So what's the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist? Why does it matter and why should I care?
What is the biggest difference? This is probably the question that I get asked the most! Simply, persons with the credentials Registered Dietitians (RD or RDN) have earned at least a 4-year degree in nutrition sciences, completed at least 1,200 hours of supervised practice, and passed a board exam. Newer requirements have been passed that require aspiring Registered Dietitians to earn a Master's degree before earning their RD credentials. Most states even require practitioners to obtain a license to prove their credentials, they are following a rigid code of ethics, sticking to their scope of practice, and keeping up with their continuing education. The states of North and South Carolina (where I practice) require a license. Letters to look for next to a practitioner’s name are LD and/or LDN (Licensed Dietitian or Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist). Check to see if your state requires one Click Here
Life-Long Learning- Registered Dietitians are required to continue their learning by earning “Continuing Education Units” (CEUs). Each active practitioner is required to achieve a certain number of CEUs to be submitted every 5 years and verified by the dietetic governing body, The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). Nutrition sciences continue to change and evolve so it’s imperative that Registered Dietitians keep up with the latest research so they can stay current on the latest nutrition information.
So, what’s a nutritionist? There is no formal definition of a “nutritionist”. Technically, anyone who gives out nutrition advice can call themselves a nutritionist. So anyone on the internet promoting special diets, lifestyles, powders, supplements, etc. can call themselves a nutritionist, but most likely they don’t have any formal training in nutrition. Now, there are many different online courses, podcasts, certificates, video-based training systems that promise some certificate or “nutrition training”. However, in no way will it ever match the rigorous training a Registered Dietitian undergoes and continuing education requirements. These programs are not recognized by any governing body, they hold very limited credibility, and in most states “graduates” of these programs can’t legally take money for providing nutrition services. In fact, some “nutritionists” have been publicly sued for providing illegal nutrition services.
Why Should I Care? Just like when you go to see a doctor, dentist, or lawyer you expect that they have received formal education and have earned a degree in their field. We should expect the same formal training from the professionals who provide us nutrition advice. Especially, when it comes to people who suffer from nutrition-related disease or symptoms that can be treated by providing medical nutrition therapy. Registered Dietitians have received formal training (to various degrees/ expertise) to help treat these symptoms, while most other programs don’t provide this training. Online “nutritionists” often advertise what works best for them so it must work for you. That notion is completely false and misleading. Everyone’s body, goals, genetics, age, exercise, occupations, etc. are different, so everyone must be treated individually and nutrition plans must be customized to meet their needs. Seek a Registered Dietitian to help you map out a plan that works best for you!
Disclaimer: Just because someone is a Registered Dietitian it doesn’t automatically make them better for you, easier to work with, more willing to help you, etc. There are many health coaches/ nutritionists who are very knowledgeable and are good at what they do. Just like in all businesses, some professionals do things better than others even though they are in the same industry. So, seek out a Registered Dietitian that will best fit your needs, your goals, and will help you make the changes you desire.