Talking to Your Doctor About Diet and Exercise

Patrika Tsai Health Guide
  • Many patients experience anxiety about visiting the doctor because they are uncertain about what to expect. The way to get the most out of a visit is to be prepared. Your doctor is there to help you and has your best interests in mind. Preparation on your part allows the doctor to provide you better healthcare.

    In a typical doctor’s visit, the doctor will obtain a medical history and ask several questions about your health starting with any specific complaints that you may have. The doctor will then ask you questions about medications, allergies, past medical history such as hospitalizations or surgeries, social history such as alcohol and tobacco use, and family history. The doctor should also inquire about diet and exercise. Sometimes these questions will be presented as a questionnaire for you to complete while you are waiting for the doctor. The doctor will then perform a physical exam. Afterwards, the doctor will discuss any issues in more detail and may order tests, prescribe medication, or refer you to other physicians or healthcare professionals.
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    In today’s fast-paced world, doctor visits are often brief. Set an agenda with your doctor at the beginning of the visit so that the doctor can prioritize and address the most serious or pressing concerns first. Sometimes there are more issues than can be covered in the time allotted for the visit. In this situation, make a follow-up appointment to cover the remaining questions. Diet and exercise are often lower on the agenda compared to issues like quitting smoking. Let your doctor know that diet and exercise are important to you and that you would like to spend time discussing them.

    When your doctor asks about your diet or level of physical activity, be honest. Your doctor relies on the information you provide to determine how best to help you as an individual. Do not be embarrassed. If you really do not exercise, the doctor can help you brainstorm about ways to increase your physical activity. The same is true about your daily intake of caffeine, meat, dairy products, and fruits and vegetables.

    Before you go to the doctor, completing a food diary is helpful. Write down everything you eat and drink for three to seven days. Be sure to include at least one weekend day and at least one weekday. Try to keep the diary during regular days rather than during holidays when eating habits often change dramatically. Write down how much food or drink you consume as well as how the food is prepared. It is usually easiest to write what you have consumed as soon as possible so that you do not forget anything. You want to provide your doctor with a diary that is representative of your average daily food intake.

    In addition to a food diary, bring a list of any questions you have. This will help your doctor address all of your concerns. Many people leave the doctor’s office only to remember important questions during the drive home. Doing a little research via the internet, books, or magazines will give you some basic background on issues that are important to you. The doctor can then answer any questions from your reading. Let your doctor know what sources you used so that the doctor can tell you if they are reputable and trustworthy. The doctor may even provide you with other sources.

  • Your doctor may refer you to other professionals in order to develop a comprehensive diet and exercise plan. A nutritionist or dietician can go through your dietary history in more detail and provide tips on ways to incorporate healthier eating into your daily life. The doctor can also refer you to a physical therapist or trainer who can help determine appropriate exercises, particularly if you have problems like back pain or troublesome joints.
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    Your doctor is there to advise you. If there is anything at any point in the visit that you do not understand, do not hesitate to ask. Every doctor wants to provide his patients with the best care possible. Following the above recommendations will allow your doctor to do so and will help you get the most out of your visit.

Published On: December 11, 2006