If you landed here, chances are you’re looking to make a change to your diet or lifestyle. Maybe you’ve tried other diets or other nutrition programs. Maybe you’ve seen some success, but not the lasting changes you want so badly.
Maybe at this point, you know a dietitian or nutritionist would be a key step forward in your health journey but aren’t sure which is right for you. Maybe that frightens you because you don’t want to invest in another program or professional that may not work. In this article, we will outline the different roles played by each position and the importance of each so you can pick the one that is right for you.
While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not always the same thing. All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. We know this may sound confusing, so we’ll explain.
Here at OnPoint Nutrition, our goal is for you to learn what each does and walk away knowing you made the right decision for yourself and your health. Let’s talk about how dietitians and nutritionists compare in a few areas:
- Education and training
- Practice areas
- Who they work with
Education and Training
Registered Dietitians (RD), also referred to as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN), must meet specific criteria to earn their credentials. The criteria include:
- Completed bachelor’s degree at an accredited college or university
- Completed 1200-hour supervised practice program at a health-care facility, community agency, or foodservice corporation
- Passed a national examination
While completing their education and training, dietitians study topics including:
- Food and nutrition sciences
- Foodservice management
- Culinary arts
Dietitians are also required to complete continuing professional education credits to maintain their credentials throughout their careers.
The term nutritionist encompasses nutrition professionals with a broad range of credentials and training. Many nutritionists hold a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, like the degrees held by a dietitian. If this is the case, they would study many of the same subjects listed above. Some nutritionists even hold a master’s degree in nutrition.
However, nutritionist is not a regulated title in some states. This means that individuals may call themselves nutritionists without having any formal education or training in nutrition.
As we said above, all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. While many dietitians and nutritionists hold the same or similar degrees, becoming an RD/RDN requires completing months of hands-on training and passing a board exam.
- Dietitians work in a wide variety of settings including:
- Long-term care facilities
- Community nutrition programs
- Food service management
- Public health programs
- Private practices, including virtual practices
Most dietitians work in a clinical setting, including hospitals and long-term care facilities. These dietitians most often work with patients with specific diseases or medical conditions including diabetes and heart disease. Clinical dietitians also provide patients with nutrition education about their specific medical concerns in both in-patient and out-patient settings.
Many dietitians work in private practices, including virtual private nutrition practices where they provide one-on-one nutrition education and counseling on a wide variety of topics. These topics may include medical concerns or non-medical concerns including weight loss or eating a plant-based diet.
Nutritionists also work in a variety of settings, including some of the same settings dietitians work in. Many nutritionists work with individuals or groups in community nutrition programs including WIC. However, many states require licensing, which limits the areas nutritionists can practice in without obtaining their RD/RDN credentials.
Both dietitians and nutritionists work in various settings, including settings where one-on-one nutrition counseling is provided. However, in states that require nutrition professionals to hold licenses, nutritionists are limited in the settings they may work in.
Dietitians are considered experts in food and nutrition. They are trained to provide evidence-based medical nutrition therapy, which means they use the latest scientific research in their approach to guiding you to a healthier life.
Medical nutrition therapy includes a few specific steps:
- Review your eating and exercise habits, as well as your overall lifestyle
- Thorough assessment of your nutritional status
- A personalized nutrition plan
With their extensive training, dietitians are trained to tailor your nutrition plan to address all medical or health-related concerns you have.
Dietitians are also trained in nutrition counseling, which allows them to work with you to develop a personalized plan to improve your nutrition by setting achievable health goals.
Nutritionists are nutrition professionals who guide nutrition, health, and overall lifestyle. Nutritionists’ training varies, which means what they do varies. A well-educated, well-trained nutritionist will provide similar nutrition recommendations and counseling as a dietitian.
Dietitians receive specific training in medical nutrition therapy and nutrition counseling, whereas nutritionists’ training varies greatly.
Who They Work With
Dietitians are trained to work with a wide variety of individuals. During their studies and practice programs they receive specific training in working with:
Some dietitians specialize in a certain area of practice or type of client including:
Nutritionists work with a variety of individuals as well. Who they work with will vary based on their education, training, and experience. Many nutritionists also specialize in certain areas of practice and/or work with specific types of clients.
Dietitians receive specific training on many medical conditions and health concerns, whereas nutritionists’ training varies. Many nutritionists are not qualified to work with individuals with serious medical conditions. If this is you, a dietitian is your best bet.
So is a Dietitian or Nutritionist Right for You?
Dietitians are required to complete more formal training and education. They are also well trained regarding specific medical conditions. If you are looking for very specific guidance on a medical condition a dietitian is the right choice for you.
Dietitians are also exposed to a wide variety of patients and clients while completing their hands-on supervised practice program, which makes them a valuable resource for any nutrition-related health concerns.
Nutritionists can be a great resource for more general nutrition guidance. They will assist you in changing eating, exercise, and other lifestyle factors to improve your overall health. If you are looking for more general nutrition and lifestyle change, a nutritionist may be the right choice for you.
If you are looking for general nutritional guidance, either a dietitian or nutritionist will be a good fit for you.
Keep in mind, that all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. If you are dealing with a more specific medical condition, a dietitian is a better choice for you as he or she will be able to provide you with the specific nutritional guidance you need.
If you are considering working with a nutritionist, be sure to ask about their education, training, and experience to be sure you are choosing a qualified professional who is a good fit for you.
Where to Go From Here
Your nutrition is a key piece of your overall health. Both dietitians and nutritionists work to help you make sustainable changes for a healthier, better life. However, at this point, you may be leaning more toward working with one or the other.
A dietitian may be your choice if you have a serious medical condition or want someone with more formal training.
A nutritionist may be your choice if you are looking for general nutrition guidance and lifestyle improvement.
OnPoint Nutrition’s team of both dietitians and nutritionists provides one-on-one nutrition counseling that is educational and affordable. We work with clients on topics including, but not limited to:
- Weight loss
- Food allergies and sensitivities
- Plant-based lifestyles
- Sports nutrition
- Gut issues including IBS, Crohn’s, Diverticulitis
- Weight gain
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High Cholesterol
Learn more about the dietitians and nutritionists that make up the OnPoint Nutrition team.
If you are interested in working with one of our nutrition experts, schedule a free consultation today.