The terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” are not necessarily the same thing and it’s helpful to know the difference when you’re seeking nutritional guidance.
Have you heard the age-old geometry expression, “A rectangle is always a square, but a square is not always a rectangle”? The relationship between the titles “registered dietitian” and “nutritionist” is the same way. Registered Dietitians (RDs) are the nutrition experts and the authority on how food relates with the body. A Registered Dietitian is required to go through rigorous education and training including:
A minimum of a Bachlelor’s Degree—but many complete Master’s Degrees (like me!)—with education including anatomy, physiology, chemistry, biochemistry, food science, psychology, and management skills—among many others.
A dietetic internship consisting of 1,000 hours of hands-on experience in clinical nutrition, community nutrition, and foodservice management.
Passing a national Registered Dietitian Exam
Completing 75 hours of continuing education and professional development credits every 5 years to stay up to date with current research
In addition, each state has their own laws for dietitians and may have further training or continuing education requirements.
Aaaand a nutritionist could be anyone. Really, anyone! It could be someone who has an education or is self-taught, but there’s no guarantee that what they are teaching is sound or safe advice.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has approved the optional use of the credential “registered dietitian nutritionist” (RDN) in place of registered dietitian (RD), if the dietitian chooses to. This is so consumers know what dietitians do, as the word “nutritionist” is more easily recognized by the general population. SO…remember our geometry mantra from above?...Every registered dietitian is a nutritionist, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. So be careful!
A registered dietitian specialized in eating disorder care (like myself!) can be particularly helpful to those struggling with eating disorders because he or she can know the best approach to your care, whereas others may give advice that promote eating disorder behaviors. Yikes!
All things considered, when you’re choosing your practitioner for nutritional care, be sure to look for “RD” or “RDN” for the best possible evidence-based care. (And if you have an eating disorder or disordered eating issues, find a dietitian specializing in eating disorder care.)