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How a Dietitian Can Help You Lose Weight and Maintain Readiness

Image of Military personnel posing for a picture with a banana. Sandra Stuart, 23d Medical Group health promotion dietitian at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, provides dietary counsel and offers a variety of sustainable wellness practices to help keep Team Moody fit to fight. (Photo by: Air Force Senior Airman Erick Requadt).

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If you've struggled unsuccessfully to lose weight in the past, it might be time to try getting some professional help.

A trained nutritionist can help you reach your goals by designing a personalized plan based on your health status, your individual needs, and your lifestyle.

When it comes to obesity, for example, a registered dietitian understands "it's a disease, just like any other disease," said Air Force Lt. Col. Tracy Snyder, the nutrition consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General at the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency, in Falls Church, Virginia.

"A dietitian has the scientific background to understand the science behind obesity and the food and nutrition expertise to assist clients with making the necessary lifestyle changes, which may include diet modifications," she said.

Additionally, registered dietitians are "educated in helping individuals tweak their normal dietary intake and give them options they might not be familiar with that can help them decrease their overall caloric intake," said Robert Goldberg, a registered dietitian certified in diabetes care and education at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland.

"When it comes to losing weight, for the most part, it will come down to how many calories are consumed versus how many calories are burned throughout the day," he added.

Tools of the Trade

Dietitians and nutritionists can help you to modify habits in a healthy, achievable way. And depending on each patient's goals, professionals can provide different types of support and education.

"Some patients are interested in learning how to read food labels. Some are interested in creating mutually agreeable dietary goals that they can try on a day-to-day basis. Some are interested in obtaining meal plans. Some want custom meal plans, and some just need accountability and regular feedback from a professional on how they are eating," Goldberg said.

He tries to empower his patients to be in control, stressing they're in the driver's seat and he's just there to help them get to their destination safely.

"I try to make it a point for my patients to tell me what they think are realistic goals rather than dictating what their daily dietary goals should be," he said. "I've found that method to be much more motivational and less prescriptive."

Embarking on a weight loss journey with professional guidance also means looking at your current habits and understanding where you want to be and why, Snyder said.

"When beginning treatment with a patient, one of the first things I take into consideration is where the individual is currently in their weight loss journey, their individual motivation and other factors that may or may not impact their ability to make changes," she said. "Sometimes that’s not even a nutrition-related problem."

Instead, it may be about helping them establish a personalized pathway to make the necessary changes. For example, professionals can help patients set SMART goals, said Snyder: Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely goals unique to them.

Goldberg also encourages his patients to track their food and beverage intake in an online application or website.

"It makes everything much more objective," he said. "I can see exactly what and when they are eating and drinking and how many calories they consume each day, which typically proves to be very helpful for both of us."

Fad Diets

Professionals can also help you avoid "fad diets", which may not be healthy or effective for long-term weight loss.

"Unfortunately, many fad diets that people attempt are quick fixes," he said. "Many can cause short-term weight loss, sometimes rather quickly. But the weight that was lost often returns, and many times people can gain even more weight than their initial starting weight."

Fad diets can be severely restrictive; they're not something patients can maintain long term, said Snyder. Severely restricting a specific food group could be problematic.

"Once their diet goes back to baseline, they quickly regain any weight or body fat that they lost and potentially get into a negative cycle of weight loss, weight gain, weight loss, weight gain, from one extreme to the next," Snyder said. "That's how we end up with yo-yo dieting."

In addition to not being healthy, that cycle fuels frustration and makes patients feel like they can't achieve their goals and their efforts are pointless.

Making Weight

Obesity and weight gain don't only affect people's health. For military service members, they can impact careers.

"When a service member exceeds his or her service-specific body composition standards, there are potential consequences to whether they're considered deployable," she said.

"Career risks can include not being promoted, but the biggest and most obvious risk would be being released from service," said Goldberg.

"The bigger concern is the associated health risks that go with being overweight or obese," said Snyder.

These include an overall increased risk of mortality, high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, certain cancers, mental illness, and body pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To remain in check, Goldberg recommends service members see a registered dietitian to assess their current dietary intake and habits, eating a diet consistent with the plate model, and exercising between 150-300 minutes per week.

Contact TRICARE for more information about coverage of weight management services available to beneficiaries.

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