Ballpark Estimate: $50 to $175 an hour
Do you eat well on a regular basis? If the answer is no, you are not alone. All too many Americans today practice poor nutrition, and this can lead to weight problems and a host of other, serious medical conditions. But the good news is that an experienced nutritionist or dietician can help you make some important dietary changes that will make a big difference.
Importance of Eating Well
Since you were young, you’ve probably heard about the importance of eating a balanced diet. But as an adult, you may be hard-pressed to get the right mix of healthy foods within your busy work and family schedule. Worse, you may be going for fast food or other quick, already prepared options. These might fit within your time constraints but are higher in salt, fat, calories and portion size than many other health-conscious alternatives.
Anyone who’s been diagnosed with obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes or a heart condition probably already knows the importance of making smart food choices as part of the overall strategy to manage the condition. But even if you don’t suffer from these illnesses, poor eating habits can cause you to gain weight, feel sluggish and be unable to function at your optimum level. Therefore, regardless of your situation, eating well matters.
That’s where a nutritionist or dietician comes in. He or she can help you to evaluate your current diet and eating habits to let you know what you are doing right, and also to suggest some areas that need improvement.
What’s In a Name?
Both nutritionists and dieticians can be valuable sources of education and advice when it comes to working with you to develop a healthy eating plan for life. But while the names “nutritionist” and “dietician” are often used interchangeably, there are some significant distinctions between the two titles.
If you’re shopping around for a nutritionist, it is important to know that not all are created equal. Anyone with a background in health can call himself a nutritionist, but the truth is that they may not all be well versed in what they need to know, such as the ins and outs of healthy eating, weight management, disease control and meal preparation.
Since there are no strict guidelines as to what constitutes this position, it’s important to be selective when you hire a nutritionist. A good tip is to look for someone who has earned a Certified Nutritionist designation. This requires a minimum level of related education and also requires licensing and continued coursework over time. While these requirements are much less than those of a registered dietician, they do indicate someone with a sincere interest and background in the field, which may be quite adequate for your needs.
Experts in the health field also recommend steering clear of any nutritionists who seem focused on selling you lots of supplements, rather than on working with you to review your diet and help to streamline it, as this can be a sign they just want your money but may not be able to give you real expertise.
A Registered Dietician must complete more extensive schooling than a nutritionist to hold this title. Although the licensing and registration requirements vary from state to state, generally a dietician must have a degree in dietetics from an accredited undergraduate program and is also required to perform a one-year internship to receive on-the-job training.
Dieticians must have an understanding of basic science principles so that they can understand the way nutrition works. They also must complete classes in food science and preparation so they can make practical recommendations to their clients that will work in the real-world setting. In addition, he or she must pass various licensing tests, depending on the state, and must participate in continuing education efforts to stay up on the latest research and trends.
Finding the Right Fit
With a wide range of people who specialize in nutrition to choose from, you may wonder how in the world to choose the right fit for you. You can look in your local phone book, do a search online, ask your doctor for a referral or ask family and friends for recommendations. Once you have some names to consider, narrow down the list by calling each one and getting a feel for how he or she works.
Keep in mind that you want to find someone who will be a good fit for your style. You need to be able to talk about your eating habits, and feel you can be honest about your weaknesses without being judged by whomever you pick.
You should also seek someone who is willing to work within your specific eating preferences. For instance, it you are a vegetarian, you will find that many dieticians stress a well-rounded diet that includes meat, so you need to find someone willing to think more broadly to come up with some appropriate alternatives for you. In addition, if you eat very large portions and high-fat food, you may not be able to change your habits overnight. Therefore, you need someone who can help you make small, lasting changes that can be expanded on over time.
What to Expect
Expect that regardless of whom you choose, the process of working with an expert in nutrition will likely start before your first session. Many professionals ask their clients to come in with a log of what they have eaten for the past few days. This gives the nutritionist or dietician a good starting point to review your situation and determine how to proceed from there.
Many nutritionists and dieticians will help you come up with balanced meal plans you can follow. The plans should include items from all of the food groups for each meal, and appropriate portion sizes as well.
A Small Time Commitment
Some people only need to meet with a nutrition specialist once and can take the recommendations from there and apply them as needed. But people with related health conditions may need regular, ongoing visits. In fact, people who need to make significant dietary changes may need to see a nutritionist monthly or bi-monthly.
In addition to helping you develop balanced meals, nutritionists and dieticians should also be educating you about making smart choices and understanding the nutritional values of different foods and different forms of food preparation. In addition, some people can learn to control medical issues, such as diabetes and cholesterol, with the right food choices and sometimes without using medication.
If you live in a rural area and don’t have easy access to a trained professional, some nutritionists and dieticians may also be willing to follow up with you via phone, fax or mail. You send them your food logs so they can review them and provide additional advice and tweaking.
What You Can Expect to Spend
Since nutritionists and dieticians bring a varied range of experience to their jobs, the rate they charge for their services can also run the gamut. You can expect to spend more for a dietician than a nutritionist, since a dietician has more education and training. But this is not a hard and fast rule, so in fact you may find an excellent dietician whose rates are less than the nutritionists you are considering.
Rates may also vary depending on whether the nutritionist or dietician runs a private practice or works as part of a healthcare clinic or in some other type of facility or health club setting.
The hourly rate for a private nutitionist or dietician consultation costs from $50 to $175.
Insurance may cover part or all of this expense if you have a health condition that would benefit from a dietary overhaul.
A Cost-Effective Alternative
If you can’t afford the expense of seeing a nutritionist or dietician on an ongoing basis, but still want some to stay on top of your eating habits, you might consider an electronic hand-held “nutritionist” gadget. You can find these at high-end gift stores and online. They cost about $50 and work by prompting you to enter what you eat; they then give you the nutritional content. They also allow you to keep track of your weekly food and calorie consumption.