follow-up. 

4. Can you put your needs in front of others? A common problem that occurs with patients, particularly women, is that they are overwhelmed and overburdened with their multiple hats and responsibilities. They take care of their children, their spouses, their parents, their pets, their co-workers or bosses, and then there is no time left over to focus on themselves. This stress is often what directly impacts weight. If you are not willing (I say not willing, but clients say not able) to put yourself first a little bit, and start focusing on your own needs, mentally and physically, then this may not be the right time. But find the time soon before it spirals out of control! 

5. Be willing and ready to be completely honest. Dietitians can't help a client effectively if the client is not being totally honest. Remember, it is not our job to judge you or to be condescending. That is  not appropriate. We cannot help you if we don't know the whole truth. People are dishonest all of the time, so we come to expect that and look for discrepancies. You are only slowing or hurting the progress if you don't divulge everything truthfully. Tell me how much alcohol you drink. Tell me if you are snacking in the middle of the night. Tell me if you ate an entire container of ice cream. Tell me if you are not taking your medications as directed. JUST TELL ME. 

6. Let the Dietitian know what you want, but also be open to suggestions. Do you want a meal plan or recipes? Do you want a drill-sergeant type? Do you want to use meal replacements? If so, tell the Dietitian what you want, but please be open to some suggestions. Be flexible, just as you expect that of the Dietitian. 

7. Don't discount all Dietitians if you had a bad experience with one in the past. Not all Dietitians are alike, just as no two doctors are alike. Depending on age, education, personal experiences, and work background, no two Dietitians are created equal. Some Dietitians have been persuaded to push and sell products and/or supplements that are really a bunch of bologna and hoopla, with benefits not based on credible studies and actual science. Before you go to your appointment, do a little research. Look at the website for "packages" and "products." Also, ask the Dietitian or office staff that makes the appointment about their protocols and tell them up front if you are not interested in products and supplements. Also, not all Dietitian's are "skinny" and exercise fanatics, in fact don't be surprised if you meet with a Dietitian who got into the business because of their personal discovery of nutrition and wellness. 

8. Have a positive attitude, above all else. Come in the door with an "I can" attitude rather than an "I can't" attitude. Believe in yourself and the process. Have confidence and strength to face the honesty and commitment that you will need. Bring a supportive family member or friend if necessary, NOT someone who is going to criticize you. I can't tell you how many spouses I have that come in and throw the client under the bus constantly and criticize them. On the one hand, it is good for me to get reliable, honest information if the person is not telling the whole truth. But on the other hand, it is counterproductive to have a bunch of negativity in the room. If you initiate the appointment with a defensive attitude toward how you eat and your lifestyle, then it won't be a productive session. 

I hope that this helps people not only to make the best decisions regarding whether or not to see a Dietitian now versus in the future, but also to help people to understand what a GOOD and EFFECTIVE Dietitian does. You should come out feeling good about it, not hopeless, overwhelmed, or mad.