If you are thinking to yourself, “Should I see a dietitian or nutritionist?” then this article is for you.
Although the words dietitian and nutritionist are often used interchangeably, is there a difference? Which one should you turn to when seeking out nutrition counseling?
With all of the self-proclaimed “nutrition experts” in the media, it can be difficult to determine who is a trusted professional giving evidence-based recommendations and who is simply providing information from personal research or experience.
In today’s post, we will be discussing the major differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist (and there is a difference!). We will also cover the big question on your mind… should I see a dietitian or nutritionist?
Within our practice, we encourage an eating style called intuitive eating. Interested in learning more about what intuitive eating is? Check out our blog all about the benefits of intuitive eating for your health next!
What is the Difference Between Dietitians and Nutritionists?
At the end of the day, the main difference between dietitians and nutritionists comes down to the level of education and licensing.
What is a Registered Dietitian?
Registered dietitians are required to complete the following:
- Bachelor’s degree (and as of 2024, a Master’s degree as well)
- Supervised clinical internship consisting of at least 1200 hours of supervised practice
- Licensing exam
- Continuing education to renew licensure
In addition, many states require a state license to practice, similar to those for registered nurses and physicians.
A practitioner who meets these requirements is legally able to add “RD” or “RDN” after their name. RDN, the latter, stands for “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist”. Yes, it can be confusing.
What is a Nutritionist?
For nutritionists, the requirements are much more relaxed and less regulated.
Although anyone who receives an undergraduate, graduate, or PhD in nutrition can refer to themselves as nutritionist, it is very common for an individual who has not received higher education in nutrition science to utilize this label as well. Because there is no regulation, anyone who provides general nutrition advice is able to market themselves as a nutritionist.
Nutritionists are not able to diagnose malnutrition or provide advice or education on managing medical conditions.
A note on CNS
It is important to note that some nutritionists have an advanced degree in nutrition and may obtain a CNS (Certified Nutrition Specialist) license. A CNS license involves 1000 hours of practical experience and a licensing exam.
Certified nutrition specialists are commonly seen in sports nutrition settings. However, they are able to provide education on nutrition for managing medical conditions.
An individual who meets these requirements is legally able to add “CNS” to the end of their name. Although there are some nuances, there is not a MAJOR difference between an RD and a CNS.
Important to note: a nutritionist who is a Certified Nutrition Specialist WILL have “CNS” after their name. If they do not, you can likely assume they have not been certified by a licensing board.
To sum it up, here is a simple chart to outline the major differences between a Registered Dietitian and a nutritionist (not CNS).
Should I See a Dietitian or Nutritionist: The Takeaway
As you can see, the question, “Should I see a dietitian or nutritionist?” is valid to ask and wonder about.
At Wholesome Chick Nutrition, we believe that there are nutritionists out there that are skilled and qualified to provide some level of nutrition guidance.
However, it’s still important to differentiate between the titles because ALL dietitians have to meet the above criteria.
On the flip side, there is not always a clear way to tell what kind of training a nutritionist has received. This is an area to acknowledge the privilege that I and many other RDs have in the ability to obtain higher education, as this is a credential that involves a substantial amount of time, money, and resources to obtain.
There is no judgment towards any individual identifying as a nutritionist. However, it is crucial for the public to understand the differences between the two professions when seeking nutrition guidance.
Hopefully, this article provides more clarity on those distinctions!
Weight-inclusive nutrition therapy that’s for EVERYbody.
If you or someone you know is looking to work with a registered dietitian to improve their relationship with food, break free from diet culture, and facilitate mind-body connection check out our Intuitive Eating Program. In this program, you’ll work 1:1 with a food-freedom and weight-inclusive dietitian.
If you aren’t quite ready to make the leap into 1:1 nutrition counseling, take a look at our Nourished Body Basics Course. This course offers a complete rundown on getting started with healing your relationship with food and your body image.
Written by Emily Adkisson, RDN