Throughout my career I have been asked more times that I can count if am I a nutritionist.
Is there a difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?
Who can I trust about nutrition, health, diets, supplements and my weight loss struggles?
These are common questions from many people who have been inundated with media messages. It seems at times that everyone who eats is an expert on nutrition and health. Everyone seems to have a diet that will solve all your problems, a book that is the last one you will ever have to read or a recipe that once you cook it will be the only food you will ever eat again.
Eating foods that will fulfill your nutrition requirements without excessive calories or fat is not glamorous. It is not easy to maintain a healthy weight and there is no magic answer that will allow you to lose weight overnight. All these things take a commitment on your part and hard work. Most people realize this deep in their heart but continue to look for the quick fix or easy way to reach their health and wellness goals.
Dietitians understand how difficult healthy eating can be for many people. Lifelong eating habits are not easily changed. Physical activity has to become a routine and part of your life. Dietitians also know strategies to help you reach your goals. Strategies that are based in science not hearsay.
Registered Dietitians are food and nutrition experts. They are specially trained and all hold at least a bachelor’s degree with over half holding advanced degrees. Registered Dietitians complete a supervised practice program or internship and pass a registration examination to become registered. To maintain their registration credential, Registered Dietitians also must complete competency based continuing education requirements for re-certification.
Dietitians help you translate health information and nutritional science into a healthy lifestyle. RDs/RDNs can help you plan meals, cook healthy foods, maintain a diet for chronic disease, help you prevent chronic disease through nutrition, manage your weight, treat food allergies, provide healthy eating plans for your children and family — and a whole lot more. I’ve really addressed only the tip of the iceberg.
RDs/RDNs help to meet the nutritional needs of all ages in a variety of settings in healthcare and the community.
In many states, Registered Dietitians are also licensed. This licensure requires standards of practice to protect the health and well-being of the citizens in the state as well as standards of ethics. Continuing education is also a requirement in order to maintain licensure. In states where licensure is in place, a Registered Dietitian cannot practice without maintaining licensure.
The professional organization that credentials Registered Dietitians is called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). The organization offers dietitians the opportunity for advanced credentialing, science, evidence based practice guidelines and competency learning.
Then What is a Nutritionist?
A nutritionist is someone who is self-titled. There is no national standard that determines the qualifications or training of a person who refers to themselves as a nutritionist but is not a Registered Dietitian. At times, a person who has taken a nutrition course or completed a nutrition degree will call themselves a nutritionist. Based on the title alone, you don’t know if they have practical professional training and could be relied on for dietary medical advice. You might find them in a variety of settings, including wellness, research, and professors. Many of these people are untrained and may be selling you a product with no real knowledge to back up their comments.
Since the title ‘nutritionist’ has been used by many unqualified people to describe their involvement in food and nutrition, you should be careful when choosing a qualified nutritional professional. Ask them for their qualifications before making changes that could harm your health.
No, being on TV doesn’t guarantee someone giving you advice is qualified to do so — again, unless they are a Registered Dietitian.
The designation for a Registered Dietitian is either RD or RDN because all dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are dietitians.
Doctors also are not always well trained in nutrition. Most doctors realize that nutrition is not their area of expertise or have the time required to advise you about lifestyle changes in the detail needed. Instead they will refer you to a Registered Dietitian to improve your nutritional health.
As with any information that you get through media, books, magazines or the internet, be aware of the source. Be sure that the person giving the advice is trained and using science based data to help you achieve a healthy lifestyle. There is an abundance of misinformation out there that could endanger your health. Be safe not sorry!