Mar 13, 2020


Interviewer: Sharee Thompson is a registered dietician nutritionist at University of Utah. And today, we want to talk to her and find out how an RDN can help you. And it's more than just I think what a lot of us think about when we think of an RDN, which is losing weight. I was shocked at all the different things that a registered dietician can help with, conditions that are actually very much influenced by the food you eat -- diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, cancer.

There's a whole bunch of mental health conditions, including ADHD, depression, schizophrenia, eating issues like food allergies, which makes sense, but poor appetite or eating disorders. And then, even things like your mood, or sleep, or digestion issues, or fertility issues. I mean, so many things that we're like, "What's the answer?" And maybe we search for answers, and the answer is no further than the plate in front of our face. So how is it that food impacts these things so significantly?

Sharee: So I think one of the things that we need to understand is that our physical health, our mental health, and our nutrition are all highly intertwined. And, well, oftentimes, if one of these things is compromised, one of the others is likely as well. And so what we eat and how we eat has a major impact on our mood, mind, and overall well-being.

Interviewer: Is it something going on chemically there, the way the food is interacting with our body? Or, I mean, like, what . . .

Sharee: Yeah. So a very simplified way of looking at this is the food that we eat provides our bodies with the information or instructions and materials on how our bodies will function. And so if we're not getting these materials, being the nutrients in the food that we eat, our bodies will have issues carrying out the metabolic processes that they need to. Some examples of these functions that nutrients play a big role in are building neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that influence our mood and our health. Some examples of these are serotonin, sleep and relaxation, dopamine, endorphins. In addition to those, we also have immune function, nerve impulses, tissue repair, and also metabolism.

Interviewer: I loved what you said, but I didn't quite remember it. The food provides the instructions?

Sharee: The food provides the nutrients or the instructions that our body needs to carry out these functions.

Interviewer: To do what it needs to do. Thinking of it that way kind of totally changes the way I think about the food I put in my body.

Sharee: Yeah. And so if it's not getting those nutrients or the materials that it needs, it can't carry out the functions.

Interviewer: Yeah, If I'm eating a lot of fast food, then now, all of a sudden, my body's not getting the proper instructions to carry out the metabolic processes it needs to, so things start malfunctioning. So a registered dietician nutritionist, what do you do when a client comes in then with one of these conditions to help them feel better?

Sharee: So, through assessment, I mean, we're getting a better picture of the person as a whole. We take a look at their history, their dietary patterns, what their symptoms are, their issues. And each condition or disease has a medical nutrition therapy component to it. So it'll be different depending on the various condition. But we are educated in all of those areas where we can kind of tailor the plan to meet those needs.

Interviewer: Sure. So the right food for the right condition. That's really the value a registered dietician nutritionist brings to the table. But I also have a feeling other than helping with those food choices and evaluating somebody's diet, there's a certain amount of motivation that you have to offer, behavior modification.

Sharee: Yes. A lot of what we tend to focus on are just lifestyle behavioral changes, making these dietary changes, but also incorporating physical activity into our daily lives. And, you know, registered dieticians can also provide that ongoing support and feedback and advice. You know, if you have a bad week and you come back to see a registered dietician, they can continue to motivate you and be there to talk through these things and keep providing that information to you.

Interviewer: I know that's helpful, because after you have a bad weekend sometimes, then you really get down on yourself, like, "I'm such a loser. Why am I even bothering with this?" But the reality is you can pick it back up again.

Sharee: Yeah. And there's that accountability piece too. So if you know you have an appointment with your registered dietician the next week, you're just more accountable for those behaviors.

Interviewer: Help me understand the difference here because I want to make sure that I'm going to the right person, right? So there's a lot of kind of monikers I see out there. I see dieticians, I see nutritionists, I see registered dietician nutritionists. Is there somebody that's a little bit more . . . I mean, like, what are the education behind that?

Sharee: You can become a nutritionist. It's a certification. But a registered dietician, that requires a four-year degree with an accredited nutrition curriculum, extensive internships, hands-on internships, registration exam, and so you're credentialed with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and it also requires continuing education. And so we're continuing to be able to offer that science-based information.

Interviewer: Yeah, the latest information based on science and not speculation or, "This works for a lot of my clients. You should try it too."

Sharee: And we're not only nutrition experts, but we also are very educated and knowledgeable with the human body and how food affects it biologically and physiologically.

Interviewer: From my point of view, you'd want to look for an RDN because you know they've got a lot of education and schooling and the practical experience behind them. That's what those letters indicate.

Sharee: Yes, definitely.

Interviewer: That's what you just told us, yeah. If you are referred by a physician for an RDN visit, does insurance generally cover that?

Sharee: For certain conditions, insurance will cover. Some common ones are for diabetes and kidney disease. But you will want to definitely reach out to your insurance carrier, because they all vary, to find out if visits are covered and also what the specific benefits are.

Interviewer: So if you're experiencing any of the symptoms we talked about at the top of the podcast, by all means, go ahead and talk to your primary care physician and see if perhaps a registered dietician nutritionist might be able to help you get some relief or get a cure.

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