There is a popular site called Diet Doctor which I intentionally didn’t review before writing this article. I wanted to put my own spin on this idea and avoid copying someone else’s.
The reason I am interested in being a “diet doctor” is that it’s in line with practicing good medicine. And it affords the option of not practicing traditional medicine which is overwhelmingly exhausting.
I’m also obsessed with diet and exercise. In a good way, I suppose. It’s a topic I read about a lot and I’m fascinated with. You can follow my trail of books on the topic @ Goodreads.
Why Not Dietetics
I don’t want to be a nutritionist or dietician. That’s a very different career track and a different set of skills.
A dietician helps a patient optimize their diet based on the field of dietetics and based on their disease profile. Often they work closely with a referring clinician.
As a physician, being a diet doctor means that I address your health concerns with a diet. I won’t prescribe you medications. I won’t bill your insurance. I won’t order imaging studies for you or titrate your insulin. [Feels so good to write this].
I am here to help you reach your health goals by helping you manage your diet. I won’t manage your diet for you. I won’t be your police nor will I be your punching bag. The effort and impetus come from you, the knowledge and encouragement come from me.
Diet in Healthcare
Diet is an afterthought in healthcare. I’m 43 and so often my health just comes down to what I eat, when I eat it, how much of it I eat, and what I don’t eat.
All patients know what a good diet is, so there won’t be a huge information gap here. But that’s just the basics of it. The juice is in the detail.
In western medicine, we have to generally stick to dietary recommendations by the DGA. This is under the USDA which doesn’t have the best track record in the US.
The USDA has a 164-page document that you have to read through to understand what a good diet is. And you have to then vet that information against all the conflicts of interest of the authors. Forget it – who has the time?
There is very little about fasting or how far to space out meals and how to keep a food journal to figure out which food item isn’t sitting well with you.
There is almost no information about the source of the food you’re eating. A tomato is a tomato. Beef is beef and chicken is chicken. And yet we know from patients and our own personal experiences that the quality of food matters.
Diet in healthcare is an afterthought and will always take the backseat to what makes good money, namely medications and medical interventions.
Diet as Medicine
The compliance rate with medication is just around 50%. Well, at least with non-benzo’s and non-opiates. Even with antibiotics, we are barely at 60%.
Diet isn’t any different. In fact, following a diet is much harder because we aren’t introducing something new (like a pill) but we are asking someone to completely change a habit. A habit they have developed for several decades.
For many of my patients and friends and for myself, diet has been a very effective medication. But we have learned how to tailor it to our own lifestyle and we have had the guidance of others to help us achieve our health goals.
I suspect that there is only 5-10% of the population who is interested in diet as medicine. As in, only 20 million Americans would care to drastically change their lifestyle in order to achieve better health through diet rather than through surgery or pill popping.
Advantages of a Dietary Doctor
It can seem a little scammy or gimmicky to sell yourself as a diet doctor. It’s obvious that most patients know what a good diet is.
The tough part is actually doing the research and making the right choices for yourself as a patient. Of the 5% of Americans who might be interested in this kind of help only a quarter might have the means to afford it.
So now we are left with just 5 million Americans who are your potential clients. But these are the best of the best – these are the kind of patients you want to deal with.
A motivated patient who has their own best health interest in mind is the ideal patient. You don’t need any prior authorization and you don’t have to spend hours convincing them that you know your shit.
Even better, in your free time, if you are passionate about this field, you can learn more about food and nutrition. You can learn about the psychology of helping patients overcome their hurdles. And you can learn about agriculture and food quality.
Being a Diet Doctor
I had a health coach brand called the Medical Health Coach which I abandoned after 1.5 years. I still like the idea and think there is potential for it. I generally felt overwhelmed with all the different things I needed to do for that brand and the kind of patients who found me weren’t my ideal clients.
I imagine that being a diet doctor is a hands-on business where you are interacting with your patients regularly. Probably several times a week at first and then weekly thereafter.
Collecting patient data such as their weight and symptoms is one part of your job. Helping them overcome their hurdles is another. You’ll answer a lot of questions and you’ll have to be a problem solver.
Your Ideal Client
I don’t enjoy dealing with bodybuilders or patients who are looking for a diagnosis to explain all their symptoms. I’m just not the right fit for these individuals.
My ideal client is someone who wants to mostly eat healthily and doesn’t have the time or resources to differentiate truth from function when it comes to their diet.
This ideal client of mine prefers to work with a physician because they also have a few medical concerns and want someone who understands their diseases.
You might be different. Your ideal client might be a mom or a young professional. Perhaps you prefer patients with dementia or women with hair thinning.
A Diet Doctor Business Model
At some point, when you’re popular enough or have enough word of mouth, you can charge an hourly rate and people will gladly pay you $100-150 per hour.
In the meantime, you’ll likely have to prove your expertise by creating a lot of content. This can be published content in various journals or by publishing your own content on your site.
You could seek out referrals from cash-based private practices as well. Especially if you live in wealthier cities and states it’s possible to get this kind of traction through referrals.
The hourly model is consistent and predictable. But online courses and group courses bring in more revenue with less work. And this helps you break up the monotony of meeting with clients one on one.
If you can work with an MA or health coach, that’s a plus. It’s good for the patient to deal with you when it comes to the “lectures” and then have them follow up with your MA who can collect their metrics.