What a Registered Dietitian Can Do for You

HUP Bariatric Team (Noel Williams, Colleen Tewksbury and Jacqui Zipay) talking

Nutrition is an important part of the before and after weight-loss surgery process. But making changes to something as personal as what you eat can be a real challenge. That’s why at Penn Medicine, our registered dietitians work with and support you, so you can achieve and maintain your weight-loss goals.

The most qualified healthy eating advice

Registered dietitians (RDs) or registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) are the food and nutrition experts. All registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. RDs are the only nutrition professionals who are regulated by law and governed by an ethical code to ensure they provide the best care. Nutritionists, on the other hand, can work without providing any formal certification.

When RDs help you set diet goals, rest assured they actually know what they’re talking about.

“The RD at the end of our names lets you know the information you are getting has been proven, not our opinion,” says Bariatric Surgery program manager, Colleen Tewksbury, PhD, RD.

They have to earn a bachelor’s degree with course work approved through the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) accredited Didactic Program in Dietetics or Coordinated Program in Dietetics. They also must complete 1,200 hours of a supervised practice program, or internship, that is accredited by ACEND and pass a national examination overseen by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.

Guidance for the long haul

When you first see your RD, the last thing you’ll get is a one-size-fits-all-diet. He or she gets to know your eating habits and behaviors to make a more tailored plan that will most effectively help you. Each visit builds on the last to keep the patient moving forward and strengthen the earlier learning’s.

“The weight loss surgery journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Life happens. We’re here to help you reach your diet and weight goals when it does,” says Colleen.

The weight loss surgery program fosters this ongoing support by making sure that we always have dietitians available during our clinic hours, as well accessible via phone, email and MyPennMedicine.

Personally tailored plan for your needs and condition

At Penn, our RDs specialize in different conditions and treatments, like obesity and bariatric surgery, so they can customize nutrition advice specifically to patients’ needs.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by what you think you can’t eat and end up with a boring diet. RDs can help you take the foods you like and fit them into your new lifestyle.


The idea is that you can still eat foods you enjoy while being mindful of your overall health and accomplishing your goals. It has to be sustainable for patients to have long-term success. This goes for exercise as well as diet. You don’t want to get burnt out in the first few months and lose interest.

“Every person is different,” says Colleen. “Every person’s diet should be, too.”

Safe and creative strategies

RDs are actually required to stay up to date on the most current developments in food and nutrition science. Following successful completion of the registration exam, they must earn continuing education credits on a regular basis to complete a re-certification process. This process makes sure they increase their knowledge of the rapidly changing nutrition trends and stay on top of the latest nutritional research.

By working with someone you know is an expert, you get a weight-loss program that is safe and effective. Your RD can use creative ways to help with meal planning, grocery shopping and food journaling. They can help you make changes, so you can reach your weight loss goals.

About this Blog

Learn about bariatric surgery and get the support you need to continue on your weight-loss journey. We offer workouts, recipes and tips from Bariatric Surgery program team members, and stories from patients like you.

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