Titles of Dietitians and Nutritionists

What’s the difference between Dietitians and nutritionists? While Dietitians and nutritionists both aim to help people improve wellness, there are some important differences between the two titles, and both are often mislabeled.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Deunglison Medical Lexicon defines Dietetics as “a branch of medicine comprising the rules to be followed for preventing, relieving, or curing disease by diet.” In the age of rising obesity and all the complications that come with it, more people are seeking assistance for weight loss from these professionals. However, who should one pick to get help from?

A lot of the differences between Dietitians and nutritionists lie with legal restrictions and the necessary qualifications in order to hold the titles. The term “nutritionist” is a looser definition and may refer to anyone who feels they have expertise in the field of nutrition. While there are many degrees and certifications one can get in nutrition education, legally one does not have to have any formal education, training, licensure, or certification in order to call themselves a nutritionist.  The term “dietitian,” often a shortened name for “Registered Dietitian (RD)” or “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN),” stands for those who meet required education, supervised practice hours, and credentialing standards. This means that while all dietitians are nutritionists, not all nutritionists are dietitians.

Becoming a Nutritionist

Anyone who completes a degree in nutrition can be considered a nutritionist but this can encompass a variety of education levels. Places that you can see nutritionists working include:

  • Hospitals, nursing homes, or long-term care facilities
  • Government positions or local health departments
  • School districts and their food service departments
  • Independent private facilities working with medical professionals
  • Various research settings

Though the title of nutritionist can come from varying sources, various credentials can be gained and so the education and training a nutritionist may pick to undergo may depend on the credentials they desire, or the population and setting with which they would like to work. Popular credentials include becoming a certified nutrition specialist (CNS) or a certified/clinical nutritionist (CN). In order to become a CNS according to the Board of Certification for Nutrition Specialists (BCNS) one should:

  1. Earn a Master of Science or doctoral degree in nutrition or related field.
  2. 35 hours of relevant coursework related to personalized nutrition practices.
  3. 1000 hours of supervised practice.
  4. BCNS personalized nutrition case study reports.

Nutritionists are limited by guidelines set by each state. For example, some states may not allow nutritionists to counsel, diagnose, or treat medical conditions and insurances may hold different standards or reimbursement allowances depending on the credentials held. If you are interested in meeting with a nutritionist, ask about their education and experience to help inform your decision.

Becoming a Nutrition and Dietetics Technician, Registered (NDTR)

The requirements to be a Nutrition and Dietetics Technician, Registered (NDTR) are in between those of nutritionist and Registered Dietitian. Most NDTRs work alongside RDs as partners in healthcare, business, community, and foodservice management teams.

Requirements to become an NDTR include:

  1. Earning an associate’s degree in an accredited NDTR program that includes 450 supervised internship hours OR earn a bachelor’s degree at an accredited didactic or coordinated program in dietetics
  2. Passing the national exam for NDTRs by the Commission of Dietetic Registration (CDR).
  3. Upkeeping the license with continuing education.
Becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

There are a few different programs to become a RDN, including coordinated programs, didactic programs, internships, or education models. However, despite the methods picked, becoming and maintaining the licensure for a Registered Dietitian includes the following:

  1. As of January 1, 2024, Earning a minimum of a Master’s degree from an accredited dietetic program.
  2. Completing a minimum of 1000 hours of supervised practice hours in various work settings, including food service, clinical, community, and other specialties.
  3. Passing the national exam for Registered Dietitians by the Commission of Dietetic Registration (CDR).
  4. Meeting requirements of your state for practicing dietetics.
  5. Completing continuing education on a regularly basis and submitting proof of such to the CDR.

You will find registered dietitians working in multiple settings, including:

  • Hospital, clinics, nursing homes, hospice, renal care, cancer centers, eating disorder clinics, and other various health-care settings to monitor for allergies, administer medical nutrition therapies, provide specific dietary support for various diagnoses, and conduct assessments to determine patients’ needs.
  • Private Counseling for nutrition support, weight loss clinics, or outpatient programs.
  • Schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and more in foodservice management roles to help with malnutrition, food allergies, sanitation, and food safety.
  • Community settings and local food banks to help run programs around health, food availability, and nutritional classes.
  • Food corporations, catering companies, vending companies, and other food businesses to help create and manage menus along with food safety and sanitation.
  • Government roles and positions around health and contracting for various reasons.
  • Sports settings in professional and collegiate sports settings to help with performance and safety as well as nutritional education.
  • Various research settings to help further nutritional knowledge and help with updating evidence-based practices.

More information about becoming a RDN can be found on the EatRight.org website by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: https://www.eatright.org/become-an-rdn

At the Bariatric Counseling Center, we have Registered Dietitians on staff who provide treatment through individual counseling, nutrition lessons, recipe development, mindful eating, and movement to help clients embark safely and effectively on their weight loss journey. Our Registered Dietitians are trained in eating disorders and can help those who engage in binge eating, emotional eating, compulsive overeating, or restrictive eating behaviors.  For more information about how our Registered Dietitians can help you, contact us at 210-634-2200.