It can be overwhelming and stressful to cope with a diabetes diagnosis. Whether you have just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes or gestational diabetes or have been living with diabetes for many years, you don't have to endure this hardship alone. While reaching out to friends, family, and loved ones can improve your emotional well-being, working with a diabetes nutritionist can significantly benefit your healthcare plan.
What is a diabetes nutritionist?
A diabetes nutritionist offers expert dietary and nutrition advice to patients with diabetes. When developing a personalized nutrition plan for a patient, a nutritionist will factor in the patient's current nutritional profile, health goals, medication, lifestyle, and diabetes management objectives. Most diabetes nutritionists also specialize in medical nutrition therapy.
Aside from assisting with healthy eating, a nutritionist will also help you reduce the risk of developing diabetes-related complications, including digestive and kidney diseases. Suppose you are already grappling with kidney disease or heart disease. In that case, a diabetes nutritionist can collaborate with renal and cardiovascular professionals to ensure you receive the best care and advice regarding your overall health.
If you’d like to learn all about the role of a diabetes nutritionist, read more here.
Am I a good candidate to work with a diabetes nutritionist?
Most individuals grappling with a chronic illness such as diabetes can benefit from consulting a nutritionist. However, specific individuals can significantly benefit from working with a diabetes nutritionist.
According to the World Health Organization, 90% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Some research indicates that the longer someone has a high body mass index or BMI, the greater their chances of developing diabetes. Excess body fat increases the body's resistance to insulin, making blood glucose and high blood pressure management more challenging.
While this is valuable information, it can be hard to implement. Anyone who has tried to lose weight – and keep it off – knows that it's not easy. That's where a diabetes nutritionist comes in. A nutritionist can help you develop a diabetes diet and a plan for exercise, sleep, and more. Setting small and realistic goals, getting active, and carefully planning and scheduling your meals can go a long way towards helping with diabetes management and diabetes prevention.
If you have pre-diabetes, your blood sugar is outside the normal range but not so high that you have developed type 2 diabetes yet. This is why someone with pre-diabetes can significantly benefit from seeking outside support from a nutrition expert. How well you manage your pre-diabetes could be the difference between ultimately being diagnosed with diabetes or not. A diabetes nutritionist will help you control your blood glucose levels by advising you on physical activity and healthy food choices. In some instances, you may need to consult with your doctor, who can provide you with medication to help manage your higher blood glucose levels.
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only affects one particular demographic: pregnant women. Roughly 2% to 10% of expecting mothers develop diabetes during pregnancy. This type of diabetes occurs when an individual cannot produce enough insulin to support a growing baby as their body and hormones change.
If you develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, your doctor may advise you to seek a diabetes nutritionist. If gestational diabetes remains uncontrolled, there is a higher chance that you will develop complications with your pregnancy.
Even if you have not received a gestational diabetes diagnosis but are worried about developing diabetes during pregnancy, you can also benefit from the help and support of a nutritionist. Eating healthily, staying active, and maintaining a healthy weight are all ways to prevent the onset of gestational diabetes.
How a diabetes dietitian can help you create healthy lifestyle choices
Aside from talking with you about your eating habits and your diet, there are many ways that a diabetes dietitian can help you create healthy lifestyle choices. Here are some of the many benefits of working with a diabetes dietitian.
Teach You the Basics
Getting diagnosed with diabetes can feel like your whole world has been turned upside down. It can be overwhelming and stressful to learn what you should and shouldn't eat, how often you should eat, and how much you should eat. That's where a diabetes dietitian comes in.
A diabetes dietitian serves as both a helpful health resource and an educator. A nutrition expert will teach you the ins and outs of your condition and debunk the inaccurate myths you may have read online. As time passes, you will feel more empowered to make your own health decisions, plan your meals, and confidently dine out at restaurants. If you are interested in learning more about diabetes, you can consult a certified diabetes educator (CDE).
Set Goals for Your Health
A diabetes dietitian can help you set small and realistic goals for your health, whether you are trying to hydrate more or implement a daily exercise routine.
Many people with diabetes also set weight loss objectives for themselves. That said, extreme diets and rigorous exercise plans are not sustainable and are usually not very healthy. A diabetes dietitian can help you set goals that you can realistically maintain for the foreseeable future. Once these goals become routine habits, you can set yourself a new challenge.
Collaborate with Other Members of Your Health Team
If you have been grappling with diabetes for a long time, you might face additional health problems such as cardiovascular disease and kidney failure. A diabetes dietitian can collaborate with renal and cardiac experts to optimize your dietetic care. Having your health team work together will ensure that every team member is on the same page when giving you critical health advice.
Navigate Grocery Shopping
Shopping at a grocery store becomes exponentially more stressful for people with diabetes. Suddenly, you need to pay close attention to everything you purchase — it can feel like having an allergy but not knowing what you can and can't eat.
A diabetes dietitian can teach you the ins and outs of grocery shopping, from instructing you on how to read nutrition labels to educating you about what items are off-limits. Soon you will be able to navigate the supermarket aisles without feeling confused and overwhelmed.
Support Your Mental Health
Diabetes doesn't just impact your physical health – it affects your mental health too. When you are diagnosed with diabetes, you are experiencing a drastic life change. On top of that, it can also feel like nobody understands what you are going through.
If your diabetes feels like too much to cope with, you might have diabetes distress. Diabetes distress occurs when all the worry, frustration, anger, and burnout make it hard for you to take care of yourself and keep up with the daily demands of your medical condition. A diabetes dietitian is a great asset to help guide you through these challenging times. An experienced, well-qualified diabetes dietitian will have extensive knowledge of your illness and can support you and provide you with the resources you need to thrive.
Enjoy the Foods You Love
People with diabetes often feel like they have to sacrifice all of the tasty foods they enjoy. While you may need to adopt a healthier and more controlled diet, that doesn't mean you can't be happy. Working with a diabetes dietitian is a collaborative process. Your dietitian will want to know which foods you love and which foods you dislike to create the best possible nutrition plan. They are well-versed in making minor tweaks to your diet that produce maximum health benefits without sacrificing your enjoyment of food. If you eat meals that you enjoy, it is far more likely that you will stick to your plan and not feel that you need to consume unhealthy foods to feel satisfied.
Is a diabetes registered dietitian the same as a diabetes nutritionist?
Dietitians and registered dietitian nutritionists specialize in how your diet impacts your health. But while these professionals may perform similar tasks, registered dietitians and nutritionists do not necessarily have the same credentials. A dietitian will always have a bachelor's degree and supervised experience at an accredited healthcare facility, community agency, or food service corporation. They will also have passed a national exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
On the other hand, nutritionists have varying levels of expertise. While some nutritionists have the same level of knowledge as dietitians, others will have little to no professional experience. If you plan to work with a nutritionist, do a little digging into their background to ensure that they are a registered dietitian nutritionist who has completed additional training and qualifications in diabetes care.
Setting realistic success goals for working with a diabetes nutritionist
It's essential to remember that while a diabetes nutritionist is an excellent resource for people with diabetes, your nutrition professional will not be the be-all-end-all solution to your illness. Ultimately, you are responsible for managing your diabetes and sticking to the diet and lifestyle goals you set with your nutritionist. This means that you will need to hold yourself accountable for eating healthy, staying active, hydrating regularly, and taking your medication. Your relationship with a diabetes nutritionist can be an incredible asset to your diabetes care, especially if you closely follow their advice and learn from their guidance.
How to get started with a diabetes nutritionist today
Finding a nutritionist in your area, let alone a nutritionist specializing in diabetes, can be difficult. You may have already done an unsuccessful online search for a “nutritionist near me.”
Thankfully, there are telehealth platforms that you can turn to, including Top Nutrition Coaching. With a team of fully qualified registered dietitian nutritionists with extensive experience in diabetes, Top Nutrition Coaching makes it easy to connect with some of the nation’s best diabetes nutritionists. You'll work with your nutrition expert in virtual appointments that fit your schedule. Together, you can tackle even the most daunting nutrition challenges.
Mariel is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lends her talents to creating valuable content that enriches communities, strengthens cultures, and moves people to change. With over ten years of writing experience and as an advocate for physiological well-being, her breadth of work extends from parenting podcasts to health and wellness pieces.