How a Dietitian Can Help You With Your Crohn's or Colitis

By Ashley Charlebois

When dealing with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you may have many questions surrounding nutrition. Are there any dietary changes that might be beneficial for getting out of a flare or staying in remission? Are you meeting all your nutrition needs even though you may have some dietary restrictions or feel as though you’re not absorbing everything? Are specific foods okay to eat given your condition and symptoms? It can be difficult to filter through all the nutrition information out there - and sometimes even your gastroenterologist or physician can’t answer these questions. This is when seeking professional help from a registered dietitian who specializes in digestive health might help.

What is a session with a registered dietitian like?

While every dietitian works slightly differently in how they deliver nutrition sessions, most go through a similar process that usually include the following:

  • Dietary assessment

    • The first visit with your dietitian is usually an information gathering session. Your dietitian will take the time to get to know you and understand what your goals and current state of health are. He/she will inquire about the following: --Your personal goals and purpose of the visit --Current, past, and family history of medical conditions --Usual intake – what you normally eat & drink --Symptoms you experience and bowel movements --Level of activity
    • All the above information will help your dietitian create a nutrition plan specifically tailored for you – usually done as your next appointment.
  • Dietary planning

    • Once your dietitian gathers all the above information, he/she will develop a nutrition plan that enables you to achieve your goals, meet your specific energy & nutrient needs, and help you manage your symptoms. The plan usually indicates when and what you should eat, with specific portion sizes. You will often be provided with meal and snack ideas to help you follow the plan.
    • During this appointment your dietitian will try to answer any specific questions you have, basing their information on scientific literature. You may be provided with resources and food lists to help you achieve your desired health outcomes. You may also be guided through a type of elimination diet or asked to keep a food and symptom journal to help pinpoint any specific food intolerances.
  • Follow-up appointments

    • Depending on your goals and current condition, you may require more than just one appointment in order to achieve the best possible outcome. Do not get frustrated if you don’t see major improvements right away. It’s important to follow up with your dietitian, as you would with your physician, if you aren’t seeing improvements or if you’re having a hard time sticking to the nutrition plan you were given.

What’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

Registered dietitians translate the complex science of nutrition into practical strategies to help you achieve your nutrition and health-related goals. They are health care professionals who have university degrees (usually a B.Sc. at minimum), have completed accredited internships, and belong to Provincial Regulatory Bodies to ensure certain standards are met. They are the only professionals who can use the titles “Registered Dietitian, “Professional Dietitian” and “Dietitian” which are protected by law. On the other hand, “Nutritionist” is not a protected title, and they are not regulated by a governing body. Nutritionists can give general nutrition advice, but cannot work in hospitals and are not clinically trained to treat patients with diseases or chronic conditions. If you want to work with a dietitian, look for the letters R.D., P.Dt., or D.Pt. after the name to ensure they are a registered member of the profession.

Suggested: Practical Strategies for Optimal Nutrition with Crohn's and Colitis

Where can I find a dietitian who specializes in digestive health?

You can ask your physician or gastroenterologist if they know of any registered dietitians who may be best suited to your care. Alternatively, you can use Dietitians of Canada’s “Find a Dietitian” page, looking for someone who specializes in IBD at http://www.dietitians.ca/Find-a-Dietitian.aspx. If you live in the United States, the Acadamy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ “Find a Registered Dietitian” allows you to search by specialty at http://www.eatright.org/programs/rdnfinder.

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