Nutritionist, Dietitian, Same Thing Right?
“You’re a nutritionist, too?!”
“Nutritionist, Dietitian, they’re the same thing.”
But my favorite statement is, “I’m sorry for calling you a Nutritionist.”
I’m frequently asked what the difference is between a “Nutritionist” and a “Registered Dietitian/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.” Before we get too far I want to quickly point out that it’s spelled dietitian with two “t”s not a “c”. A quick Google search will show plenty of sites that suggest they’re either the same thing or that a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) only works with people in hospitals or facilities. This is pretty far from the truth.
Anyone—literally, anyone—can call themselves a Nutritionist. They’ve read a lot of articles? They can be a nutritionist. They got a certification through a three-hour online course? They’re a nutritionist. They like to eat? They’re a nutritionist. A recent article from the journal Circulation showed that even medical doctors take only 1.4% of the minimum education it takes to be an RDN. Even though all of these examples may sound far-fetched, I’ve heard them all. I wish that all I had to do to be an RDN was enjoy eating. I would have been an RDN a long, long time ago.
While not everyone that calls themselves a nutritionist is a dietitian, all dietitians are nutritionists. For some reason back in 1839 when dietetics was described as a branch of medicine in the Dunglison Medical Lexicon they probably didn’t think they needed to distinguish between the two. The confusion continues as some states don’t require any kind of education to be called a nutritionist. However, the term “dietitian” is legally protected.
It takes what it takes.
On the most basic level, to become an RDN you have to complete a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) from a university program that has been granted accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) (at the time of this article there are only 213 programs in the United States). After completing the program, you have to match to an “Internship Program” via a computer matching system. The internship is closer to a graduate school practicum. This is because a minimum of 1200 supervised practice hours plus graduate course work are completed during the program. Once the Commission on Dietetic Registration receives confirmation that you’ve completed the internship program and met their requirements, you’ll be deemed eligible to sit for the Registration Exam for Registered Dietitians. Pass that exam and you’ve made it! Now you’re an RD/RDN!
If that sounds like a lot of work that’s because it is a lot of work. RDN’s are highly educated, highly trained individuals with the ability to perform Nutrition Counseling at the highest level. If you’re looking to take your nutrition to the highest level, schedule your free meet-and-greet today to get started.