Online and telephone nutrition

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Seeking dietary support and advice from a nutritionist most commonly involves a series of one-to-one sessions between the client and the nutritionist. There are however emerging alternative and convenient means of conducting these sessions, and these are via the telephone and online.

Whilst face-to-face meetings are helpful for building rapport between nutritionist and client, access to online and telephone sessions can offer the same level of support and confidentiality as well as additional benefits. They are particularly useful for keeping the client accountable in between face-to-face consultations - helping to ensure they stay on track with their nutritional goals.

Most significantly however, online and telephone nutritional services can help to eliminate some of the difficulties associated with receiving nutritional support and advice in a traditional setting. These include:

Accessibility - There is more flexibility and time available with online or telephone sessions and this means they can be arranged with minimum prior notice.

Affordability - Although telephone conversations will include a minimum fee, generally online and telephone sessions are less expensive for both the client and the nutritionist. Costs such as postal and travelling expenses, staff-hire and venue use are automatically lost.

Anonymity - Online and telephone sessions with a nutritionist can offer the client a higher level of privacy as well as leaving them the option to remain anonymous. This is beneficial for clients who may feel uncomfortable in a face-to-face setting - especially when answering personal questions about themselves. Telephone or email conversations with a nutritionist can help clients to be less inhibited and more likely to discuss important, but sometimes embarrassing issues they are seeking nutritional support for.

Flexibility - A lessened crossover period between clients, in combination with a series of additional factors, often mean that online and telephone sessions can be offered at more flexible times than face-to-face meetings with a nutritionist.

Convenience - Online and telephone services mean that clients are able to receive advice and support from a nutritionist in the comfort of their own home, or wherever it is that they are - as long as there is Internet and a phone connection available. This is hugely beneficial for the following individuals in particular:

  • Housebound and/or disabled individuals.
  • Parents who cannot afford childcare.
  • People who travel frequently or are too busy to commit to regular face-to-face appointments.
  • People living in remote areas who are far from a nutritionist’s office.
  • Hearing impaired - instant chat and email sessions mean that an interpreter will not be required.

The growing availability of online and telephone nutritionist services is most probably due to recent progressions in Internet and mobile phone technology. Today these technologies exist as fundamental components of everyday life for millions.

According to the Office for National Statistics, a huge 83% of households in the UK are now connected to the Internet, whilst between 2010 and 2013 access to the Internet using a mobile phone more than doubled - going from 24% to 53%.

With so many people now online on a daily basis - either for leisure or work - online and telephone nutritionist services are ideal alternatives to many of the challenges some individuals face when attempting to arrange face-to-face sessions.

Are online and telephone sessions effective?

Consultations with nutritionists via the phone and online is still a relatively new concept, so research into whether these modes are as effective as conventional face-to-face methods is minimal. Despite this however, positive results have been reported.

For instance, a continuing system of regular phone calls or emails between a nutritionist and their client is thought to be a highly effective means of accountability. The convenience of access provided by these services means nutritionists can keep track of their client’s progress and provide motivation and support outside of face-to-face consultations. Adjusting to a new diet plan can be incredibly difficult, so clients are thought to benefit greatly from this additional support.

There is also the benefit of advances in technologies such as mobile phones, bandwidth, and videoconferencing applications. Today these services can help to make online and telephone sessions feel more like face-to-face interactions - eliminating the concern that they hinder the connection between client and nutritionist.

Online nutritionist services

Online nutritionist services essentially refer to any form of consultation that is conducted over the Internet. This could be via an exchange of a series of emails, or it could be over a video programme that enables a nutritionist to talk to their client in real time.

Whatever mode of Internet communication is used, online nutritional services are an ideal way for individuals to seek confidential and professional support at any time that suits their schedule. They can enjoy the flexibility of arranging sessions and checking in on their progress at times most convenient for them.

Skype sessions with a nutritionist

An increasingly popular online option for nutritional services is via Skype. This is particularly handy for those who are too busy or simply cannot attend face-to-face consultations but still want to 'meet' with their nutritionist in person.

Skype is a computer programme that enables people to video chat in real time over the Internet. The software is free, easy to download and no special equipment is needed. All that is required is a webcam and a microphone, which most laptops and computers are fitted with. These are relatively inexpensive to purchase if not.

Skype works well for many because clients are able to physically see their nutritionist - a factor that people often miss during email or telephone sessions. Just like these other methods however, Skype consultations with a nutritionist allow clients to attend a session from the comfort of their own home or anywhere in the world as long as there is Internet connection available.

How do Skype sessions work?

Usually a client will be required to contact their nutritionist via email or telephone in the first instance to arrange an initial consultation. Together both individuals will plan a suitable time to 'meet' so that a nutritional assessment can be carried out. Clients will usually be sent a questionnaire via email to complete before this takes place.

The Skype assessment meeting will typically involve the nutritionist gathering further information on the health and eating habits of the client by asking a series of questions. This will help them to devise an appropriate nutrition plan for the client, whose progress will be monitored in follow-up Skype sessions or via email exchanges or telephone conversations. All of the practicalities of implementing the plan will be discussed in the first Skype session.

The initial consultation will also give clients the opportunity to get comfortable using Skype, and to get to know their nutritionist and how they work. From here they can decide whether or not they feel the nutritionist can provide the specific dietary advice and support they seek.

In terms of payment, the nutritionist may ask clients to pay via a secure online payment before the session, or they may ask for credit card details at the end. It is important to keep personal details safe, so clients are encouraged to carry out payments in a safe and secure manner.

Exchanging emails with a nutritionist

Exchanging emails with a nutritionist allows a client to work with a qualified online nutritionist anonymously from the comfort of their own home. The process usually involves filling out forms and questionnaires sent by the nutritionist, who after careful analysis will use the collected data to recommend a personalised, tailor-made nutritional plan for the client.

If used in tandem with face-to-face sessions, email consultations can help clients and nutritionists to stay on track of progress in between consultations and pinpoint areas of the client's plan that may need amendments. It can also provide an outlet for clients to contact their nutritionist at any time to ask questions and seek further recommendations.

How do email exchanges work?

As mentioned above, nutritionist services conducted via email will revolve around a series of email exchanges between the online nutritionist and client. However, before these can begin, the client and nutritionist will need to clarify the following details, usually during a few initial email exchanges:

  • Some background information about the client.
  • Whether or not email sessions are the appropriate method for the client, depending on their needs, goals and preferences.
  • Guidelines on how many times the client is able to email the nutritionist.
  • The time frame in which the client can expect to receive a response.
  • Fees - what is the cost of each email exchange?
  • Privacy and confidentiality policy.
  • Cancellation policy.

Do you need to be computer literate to have online sessions?

It is inevitable that basic computer skills are needed to pursue the option of online consultations, but a client does not need to be a technical genius to make email or Skype sessions work for them. Furthermore, the vast majority of nutritionists who do offer these services will be able to provide a step-by-step simple approach to getting started.

Telephone nutritionist services

Telephone sessions with a nutritionist work in the same way as meeting face-to-face, but are conducted over the telephone. Some nutritionists may offer this as an additional avenue of support between face-to-face sessions, whilst others may focus solely on conducting the sessions over the phone. In this case, nutritionists may also rely on email and fax services to send assessment forms and appropriate resources to clients.

Essentially, telephone sessions can eliminate the challenges presented by meeting a nutritionist face-to-face in a specific location. This makes the service much more accessible and convenient to a range of clients.

How do telephone sessions with a nutritionist work?

The first step is simply for the client to get in contact with the nutritionist so that a brief discussion can be had about the dietary advice and support they require. The nutritionist will usually outline their confidentiality policy as well as general information such as cancellation policy at this stage.

Following an initial telephone session, the nutritionist will most likely email the client some forms to fill in so they can find out more about their health history and symptoms. This will help the nutritionist to devise a nutritional plan for the client, which will be implemented and monitored throughout a series of telephone conversations in the future. These will be scheduled at times to suit the client, and the number of sessions required will be agreed upon in advance.