Nutrition counseling is an ongoing process in which a health professional trained in nutrition works with a patient to assess his or her usual dietary intake and identify areas where change is needed. Nutritional counseling entails the provision of information, educational materials, support, and follow-up to help patients make and maintain needed dietary changes.
The purpose of nutritional counseling is not only to asses a patient's diet but also to help them set up realistic dietery changes that take into account each unique patients lifestyle and health. In addition to helping patients make nutritional changes, nutrition counseling helps patients maintain those changes. At Health First Wellness our goal is to help patients make permenant changes in diet and lifestyle to help patients enjoy a fuller, healthier life.
1. Assessing Dietery Habits
Nutrition counseling usually begins with an interview in which the counselor asks questions about a person's typical food intake. In some cases, the nutritionist will ask you to fill out a week long or three day diet diary. This information gathered from the diet diary is used as a baseline. The nutrition counselor also uses the diet diary to analyze actual energy and nutrient intake.
In some instances patients may undergo food sensitivity testing. This type of testing is used to detect food intolerances or insensitivites. Anecdotal evidence shows that in some individuals certain symptoms such as headache, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, eczema (and certain other skin disorders), asthma, wieght gain/obesity, fibromyalgia, arthritis and certain autoimmune disorders are linked to food intolerances or insensitivities. Food sensitivity testing involves drawing a patients blood and exposing the blood to various different foods and antigens in order to monitor the patient's white blood cell response to various foods. After testing is completed patients recieve a detailed summary of foods that should be excluded, avoided and included in their diet. Food sensitivity testing helps the nutrition counselor tailor a diet that specifically meets your body's needs.
2. Assessing Body Weight
Body weight, body mass index and/or body fat % will be measured. In some instances cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar measurments may also be taken. These assessments provides the practitioner with a baseline. The measurements can then be used to monitor patient progress.
3. Identifying Changes Needed
Sometimes a person already has a good idea of what dietary changes are needed, but may require help making the changes. Other times the nutrition counselor can help educate a person on the health effects of different dietary choices. The nutrition counselor and client work together to identify areas where change is needed, prioritize changes, and problem-solve as to how to make the changes.
Making dietary change is a gradual process. An individual may start with one or two easier dietary changes the first few weeks and gradually make additional or more difficult changes over several weeks or months. For example, an easy change for a person might be switching from 2% to skim milk, or taking time for a quick yogurt or granola bar in the morning instead of skipping breakfast. More difficult changes might be learning to replace high-fat meat choices with leaner ones, or including more servings of vegetables daily. In making dietary changes, each individual's situation and background must be carefully considered.
4. Identifying Barriers to Change
Once the needed changes are identified it is important to overcome the barriers to change.
Some common barriers to changing eating habits include: inconvenience, social gatherings, food preferences, lack of knowledge or time and/or cost.
5. Setting Goals
The nutrition counselor and client set behavior-oriented goals together. Goals should focus on the behaviors needed to achieve the desired dietary change, not on an absolute value, such as achieving a certain body weight.
6. Finding Support
Patients are encouraged to bring family members to counseling sessions. Having the understanding and support of family members and friends makes success more likely.
7. Maintaining Changes
The challenge for the nutrition client lies not in making the initial dietary changes, but in maintaining them over the long term. Self-monitoring, realistic expectations, and continued follow-up can help a person maintain dietary changes.