Share on Pinterest
Researchers say registered dietitians can personalize a plan for people, helping them lose weight more easily. Getty Images
  • Researchers report that a registered dietitian may be the best way for many people to lose weight.
  • In their study, the researchers say people who used a dietitian lost an average of 2.6 pounds while those who didn’t use a dietitian gained 0.5 pounds.
  • Experts say dietitians can help guide people through lifestyle changes as well as personalize a diet plan.
  • They add that a dietitian may not work for everyone, so people should stick to whatever system is best for them.

When trying to find an effective way to lose weight, there are as many options as there are numbers on the scale.

Weight Watchers. Nutrisystem. Phone apps. Personal trainers. Nutritionists. Just to name a few.

But your best bet might be a dietitian who can help engage you in intensive behavioral therapy to lose weight.

That’s the conclusion of a study published today in the journal Family Practice.

Researchers from East Carolina University studied a group of older adults on Medicare who were diagnosed as having obesity.

The researchers said they found that those who participated in weekly, bi-weekly, and then monthly behavioral therapy sessions for weight loss lost an average of 2.6 pounds.

Participants in a control group, by contrast, gained an average of 0.5 pounds during the study period.

In addition to discussing the health risk of obesity, dietitians worked with participants in the study to create a personalized health plan.

The plan included weight loss goals and ways to achieve them, as well as counseling to check in on progress and roadblocks.

This is one of the values of using a dietitian over a self-guided program or app, said Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC, a dietitian and founder of Root Nutrition Education and Counseling Services.

“What works for one person does not always work for everyone,” Kimszal told Healthline. “Nutrition needs to be individualized and that is why going to see a registered dietitian can have more to offer than diet systems.”

Dietitians use a system called the Nutrition Care Process that consists of the following:

  1. Nutrition assessment: The dietitian collects and documents patient nutrition history, laboratory data, medical history, body measurements, and other relevant data.
  2. Nutrition diagnosis: The dietitian uses the data to identify problem areas and make a diagnosis for the client.
  3. Nutrition intervention: The dietitian creates a treatment for the diagnosis.
  4. Nutrition monitoring and evaluation: The dietitian assesses the success of the program so far and helps the client make changes if necessary.

This sort of structured approach may be why some research, such as this 2017 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, concludes that dietitian-delivered interventions performed better at helping people accomplish weight loss and reduce diabetes risk factors than those performed by non-dietitians.

One of the big questions surrounding diet plans is the cost.

One of the appeals of Weight Watchers or a free app such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It! is that they cost little or nothing.

That’s hard to beat — but only if those systems work for you.

Like most things in the U.S. healthcare system, how much a dietitian costs depends on your health insurance plan.

It can range from as little as $50 per session to $200 per session for someone without insurance, according to the website Cost Helper.

Weight Watchers, by contrast, costs between $7 to $14 per week for in-person 30-minute to 45-minute meetings, or as little as $3.22 per week if you exclusively use the program online.

That’s significantly cheaper, especially if you aren’t covered by insurance.

But “putting on weight isn’t cheap,” says Jennifer Burns Katafigiotis, a nutritionist and adjunct professor of nutrition education and food science at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

“Medications related to excess weight, surgeries related to excess weight, and lost productivity in one’s career all come with a hefty price tag,” Katafigiotis told Healthline. “Early reallocation of those same funds will yield a more healthful future and is a much better investment overall.”

As the most recent study noted, people who have obesity incur on average $1,429 more in health costs per year, totaling $147 billion across the United States.

Figuring out a weight loss path that works isn’t necessarily an either/or scenario, though.

For instance, if you’re using a weight loss system such as Weight Watchers, a dietitian can help you with other aspects of your lifestyle as well as help you better achieve the goals of the program and beyond.

And it’s equally possible a dietitian won’t work for everyone.

“In a very real sense, dietitians don’t have a success rate. Clients do,” Paul Claybrook, MS, MBA, CN, a certified nutritionist in Washington, told Healthline.

“The toughest part about weight loss for most people is that they want to lose weight and don’t want to lose weight at the same time,” he said. “Weight loss is about making changes, and without changing — which is always a hard thing for people to do — weight loss won’t happen.”

Katafigiotis agreed and offered these words of advice for people trying to lose weight (no matter what route they choose).

“Recognize that change takes time and be patient with the process,” she said. “The weight didn’t come on overnight, so why do we get frustrated when it doesn’t disappear overnight? Any step toward the goal you set out for yourself is a step in the right direction. Applaud all your successes, big and small.”