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What’s the Difference between a Dietitian vs. Nutritionist?

What’s the difference, dietitian vs. nutritionist?

Are you searching for someone to help you with your nutrition goals but don’t know where to start? Confused about the differences between a dietitian vs. nutritionist? You need someone to help you create meal plans, teach you basic nutrition information, how to embrace intuitive eating, or how to ditch diet culture for good. Along your journey, you may find dietitians and nutritionists offering what you’re looking for. Awesome! So are they different? Will they both help you with your goals? 

The titles “Dietitian” and “Nutritionist” are commonly used interchangeably. Ultimately, they can both help you reach your health goals. However, these professionals carry different credentials and paths to how they got where they are today. 

How do you become a dietitian?

There are several steps required for someone to become a registered dietitian. They are first required to have a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in dietetics from an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) accredited university. It is important to note that beginning in 2024, the minimum requirement to sit for the RD exam will be a graduate degree in dietetics, instead of a bachelor’s degree. Next, an internship with at least 1,200 practice hours is expected to follow. This internship contains hands-on and supervised practice in the dietetics field in a variety of settings including clinical, foodservice, and community. These internships typically take about 8-24 months to complete depending on if it is done part-time or full-time. Once the internship is complete, the dietetic intern is required to pass the RD exam. After they pass the RD exam, dietitians must register with the Commission on Dietetic Registration to be considered a registered dietitian. Some states also require a state license or certification before an RD can be employed. Lastly, to maintain your credentials as an RD, 75 credits of continuing education must be completed every 5 years. 

There are tons of different career paths a registered dietitian can take, such as online nutrition counseling, clinical and medical nutrition therapy (MNT), community and public health, food service management, research and education, and sports and fitness nutrition. 

Recognized Specialities for Registered Dietitians

  • Diabetes Nutrition Therapy (CDCES)
  • Geriatric Nutrition (CSG)
  • Gerontological Nutrition (CSG)
  • Sports Dietetics (CSSD)
  • Pediatric Nutrition (CSP)
  • Renal Nutrition (CSR)
  • Oncology Nutrition (CSO)

Personal RD Journey

  • 4 Year Bachelors Program at the University of Northern Colorado (B.S Dietetics)
  • 2 Year Masters and Dietetic Internship Program at Illinois State University
  • Registered Dietitian Exam
  • Certified Diabetes Educator Exam with 2 Years of Experience Prior
  • Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor Exam with Self Study and Supervised Practice and Application 
  • Past President of the Northern Colorado Dietetics Association
  • Current President Elect of the Alaska Dietetics Nutrition Association
  • Created private practice RDRxNutrition 

How do you become a nutritionist?

A nutritionist is considered to be someone who has a nutrition degree, yet they may not require any formal nutrition education, training, licensing, or certification depending on the state of practice. The years of education and training needed for a nutritionist depends on the credentials they choose to obtain. Some certifications include a certified nutrition specialist (CNS) or clinical nutritionist (CN). Nutritionists typically focus on food behavior and teach individuals or populations about general nutrition and health. Like RDs, nutritionists can work in clinical, government, school, private, research, and school settings. However, they are commonly limited when counseling, and are often not permitted to perform specific nutrition counseling, nutrition diagnosis, or treat medical conditions. On the other hand, some states may allow nutritionists to perform nutrition counseling, but they can’t seek reimbursement from insurance. 

 Okay, so what’s the difference between an RD and RDN?

They have identical meanings, however, there is a subtle difference between a registered dietitian (RD) and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). The term “Nutritionist” was added to RD to encompass a broader idea of wellness, along with the prevention and treatment of medical conditions. This difference also emphasizes that all RDs are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are RDs.

Which one is right for you?

As stated before, both RDs and nutritionists can help you achieve your individual health and nutrition goals. However, I would always advise that you make sure the professional you choose to work with has valid credentials or accredited education whether you chose a dietitian vs. nutritionist. I would recommend seeking an RD specifically if you require medical nutrition therapy to treat acute or chronic illnesses. 

Need to report nutrition malpractice? 

Registered dietitian nutritionists, nutrition and dietetics technicians, registered, other healthcare professionals, or the general public who are aware of an alleged violation of the Code of Ethics for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession should use the complaint form below. Please complete all the items (and please print) on the complaint form, including as much supporting evidence as possible.

Complaint Form for Violations of Code of Ethics

Co Author: Katelyn Schwartz B.S Dietetics and B.S Exercise Science

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