10 Reasons to See a Dietitian That Aren’t About Weight Loss

Sure, registered dietitians can help you manage your weight—if that’s your goal. But here’s what else they can do for you.

woman holding food

Updated on April 14, 2023.

Whether you’re managing a chronic condition or just looking to maintain your health, you’ve probably come into contact with several different types of healthcare providers (HCPs). You might see a cardiologist for heart issues or a gastroenterologist for stomach woes. If you’re looking to get in better shape or manage a nagging injury, you might visit a fitness trainer or a physical therapist.

Many people seeking to lose weight also consult with registered dietitians (RDs), often also known as registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs). But weight loss is not the only goal that an RD can help you achieve. Pretty much anyone could use insight into how to incorporate more nutritious, wholesome foods into their diet. And for anyone managing a chronic condition, getting an RD’s input can help you optimize your treatment and well-being.

Here are a few of the ways you may never have realized a dietitian can help you.

What does a dietitian do?

RDs are educated and trained to advise patients and clients across a range of health issues related to eating.

“A dietitian can work clinically, usually in a hospital or medical setting,” explains New York City-based dietitian Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN. “Many dietitians have private practices with various specialties, or they can work in corporate wellness, communications, food service, grocery stores, or as consultants for food companies.”

An RD is also trained to help navigate the ever-changing landscape of nutrition guidelines, as well as to interpret the latest research to help make recommendations for patients and clients.

Historically, an RD would typically have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. Prospective RDs must complete a yearlong accredited dietetic internship, pass a national exam, and complete continuing education credits. They must also abide by a code of ethics. As of 2024, dietitians will also be required to hold a graduate degree in nutrition and dietetics.

By comparison, similar-sounding nutrition practitioners—like nutritionists or health coaches—may not have the same education or training. In fact, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, regardless of how much training or education they have completed.

How does an RD fit in with other healthcare providers?

Despite the growing public interest in health, wellness, and nutrition, HCPs—whether cardiologists, gastroenterologists, or primary care physicians—may receive very little education in nutrition.

A 2019 review of 24 studies published in Lancet Planetary Health found that physicians in the United States and around the globe aren’t generally adequately trained to provide nutrition advice. More comprehensive nutrition education is needed for physicians in medical schools in the U.S., concluded a 2020 review published in Nutrition Reviews. Where nutrition education is lacking in the mainstream medical system, RDs can fill a crucial gap to help patients achieve well-rounded health.

“We only use evidence from scientific literature and peer-reviewed journals,” Hogan explains. And even though “diet” is part of their title, the role of the RD is to provide education, rather than to put you on a specific diet. 

Why should I see a dietitian?

If your goal is to lose weight—for health or other reasons—an RD can absolutely help. But there are plenty of other reasons why seeing an RD could be beneficial, according to Hogan. If you have one of these conditions or life circumstances, consider speaking with your HCP about getting a referral to an RD.

Remember that an RD doesn’t take the place of a medical specialist, nor should an RD tell you to ignore medical treatments you’ve already been prescribed.

Diabetes: An RD can help guide and optimize your blood sugar management through diet.

Digestive issues: From common gastrointestinal-related ailments (like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, and heartburn) to more serious issues like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, an RD can suggest dietary changes to help you pinpoint triggering foods and manage symptoms.

Heart problems, hypertension, or high cholesterol: A healthy diet is important when managing blood pressure and cholesterol and when treating heart problems. An RD can educate clients about nutrition choices that can reduce the risk of heart disease. They can also advise people on adopting healthier ways of eating, such as through a Mediterranean diet or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. They can also factor in a cardiac rehabilitation plan for people who have experienced heart attack or heart failure.

Cancer: Eating well during cancer treatments can help you retain strength, maintain a healthy body weight, lower the risk of infection, and generally feel better.

When you’re sick and spending time going to and from treatments, eating a healthy diet can feel daunting. Chemotherapy can also cause side effects, like nausea, taste changes, mouth sores, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and loss of appetite. Many cancer treatment plans include an appointment with a dietitian, who will help you devise an eating plan that works best for you.

Pregnancy: RDs can be helpful during all stages of pregnancy—starting before conception through breastfeeding—to help ensure that you and baby are well-nourished.

An RD can also help manage gestational diabetes through dietary changes and can keep an eye out for other common pregnancy-related issues like heartburn and nausea. They can be helpful postpartum to ensure you stay well-nourished if you choose to breastfeed. Some specialists may also recommend specific dietary changes for people experiencing trouble conceiving.

Kids: Many dietitians specialize in pediatric nutrition, from infancy through puberty. Your pediatrician may suggest nutritional counseling if a child is underweight or overweight. RDs can also help parents navigate difficult medical diagnoses, like genetic conditions, autoimmune disorders, and/or signs of an eating disorder.

Remember that parental support is still essential. A 2020 study published in Medicina found that when children worked to lose weight with a team that included an RD, parental involvement was an important predictor of success. Children will often look to their parents when it comes to emulating eating habits.

Fitness: Nutrition is important for sports performance. It can make or break a game, match, or race. Specialized sports dietitians can help make sure you’re fueled adequately for performance and recovery, whether you want to run faster, lift more weight, or feel more centered on the yoga mat.

Mindful eating: Many dietitians today specialize in a “non-diet” approach. They believe in intuitive eating and health at every body size. Such a holistic approach to mind-body wellness can help clients understand why certain restrictive diets they may have tried in the past have not worked for them.

RDs can also help people become more in tune with hunger and fullness cues. They may use other mindfulness tactics, such as starting with smaller portions, eating more slowly, and using one’s senses to appreciate meals.

A 2023 position statement from the European Association for the Study of Obesity and the European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians argued that using mindfulness tactics with guidance from an RD can boost weight loss and overall health compared to just focusing on a diet-based approach.

Disordered eating: If you’ve ever been diagnosed with anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia, or another eating disorder, a dietitian is often a crucial part of the recovery and treatment team, in addition to other HCPs and therapists.

Fueling your body: There are many quick-fix, one-size-fits-all diet promises out there without much evidence to back them up. An RD can help you figure out how best to eat for your body and your health.

Getting started with an RD

If you’re interested in making an appointment with an RD but aren’t sure where to start, consider your goals and the kind of interpersonal style you enjoy. Many private practice RDs offer free introductory phone or video calls, which is a great way to get to know what they do and to see if they’re a good fit. Do some research to make sure they have the knowledge to treat your condition and to help you reach your goals or consult your HCP for a referral.

“You’ll want an RDN whose specialties and philosophies resonate with yours,” Hogan says.

Article sources open article sources

Crowley J, Ball L, Hiddink GJ. Nutrition in medical education: a systematic review. The Lancet Planetary Health. 2019;3(9):e379-e389.
Eat Right Pro. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2024 Graduate Degree Requirement: Registration Examination Eligibility. Page last reviewed 2023.
Bassin SR, Al-Nimr RI, Allen K, et al. The state of nutrition in medical education in the United States. Nutrition Reviews. 2020;78(9):764-780.
American Diabetes Association. Get to Know Your Diabetes Care Team. Page last reviewed 2023.
Celiac Disease Foundation. Treatment & Follow-Up. Page last reviewed 2018.
Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Crohn’s Disease and Diet. Page last reviewed October 15, 2020.
American Heart Association. The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. Page last reviewed November 1, 2021.
Rahelić V, Głąbska D, Guzek D, et al. Role of Parents in Body Mass Reduction in Children with Obesity—Adherence and Success of 1-Year Participation in an Intervention Program. Medicina. 2020;56(4).
Skoracka K, Ratajczak AE, Rychter AM, Dobrowolska A, Krela-Kaźmierczak I. Female Fertility and the Nutritional Approach: The Most Essential Aspects. Advances in Nutrition. 2021;12(6).
Sports nutrition for the recreational athlete. Australian Journal of General Practice. 2021.
American Cancer Society. Benefits of Good Nutrition During Cancer Treatment. Page last reviewed March 16, 2022.
Hassapidou M, Vlassopoulos A, Kalliostra M, et al. European Association for the Study of Obesity Position Statement on Medical Nutrition Therapy for the Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults Developed in Collaboration with the European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians. Obesity Facts. Published online December 15, 2022:1-18.
National Eating Disorders Association. An Introduction to Nutritional Therapy. Page last reviewed 2022.

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