Eating healthful foods in appropriate amounts plays a big role in managing one’s weight, blood sugar and blood pressure. That’s why anyone living with diabetes may benefit from adding a dietitian to their diabetes care team.
According to the American Diabetes Association, anyone with diabetes should be referred to a registered dietitian (RD) at or soon after their diagnosis, and for ongoing follow-up over the years.
Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE* agrees. “Developing an ongoing partnership with a dietitian is an effective way to get your eating habits working for you and not against you,” she explains. “People think dietitians are the food police and just tell you what not to eat. But dietitians are more akin to a coach or cheerleader to guide and support you in your efforts.”
Working with a dietitian
Think of a dietitian as your knowledge provider, assistant problem solver and advocate for improving diabetes care as well as a cheerleader. Dietitians can serve up knowledge on an array of topics from culinary tips for cooking with healthier fats or less sugar, reading nutrition facts labels and satisfying your sweet tooth. They can brainstorm potential solutions with you for making quick-to-fix dinners, choosing the healthiest items from your favorite restaurant and fitting in more fruits and vegetables.
“To make the most of your partnership with an RD/RDN, be open and honest about your eating habits and food choices. Then let your dietitian know exactly what you want to learn or accomplish in your work together,” Dobbins suggests. (Read more about working with an RD/RDN.)
RDs and RDNs
Dietitians who’ve met the training requirements may use one of two credentials: either Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). The option allowing dietitians to use RDN was implemented in 2013 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the national membership organization for dietitians in the United States.
“RDN was established to more accurately reflect that all registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians,” explains Pepin Tuma, JD, senior director of government and regulatory affairs at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
RDs/RDNs must complete specified training. This includes a getting a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college that offers a curriculum approved by the Academy. They must also complete a 6- to 12-month supervised practice program and pass a national exam. To maintain their credentials, RDs/RDNs must obtain regular continuing education.
In most states dietitians are also licensed. Licensure for RDs/RDNs is a way to assure the public that these practitioners have the appropriate education and experience to practice their trade. Licensed dietitians may use LDN, LD or LN along with RD or RDN.
You may still see the term “nutritionist,” because regulation on the term varies from state to state. According to Tuma, “In some states people, even with no formal training, can call themselves nutritionists. In other states, more specific academic and experience requirements must be met.”
How to find a dietitian with diabetes training
While all dietitians gain some diabetes experience, some choose to gain further expertise by meeting the requirements to become a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) or Board Certified in Adult Diabetes Management (BC-ADM). Dietitians who’ve met the requirements may use the credentials after their name. (Further reading: Top 10 Reasons to See a Diabetes Educator.)
“The best way for people with diabetes to find a dietitian with diabetes expertise is to ask their primary care provider or endocrinologist for a recommendation,” Dobbins says. Or do a search on the American Association of Diabetes Educators website.
Covering the cost
Many private health plans cover a dietitian’s services, formally known as medical nutrition therapy (MNT). The number of sessions covered will vary. Contact your health plan to learn more about your benefits and for the names of local dietitians.
People diagnosed with diabetes who have Medicare Part B (outpatient services) are covered for a certain number of hours of MNT as well as DSMT with a referral from their healthcare provider.
Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE*, is the author of several best-selling books published by the American Diabetes Association, including Eat Out, Eat Well – The Guide to Eating Healthy in Any Restaurant and Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy. She’s a frequent contributor to Diabetic Living magazine. Warshaw is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience