Engaging Patients in Nutritional Therapy

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Nutrition-based interventions are fundamental components of many functional medicine strategies used to combat chronic illness and restore optimal health. These personalized treatments may include modifiable therapeutic food plans that address nutritional imbalances. Patient-practitioner collaboration is essential for successful implementation and sustainability of these plans. What strategies contribute to effective nutritional therapy?

From tracking quantity and quality of food intake to engagement and motivation, patient participation and empowerment are core components of nutrition-based treatments.1 Studies have found that several factors, often in combination, may significantly enhance the effectiveness of nutritional interventions, including:

  • Personalization of nutrition information and treatment feedback.1-3
  • Including patients’ preferences, wishes, and expectations during decision-making and showing empathy.1
  • Exposing patients to nutrition education or knowledge,4,5 most notably when education interventions are five months or longer, with three or less focused objectives.6
  • Patient-centered communications.7-9 

Collaborating with patients through motivational interviewing techniques or healthy conversation skills, which both include open-ended questions and achievable goals, may help to promote patient engagement and empowerment, ultimately improving the effectiveness of nutritional interventions.8,9 For example, a 2019 randomized controlled trial of 153 breast cancer survivors found that after a six-month intervention that included monthly nutrition and cooking workshops, motivational-interviewing telephone calls, and individualized newsletters, adherence to the Mediterranean diet guidelines significantly increased in the intervention group.8 

Clinical Applications

Patient-practitioner partnership is a foundational approach in the functional medicine model as it creates a cooperative environment that empowers the patient in their health journey. Assessing the readiness of a patient, understanding their specific needs and situation, and identifying any barriers that may impact sustainability of a nutrition treatment strategy may be essential for enhancing patient engagement and improving long-term success. As functional medicine practitioners know, nutrition is an important factor in many personalized therapeutic strategies, and IFM offers many tools for delivering personalized and effective nutrition interventions. For example, the IFM Toolkit contains the assessment tool “Readiness for Change” to help practitioners gauge and support a patient’s readiness for modifying lifestyle habits and behaviors. In addition, IFM offers a range of modifiable therapeutic food plans.

For in-depth instruction on how to personalize IFM’s suite of therapeutic food plans in order to best meet the needs of clients and patients, explore IFM’s online course, Therapeutic Food Plans: A Component of Personalized Nutrition.

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  1. Barkmeijer A, Molder HT, Janssen M, Jager-Wittenaar H. Towards effective dietary counseling: a scoping review. Patient Educ Couns. 2022;105(7):1801-1817. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2021.12.011
  2. Taylor PJ, Kolt GS, Vandelanotte C, et al. A review of the nature and effectiveness of nutrition interventions in adult males—a guide for intervention strategies. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2013;10:13. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-13
  3. Endevelt R, Gesser-Edelsburg A. A qualitative study of adherence to nutritional treatment: perspectives of patients and dietitians. Patient Prefer Adherence. 2014;8:147-154. doi:10.2147/PPA.S54799
  4. Savoie MR, Mispireta M, Rankin LL, Neill K, LeBlanc H, Christofferson D. Intention to change nutrition-related behaviors in adult participants of a supplemental nutrition assistance program–education. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2015;47(1):81-85. doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2014.08.009
  5. Wagner MG, Rhee Y, Honrath K, Blodgett Salafia EH, Terbizan D. Nutrition education effective in increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among overweight and obese adults. Appetite. 2016;100:94-101. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.002
  6. Murimi MW, Kanyi M, Mupfudze T, Amin MR, Mbogori T, Aldubayan K. Factors influencing efficacy of nutrition education interventions: a systematic review. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2017;49(2):142-165.e1. doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2016.09.003
  7. Svetkey LP, Batch BC, Lin PH, et al. Cell phone intervention for you (CITY): a randomized, controlled trial of behavioral weight loss intervention for young adults using mobile technology [published correction appears in Obesity. 2016;24(2):536]. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015;23(11):2133-2141. doi:10.1002/oby.21226
  8. Zuniga KE, Parma DL, Muñoz E, Spaniol M, Wargovich M, Ramirez AG. Dietary intervention among breast cancer survivors increased adherence to a Mediterranean-style, anti-inflammatory dietary pattern: the Rx for Better Breast Health randomized controlled trial. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2019;173(1):145-154. doi:10.1007/s10549-018-4982-9
  9. Adam LM, Jarman M, Barker M, Manca DP, Lawrence W, Bell RC. Use of healthy conversation skills to promote healthy diets, physical activity and gestational weight gain: results from a pilot randomised controlled trial. Patient Educ Couns. 2020;103(6):1134-1142. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2020.01.001

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