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Before You Go to the Dietitian

Before you go
Check credentials.
There are lots of so-called "nutritionists" or "nutritionalists" who are more interested in making a quick buck than helping you get healthier. When seeking out a dietitian, make sure your candidates are registered dietitians (R.D.s), which means that they've completed at least a college-level degree and have finished an accredited internship, passed a nutritional exam and met continuing educational requirements—all approved by the American Dietetic Association (ADA). The easiest way to find someone good in your area? Check out the ADA's website, eatright.org.

Determine your goals.
A dietitian can help you do everything from manage a health condition (such as diabetes or high cholesterol) through dietary measures to learn how to prepare healthier meals and snacks for yourself and your family. Write down what you want to get out of the partnership so you don't waste time figuring it out during the first appointment.

Learn your nutritional weak links.
Track your eating habits in a food diary for one week before your appointment, which will help you figure out what the gaps and gaffes are in your diet so that you can address them head-on during the first appointment, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., a Chicago-based spokeswoman for the ADA. For example, maybe you snack on cookies or chips when you're under stress, or your nutritional know-how flies out the window when you go out to eat.

During the visit
Look for trouble signs.
Most registered dietitians are reputable, but keep an eye out for these signs of a subpar practitioner: She makes unrealistic promises or focuses on quick fixes ("you will lose 10 pounds by next week!"); she sells her own products (such as supplements you must take); she forbids you from eating specific foods; or she insists that you eat foods you don't like. •

Be realistic.
If your dietitian offers suggestions that seem perfectly reasonable but just don't jibe with your lifestyle (for instance, your travel-heavy job prevents you from preparing lots of meals at home), speak up so that she can offer alternatives.

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