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What Is The Difference Between A Nutritionist And Dietitian

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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, so nutritionist vs dietician which is better?

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.

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

Even nutritionists need to advance their degrees and pass certifications to be qualified to work with athletes, for 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, all of this means that the main difference between 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 complicated, 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 your goal.

Since this difference is so minute for the average population, some people may not even distinguish 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, 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 contact 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 about 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 is generally the most highly recommended for this particular need.

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

They can help ensure that you’re eating what’s suitable for your goals, workout plan, and lifestyle.

They allow you to 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 licensing and training, which is another way of saying they’re better equipped to handle the needs of a more severe 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 for losing and gaining weight. Dietitians are also often qualified to help diagnose certain diet-related illnesses or mental illnesses.

Weight management overlaps when a dietitian helps a patient plan for weight-related surgery.

However, it is essential 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 will not be trained in the same way as a dietitian who works to help someone with an eating disorder.

For example, it is vital to keep this in mind when choosing who to choose from.


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 the nutrition you need and will not get sick while avoiding the foods you’re sensitive to.

This goes for elective diets, like Keto, and mandatory avoidances like celiac.

If you are first getting into being vegetarian or 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 job is to help you understand what you need and how to keep you on the right track.

Fatigue, Sickness, and Injury

Did you know you could help solve 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; 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 health through diet.

They’re trained professionals qualified to help you with various 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 about the individual’s qualifications or get a referral from a doctor you trust to ensure that you get the best care 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,

  • Inpatient Care – if you find yourself in a hospital or a long-term care facility, chances are the individual helping you plan and arrange your diet will be a dietitian. They are trained to consider age, illness, and dietary restrictions to help keep patients healthy and strong throughout their treatment and stay. They adapt these menus from patient to patient with needed covered, including but not limited to
    • Diabetes or Chronic Obesity
    • Heart Disease
    • Difficulties Swallowing
    • Poor/Limited Appetite.
  • Public and Community Health – Some dietitians work to improve the dietary habits of a whole community. This is through working on even national and state levels to put together a policy or recommendation for the betterment of the people in terms of dietary help.
  • Consultancy – a dietitian who works with individuals, small groups, or organizations is often working on the level of a dietary consultant. For example, they can run a health and nutrition seminar or program at schools, offices, or even the media.
  • Sports – Athletes need a dietitian to help ensure their health and safety while participating in their athletics. These dietitians often help create dietary plans and regulations for athletes in school, clubs, professional levels, and even children. These dietitians aim to help their patients work and maintain their best sporting performance by promoting energy through proper diet plans.

A dietitian can help you with many other goals and tasks, from meal planning to short- and long-term goals.

They are also often qualified to help diagnose many dietary interruptions and issues, such as eating disorders, other nutritional deficiencies, or sensitivities.

Before seeking a dietitian’s aid, you must understand what you need from them and their qualifications.

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 often work in a self-employed situation under a private practice, though not all of them do.

Generally, you 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 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,

  • Provide Direction – many people seek nutritionists for their professional expertise in healthy living and nutrition planning. This is especially true in clinics but is frequently just as true in private practice. A nutritionist’s goal is to help patients understand how to help themselves on their path to better nutritional decisions.
  • Develop Plans – This task can be essential for many individuals with dietary restrictions. Nutritionists can help develop and prepare meals based on the needs of the dietary restriction to ensure that their patients can lead a strong and healthy life despite any hypothetical deficiency created by their constraints.
  • Meal Plan For Schools – more often than not, a nutritionist is brought on to help plan meals for health facilities and schools instead of dietitians. They’ll work to plan school lunches and nutritional recommendations for the facility they’re working at to ensure the health and promotion of strength through their meal planning.
  • Advocate – Another thing nutritionists are known for advocating nutrition-based labeling, school nutrition standards, and even public nutrition policies. Through their education and training, they’re the best suited to ensure that they’re helping their community understand the importance of their own dietary and nutritional habits.

The potential role of a nutritionist relies heavily on where they practice. Additionally, there are certifications within certifications for many nutritionists, which 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 the needs, conditions, and demands from them are different in both environments.

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

A nutritionist focused on education would also have an entirely different set of roles and responsibilities than a nutritionist concentrated on another 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 how the weight loss will 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 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 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, versus 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 trying to reach a personal health goal.

A nutritionist is right for you if you’re looking to lose weight for an upcoming event or fitness goal.

If you’re looking to lose weight for serious health concerns related to obesity or eating disorders, a dietitian is a route 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 you must meet to be certified as a practicing nutritionist.

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

  • Illegal to perform nutrition counseling without a license or an exemption. Only registered dietitians – or RD – are eligible for licensure.
  • Illegal provides counseling for nutrition without a license or an exemption; however, non-RD paths to being licensed are available.
  • Legal counsel in nutrition, but the government recognizes RDs, and insurance reimbursement becomes eligible.
  • Nutrition counseling is legal for all to perform, but there may be limitations to insurance reimbursement.

Again, while considering these four categories, it is essential to remember that even though dietitians and nutritionists share many of the same roles and duties when related to their job, dietitians undergo 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 adequately 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:

  • Schools: as consultants on school lunches to make them healthier and more balanced.
  • Hospitals: to create treatment plans for patients holistically based on their needs.
  • Advocacy: to encourage better habits in the community through teaching and research.
  • Private Practice: to help counsel clients and help develop and suggest meal plans to your patients in a more privately owned/self-employed environment,

How Do I Become a Dietitian?

Like a nutritionist, you must 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 area.

This program should help cover you understand the following,

  • Economics
  • Statistics
  • Physiology
  • Bacteriology
  • Management theory
  • Home economics
  • Sociology
  • Business administration
  • Data processing

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 you have all the prerequisites and training required for 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 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 train and practice 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 stringent.

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 particular state’s requirements.

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 licensing requirements that could differ and be more strict.

As such, you must research your state’s requirements and prepare yourself in advance for any of the conditions 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 rigorous, 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 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 affect 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 the Difference Between A Dietitian And Nutritionist

Hopefully, today we have helped you learn the significant differences between the different professions, and now you know which would help you most.

Otherwise, maybe this has helped you to make a choice in which learning path you would like to progress.

I hope this was helpful and that you can help me by sharing on Facebook or other social networks!

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