Nutritionist Vs. Dietitian: What's the Difference?
There are so many obstacles to reaching health, fitness, and wellness goals. Whether you want to run a marathon, overcome binge eating, or give your body the best chance of preventing disease and illness,
working with a nutritionist or dietitian can improve your chances of success.
The guidance of a trained professional can also help you avoid many pitfalls that slow progress, allowing you to achieve your goals faster and with far less frustration.
The question now is whether you need to work with a nutritionist or a dietitian. It’s common to see these terms used interchangeably, but there are some key differences. Selecting the right one will ensure you get the results you expect while enjoying the experience.
Why Do You Need a Dietitian or Nutritionist?
If your goals depend on you changing your diet in any way, working with a dietitian or nutritionist can help. Instead of going through a process of trial and error to see what works for your body and delivers the results you expect, you can start out with professional advice tailored to the unique needs of your body.
A nutrition expert knows what works for various people reaching for a wide variety of goals. Their professional training and expertise can streamline the process for you. They will start by gaining a thorough understanding of what you want to achieve. From there, they can answer your questions and help you create a personalized dietary plan to follow at home.
When you aren’t seeing the results you expected, a nutritionist or dietitian can help you determine why. They can often make small changes to your plan to improve your results. You may spend weeks or months of frustration trying to pinpoint why something is working without that professional guidance.
Nutritionist vs Dietitian – How to Tell the Difference
It’s time to get into the details of what nutritionists and dietitians do and how they differ. This is the information you need to select the right nutrition expert for your goals.
Who Is a Nutritionist?
A nutritionist is a dietary professional with expertise in nutrition. They understand the nature of food and how it interacts with the human body. Many nutritionists work with clients to reach general goals like losing, gaining, or maintaining a healthy weight. They can also create personalized nutrition plans for athletes who want to improve their performance or for everyday people with a variety of general health concerns, like low energy levels.
In most states, nutritionists aren’t required to complete any level of formal nutrition education. They also aren’t legally required to get certified or licensed in many states, which is a major difference between nutritionists and dietitians. Many will get certified through the Certification of Nutrition Specialists or the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board, even if there is no legal requirement to do so.
Due to the lack of legal, organized credentialing, many states won’t allow nutritionists to provide nutrition counseling to clients with chronic illnesses or other specified medical conditions. Most don’t have the advanced education needed to competently create nutrition plans for a variety of chronic illnesses or oversee community education programs.
The exceptions to those rules are the nutritionists who do get certified. Uncertified nutritionists can have a range of education and experience credentials, so it’s important to ask about qualifications when screening nutritionists.
Who Is a Dietitian?
Dietitians are all nutritionists in the sense that they understand the power of food and how it interacts with the human body. The difference is that a dietitian has some advanced credentials that aren’t legally required for a nutritionist. Dietitians all go through the following steps when building their careers:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field
- Complete a supervised internship to gain experience in the field
- Pass a national exam to prove competency in food science and related topics
- Complete continuing education credits over time to maintain state license
The rules regulating the licensing and certification of dietitians vary by state. As long as they are in good standing with the state and maintain their certification, all dietitians are qualified to secure clients with more serious medical issues. They can help patients manage their diabetes, lower their blood pressure, manage or even beat autoimmune diseases, lower systemic inflammation, and fight cancer, heart disease, and many other illnesses.
Nutritionist vs. Dietitian - Differences at a Glance
- Nutritionists are not legally required to get certified or licensed. Dietitians are required to meet rigorous licensing and certification standards in most states.
- Dietitians have an advanced level of education and experience that allows them to work with patients who have more serious medical needs. Nutritionists may not have any formal training or college degrees related to nutrition.
- There are legal restrictions that limit who can use the term “dietitian,” but most states allow just about anyone to call themselves a “nutritionist.” You may need to ask more questions to determine the credentials and qualifications of a nutritionist.
Do You Need a Nutritionist or Dietitian?
Now that you’re aware of the primary differences between nutritionists and dietitians, you’re better equipped to select the best nutritionist or dietitian for your unique health needs and dietary preferences. If you have general health and fitness goals, you may decide that working with a nutritionist is your best option. If you’re battling a complex chronic disease or chasing ambitious fitness goals, then you may want the expertise that a dietitian can offer.
Remember, you can always change your mind if you don’t feel your chosen nutrition expert is meeting your needs. Every nutritionist and dietitian has their own way of working with clients. It’s important to work with someone you feel comfortable talking to openly, honestly, and frequently. They can help you create a personalized plan and then adjust it as needed to get the results you expect and deserve.