Not everyone knows what a dietitian is. (I didn’t.) Nor do they know the difference between terms like dietitian and nutritionist. (Neither did I.) I break this information down in this post, and talk about why it is important to know. Here are 7 things you might not know about dietitians.
1. It Takes Quite A Bit of Education To Become A Dietitian
A registered dietitian (RD) and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) are the same thing. It is simply up to the professional as to which they would like to use. To actually become a dietitian one first has to receive a bachelor’s degree in dietetics or a similar accredited program. The next step is to complete an accredited supervised practice (internship). Lastly they must pass the registration exam. After that they can use RD/RDN after your name. If applicable, they must have licensure in the state they live in. Continuing education is also required for all dietitians, and a master’s degree will also be required starting in 2024.
2. Not All Nutritionists Are Dietitians (But All Dietitians Are Nutritionists)
The requirements to practice nutrition vary depending on the state you live in. In some states there are little to no requirements to use the term “nutritionist” (as well as other terms like health coach, holistic nutritionist, etc). So if someone uses one of these titles it doesn’t mean they have the same qualifications, education or training as another person using that same title. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they have ANY qualifications or legitimate nutrition training. In some states if you aren’t a dietitian it’s actually illegal to give people very specific nutrition information. That is because it’s important to attempt to protect the public from people that aren’t qualified to address specific health concerns/issues (see below). However whether they know better or not, people still go outside of their scope of practice.
3. Protecting the Public Is Important
Something that I took away from my bachelor’s degree in dietetics was that protecting the public and their health is very important. I take that very seriously. So I get a little concerned when someone who has little (or no) legitimate nutrition education or training gives people nutrition advice. They quite possibly don’t really know what they are talking about, and therefore the public isn’t very safe if listening to or working with them. Reading and understanding research is hard, hard enough that we were actually taught in school piece by piece how to read and understand research. If someone can’t read research (or has no legitimate nutrition education), how can you trust them to tell you what the most accurate or latest information is? Or what to do with or put into your body? I hate seeing people waste their time and money listening to someone that doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and I get really angry when someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about and spews information that has the potential to harm others.
If you’re going to work in nutrition and aren’t going to become a dietitian, the only certification I know of that I would recommend is the Nutritious Life Certification.
4. Dietitians Have A Bad Rap
I don’t really get it, but I have a theory. Everyone eats, and since everyone eats some people get very protective of their opinions in regard to nutrition and what they believe works or is correct. My issue with this is when people start spreading their own opinons to others, because often they are just that…opinions. They have no credibility in regard to research or evidence, and the scariest part is that these opinions can potentially be harmful (if not deadly). Because dietitians in general speak of research and evidence over fads and quick-fixes, as opposed to jumping on board with whatever is the current rage, I think people may misunderstand dietitians and believe we’re all close-minded or in the pockets of some big corporation. Anyone in any industry can be close-minded and in the pockets of some big corporation, and I know many dietitians that for sure aren’t (myself included). We take people’s health very seriously, so not jumping on a band-wagon doesn’t necessarily mean anything but the fact that we take protecting your health (and your life) more seriously than making money off of you.
5. All Dietitians Are Not The Same
All doctors aren’t the same. They specialize in different things, have different ways of practicing, and there are some issues that not every doctor agrees on. Dietitians are no different. We don’t all do things the exact same way, work in the same areas, or agree on all issues. Especially issues lacking in research where we must use our own judgement and experience.
6. Not Every Dietitian Is The Right Dietitian For You
Since we specialize in different things and don’t all practice the exact same way, do your homework and find the dietitian that is right for you. (Just like I hope you do if you are ever looking for a doctor or other healthcare professional.) Working with a dietitian, a lot like working with a therapist or counselor, can be very personal. You know yourself, so find someone that has the right experience and meshes well with you. That will help you get the best outcomes.
7. Dietitians Aren’t Here To Judge Your Food Choices
Lots of dietitians eat pizza and french fries, and they kind of figure you do too. We aren’t judging what you eat. I sure didn’t spend years in school to learn to judge. Anyone can do that. (Sometimes it does seem people judge what we eat though.) Being a dietitian isn’t about “good” and “bad” food. That’s more an issue of our culture. Again, we spend years in school. There’s a lot more to learn about than “good” and “bad” food.
So, Why Does This Matter?
I think it’s important people understand what dietitians are and aren’t, and it’s also important to understand more about who you are getting information from. If you’re going to work with or take advice from someone, look into their education and experience. Pay attention to red flags. It can be hard to know who is and isn’t qualified. It’s also worth mentioning that most personal trainers (as well as other professions like nurses and doctors) receive little nutrition education. There are personal training programs that specifically tell trainers they should refer people to dietitians for nutrition information. That is because specific nutrition information is outside of their scope of practice. Just as giving specific exercise programs is outside of a dietitian, nutritionist, nurse or doctor’s scope of practice. Someone may have lots of advice for you about what you should and shouldn’t be doing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they really know what they’re talking about.
*Opinions are my own and I do not speak on behalf of other dietitians.
Paige is a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist. She decided to go to school and study nutrition after having her own questions and struggles around food. Paige specializes in helping people change their relationship with food. Much of her work is centered around mindful eating, emotional eating, cravings, weight loss and overeating.