Nov 8, 2023 • 8 min read

What to Expect When Seeing a Nutritionist or Dietitian

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If you’ve never met with a registered dietitian (RD) or nutritionist before, you may be wondering what to expect. It may be a little anxiety-inducing but, rest assured, we only want to help you be your healthiest self. There is no judgment here! Honesty during your consultations is essential for your success.

During an initial session, I always like to take some time to get to know my clients. Getting insight into your personality helps me better understand why you make the choices you do. This allows me to better tailor my recommendations to your needs. I will go over your goals and challenge areas, and assess your readiness to change. We may set a few small goals together depending on whether we have time and what stage of change you are at.

During a follow-up session, we will go over takeaways from our last session, assess your goal progress (if a goal was set), and address any challenges you’ve encountered along the way. This is a time to allow you to put your new skills into practice.

When you are making your first appointment, you will want to check the qualifications of the person you will be meeting with. Even though the terms dietitian and nutritionist are often used interchangeably, they are two different things. 

Registered dietitians (RDs) are credentialed practitioners who have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics and have completed a rigorous internship and exam to be credentialed. A nutritionist may or may not have the same level of training and credentials. These different backgrounds can also affect insurance coverage for your appointments.

When you request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians, we’ll check your insurance so you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay, if anything at all.

Read on to learn more about what you can expect during your appointments with a dietitian or nutritionist, how to prepare for them, and more.

How to prepare for appointments with a dietitian or nutritionist

Before your first appointment with an RD or nutritionist, you will want to do a few things to prepare. This allows us to get the most out of our time together. 

Before your first session, be sure to:

  • If doing an online visit, be sure you can access the meeting
  • Think about your goals and set realistic expectations
  • Make a detailed medication list
  • Prepare a food diary that includes at least three days (two weekdays and one weekend) of your usual intake
  • Create a list of questions for your RD or nutritionist 
  • Schedule your session at a convenient time without any distractions
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What to expect in an initial appointment with a dietitian or nutritionist

While each provider is different, most RDs and nutritionists will follow similar outlines for appointments. Initial consultations are longer than follow-ups to allow us time to build rapport, learn your story, and collect information.

A typical initial visit with a dietitian will take anywhere from 45 – 60 minutes. During this time, I like to get to know my client and their goals by discussing what brings them to see me, where they want to be, and their past struggles and successes. 

Depending on your reason for the visit, topics can vary widely. For example, if you come to see me to help manage your diabetes, we may discuss checking your blood sugar or adjusting the amount or quality of carbs in your diet. If you come to see me to improve your blood pressure levels, we may discuss ways to reduce sodium intake. 

Each session will look different depending upon the client and their needs. In some cases, we may spend the entire first consultation discussing your goals and how your life would be different if you met them because motivation to change is a huge part of being successful. 

Other common topics discussed during an initial visit include:

  • Your food diary
  • Your current lifestyle
  • Your medical history
  • Any allergies or intolerances
  • Your goals
  • Your concerns and/or barriers
  • Tailored nutrition information/recommendations

What to expect in follow-up appointments with a dietitian or nutritionist

Follow-up sessions are an opportunity for us to see how you practiced your new skills and knowledge on your own. They also help to provide feedback that will help us determine if we need to shift or adjust our goals to ensure your success.

Follow-up sessions with a dietitian are typically 30 minutes long. During this time, we will go over what you recall from our previous session and what you have done differently since we met last. We will discuss your goals and how you implemented these changes, your successes, and your challenges. 

From there, we will address any barriers or questions that came up between our visits. Further topics will depend on how things went, what questions you have, and what guidance you feel you need at this time. 

How many dietitian appointments are typically necessary?

The number of appointments you need with a dietitian varies based on your nutrition needs and your progress. Most people see a dietitian at least two or three times, if not more. If you need general guidance to improve your health, you may be satisfied with just a few appointments. 

However, if you have a medical condition and need to manage symptoms through nutrition, several appointments may be necessary. If you have a significant weight loss goal, you may also need to visit your dietitian more often to make sure you stay on the right track long-term. 

How do dietitians help patients?

It’s no secret that following a nutritious diet is beneficial for your health. For most healthy individuals, following general nutrition advice is adequate. There are many benefits to working with a dietitian no matter what your health condition is or what your personal goals are.

However, many people have specific nutrition needs that require more than just general nutrition advice. Below are some specific ways dietitians can help patients with an individualized nutrition plan:

  • Manage body weight. A dietitian can help you lose weight by developing a tailored eating plan that will help you with your weight loss goals. They can also help you gain weight, if needed, or sustain a healthy weight you have achieved.
  • Avoid nutrient deficiencies. If you know you are deficient in specific nutrients, a dietitian can help you incorporate more of the right foods or supplements to fix those deficiencies. If you have higher nutrition demands, such as a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding, your dietitian can help you avoid any deficiencies. 
  • Eat well with food restrictions. Food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities can make it difficult for people to navigate food choices. Dietitians can help individuals with food restrictions meet their nutrition needs while avoiding restricted foods. 
  • Manage chronic disease. Certain health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease require patients to follow specific dietary patterns. Dietitians will educate these patients on food choices that will affect their health condition.  
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What questions should I ask my dietitian?

To prepare for your appointment with a dietitian, it is a good idea to bring a list of questions to ask. This helps you make the most out of your time with your dietitian. Below are some example questions that you may want to ask your dietitian:

  • How much should I be eating if I want to lose/gain weight?
  • How can I keep the weight off after I have lost weight?
  • How do I know if I am intolerant to certain foods?
  • How do I dine out and still achieve my goals?
  • I’m thinking about trying a certain diet. What do I need to know?
  • Should I be taking any supplements?
  • Do I need to be tracking my calories?
  • What are some healthy snacks/foods that I should always keep in my kitchen?
  • If I don’t cook, can I still eat healthy/reach my goals?
  • What foods do I need to avoid if I am taking certain medications?
  • If I avoid (dairy, meat, etc.), how can I make sure I still get all the nutrients I need?
  • I know what I should do with my nutrition, but I have trouble sticking to it. Do you have any tips?
  • How can I tell if a food is a good choice from a grocery store/restaurant/party?
  • Why do I still feel hungry after eating?
  • Why am I hungry but have no appetite?
  • Why am I not losing weight on Ozempic?
  • Why am I not losing weight even though I’m intermittent fasting?

How much do dietitians cost? Does insurance cover appointments?

How much your dietitian visit will cost depends on whether you have health insurance or not and what coverage you have. Several factors affect the cost of your visit including credentials and/or certifications held by the expert, experience level, the location of the dietitian, and your insurance provider. 

How much do registered dietitian and nutritionist visits cost with insurance?

RDs and RDNs are typically covered by insurance. However, a nutritionist without these specific credentials is likely not covered. If your insurance covers nutrition counseling, you could pay as little as $0 depending on your plan. 

If your plan doesn’t completely cover your visit, you can expect to pay less than the full price of what the RD/RDN charges for a full hour. In this case, you may pay anywhere from $10 – $40 out-of-pocket.

How much do registered dietitian and nutritionist visits cost without insurance (out-of-pocket)?

If you do not have insurance or if your insurance company does not cover nutrition counseling, you can expect to pay around $100 – $200 per visit. Typically, the initial visit costs more than the follow-up visits because it takes more time.

>> Read More: Average cost of dietitians & nutritionists by state

How Zaya Care helps you book registered dietitians covered by your insurance

Here at Zaya Care, we’re dedicated to helping people find dietitians based on their preferences, needs, and insurance.

When you request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians, we’ll check your insurance so you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay, if anything at all.

It’s worth noting that 90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for nutrition care with a registered dietitian as we are in-network with many major carriers.

FAQs about seeing a dietitian or nutritionist

Should I see a dietitian or nutritionist?

There are differences between dietitians and nutritionists. It is safer to choose a Registered Dietitian, an “RD,” versus a “Nutritionist” because only those who have training and credentials can use the title “RD.” Nutritionists may or may not have training and credentials since the term “nutritionist” can be used by anyone.

To avoid getting misinformation from an unqualified source, always check their qualifications if choosing a nutritionist over an RD. Unqualified providers can cause harm by providing potentially dangerous recommendations for diet and exercise habits.

Can I see a dietitian or nutritionist online?

Some RDs and nutritionists are available to counsel clients through a telehealth platform which includes either video or phone consultations. This helps those who don’t have RDs or nutritionists near them or who struggle with having time to go to in-office visits. 

Will my dietitian or nutritionist give me a meal plan?

Some RDs and nutritionists offer meal plans but not all. Many RDs and nutritionists prefer to teach you how to create your own balanced meals versus providing specific instructions on what to eat. This is because the latter is hard to stick with while the former nourishes sustainability. 

If having a meal plan to follow is important to you, be sure to inquire about this option before scheduling to ensure it is offered.

Can a dietitian or nutritionist help me lose weight?

If you are struggling with losing weight and need guidance or support, an RD or nutritionist can help you succeed. RDs and nutritionists specialize in diet and can provide tailored recommendations for sustainable weight loss. 

How long are appointments with a dietitian or nutritionist?

Appointment lengths will vary by provider but typically initial sessions with an RD or nutritionist are 45-60 minutes and follow-ups are 30 minutes. When scheduling your appointments, always allow for extra time before and after to avoid being rushed.

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Meghan is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist from San Jose, California. She received her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University in 2015. Following an unexpected cross-country trip that landed her in Florida, she completed her didactic training through AdventHealth Orlando. Meghan has extensive experience in multiple aspects of dietetics including critical care, motivational interviewing, writing, and research. She is passionate about health and wellness and has dedicated her free time to breaking down complicated nutrition topics and disseminating them to the public through the arena of writing.