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What Does a Bariatric Dietitian Do?

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  • Written By: Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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A bariatric dietitian assists those who are considered obese to understand and prepare for weight loss options and procedures, develop and stick to diet plans and understand the roles food plays in their physical and psychological lives. It is their job to document all aspects of the patient's dietary and weight loss treatment and how the patient is or is not progressing. Their job is very similar to the work of regular dietitians, but because bariatric dietitians work only with overweight individuals, they typically perform their duties in clinics and hospitals and work more closely with physicians and surgeons.

During initial work, a bariatric dietitian meets with the patient to assess their dietary and general health needs. They get basic information such as the patient's weight and blood pressure and discuss what and when the patient eats. Based on the results of the evaluation, the dietitian helps the patient develop some weight loss and health goals, such as losing a specific amount of pounds. He may recommend bariatric surgery depending on the severity of the patient's condition, but usually this is reserved for only the unhealthiest and heaviest individuals who need immediate results to ward off medical complications. If he does recommend a procedure, working with the patient's doctor, he makes sure the patient understands both the risks, benefits and steps of the procedure, setting up a dietary plan for both before and after the procedure.

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As part of the foundational work with a patient, dietitians who focus on bariatrics figure out what imbalances are present in the patient's diet, very broadly looking at carbohydrates, proteins and fats and deficiencies in specific vitamins and minerals. This is as important to the patient as a loss of pounds, because nutritional intake impacts everything from hormones to hair growth and energy. Based on the imbalances and general goals, the bariatric dietitian designs a customized meal plan for the patient. Often the dietician is very careful in how he implements the plan, using graduated phases, because he understands that the patient's habits will take time to change and that the body needs time to adjust to healthier eating.

In order to create a customized dietary plan for the patient, bariatric dietitians must work with the patient's doctor to determine the extent of the patient's medical problems. During this interaction, the dietitian finds out what medications the patient is on, if any, as changes in weight and diet sometimes affect the effectiveness of particular drugs and necessitate dosing adjustments. This means that, although the dietitian has a different specialty area and therefore may not have the expertise of a physician, he has to have enough medical knowledge to understand what the patient's risks are.

Another important aspect of work for a bariatric dietitian is to determine the psychological issues, if any, that are intertwined with the weight problems. Weight often contributes to lower self-esteem and plays a role in social interactions, so the dietician must understand how the patient psychologically relies on food or has been affected by his weight. He might recommend a psychologist for the patient if he feels it will help.

During work with a patient, the bariatric dietitian helps coordinate the various aspects of treatment. For example, he might check with a hospital cafeteria or nurses to ensure his instructions are clear or schedule surgery for the patient based on progress reports. It is also his responsibility to document the dietary plan formally, including a patient's progress or decline.

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