What Is The Difference Between A Nutritionist And Dietitian

by Josh | Last Updated:  July 22, 2020
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Whether your goal is weight loss or management, many people seek a professional’s aid to help understand the ins and outs of your dietary needs. This is why some people choose to work with nutritionists or dietitians. However, there can also be medical needs to your dietary shift, or perhaps you don’t know the difference between these two titles to know which to reach out to for your needs.

What is the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?

Both dietitians and nutritionists have the same shared goal to help their clients reach optimal health through their nutritional guidance. However, there is one difference between the two. A dietitian has gone through extensive and further study than their nutritionist counterparts. This further study qualifies them to provide medical nutrition therapy to their patients/clients.

What does this extended study mean for a dietitian? Essentially, a dietitian can both diagnose and help to treat individuals with eating disorders. Additionally, some medical conditions require dietitians to help them design diets to keep them healthy and strong.

Contrastingly a nutritionist deals in general nutritional behaviors and tends to be employed at schools, cafeterias, athletic organizations and some long term care facilities and hospitals.

Though, even nutritionists do need to advance their degrees to and pass certifications to be qualified to work with athletes, of example. These nutritionists would be given the title of “certified nutrition specialist” or CNS, and require 1,000 hours of practical experience before they are even allowed to take the exam for the title.

However, this certification would allow them to take the title “CNS” after their name and thus qualify to take positions a non-CNS certified nutritionist couldn’t.

Essentially, what all of this means is that the main difference between each of these titles is study and qualifications. They all have the same goal of keeping their patients healthy; in the end, their qualifications allow them to treat and help to give nutritional advice to different groups of people.

Thus, depending on the severity of your need, you’d choose between the two accordingly. For simple weight management or loss, for your own goals, you may choose a nutritionist.

If your situation is more difficult, like an eating disorder or a medical condition, you’d need someone more qualified, and in this case, that would be a dietitian.

Should I See a Dietitian or Nutritionist?

As briefly discussed above, the main difference between the two is in the certifications and qualifications. There are a few factors you need to consider while choosing between the two, about yourself, your needs, and your funds for whatever your goal is.

Since this difference is so minute for the average population, that some people may not even make the distinction and choose based on cost alone. There are other reasons you may not have the choice or may have the choice made for you when considering getting nutritional and dietary advice from a professional.

Keep in mind that depending on your insurance, you may be able to enlist the dietitian’s help easier and less expensively than a nutritionist. If it is an option at all, which may weigh into your decision, especially if the need is related to a chronic illness or a mental illness, your doctor may refer you to a dietitian.

Your insurance is more likely to cover at least part of those costs. More often than not, a nutritionist is paid for out of pocket, which should be considered while making your final decision on which to go with depending on your needs.

Dietitian giving advice to fat overweight patient - What Is The Difference Between A Nutritionist And Dietitian
Dietitian giving advice to fat overweight patient.

Consider Your Goals

The first step to knowing whether you should get in contact with a nutritionist or a dietitian is to know what you need or want out of the arrangement. If your needs are medical, personal or mental, you may need to seek the aid of one of the professionals over the other.

A few examples are as follows in relation to your goals:

Weight Management

If you are trying to lose weight through dieting and working out, one of the ways to do it is through the aid of a nutritionist. Though you can seek help from a dietitian, especially if you’re a pro athlete, a nutritionist generally is the one who is most highly recommended for this particular need.

This also applies to general professional guidance. If you are training for a marathon or trying to reach a weight goal before a special event, enlisting a nutritionist is the best.

They can help ensure that you’re eating what’s right for your goals, workout plan, and lifestyle. They help you put together meal plans, snack plans, and dietary goals when you need extra help.

Help With Illness — Mental and Physical

When the need is more clinical, aside from the potential aid from insurance, you are frequently directed to dietitians. They have heavier licencing and training, which is another way of saying they’re better equipped to handle the needs of a more serious patient.

Dietitians are often also found in inpatient and outpatient wards to help give professional advice and Direction to cancer patients and other chronically ill people who need it.

This is especially true with eating disorders, both for the means of losing and gaining weight. Dietitians are also often qualified to help diagnose certain diet-related illnesses or mental illnesses.

Weight management overlaps here when a dietitian would help a patient plan for weight-related surgery. However, it is important to note that not all dietitians are trained to handle all of these situations.

This is to say, a dietitian trained to help a chronically ill person with their diet is not going to be trained in the same means as a dietitian who works to help someone with an eating disorder for example, and it is important to keep this in mind when you are choosing who in particular to choose from.

Pregnancy

Like with illnesses or inpatient needs, you generally want to seek a dietitian for pregnancy instead of a nutritionist. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but the tip stays the same. Not all dietitians or nutritionists are trained to help keep your nutrition in the right place during pregnancy.

Still, your doctor will often refer you to a dietitian who can help ensure your health and baby’s health throughout the pregnancy.

Food Allergy or Restrictions

If you have a food allergy or food sensitivity, your best bet is to seek a nutritionist’s help. They can help ensure that you’re getting all of the nutrition that you need and are not going to get sick while still avoiding the foods you’re sensitive to. This goes for elective diets, like Keto and mandatory avoidances like celiac, for example.

If you are first getting into being vegetarian, recently found out you have an egg allergy or any other dietary restriction, a nutritionist can help you plan your meals. One of the biggest problems people face when they start taking on their new dietary needs or limitations is keeping themselves healthy, without cravings, and giving themselves the proper energy throughout the day.

A nutritionist’s whole job is to help ensure that you understand what you’re going to need, and how to keep you on the right track.

Fatigue, Sickness and Injury

Did you know you could help solve all of these problems through a proper diet? A dietitian can help you ensure that your illnesses and injuries heal quicker through your body’s adequate fueling.

Nutrition has a big part in your overall health and strength, so having a dietitian understand your lifestyle and help make up for any deficiencies is essential to ensuring your overall well being.

Fatigue is another big one that dietitians and even some nutritionists can help you solve. If you’re facing chronic fatigue, despite getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night, you might be lacking somewhere in your diet without realizing it.

This deficiency can be easily identified and solved by a professional’s guidance, and either a dietitian or a nutritionist could be good counsel in solving this problem.

What Will a Dietitian Do For Me?

The best way to look at a dietitian is as a professional aid in all things health through diet. They’re trained professionals qualified to help you with a whole host of issues from diabetes, heart disease and obesity, to cancer and food allergies.

Before you choose a dietitian for any of these needs, it is strongly recommended that you ask the individual’s qualifications or get a referral from a doctor that you trust to ensure that you are getting the best care that you can.

Dietitians are skilled in assisting you in making the right decisions - What Is The Difference Between A Nutritionist And Dietitian
Dietitians are skilled in assisting you in making the right decisions

Dietitians help their patients in a range of different needs and fields, such as,

There are a lot of other goals and tasks that a dietitian can help you with, from meal planning to achieve short and long term goals. They are also often qualified to help diagnose many dietary interruptions and issues, such as eating disorders or other nutritional deficiencies or sensitivities.

Before seeking a dietitian’s aid, you must understand what you need from them as well as their qualification. After that, you can ensure that you’ve set yourself up for the best success with this dietitian’s help and begin your recovery or new health.

What Will a Nutritionist Do For Me?

Nutritionists are often working in a self-employed situation under a private practice, though not all of them do. Generally, you do find them in private practice, but some nutritionists are qualified and prefer to work in hospitals, nursing homes and clinics.

While working in hospitals and clinics, they often have similar and indistinguishable roles from dietitians, as long as they have the proper qualifications. This means that they’d be helping promote the nutrition and health of their patients by evaluating their needs and deficiencies in their current diets.

Nutritionists are experts in their field, in a similar sense to a dietitian. Many of their roles overlap despite their qualification differences. However, these are a few of the ways that a nutritionist helps their patients,

All of these potential roles of a nutritionist does rely heavily on where they practice. Additionally, there are certifications within certifications for many nutritionists that could mean they are qualified for one or a few of these roles, but not all of them.

These certifications can vary dramatically from country to country and based on the goals that the nutritionist is trying to achieve in their career.

Consider that a nutritionist in a nursing home would have an entirely different role than a nutritionist at a school. This is because of the needs, conditions, and demand from them is different in both environments.

However, both nutritionists and dietitians can focus entirely on educating their field through school seminars, lessons, and presentations in front of media or groups in general.

A nutritionist focused on education would also have an entirely different set of roles and responsibilities than a nutritionist focused in a different field.

Should I See a Nutritionist or Dietitian for Weight Loss?

The simple answer to this is yes. However, depending on the severity of the situation and the means to which the weight loss is going to be achieved.

If you are taking on a fitness goal, for example, for personal health, a marathon, or an athletic goal, you would be good to choose between a nutritionist or a dietitian depending on either your doctor, personal trainer or other referral in your area.

Either can help you achieve your goal, but because most nutritionists are private, they may be the best bet for this goal.

However, if you are suffering from a severe obesity issue, or are greeting ready for a weight-related surgery, you should seek a dietitian. Especially if your goal to lose weight is related to an eating disorder like bulimia or binge eating.

Dietitians are more specially trained than nutritionists in this regard, and if you find the right dietitian with the right qualifications, you can be well on your way to recovery.

Why is this differentiation made? You would see a dietitian instead of a nutritionist for eating disorders or chronic obesity, vs. seeing a nutritionist for personal goals or general health is simple.

Both of them are professionals in their fields, but dietitians are trained specially with more qualifications in helping the more severe side of weight loss. This is why they can be found in nursing homes and inpatient wards.

However, this isn’t to diminish the work of a nutritionist as they are still professionals in their field and can help you lose weight when you’re trying to reach a personal health goal in general.

Essentially, if you’re looking to lose weight for an upcoming event or fitness goal, a nutritionist is right for you. If you’re looking to lose weight for serious health concerns related to obesity or eating disorders, a dietitian is a route to go for your goal.

How Do I Become a Nutritionist?

The first step to becoming a nutritionist is to earn a bachelor’s degree in nutrition science, health and wellness, or a related field. These bachelor programs often require an internship/placement for hands-on training as a nutritionist to graduate.

Next, it is about certification that can vary from country to country and even state to state. Each jurisdiction has a condition that you need to meet in order to be certified as a practicing nutritionist.

There are four categories that licensing can fall under according to the Centre for Nutrition Advocacy,

Again, while considering these four categories, it is entirely essential to remember that even though dietitians and nutritionists do share many of the same roles and duties when related to their job, dietitians go through more training.

As such, a dietitian tends to work in more clinical settings than a nutritionist. This difference means that nutritionists do not go through RD training and licensing. As such, nutritionists usually work in a more holistic health setting, rather than a clinical one like their dietitian counterparts.

After being properly licensed based on their jurisdiction requirements, there are several career paths open to a nutritionist. These environments can include some that we have already discussed and are not limited to,

How Do I Become a Dietitian?

Just like a nutritionist, you need to start with a bachelor’s degree first. This degree needs to be in nutrition or a strongly related field to help get you into the field. This program should help cover you to understand the following,

Along with programs that cover those topics, you will also often have some form of internship to help ensure that you have field experience. This internship is essential to becoming a dietitian as well.

Additionally, to become a Registered Dietitian (RD), it is strongly recommended that you also get a master’s degree. This step ensures that you have all of the prerequisites required and training required to take on the dietetic internship.

This internship is true for both the bachelor’s program and the master’s program. You must complete 1,200 hours of experience under the supervision of a licensed professional before you can begin to practice.

These internships can range from eight to 24 months and can vary from full time to part-time, depending on the need and availability of both parties. There are also distance/online training options if you can’t complete a traditional one.

It is strongly recommended that your internship is directly related to your career goal and that you are training and practicing under someone who has your dream career, for example.

These are the most common educational paths, but not the only ones. However, depending on your jurisdiction and specific career goal, you want to adjust and plan accordingly.

The next step is to pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration, an exam that is the most crucial step to earning the RD credential. The rules are incredibly strict.

To become an RD certified dietitian and there is strict eligibility for the exam. While going through school and the internship, you must understand the qualifications and learn the qualifications needed even to take the exam, not only pass it.

Finally, you want to obtain a state license. This step will depend entirely on where you live and where you plan to practice. Before you can be employed in your desired state, you need to obtain a license and meet the requirements of the particular state.

Some states will issue you a license based on your previous experiences, such as your master’s degree and internship, but other states may have their licensing requirements that could differ and be more strict.

As such, you must do heavy research into your state’s requirements and prepare yourself in advance for any of the requirements that you may need based on where you hope to practice.

After you complete all of this and are a fully licensed practicing dietitian, the last thing you need to keep in mind is maintaining your license and registration.

The means of keeping your credentials as an RD is incredibly strict, as you are required to complete 75 continuing education credits every five years, and at least one of them must be in ethics.

To keep your license, you must submit a learning plan and activity log within 120 to complete your first activity. The CDR offers a calculator to determine the deadline for your earning plan submission.

You must also pay the annual registration maintenance fee to maintain your registration on the MyCDR page. The MyCDR page is your landing page, and you should be meticulous about keeping the information on it up to date.

Differences Between Nutrition and Dietetics

Dietetics is the science of how food and nutrition affects human health. Dietitian nutritionists use nutrition and food science to help people improve their health. Nutrition and dietetic technicians work with dietitian nutritionists to provide care and consultation to patients.

Final Thoughts on What Is The Difference Between A Nutritionist And Dietitian

Hopefully today we have helped you to learn the big differences between the different professions and now you know which would be able to help you most.

Otherwise maybe this has helped you to make a choice in which learning path you would like to progress, I hope if this was helpful that you could help me by sharing out to Facebook or other social networks!

I grew up in a home where most our days were spent inside, and sports were not a family priority. I did play soccer and baseball as a kid, but the older I got, the more I lost interest. To regain my health, I decided to adhere to the three tenets of health and longevity. I hope you will join me, by making it your purpose to live as long and well as possible.