Our diets have a large impact on our overall health, and individuals experiencing digestive diseases and disorders need to be particularly thoughtful in making food choices. Registered dietitians are an extremely useful resource for those who want to learn more about how certain eating habits and choices can affect their disease experience. A recent study1 analyzed what dietitians, patients, and other health care providers can do to ensure the best outcome for patients who are seeking dietary advice.

There are many reasons why someone could need to visit a registered dietitian. Some individuals might only require advice on a relatively minor ailment; maybe they experience occasional constipation, or their physician has advised that they are not getting enough of a certain vitamin or mineral. These individuals often only require one appointment with a dietitian to find out what small tweaks they can make to their diets to ensure optimal nutrition. However, there are individuals who need help managing a chronic disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic constipation, or obesity. These patients might require ongoing support from a dietitian.

The study showed that the attitude and treatment method used by dietitians has a significant effect on how likely the patients are to continue attending appointments. Some dietitians use traditional educational and informative methods by simply telling the patient what foods someone with the specific ailment should eat. Other dietitians used a technique that took a counselling and therapeutic approach, in which they individualized treatment, depending on the patients’ specific needs. This method involves multiple appointments with feedback and adjustments. Their results showed that the strictly educational approach is usually adequate for individuals who require advice for more simple problems, but individuals with chronic diseases are more likely to stay on track when their dietitian uses a more therapeutic approach.

Simply telling patients with chronic ailments what to eat just doesn’t cut it. It can be very difficult for patients to make huge dietary changes without adequate support and understanding. Patients want someone who is comfortable recommending changes and tweaks as necessary for them, to make their diet work within their lifestyle, so they can properly adhere to a nourishing plan that addresses their specific disease needs.

Another important factor in patient adherence to dietitian appointments is the attitude of their primary care physician. The researchers found that doctors’ attitudes about dietetics influenced patients significantly; patients are more likely to attend appointments with dietitians if their doctors are encouraging and positive about the experience than if they convey such appointments are not essential.

If you have a chronic illness that dietary changes could influence, then it is important to see a registered dietitian. Being open with your dietitian about what you hope to achieve during your appointments can help you get the most out of them.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 189 – 2014
1. Endevelt R, Gesser-Edelsburg A. A qualitative study of adherence to nutritional treatment: perspectives of patients and dietitians. Patient Preference and Adherence. 2014;8:147-154.