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How dietitians can help with managing a chronic illness

Virtual care · Nov 18, 2021

When symptoms of chronic illness can be triggered by the foods we eat, it can be challenging to maintain a positive relationship with food. A TELUS Health Virtual Care registered dietitian can help sufferers of chronic illnesses such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, or even diabetes, navigate the implementation of a therapeutic diet that best supports a healthy lifestyle after a medical diagnosis.

The role of a dietitian or nutritionist in a treatment plan.

Once a chronic condition is diagnosed, patients may be referred to a dietitian or nutritionist for help in adjusting their eating habits. “Dietitians are trained to understand the medical background of chronic illness and provide nutritional assessments and complete treatment plans according to the individual person’s needs,” explains Shauna Lindzon RD, dietitian for TELUS Health Virtual Care. “This involves reviewing past and current medical history, anthropometrics, bloodwork, lifestyle factors, and diet histories.”

Recommended diets for people with chronic illness.

People who are faced with gastrointestinal conditions, like IBS for example, may be encouraged to follow diets such as the Low FODMAP diet to help reduce the severity of their symptoms or to determine the best course of pharmacological treatment.

IBS patients can be referred to a dietitian who specializes in this particular type of diet and who can accompany them through the various steps needed to identify their trigger foods. FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) are different types of carbohydrates that can be hard to absorb by the small intestine. They are found in different quantities in most everyday foods and can trigger symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, excessive wind, and sudden changes in bowel movements.

In the case of a diabetes diagnosis, making progressive adjustments to one’s diet and integrating healthy food choices can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke or other complications.

In addition to their prescribed exercise and medication regimen, a dietitian can help patients take control of their blood sugars by providing a nutrition plan that best suits their lifestyle. Dietitians can help with portion sizes, carbohydrate goals, determining carbohydrate content and understanding the glycemic index.

The benefit of an expert’s perspective on nutrition.

Even for individuals living without a chronic illness, seizing the opportunity to learn more about food and how it affects the body can be a helpful step to improving overall health.

Lindzon highlights the importance of having professional guidance when it comes to developing a nutrition plan. “If a patient is struggling with emotional eating, weight loss or weight gain, gastrointestinal symptoms, high lipids, fatty liver, cancer, or any other medical condition that affects their eating habits, they should reach out to a dietitian/nutritionist to get their expert advice and develop an individualized nutrition care plan.”

TELUS Health Virtual Care offers on-demand access to primary physical and mental health care to help Canadians across the country live healthier lives. As of October 2021, members can access dietitian and nutritionist services on TELUS Health Virtual Care (Ontario only, other provinces coming soon). For more information on the allied health services available in your province, check your app or visit our website.