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Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian: What's the Difference?

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Jun 11, 2015

Are you planning to start a new weight loss routine? Have you been trying to lose weight with no progress? Do you want to boost your sports performance? Or do you just want to be more knowledgable about the most healthy eating habits? Whatever your weight loss goals, Johnson Memorial Health has weight loss and wellness specialists to guide you to success.



As a registered dietitian, I am always a little skeptical of the title "Nutritionist."

While all dietitians are nutritionists, not all nutritionists are dietitians.

There are many fields of wellness where you may find a "nutritionist", such as health or fitness clubs, grocery stores, or independent practice. 

Often, nutritionists are people that have an interest in health and wellness and provide information and motivation to others to make positive health choices.

A registered dietitian is an individual who has completed a bachelor's degree and has gone on to complete a post-graduate program in dietetics. Registered dietitians must successfully pass a registration exam and maintain continuing education credits for continued re-certification.

Recently, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offered registered dietitians the option to include "nutritionist" in their credentials as a way to communicate a broader concept of wellness, as well as treatment of conditions. Many dietitians are using the credential RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist, to more accurately reflect to consumers who they are and what they do.

Registered dietitian nutritionists are experts in food and nutrition to help people make healthful food choices. More information about registered dietitian nutritionists can be found at www.eatright.org.

What Does an Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Do?

An RDN does more than just tell people what to eat. We take a look at the whole picture of health, not just the food aspect. Nutrition is a lot more complicated than calories in, calories out. Other chronic illnesses can effect your health, and an RDN will help you understand how lack of sleep, lack of exercise, meal timing, or stress can affect your health. Registered dietitian nutritionists provide the following services:

  • Explain nutrition and how it can benefit you.
  • Assess your health needs and current diet.
  • Develop meal plans, taking into account your budget, nutritional needs, and preferences.
  • Evaluate the effects of the meal plan and make changes if necessary.
  • Promote better nutrition by giving group talks about diet, nutrition, and the relationship between healthy eating habits and managing specific diseases.
  • Keep up with the latest nutritional research.

Where Does an RDN Work?

A nutritionist has several job options when searching for employment. They are commonly found in hospitals, nursing homes, cafeterias and schools. Some nutritionists are self-employed or have their own practice. Nutritionists can work as a consultant that provides advice to each individual client, or they can contract work through in a healthcare establishment. There are different specialties in which a nutritionist may study. This will determine what type of work environment the nutritionist will have.

  • Clinical Dietician: A clinical dietician provides medical nutrition therapy. They usually work in hospitals or long term care centers. Clinical dieticians create individual and group nutrition plans for the patients. They may also specialize in helping patients with a certain disease. 

  • Management Dietician: A management dietician plans meal programs. They usually work in a food service setting such as cafeterias, hospitals, or food corporations. In addition to meal planning, they may be responsible for buying food or overseeing the kitchen staff. 

  • Community Dietician: A community dietician educates the community about nutrition and food. They usually work with specific groups of people, like pregnant women or overweight people. Community dieticians work in public health clinics, government or non-profit agencies, or health management organizations. 

How Do I Know Which is Right For Me?

If you choose to work with a registered dietitian or nutritionist, you will want to make sure you are selecting the one that is right for you. As mentioned above, there are many varieties of nutritionists who have undergone varying levels of training. Before making an appointment, do your research. Your health insurance may only cover certain types of consultations or treatments. Call your insurance, and see what is covered. You want to be aware of costs before you get started. 

Most importantly, you should find an RDN who is convenient, affordable, and understands your needs. A good nutritionist is helpful and motivating to you as you make goals to be healthier. 

What Can I Expect?

When you visit the RDN, you will discuss your current situation and your past challenges. The nutritionist will want some background information and will probably have you complete a nutrition log for a few days to get a better understanding of your starting point. Your RDN will likely give you a calorie target to aim for based on your height and weight. This will probably be tweaked to be even more person in subsequent visits. 

Depending on your situation, you may visit the nutritionist as little or as often as needed. Some people just need a plan, and other people need constant accountability, feedback, or tweaking of the plan. People with a medical condition such as diabetes, obesity, or a gastrointestinal issue may benefit from an ongoing relationship with the nutritionist 

If you decide to take the leap and work with a nutritionist, take advantage of their knowledge. Don't be afraid to ask questions and get the most out of your time together. Your health will greatly improve if you follow their advice. 

Johnson Memorial Hospital Weight Loss

Topics: Weight Loss, Wellness