What Does a Nutritionist Do, Exactly?

The answer — plus, how you can benefit from working with a registered dietitian.

Why Even Healthy People Should Work with a Nutritionist
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I've heard it a million times: "I know what to eat-it's just a matter of doing it."

And I believe you. You've read the books, you've downloaded the diet plans, maybe you've counted calories or played around with tracking your macros. You know very well which foods are healthy and which ones aren't doing you any favors.

So here's the obvious question: Then why aren't you getting the results you want?

Health information (some reliable, some not) is more widely available than ever. If you want to educate yourself on what to eat, you can do so with a fair amount of ease (hello, Google). Yet people continue to struggle with meeting their health and fitness goals. (And, hey, you're only human.)

I often hear people say they don't need a dietitian because they already know what to eat and what to avoid. (Spoiler: Many people are actually quite off-base about what's really "healthy.") Some people look at dietitians as "glorified lunch ladies" (that quote comes courtesy of an OkCupid prospect who had no idea he was talking to someone with the credentials M.S., R.D., C.D.N.). While I do have an extensive collection of name tags and hairnets in the closet where I keep the other skeletons (and my old lab coats), I actually refer to myself as a "nutritionist" and "health coach." It's not that credentials don't matter — they communicate that someone has the proper training. It's just that most people don't even know what those letters after my name mean and many also wonder, "what does a nutritionist do?"

By assuming that all you can get from working with a dietitian is a lecture that sounds like "eat this, don't eat that," you're dismissing what could be a valuable resource. Food is just one part of the big picture. It's really about behavior change, and a dietitian can serve as a coach to help you apply what you know (or think you know) to your real life.

So, what does a nutritionist do for you? Here are just a few things that can happen when you work with a pro:

You can identify and work through barriers.

Everyone has their stuff. Sometimes you're so close to it that it can be hard to notice when you're holding yourself back from being and doing better. A nutritionist can serve as an outsider who can see things from a different perspective and point out what's working toward your goal and what's not. It's normal for your eating patterns or healthy routine to need a little maintenance as you progress with a diet or new path. Someone who has seen all kinds of setbacks and challenges can help you successfully troubleshoot problems or push through plateaus.

Getting sick of smoothies? Looking for some exciting snack ideas? I'm your girl. A dietitian can also share different strategies to help you navigate tricky situations — travel, family festivities, or a hectic schedule — that can make it hard to cook and stick to your usual habits. (

You aren't doing all the work alone.

You don't have to do this all by yourself. Having someone else to be accountable to when you set goals can be a great motivator when it comes to sticking to those action steps. For example, clients have told me that knowing they have an appointment coming up reminds them to make a choice they'll feel good about sharing. I'll also periodically check in to remind someone of what they're working on and offer support so they don't lose sight of their goals or feel like they're drowning when life gets overwhelming and meal planning seems impossible.

You have a trusted resource on call.

Yeah, I could Google how to do my own taxes and go down the internet rabbit hole when I need to find out if something is tax-deductible or not. But working with an accountant who can answer all my "sorry, just one more" questions makes the process so much easier. It also gives me peace of mind that I didn't totally mess something up.

It's the same kind of principle when you decide to work with a dietitian to help you meet your health goals. My clients know they can come to me with nutrition questions, to get the scoop on diet trends they're reading about — e.g. the boiled egg diet — or if they want a recommendation on which protein powder would be the best for them. You'll save time and money by making sure you buy the right foods and put your hard-earned cash toward ingredients and ideas that are actually going to get you closer to your goal(s).

You gain emotional support (even if you think you didn't need it).

Because food is central to so many aspects of your life, there are a lot of emotions that come up around it. Happy stuff, sad stuff, angry stuff — food is something most people have strong associations around, whether consciously or not. As you get into changing your habits and establishing new ones, you're going to have some feelings. Whatever they may be, talking them out can help you work through it and make sure you stay on course.

Plus, how you feel has a big impact on appetite and how and what you eat. So getting a handle on what your personal challenges may be with emotions and food can make it easier to navigate and keep you from falling into the same old traps. For those times you're feeling down, having someone there to point out how far you've come and how capable you are can turn your mood around and help you stay motivated. (And now that you're no longer wondering, "what does a nutritionist do?" follow some of these pros to start meeting your goals.)

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