Updated September 24, 2020While the titles nutritionist and dietitian are often conflated, they are not interchangeable titles. Both are experts in nutrition and diet and they do share some responsibilities, though the qualifications and primary roles of dietitians and nutritionists vary.Dietitians work with individuals and design meal plans to manage or treat diseases. They’re also qualified to diagnose and treat various nutritional issues. Nutritionists, contrarily, focus on providing general health and nutrition advice to clients, such as for weight loss.Dietitians and nutritionists both pave the way for better health through nutrition. However, your specific concerns or ailments are what best determine the correct specialist to visit.What is a Nutritionist?A nutritionist is an expert in the use of food and nutrition to promote better health. They teach individuals what and how much to eat to maintain a healthy lifestyle or reach fitness-related goals. Nutritionists may also help people with special needs, allergies, or dietary concerns.Frequently, nutritionists work in private practices where they provide dietary advice or implement meal plans to individual clients who may be trying to lose weight, sculpt their bodies for physique competitions, or live an overall healthier lifestyle.However, the term “nutritionist” fits a broad range of credentials as the title is not legally regulated. Due to this, anybody can technically refer to themselves as a nutritionist and provide dietary advice with no professional background.Required CredentialsDepending on individual states’ laws, some nutritionists can work without any prior education, work experience, or training. Before hiring a nutritionist, always check to see if your state requires licensing to practice as a nutritionist. If not, ask if the nutritionist may provide legitimate credentials before working with them. Some unlicensed nutritionists may have approached outside of science-backed medicine and following their advice can be potentially harmful.Other states require nutritionists to have an occupational license from a Board of Nutrition, such as a Certified Nutritional Special or Certified Clinical Nutritionist certification. Additionally, nutritionists can register to the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) and legally title themselves a registered dietitian.Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)The Certified Nutritional Specialists (CNS) certification is a credential provided by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS). To qualify, individuals must have a master’s or doctoral degree related to nutrition or healthcare. Students must complete 1000 hours of supervised clinical experience before they are eligible for the BCNS board exam.To maintain their CNS standing, dietitians must complete Continuing Education credits and renew their certification every five years.Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)The Clinical Nutrition Certification Board offers a Certified Clinical Nutritionist credential. The training required before taking the board exam varies based on a person’s prior qualifications and their level of education.Students must have at least a Bachelor of Science, though they must complete a 900-hour internship if they have less than three years of clinical experience. Students with a master’s, Ph.D., or Doctor of Science degree, can qualify to test without this training.After passing the CCN exam, nutritionists must complete ongoing training and renew their certification every two years. Compared to the CNS credential, CCNs may spend less time studying initially, though the certification requires more frequent training to uphold.What is a Dietitian?Registered Dietitians (RD), also known as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN), are board-certified experts in food and nutrition and their health impact. RDs are highly-educated and complete strenuous training to work in various settings such as hospitals, large-scale food production, communities, or universities.Their work includes advising patients on healthy diets to prevent or manage diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, and celiac disease. Dietitians work alongside mental health professionals to evaluate, diagnose, and treat illnesses such as eating disorders. They may also counsel patients in bettering their relationship with food and improving any nutritional deficiencies.Required CredentialsDietitians have better-regulated credentials in the United States when compared to nutritionists. All dietitians must register with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) and must have a formal education.Dietitian students must have at least a baccalaureate degree in a program approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). They must study subjects including food service systems management, food and nutrition sciences, chemistry, microbiology, sociology, and physiology. Next, students must complete roughly 1,000 hours of an ACEND-approved clinical internship program to perform supervised practice work.Finally, students must pass a board exam issued by the CDR to apply for a registered dietitian license. Furthermore, starting in 2024, all dietetics students must have a master’s degree to qualify for the United States RD Board Exam.Types of Dietitians and NutritionistsThere are four leading practices where dietitians and nutritionists work: clinical, research, food service management, and in the community. Other domains include running a private practice, sports nutrition, teaching in an academic setting, being a nutrition expert for the media, or writing on health and nutrition topics.ClinicalClinical dietitians and nutritionists often work in a hospital setting focused on inpatient or outpatient treatment. Doctors who work in an outpatient setting work with people who are generally healthier than inpatients. Based on a patient’s needs and medical history, dietitians and nutritionists develop nutrition programs and work together to reach nutritional goals.Their work includes treating chronic or life-threatening illnesses such as kidney disease, cancer, or eating disorders. They also provide nutritional information to patients with specialized needs, whether they have diabetes, are fresh out of surgery, or going through chemotherapy.Clinical dietitians and nutritionists may also specialize in a particular illness or issue, including providing nutrition advice to individuals post-bariatric surgery or those in recovery for an eating disorder.Food Service ManagementFood service management dietitians and nutritionists often lead large-scale food production for organizations, including schools, prisons, and healthcare facilities. They ensure any food supplied meets necessary guidelines and is nutritionally sufficient for specific groups, such as providing food for elders at a nursing home.As food service managers, dietitians and nutritionists also plan budgets and lead other dietitians or food service workers.ResearchResearch nutritionists and dietitians often work within teams in hospitals, universities, or organizations. They conduct studies dictated by their employers to understand how food operates or to advance nutrition science.CommunityA community dietitian or nutritionist designs programs to prevent diseases aimed at large groups of people as opposed to individuals. For instance, dietitians nutritionists may recommend calorie intakes for the average adult or general weight loss advice. They may even advocate for public policies regarding health, food, and nutrition, such as calling for more comprehensive nutrition labels.Career OutlookDietitians and nutritionists are in high demand. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics notes how nutritionists and dietitians have a positive career outlook, likely due to the growing interest in nutrition and disease prevention.In 2018, there were roughly 70,900 dietitians and nutritionists working in the United States. This number is expected to rise to 78,900 by 2028, an employment increase of 11 percent. Compared to all other occupations in the US, employment for dietitians and nutritionists is growing faster than average, making it a viable career.FAQsDo nutritionists or dietitians have an MD?Some nutritionists and dietitians have an MD, or Doctor of Medicine degree, though it’s not required or necessary to join the profession. If your nutritionist or dietitian is an MD, they may have worked in a different medical field before graduating to food and nutrition.So long as your nutritionist or dietitian is appropriately certified, there is no need to search for one bearing an MD.Why would you see a dietitian or nutritionist?Visits to a dietitian or nutritionist vary on a case-by-case basis, though nutritionists generally cater to general concerns such as what to eat to live a healthy lifestyle while dietitians design diets and meal plans to treat diseases.Some dietitians and nutritionists have specific specializations, such as a physique competition prepping or managing diabetes. You can always make an appointment with someone with a focus on your specific concern, whether it be weight loss, digestive issues, eating disorder recovery, or high blood pressure.Is it worth it to hire a dietitian or nutritionist?Yes, depending on your specific needs or dietary goals, a nutritionist or dietitian can pave your way to better health. They will design personalized meal plans that are sustainable, help you reach fitness goals, and improve your relationship with food.The most important part of hiring a dietitian or nutritionist is to correctly implement the advice they give. Otherwise, you won’t make any changes and may waste both your time and money.How do I get an appointment with a nutritionist or dietitian?To get in contact with a nutritionist or dietitian, start by doing your research online, and from there, you can make an appointment. However, a doctor can refer you to a nutritionist or dietitian covered under your insurance plan.To make the most out of your appointment, figure out your goals, and write down any questions you have beforehand. You may also want to record your food intake for several days to a week before the appointment to give the specialist a better understanding of your current diet.Why are fad diets not recommended?Fad diets are popular food plans, though they aren’t recommended by medical professionals. These diets often promise rapid weight loss or health improvements with little scientific backing. Typically, these diets are “quick fixes” or include “magic foods” meant to resolve your health or weight issues.Fad diets typically require dramatic diet changes or they cut out certain food groups entirely, potentially causing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, fatigue, constipation, and dehydration. Even if you lose weight on such a diet, you will likely gain it back as maintaining such strict eating habits long-term is unrealistic.Instead of promoting fad diets, nutritionists and dietitians offer realistic and maintainable weight loss and health advice. A nutritionist or dietitian who may be pushing you to try a fad diet does not have your best interests in mind.ConclusionDietitians and certified nutritionists both work closely with individuals to improve their health and nutrition, however dietitians are more focused on treating patients with diseases while nutritionists typically work with clients to reach health or fitness goals.Due to the lack of consistent regulation in the profession, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. On the other hand, dietitians are required to have a formal education and license prior to working. If you’re considering making an appointment with a nutritionist, always check their credentials and make sure your state regulates the profession.This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional. Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.