Dietitians are a valuable resource in your effort to keep diabetes in control, but many people overlook them.
Some people newly diagnosed with diabetes meet with a dietitian just once, sometimes during a hospitalization for high blood sugar. Just one rushed meeting isn't nearly enough time to learn everything that a dietitian has to offer, says Jacqueline King, a Chicago-area registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator who's had type 1 diabetes for more than 40 years.
"I'm not a proponent of one-shot dietetics. So if a person goes away from that hospital saying 'I didn't get anything out of that visit,' I'd probably agree with them," she says.
More than one visit is best
To truly get the benefit of a dietitian, look for one who's a certified diabetes educator (CDE), she suggests. This certification means they've had extra training that allows them to know "the ins and outs" of how your diet relates to your medications and exercise routines.
Ideally you should make several visits to the dietitian. You need to develop a diet that keeps your blood sugar in control, but is also appealing enough that you can stick to it, she suggests.
It's wise to bring in a family member who can help you remember the recommendations, particularly if it's the person in your household who does most of the cooking.
You should return every six months to make adjustments. If you monitor your blood sugar, bring your records so the dietitian can see how your meals and snacks affect your blood sugar. Also bring in a three-day food diary so your dietitian can see what types of foods you consume, and what kind of eating schedule you follow.
What your dietitian should do
- Set up a meal plan. This should include several days' worth of sample meals and snacks that will fit into your daily routine. This should be individualized to your particular needs … not a cookie-cutter approach that could make you lose interest in working with a dietitian.
- Teach you how to count carbohydrates in your foods. That is, if carbohydrate-counting is a method you want to use. Your dietitian should also teach you how to control portion sizes and understand the importance of watching your fat and calorie consumption (which people who count their carbs often forget).
- Consult with your doctor, if necessary. You may need to find a medication regimen that works better with your diet.
A good dietitian will also offer something more: A sense that you're not dealing with this condition alone. "I think that we're a great support system," King says. Though you may call your dietitian to ask a food-related question, it's also nice "getting an encouraging voice on the other side of the phone that's telling you, 'It sounds like you're doing a great job,' just giving the person a pat on the shoulder and encouragement that things are going to be OK."