A dietician studies diet — food is his/her business… from the time of harvest till it is consumed. He/she has to do a qualitative analysis of the food being consumed, not only till the time of consumption, but even after it is eaten. A dietician should have complete knowledge of not only food and but also about the workings of the human body. He/she should have knowledge of human physiology, varieties of food, nutritional aspects, calories, etc.
What do they do?
Having worked for four years as a dietician in various organisations, Dr Parul Patni was discouraged by everyone in her social circle when she set out to establish her practice. She heard things like, “There can be only one Anjali Mukherjee (a popular dietician based in Mumbai). Every dietician can’t run her own practice.”
But Patni was not the one to be held back. Her faith wasn’t shaken even when she didn’t see a single client for the first six months at her clinic in Faridabad.
To woo clients, she paid publicity-focused visits to doctors’ clinics in her locality, where she often waited for two hours before meeting the doctor. She even went to schools, which drew some response, though lukewarm. Gradually, clients (not patients as she clarifies) started trickling in.
“We can’t have a doctor-patient kind of relationship. Dieticians have to be very informal with clients. It’s a continuous and long-term relationship which I forge with them,” says Patni, who holds a PG diploma in dietetics from the Institute of Hotel Management, Pusa, Delhi.
Normally, a first-time client’s visit lasts for 40-45 minutes. In such a meeting, the dietician usually investigates the clients’ daily lifestyle and food habits (90% to 95% of whom are female). Patni usually asks questions about the amount of water consumed in a day, number of hours of sleep, food and drink consumption in a day, changes in eating patterns during the weekends, and so on.
“Initially, some may maintain that they stick to a two-chapati-a-day regime. But when they gradually open up, we discover that they don’tount the packets of biscuits they had,” she says with a hearty laugh.
When suggesting a diet plan, Patni weighs its practicability, too. “If someone regularly holds official meetings at hotels, I can’t ask her to stop eating out. Similarly, I find it futile to ask a sociable client not to drink on weekends. We try to customise a diet keeping in mind individual needs,” she explains.
Most of Patni’s clients have been with her for years. They make payments on monthly, quarterly or half-yearly basis. They stay in touch either over the phone or over the internet. While speaking about online communication, she reminisces of a London-based ‘self-motivated’ client who came to meet her while on a holiday in India and sought advice. “Later, he emailed me several times and managed to lose 17 kg in a few months’ time,” she says. Patni attributes this success to her regular interface (online and offline) with clients, which means giving a personal touch to the relationship.
However, there are times when even such close relationships don’t have the desired effect. “At times, we have to ask people to see a counsellor instead of a dietician. This makes them think that I am an inefficient dietician who couldn’t resolve their case,” says Patni.
What she enjoys most about her job are the timings. A dietician never gets an emergency case and there are no long hours, she says. “Barring a few occasions when I get a phone call at odd hours from a demanding client, I work six hours a day,” she says.
Those not interested in running their own practice can work at health clinics, corporates, gyms and hospitals. Research is another emerging area.
Dr Shweta Khandelwal, who works at the Public Health Foundation of India, plunged into research to drive home the point that nutrition is a serious subject.
“There are several career options in dietetics, including teaching, practice, and research. I chose research because my friends, who were studying for their MBBS degrees, used to believe that nutrition graduates are not competent for cutting-edge research, even though the fact is that nutrition is the basis of everyone’s life,” Khandelwal explains.
. Your need soft skills to become a good dietician
. Have empathy towards the patient, patience, politeness
. Great motivational skills to keep a client going
. A strong sense of ethics as the the patient depends on you; he/she will do whatever you will suggest
How do I get there?
Take up a home science programme after Class 12 or equivalent. This is offered as BSc (home science) or BA (home science). The next step is to go for a master’s degree in home science with specialisation in food science and nutrition. Some agricultural universities, too, offer BHSc and MHSc programmes. Preference is given to candidates with science in Class 12. You should pursue a postgraduate diploma/ master’s degree in dietetics.