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Nutritional counseling to the rescue

If the saying, "We are what we eat" is true, then Americans who eat a lot of junk food are in trouble. The national obesity epidemic lends credence to this idea.

So, to fight back, we look for weight-loss solutions, such as following fad diets. But these diets come and go, making it clear that not every diet works for everybody, or for very long.

According to nutritional counselors, such diets are not the best idea. But don't get fed up, they say. What most folks need isn't a diet, but advice from a competent dietitian.

Personal food trainers
Nutritional counselors exist in many shapes and sizes.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics shows most dietitians and nutritionists are employed by physicians, hospitals, nursing-care facilities, food-service systems for institutions, such as schools and hospitals, or wellness programs.

A lot of them, though, have independent practices where families and individuals can get personal guidance and support on the road to overcoming bad eating habits.

What? People are hiring nutrition counselors? The idea is that a modest upfront investment for nutritional guidance might save a lot of money otherwise spent on medical bills later on.

The payoff for consulting a qualified nutritionist can be significant. According to the National Institutes of Health, the first and best attack on obesity, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and other increasingly common disorders is a "therapeutic lifestyle change" -- the art of paying more attention to diet and exercise.

In addition, nutritionists claim that they significant success rates in treating eating disorders, allergies, kidney problems and numerous medical conditions, such as Crohn's disease or even cancer.

Plenty of options to chew on
Consumers need to do a little research before choosing a nutritional counselor. Some practitioners specialize in weight loss, others in disease amelioration or prevention. Some are allied with traditional Western medicine, some with alternative traditions. And, because the industry is still unregulated in many states, a fair number of them may be quacks.

According to U.S. Labor Department figures, only 31 states require dietitians to acquire licenses, and only 14 states require certification.

Checking a nutritionist's credentials is important -- that string of letters after someone's name may be deceptive.

An R.D., or registered dietitian, has been accredited by the American Dietetic Association; an L.D., or licensed dietician, indicates a state license. Naturopaths, licensed by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, have "N.D." or "N.M.D.," doctor of naturopathic medicine, after their names. Those specializing in nutrition are usually called clinical nutritionists.

Both the ADA and the AANP provide lists of what they consider qualified practitioners.

Credentials, however, won't tell the whole story, says Dr. Stephen Barrett, founder of, which reports on fraudulent practices in a number of medical fields.

"It might be advisable to get a referral from a trusted source," he says, "such as your own doctor or a local hospital."

One sure sign of quackery, he warns, is the promotion of a particular wonder supplement or product line.

Next: "The selling of products is an extremely bad sign."
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