What Is the Difference Between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian?

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The title of Nutritionist is unregulated. Anybody can call themselves a Nutritionist. You are a Nutritionist. Your neighbor is a Nutritionist. So is your infant. And your dog. The title is meaningless and does not indicate that the person has any training or expertise whatsoever in nutrition.

In contrast, the title of Dietitian (short for Registered Dietitian, RD) coveys that we completed a program of formal academic study in nutrition, graduated from an accredited internship program that included working in a wide range of specialties within the field (everything from food service to organ transplant), passed our boards, partake regularly in continuing education, are registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration, and have a license to practice in the state. Dietitians are held to a code of ethics, just as doctors, nurses, and other licensed health care practitioners are, and we are recognized within the medical community as the experts in nutrition.

Despite the meme posted at the top, some Dietitians do refer to themselves as Nutritionists. Doing so is nothing more than a public relations strategy. While Nutritionist is a hollow title that means nothing, its inclusion of the word “nutrition” yields a title to which laymen can relate. Furthermore, some people mistakenly believe that Dietitians only work inpatient jobs at hospitals. These misunderstandings are so common that the Commission on Dietetic Registration now gives the option for a Dietitian to call him or herself by the alternate title, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).

So, all Dietitians are Nutritionists, but not all Nutritionists are Dietitians. If you are looking for help with your eating, check the person’s credentials first and make sure he or she is a Dietitian.

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