Your doctor says that you need to lose weight, but you don't know how to get started. Or, you're finding it difficult to stick with a low-salt diet, even though you know it'll help control your high blood pressure.

If you need to change your eating habits for the sake of your health, have you considered talking with a registered dietitian (RD)? These health care professionals can help you achieve your desired weight goal or maintain any dietary restrictions your health care provider recommends.

There are many reasons to seek help from a dietitian. If you have high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure or are overweight, seeing an RD regularly may be an investment in good health. For example, recent research shows that receiving education, support and referrals from an RD helped people with type 2 diabetes lose more weight, take fewer medications and feel better than those who didn't seek help.

What to expect

At your first appointment, you'll provide your medical, dietary and exercise history. The RD will analyze your current diet and lifestyle and talk with you about your goals. Then he or she will help you develop some strategies for meeting those goals. To get started, you'll receive printed health information, perhaps a food and exercise log and a meal plan that's created just for you.

Your RD may see you alone or as part of a group. If you're visiting a dietitian as part of your treatment plan for a specific condition, you'll probably have one-to-one sessions. The number of visits varies, depending on your need for education and support.

Initially, you may need to see the RD every week. As you progress, the visits usually taper. During each visit, you'll discuss your progress and how to overcome potential obstacles, such as how to avoid overeating at your birthday bash next month.

What are their qualifications?

These professionals have a bachelor's degree in dietetics or a related field, such as nutrition, from an institution accredited by the American Dietetic Association (ADA). After graduation, they work under the supervision of another dietitian for up to a year. Then they must pass an exam to become registered. To keep their credentials, RDs must complete 75 hours of continuing education every five years.

There are more than 50,000 RDs in the United States, so there's probably one near you. Remember to check with your health plan before you make an appointment to find out if visits are covered.

Medical Reviewer: [Fiveash, Laura DrPH, MPH, RD, Happel, Cindy MEd, RD] Last Annual Review Date: 2008-05-21T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications

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