Difference between Dietitian and Nutritionist

It is true that health is important all year round but it becomes front and center as the wedding day approaches. A wedding diet and sweating for the wedding are all part of getting prepared for the big day. In some cases, outside assistance may be sought to help achieve health goals. Dietitians and nutritionists are two health professionals that navigate people to a healthy lifestyle. There is a lot of buzz these days on distinguishing the difference between dietitian and nutritionist as people seek the right health professional.

Many people use the terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” interchangeably. Although these two professionals are related there are distinct differences.

Dietitian

The leading experts on food nutrition, science and education are registered dietitians (RD). Often referred to as registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN). It’s up to the practitioner to decide which title fits best for their practice.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics state that in order to become a registered dietitian and earn the initials RDN, a person must:

  • Obtain bachelor’s degree with a focus in dietetics. (Note that beginning in 2024, a minimum of a master’s degree will be an eligibility requirement in order to take the CDR dietetic registration exam.)
  • Complete an accredited 6 to 12 month supervised training program
  • Pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
  • Continue professional educational requirements (CPE). Every five years RDNs can re-certify if they have spent at least 75 hours doing either coursework, self-study, or online modules.

RDNs can diagnose eating related diseases. Also, they are often covered by medical insurance and can prescribe strict diets to patients. Being registered as an RDN allows the dietitian to practice anywhere in America as long as the continuing education requirements are met. Additionally, dietitians can earn specialty certifications like sports dietetics (CSSD) or oncology nutrition (CSO). For example, professional athletes may choose to work with a CSSD since they provide effective evidence-based nutrition services for athletic performance.

Nutritionist

All nutritionists are not registered dietitians. It’s that simple. However, through education and certificates, there are also “certified nutritionists”, “certified nutritionist specialists”, and “licensed nutritionist” (designated as CN, CNS or LN respectively). Some states have no regulations regarding who can call themselves nutritionists (see state requirements for details). So it’s important to beware of those with no professional training that refer to themselves as nutritionists, weight experts, wellness consultants, etc.

The biggest difference between a dietitian and nutritionist is the hands-on training requirement. For example, RDNs need to log a certain number of training hours, but nutritionists usually require much less time depending on the requirements of the state. Also, RDNs can diagnose eating disorders, can be covered by medical insurance, and can prescribe strict diets to patients with health issues while nutritionists can not.

Conclusion

Based on the information provided, it is up to each individual to determine whether a dietitian or nutritionist is best based on personal needs and budget. If assistance with treating a disease or a strict diet regimen is needed, then an RDN should be chosen. But, for assistance with a wedding diet and healthy lifestyle changes, both a dietitian and nutritionist will be able to assist with achieving health goals.

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