Nutritional counseling is a practice in which a nutritional counselor, typically a registered dietitian or nutritionist, works with a client to assess his or her current dietary habits, food intake, and health needs and determines where changes need to be made. Once those changes have been determined, the nutritional counselor will work with the client to set dietary goals, and create a new eating plan. Nutritional counseling may be part of a training program at a fitness center, or it may be recommended by a physician.
Nutritional counseling typically begins with an assessment of one's current level of health and food intake. The counselor may ask the client to keep a detailed food diary for a few days, writing down everything he or she eats or drinks. In addition, the client may be asked to take a survey asking approximately how many servings of fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates, meats, fat and sugar he or she eats in a week or month. The nutritional counselor also needs to know about any health issues, such as heart disease, along with any medications. This is because some medications can cause weight gain or food interactions, particularly those for mood disorders or epilepsy.
Once a current level of health and standard of eating habits has been determined, the nutritional counselor can begin to develop an eating plan. Nutritional counseling is not meant to act as a diet; instead, the new eating plan is designed to set one up for a lifetime of healthy eating. The counselor may help the client to set goals, such as a certain amount of weight loss or the reduction of sugar or caffeine in the diet.
Typically, nutritional counseling will begin with small, manageable goals to encourage the client to keep going. This might include cutting back on soda, eating a small breakfast in the morning, and switching from whole milk to low fat milk, for example. As the nutritional counseling progresses, the client may be asked to substitute white flour for whole grain flour in breads, to eat more vegetables, or to switch to meat and protein sources that are lower in fat.
In addition to making food substitutions, a nutritional counselor may also help a client make plans for healthy eating in various scenarios, such as at parties or restaurants. The nutritional counseling may take place in conjunction with a fitness trainer, who will help the client develop an exercise plan. Regular follow-up sessions will take place to make sure the client is meeting his or her goals, or to determine where goals and eating plans may need to be adjusted.