It was 9 weeks ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. My hands were shaking and a glistening sheen of perspiration had appeared on my forehead. I was unable to create any coherent thoughts; I was about to give my first nutrition education to a patient. My first nutrition education was a weight loss education for a 500lb patient. I left this man’s room questioning the effectiveness of my education. Now that I am nearing the end of this clinical rotation, I like to think I’ve become more proficient in delivering nutrition education to patients. Here are a few things I’ve learned to help me in educating patients.
Meet People Where They Are
To put it simply, “meet people where they are” means inferring and understanding how likely they are to make dietary changes in their life. Most of the patients I educated did not seem interested in altering their diets. To meet them where they were, I usually tried and find one easy change they could make to their diet and have them focus their efforts there. In the case of the 500lb man, meeting him where he was involved understanding the difficulties that come with weight loss, his age, and his motivation to actually lose weight. This was a middle aged man who had been carrying extra weight his whole life and he had expressed several times his interest in an outpatient weight loss clinic. To meet this patient where he is, we decided that switching from regular soda to diet soda would be the easiest change to make that would promote weight loss.
Handouts can be a very useful tool when providing nutrition education. Some patients are in pain, half conscious, or uninterested in changing their diet, so they may not hear or retain dietary guidance when it is provided; this is where handouts come into play. Many professional organizations offer online nutrition education handouts. I prefer using handouts from the Nutrition Care Manual (NCM). The NCM is a product of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and contains a section on client education with general information about nutrition and varying disease states. Each handout features the relation between nutrition and the disease, foods allowed and foods to avoid, and a sample 1-day menu that follows the prescribed diet, all formatted in a professional manner. The handouts are a great resource for dietetic interns or new dietitians, too, as they can be a prompt for important points to cover with patients.
A sneak peek at the NCM diet education page
Practice, Practice, Practice
As the old cliché goes, practice makes perfect. In my opinion, nothing prepares you for delivering nutrition educations more than practice. At my clinical site, we would receive a fair number of nutrition education consults which allowed for plenty of practice. On days where my floors lacked education consults, I would ask the dietitians on the other floors to send me any education consults they received. Being able to practice has helped me find a balance between simplifying the educations while giving enough detail to highlight what is most important nutritionally for each patient.
Although I am not yet an expert educator, I have learned a lot about providing sound, actionable nutrition education to patients. I plan to use these three approaches to continue to hone my counselling skills.