Dietitians are healthcare professionals that undergo extensive coursework and 1200 hours of supervised practice (internship) before we can even take a test to get our credentials.
We are “nutritionists” in the sense that we utilize nutrition science and research to make recommendations to treat a variety of conditions, including eating disorders, kidney and liver failure, all types of diabetes, heart disease, and more.
We can also help you with preventative measures such as decreasing blood pressure and regulating cholesterol levels.
What’s the difference between dietitians and nutritionists?
So, you know how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares? It’s kind of the same thing with us.
All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.
What I mean by this is that dietitians are nutritionists; it’s right there in our credential. The RDN after my name stands for Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Years of school and supervised internships allowed me to take a super long test to prove that I can provide scientific, accurate information.
However, a nutritionist that is not a dietitian has no such burden. In some states, someone can literally just declare that they are a nutritionist. Others require some type of credential, which can be as easy as paying for a 6-week course.
What’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist in practice?
A dietitian is trained and licensed to educate and coach clients and patients in a number of different ways. I can tailor diet patterns to each individual client based on their health conditions, personal tastes, lifestyle, cultural background and preferences, and many more considerations.
On top of a credential, many RDNs must also obtain a state license that ensures they adhere to not only the AND/CDR requirements and regulations but the state licensing board as well. This is what the LD behind my name means (licensed dietitian).
A nutritionist, no matter where they are, cannot work outside of wellness and weight loss. Furthermore, when they work on weight loss, they cannot specify many things that I can. They also can’t bill your insurance company. So all services performed by a non-dietitian nutritionist have to be paid out of pocket!
Where do dietitians work?
Dietitians can work in various settings. Currently, I split my time between this private practice and an in-patient psychiatric facility.
There are many other settings that dietitians are an important part of the team.
Hospitals, renal dialysis centers, long-term care, food service (managing the kitchen in a hospital, school system, daycare centers, or correctional facilities), behavioral health, recipe development, sports nutrition, corporate wellness, communications, consumer affairs, public health (such as WIC), research, and more!
So are all non-dietitian nutritionists bad?
There are many programs out there for nutrition science and human nutrition courses that do not lead to the RDN credential. This coursework can range from a Bachelor’s degree all the way up to a Doctorate!
These people may choose to work in academia or research and have no plans or desire to work with patients or clients.
Others may want to work in the space of wellness and stay out of clinical work, such as in hospitals or with patients that need disease management. They may also decide to work in gyms, in conjunction with dietitians, food blogs, food promotion, and more. And they have the education to do this!
Consider what type of support you’re looking for. If you are looking for a meal plan and a few short ideas, a well-educated nutritionist may work for you. Just beware of red flags.
However, if you need to address a health condition or need long-term behavioral changes, you should work with a dietitian. And also, because every profession has outliers, beware of red flags!