Eating is personal, every bite an individual’s choice. But it can be an unconscious act based on a lifetime of habits, so not eating well has long-lasting implications on health. Like improving any habit, it takes an informed and consistent effort, and that’s where the guidance of a registered dietitian comes in.

As more corporate wellness programs offer nutrition support, companies have to choose between providing employees access to guidance via phone or computer or bringing on a dietitian in-house. So which is better?

When it comes to impacting employees’ eating habits and sustaining engagement, the difference is clear. While remote nutrition consults are better than nothing, for the best results (and to get the most out of your investment in corporate wellness programs), an on-site registered dietitian is the way to go.

But the cost, you might be thinking, it has to be more expensive to bring a dietitian on-site. And you’d be right, the upfront investment is higher. But remember, mitigating health risks is more affordable in the long run than dealing with issues like Type 2 diabetes and heart conditions.

Why, you ask? What do on-site dietitians bring to the table that remote consultations don’t? Good question. Here are nine significant benefits.

1. A stronger human connection.
People can feel vulnerable as they seek guidance from a dietitian. “Establishing trust is key,” says Bob Calvin, an EXOS performance dietitian. “Especially during the first meeting when dietitians ask questions and do initial assessments.”

“Eye contact, a smile, a handshake — all of these help create a safe environment and encourage people to open up,” says Karla Wright, vice president of nutrition at EXOS. And when meeting in person, a dietitian can pick up on a client’s nonverbal cues, enabling them to adjust their approach, figure out the topics that resonate best, and create a level of comfort. It’s all about building a lasting relationship, which is simply more natural when you meet face to face.

Eye contact, a smile, a handshake — all of these help create a safe environment and encourage people to open up.

2. More interactions.
Similar to the first point, having an on-site dietitian allows for more frequent and casual interactions. “Some of the most impactful interactions I’ve ever had with clients were on the weight room floor and in the café during meals,” Calvin says. Being able to ask questions when they’re top of mind is easier than jotting it down and scheduling an appointment.

3. Accountability.
Being consistent with a meal plan is key to its effectiveness, so feeling a sense of accountability can make a big difference. “When you establish a connection, you feel more responsible and you’re more likely to come back. There’s a trust and an emotional connection,” Wright says. And getting off track is more difficult because it’s not as easy for employees to feel “out of sight and out of mind.”

4. A holistic wellness plan.
The best results come when nutrition guidance is informed by a person’s activity level and fitness goals. “If the dietitian has daily access and communication with performance coaches and clients, their role will be enhanced and better tailored to the needs of each client,” Calvin explains. “And they’ll also be able to provide valuable feedback to the fellow performance professionals for them to better serve clients.”

5. Improving nutrition options at the office.
Off-site dietitians can have a harder time shaping lunch menu items or other foods available in the workplace. “Again, it’s about forming relationships. Not only with clients but with the folks in charge of all the places an employee can get food at the office,” says Wright. “From a gym’s smoothie bar, to office snacks to event catering,” Wright adds. “Every time an employee encounters food is another opportunity to fuel performance.”

6. Making nutrition more tangible.
Nothing beats engaging the senses in person. “Having an on-site dietitian also allows for practical demonstrations — think taste tests and culinary demos,” says Calvin. “A large part of a dietitian’s role is to make food and nutrition come to life, and this becomes more difficult to do when not interacting in person.”

7. Reality checking.
The latest diet fad can sweep through a group of friends or office setting, and left unchecked they can lead people astray. With an on-site dietitian in your ranks, a trusted resource is ready to debunk the nonsense and help people focus on the best plan for them.

The latest diet fad can sweep through a group of friends or office setting, and left unchecked they can lead people astray.

8. Community building.
On-site dietitians are able to lead group discussions around nutrition, helping facilitate conversations between people who are facing similar challenges or pursuing the same goals. A remote dietitian would be hard-pressed to replicate the camaraderie and impromptu exchanges that happen within a live, group setting.

9. Employees appreciate it.
Having an on-site dietitian is another way to attract new employees, improve retention, and add to your overall company culture. It shows a higher level of commitment to their health and well-being. Many employees recognize the value of an on-site dietitian they can get to know and trust, who they can get praise from when they do well, and who they can turn to with questions.

Calvin sums up the comparison, saying “For clients I’ve worked with in person, I’m just better able to make a connection faster, the results are accelerated, and their continued engagement is higher than those I have worked with over the phone or computer.”

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