So you want to see a dietitian to “fix your diet”? Good for you! Obviously, as a dietitian myself, I’d like everybody to put at least as much effort into making their dinner plates healthy as they do making them Instagram-worthy. And I just happen to know that in Maine there are at least a couple hundred registered dietitians and dietetic technicians who can help you out with that.

Seeking the counsel of a nutrition professional takes guts. You’re envisioning that every morsel that crosses your lips will be scrutinized – and it likely will be. It can be really uncomfortable to reveal personal things, like that you ate a family-size bag of M&Ms all by yourself during a Netflix marathon, or that you routinely don’t eat on the day of a party so you’ll have plenty of calories left to spend on adult beverages or that you really have no idea how to cook.

Opening up one’s food life for examination is tough, we know – we’re human, too. We can handle it. And we are trained to help you through it, without judgment.

But we aren’t going to tell you it will be easy. Working on something like food intake – something that each one of us comes into contact with in multiple ways all day long, that each of us thinks about at least three times a day at mealtime, that is intimately entwined with so many things that aren’t merely physical – it isn’t easy at all.

It’s not easy to be on the other side of the dietary discourse, either. In this era of personal weight-loss-journey blogs, celebrity health “experts” and multiple TV programs that showcase extraordinary and rapid body “transformations,” dietitians feel the heavy pressure of public expectations.

“Even a skilled dietitian cannot ‘make’ a client improve his or her diet. This is not a reality TV show,” explains Patsy Catsos, a dietitian at NutritionWorks in Portland.


Most of us know that results rarely happen in just a few weeks in real life, yet that doesn’t stop us from wanting speedy success. Your eating habits didn’t develop in a month, and they won’t be “fixed” in a month. A dietitian’s sane approach to wellness through healthy food can be downright boring compared to the “miraculous” results promised by the latest capsule of “super-fruit” enzymes from the Amazon forests.

We realize that many of our messages aren’t exactly sexy – how many ways can we think of to say “drink more water” or “get at least 25 grams of fiber a day”? You see the problem. And really, it doesn’t help that some of you show up with the hope that your few insurance-allowed number of visits will provide you with the purified digestive system of Gwyneth Paltrow coupled with the “badass body” of a CrossFit queen.

By and large, dietitians are nice people who love to help people and hate to disappoint. But if you see yourself in the paragraph above, you’re going to be majorly disappointed by the rational, reasonable diet and health approach of your friendly dietitian … at least until you start getting results.

So now that I’ve burst your nutrition fantasy bubble, here’s the real deal: Good dietitians are thorough in their approach and will do their best to set you up for success. We are trained to figure out what you’re looking for nutrition-wise (especially if you aren’t quite sure yourself), to help you set realistic, achievable goals and then to give you scientific, evidence-based information and tools to help you reach your goals.

So how exactly will a dietitian help you get results? That’s a question you’d be wise to ask in an initial session with a dietitian. However, I put that question to some of my colleagues, and here are the biggest take-aways from our discussions:

No matter the nutritional issue, one thing all of them mentioned was that asking good questions and listening is one of the most important ways they help clients achieve their goals. Dietitians aren’t handing down nutrition law from on high, they’re getting to know you – learning about your challenges, your living situation and how your medical issues, budget, food philosophy, exercise habits and work life affect your food life.


Secondly, tailoring the information to the individual is crucial. Anyone can hand out diet plans downloaded from the Internet (and we see a lot of that around, by the way). But those plans address only the food itself, and diet issues are rarely just about the food.

Dietitians work with the individual, delivering person-specific information and devising strategies with the client to suit his or her learning style, level of readiness for change, food preferences, medical needs and lifestyle. It’s a “big picture” effort.

A relationship between a dietitian and client requires a commitment, work, respect and trust from each party. Only when those are in place can real, lasting dietary change can take hold.

Kitty Broihier has been a registered, licensed dietitian for over 25 years. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition communications from Boston University and runs her consulting company, NutriComm Inc., from South Portland.

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