7 Ways to Prevent Burnout as a Bariatric Dietitian

Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN

Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, providing education and support prior to and following weight loss surgery.

If you are a bariatric dietitian, you already know it is such an incredibly rewarding career. You’re blessed to be in a job where you are doing what you love. You are motivated to help each and every person and you give it your all. Personally, I absolutely love being a bariatric dietitian. I mean, really, really love it. I honestly cannot imagine doing anything else. The bariatric patient population is different from the rest. For these people, there’s such a desperation to have a tool that helps them achieve weight loss that is sustainable, once and for all. You can feel it the moment you meet them. Their stories and experiences are so touching and heartbreaking at the same time. They want to be a healthy weight so badly they would do anything to achieve it. Which is why this specialty is so rewarding. Working in bariatrics, you get to witness people changing and even saving their lives by choosing to have weight loss surgery.

Depending on whether you are in the outpatient or private setting, dietitians will have their own day-to-day flow of things including client/patient appointments, curating content, charting, you name it. But weight loss surgery is growing, and you’re likely getting busier and busier. Your schedule is becoming more packed and you feel that maybe your counseling efforts are becoming less stellar than what they once were. Your task list is growing and you have so many projects you want to take on. You can’t do it all…but you are trying! Whether it’s right around the corner or you’ve experienced it before, there’s always the possibility of burnout. Burnout doesn’t mean we stop loving our job or the nature of it. Burnout simply means we’ve come to a point where we’re stretched too thin. Stretched too thin from repeating the same things over and over, being overbooked, multitasking, or constantly troubleshooting. What if there were ways you could help prevent burnout? The following tips may seem like common sense tips but they are harder to do than what you think. Just like you would coach your clients and patients, work on these one at a time.

1) Step back and reflect. First you need to recognize and be aware of signs of mental fatigue. My obvious sign of mental fatigue is silence (I’m not a quiet person). When I get home, I don’t want to talk to anyone or make any decisions. I could also care less about exercising or what we’re eating for dinner. I just need to lay down and spend a few minutes in silence or even take a power nap. But that’s me. Maybe you become irritable and quick tempered, which I also tend to do. This is when you should reflect. Ask yourself what it was about the day or week that caused so much exhaustion. Is the number of new patient appointments you had in one day? Was it a crazy multitasking day where you got a little bit of everything done but completed nothing? Was it an emotionally taxing day because you let your patients spill all their troubles onto you and it sucked out all your energy? Identifying the “why” behind your mental fatigue will help you to take steps to prevent it from happening all too often.

2) Set boundaries. Think about those days when patients think you are a psychiatrist and they overshare all their personal issues they have going on. It’s good to know they are comfortable with you and they trust you but this takes a lot of time and energy on your part. Provide suggestions for additional resources and providers that can help them. I often refer my patients to behavioral health, marriage counseling, recommend self-help books and podcasts, you name it. Unless you have a certification in behavioral health that you can incorporate into your program, refer! Many of us, like myself, have empathetic personalities and we want to help solve all kinds of problems. Choose to address the main issues you are qualified to help with and move on.

3) Do one thing at a time. Stop multitasking. Sure, we think we’re getting things done and we feel super productive. But at the end of the day, think about what you have completed. How tired are you? Burning too many brain calories in the form of multitasking can be a surefire way to burnout before you know it. Avoid the multitasking habit. Choose the highest priority task for that day and aim to set aside a considerable amount of time to ensure it is completed. If you cannot set much time aside at once, ensure this is the only project you focus on during the day outside of necessary tasks. If it’s not completed that day, continue the next day or until it is completed before moving on to the next project. I’m guilty of this every day but I can now catch myself and correct it. Being consistent and training your brain takes time.

4) Manage your time. What takes up the most of your time? For example, my initial consults take the most amount of time. In the past there was so much I felt I needed to cover in the first visit with my patients to prepare them for surgery and this was in addition to my assessment which is necessary. Since I’m in the outpatient setting, I am limited to 45-minute initial consults. I slowly started assessing how I could streamline this first visit, made a simple template for my charting notes, and devised a packet with a “To-Do Checklist” so I didn’t have to explain as much. Systems, folks! They work. Other methods for streamlining include making e-courses, mini-courses, programs, and creating videos that do the redundant work for you, saving your mental energy. There’s no need to repeat the same things day in and day out. How can you streamline?

5) Mix it up: create. Maybe this one’s not for everyone but I like to create education for my patients. It really feeds my creative energy but also helps make my job easier. For example, my patients want to try making smoothies but have no clue where to begin. Since I love making content and guides, I made a “Smoothie Guide” and offer this to every patient in their new patient education so that they already have it. By creating things, it provides variation in my day, breaking up the appointment-after-appointment rhythm. However, it is important to realize whether you enjoy creating content though. If this is something you dislike, consider hiring someone to do this for you, especially if you are truly doing this to help optimize your time. If it’s not creating something, what else could you do to “mix it up” from your day to day routine that might also help make things easier on you?

6) Don’t care about your patients more than they care about themselves. Teach them, encourage them, and keep them accountable, but there should be a cut off. Too many times I have spent too much energy on those who won’t help themselves; changing goals, trying this, trying that. They continue to make follow up appointments with me, only to return and find out they have made zero efforts with even the simplest goal that they made. I got to the point where I just had to tell them I can’t work with them unless they start to make better efforts. You may have to tell them respectfully that they are just not ready to make changes. And most times, they appreciate hearing this and they will agree. It’s okay to be honest and demand respect for your time and energy. Have them return when they are ready to make changes.

7) Take care of yourself. You know, do everything we teach our clients and patients. We’re all guilty of it. We give but don’t give back to ourselves. Keep stress at bay by being proactive with the above tips, doing a daily exercise (even if it’s just 5-10 minutes) to release and prevent stress, meditate, and start your day off with gratitude practices. End your day with reflection. Be thankful for the difference you make in others’ lives and continue to do your best but with careful intentions.

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