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Ask the expert: Nutrition and food allergies – August 2017

Linda Kirste

Linda Kirste is a Registered Dietitian. She works at HealthLinkBC where she operates the Allergy Nutrition Service ― a tele-practice-based service that provides nutrition education, as well as counselling and follow-up care for residents of British Columbia with food allergies.

This month, we asked her questions related to not only how to find the right dietitian for you, but how to prepare for your first meeting, whether it be to address your own nutritional needs, or your child’s.

What should I look for in a dietitian? What factors should I consider and what questions should I ask? And what does an initial appointment look like?
Dietitians are uniquely trained to translate food and nutrition science into sound, easy to follow steps to eating for optimal well-being. Dietitians are required to be registered and be in good standing with a provincial regulatory body to practice dietetics. Regulatory bodies (often called colleges) ensure that health professionals, from dietitians and physiotherapists to physicians and nurses, have met and maintain the qualifications to provide quality care. For more information about the requirements to practice as a dietitian, refer to Registration to practice.

If you’re looking for help managing food allergies, here are some tips for accessing support from a dietitian:

  1. Look for the credentials “RD” or “PDt.” The initials RD, PDt or DtP (in French) after a health professional’s name help ensure that you’re accessing the most qualified professional for your nutrition care.
  2. Choose an RD who works with individuals. Dietitians work in a range of settings and have different skills. Dietitians who work with individuals have the skills to offer nutrition advice for specific health conditions. They often work in ambulatory or community care settings, and some work in private practice. For a directory of private practice dietitians, refer to the Dietitians of Canada link Find a Dietitian. Private practice dietitians charge a fee. If you have extended health insurance, your policy may reimburse a portion of that fee.
  3. Ask for a pediatric dietitian. If you’re seeking an RD for your child, ask for a dietitian who works with children. Sometimes referred to as a pediatric dietitian, they’ll have experience helping families meet their children’s nutritional needs to ensure optimal growth and development. This includes supporting you as you encourage your child’s healthy eating and positive attitudes towards food.
  4. Making an appointment. Some dietitians require a referral from a medical doctor. You can ask your doctor (or your child’s) to recommend a dietitian. They’ll let you know if you need a referral.
  5. Ask your doctor to provide a copy of your allergist’s report. Sometimes called a consultation report, the letter your allergist completes for your referring doctor contains details of your food allergy diagnoses and a recommended treatment plan. Access to a copy of the letter helps your dietitian prepare for your visit.

What should I expect during my first visit?

Your first visit with your dietitian is likely to take around an hour. Be prepared for a detailed conversation. You’ll be encouraged to share your dietary concerns and goals, your food choices, and the factors that influence them. You can also expect an in-depth conversation about different ways to achieve your goals. Your dietitian’s aim is to help you find paths to these goals that work best for you.

What questions should I ask?

Feel welcome to ask lots of questions related to your dietary concerns. Don’t forget to include a question about whether you can see or phone your dietitian for a follow-up visit. A second visit offers you the chance to talk about how your nutrition care plan is working for you, and also provides an opportunity to make changes to the plan. Children in particular should see their dietitian from time-to-time, since their nutritional needs change as they grow.

How should I prepare for my first visit?

Your dietitian may suggest that you record your food intake for a few days prior to your visit. This can free up more time to talk about your questions during the visit. If you’re keeping a record of your intake, try to be as descriptive as possible, and include portion sizes. If you’re able to, choose days that reflect your usual dietary intake, and be sure to include a weekend day.

Do you have a question you’d like to ask Linda in the months to come? If so, please send it along to us at info@foodallergycanada.ca.