10 Things To Ask a Nutritionist Before Taking Her/His Advice

1. Which foods are carbs?
The definition of carbohydrates is complicated, boring, and probably not something you’d want to learn. But your prospective nutritionist should know that carbs include vegetables and fruits, as well as the foods most people call carbs – good and bad. (Those include breads, pasta, cereals, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, quinoa, squash, rice, turnips, parsnips and other root vegetables.) For clarity, I call them starches.

2. Do you recommend low-carb diets? Why or why not?
This depends on how low you mean. Paleo diets are popular, but not always a good idea.

Low-carb eating may make a poor training diet. Hard workouts virtually demand healthful starches. Refueling with starch plus protein after a tough training helps replace glycogen, critical after a workout. Extremely low-carb diets can even trigger cardiac arrhythmias in some people.

Appetite control is easier with a food plan that includes healthful starches. This has to do with serotonin production. And if you’re not eating starches, you may crave sugar and/or alcohol.

3. Is weight loss just a matter of calories in/calories out?
The ideal answer is calories do make a difference but are absolutely not the whole story. Hormones – insulin is one key hormone in this – influence weight gain, the 24-hour fat oxidation rate, and more. What you eat influences weight, not just how much.

4. Will you work with my lifestyle / frequent business travel / doctor’s recommendations?
The ideal answer is “yes.” No food plan should be so unyielding that you can’t modify it for these factors. You may need to be willing to prepare – say, in advance of your travel dates. But the plan should allow for your individual needs, and the nutritionist should have suggestions.

5. What should I eat after a workout?
The best answer is starch and protein in a 3:1 ratio. The 3:1 can be easily calculated using calories or grams, since carbs and protein yield 4 calories per gram.

You need to eat no later than 30 minutes following your training. That may mean eating in the locker room and bringing appropriate foods with you. Avoid fats in that 30-minute window because they’ll slow the absorption of carbs.

Your nutritionist should know all of this, as well as why eating within the 30-minute window is critical.

6. I sometimes have mood swings (or feel depressed). Can foods change my moods?
Let’s assume you’ve talked to your doctor about your moods and received a qualified medical opinion about what you do or don’t need.

The answer to this question is definitely yes: foods can change your moods. A vague answer about eating well and feeling better as you become healthier is neither responsive nor helpful.

Foods affect moods because they modify brain chemistry. If your prospective nutritionist can’t explain the exact changes you can effect with diet – and if moods are a critical issue for you – you may need to find one who understands that.

7. Will I ever get rid of my sugar cravings?
The answer to this should be yes. Say you have frequent or strong sugar cravings. A nutritionist who talks about “curbing” cravings or tells you everyone has them might not be ideal for you. If he/she suggests eating a little of what you crave or substituting fruit, that’s also a red flag.

8. Should I eliminate any foods or food groups? Why or why not?
If the nutritionist suggests eliminating carbs, or fats, those diets may not work for a variety of reasons. But if she/he recommends eliminating specific types of junk – such as white flour or sugar – that’s good.

9. I hate vegetables and always have. Do I really need them, or can I just eat more fruit?
Vegetables and fruits are not equal. They’re certainly not interchangeable. Fruits have nutritional value but are no substitute for veggies.

The nutritionist should know that hating vegetables often indicates a high-sugar diet. The ideal step is to check that, then check your family history for factors that may make you carb-sensitive, sugar-sensitive, or both. Next would be a plan that modifies brain chemistry and changes your food preferences so vegetables no longer seem unpalatable.

10. I’ve heard of stomach hunger and mouth hunger. What’s the difference?
These terms are typically used to distinguish real hunger from appetite. But they confuse people. If you ask someone if she ate because of stomach hunger or mouth hunger, she may say, “I’m not sure.”

I describe hunger to be sure a client can recognize and feel it. I use “hunger” for real physical hunger – signals the body sends that it needs food. If someone eats for any other reason, that’s an urge or desire to eat. It’s less confusing.

Many nutritionists are available. These questions vary enough that they can help you screen your nutritionist from the wide field and find one who’ll help you do what you need.

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