What is Personalized Nutrition? Is It Right For You?

There’s a big difference between an off-the-shelf diet and a nutrition plan personalized just for you.

“We’ve all been there before… our best friend or co-worker has told us about a diet that has worked great for them. Perhaps they’ve even given us a great website to reference or a book to follow…but is it appropriate for us?” says Sheena Quizon Gregg, a registered dietitian nutritionist and assistant director of the Department of Health and Promotion and Wellness at The University of Alabama.

A unique diet plan designed just for you is much different than a menu or exercise schedule from a book, she explained. Gregg is a Best Food Facts expert and gave us an inside look at what it’s like to meet with a dietitian.

“Personalized nutrition takes into account your personal health needs including the consideration of your personal health history, family health history, and what your health goals are. What might be a great pattern of eating for someone else, could be unhelpful or potentially dangerous for another person due to a certain health condition such as diabetes or kidney disease,” she said.

Perhaps your doctor has recommended you meet with a dietitian because of health concerns. Or maybe diets you’ve tried just aren’t working. The idea of talking to a professional about your weight and the food you eat can be intimidating. Won’t they just tell you to give up bread and French fries and everything else you love? Gregg works with clients regularly and shares some encouragement.

“I believe personalized nutrition can be very liberating for people and provide an eye-opening experience that in reality, healthy eating does not have to be as limiting or depriving as they perceive,” she said.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, keep in mind one critical key for success:

“Being as honest as possible with your dietitian about your current eating behaviors and lifestyle can ensure that they will make recommendations that are practical for you and you are able to execute these recommendations as a long-term lifestyle change,” Gregg said.

Getting Started

Your doctor’s office is a great place to start to find a registered dietitian. Also check with hospitals, fitness facilities and private practices. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Find an Expert lets you search by zip code.

Once you take the first step and make an appointment, your dietitian will want to get to know you in order to create a plan that will work.

“You can expect your registered dietitian nutritionist to spend a lot of time getting to know all about your lifestyle. This can include work schedule, budget, living situation, and food preferences, so expect your dietitian to ask you a lot of questions on your first visit,” Greg said.

Medical information to provide:

  • Height and weight
  • Blood pressure
  • Body fat percentage,
  • BMR (basal metabolic rate),
  • Lab work that may have prompted your visit (such as a lipid panel revealing elevated cholesterol)

Arrange for your primary care physician to provide a copy of lab work or medical information.

“Your dietitian’s job is to make recommendations that are helpful specifically to you by considering your lifestyle and your personal long-term health goals,” she said.

Set Up For Success

Working together, you and your dietitian can identify the goals you want to achieve and work toward. Gregg explained that this flexible structure means that you can become independent in making food choices.

“A menu plan taken from the internet or from someone with less training tells people what to eat at certain times of the day but often does not explain why certain foods are being combined or what the actual benefit is, unlike a nutrition plan created by a registered dietitian nutritionist,” she said.

The greatest benefit of a nutrition plan is that the goals are specific to your needs and health conditions.

“For example, someone with a chronic kidney condition often has to limit or eliminate many types of foods that would traditionally be seen as very healthy. This is why I discourage my patients from receiving diet and nutrition advice from a friend or family member with good intentions because that person may not have the medical training to understand the intricacies and complications of that individual’s health condition,” she said.

Personalized nutrition is not just about what foods to eat. It’s a lifestyle approach that incorporates fitness.

“The biggest fitness tip that I love giving my patients is encouraging them to find an activity that they enjoy doing and provides the least amount of obstacles to do,” Gregg said. “Many folks believe they have to have a gym membership doing a high-intensity workout routine to start being more physically fit. Something as simple as power walking in the neighborhood can be a great way to begin physical activity because no equipment is required and can be done in most any place.”

A final word of encouragement from Gregg:

“A nutrition plan can help provide flexible structure to someone’s eating while providing nutrition education in a way to set a client up for being independent and successful in his/her food choices.”

Personalized nutrition is not just for athletes or Hollywood celebrities. Registered dietitians can work with anyone to set and work towards personal goals to create a healthier lifestyle.

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