What’s the difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian? We get this question asked frequently from prospective clients, so let’s go ahead and answer it.
What is a Dietitian?
A Dietitian is licensed by the state they practice in. They are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and must do a 1000 hour internship to get licensed. Most dietitians complete a master’s degree combined with the internship. The dietetics curriculum covers medical nutrition therapy, nutrition counseling, nutrition education, etc. The curriculum and philosophy is in line with the healthcare and medical model, and some insurance plans will cover dietetic services.
What is a Nutritionist?
The Nutritionist title, unfortunately, is vague. Someone could get a certification online, not have a nutrition degree, and call themselves a Nutritionist. The registered dietitians have been fighting this for a while. It’s understandable that they would like states to have laws in place that wouldn’t allow any nutrition professional practice without a license. There is a flip side to government controlling who you can work with. Do we want that? Health freedom is important, and you should be able to choose who you want to work with to get your health back on track.
You can get a degree in Nutrition and not go the dietetics route. This is a great track for those who want to have more of an integrative or functional approach to nutrition. They can go another step further and get their masters in Nutrition. There are some excellent integrative/functional nutrition-focused masters programs out there, such as the University of Bridgeport, CT and the University of the Western States.
A bonus for a practitioner with a Nutrition degree is the opportunity to become certified as well. If you are going to work with a nutritionist, I would recommend they have a master’s degree in nutrition and at least one of the following certifications.
What about Certifications? What are the best ones?
- CCN Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Requirements: Masters degree in nutrition or a healthcare license (MD, RD, RN, Chiropractor, PA)
The IAACN (Governing body of CCN’s) organization’s mission is to train and educate qualified practitioners to heal the body at a cellular level with nutrition, exercise, stress management, and clinically proven supplementation. The IAACN organization does a fantastic job with continuing education. They host amazing symposiums with the BEST functional medicine practitioners in the US, who think outside the box, and their work is backed up by science.
- CNS Certified Nutrition Specialist
Requirements: Master’s degree in nutrition, 1000 hours of clinical experience and pass a difficult and comprehensive nutrition exam.
The CNS has earned national name recognition, and is recognized by the American College of Nutrition. They do require continuing education credits to maintain the certification.
- Institute of Functional Medicine
Best for medical practitioners that want to look at nutrition, lifestyle, exercise, stress management, and specialized testing as a form of treatment. This is a great group of individuals and the yearly conferences are well done.
Which one should I choose?
Now you know the differences, it is up to you to choose a provider. If you are looking for someone who can think outside the box of the traditional medical model, I do suggest you find a degreed nutritionist or an RD with one or more of the above certifications.
What is Functional Nutrition?
Functional nutrition, as a foundation of functional medicine, is focused on optimal physiological functioning of your cells. When your cells are nourished with the right foods, the root causes of your symptoms are addressed.
Does Insurance cover any of this?
Insurance is important to have, however, it doesn’t cover much, if any, services when it comes to prevention or nutrition. Some RD visits may be covered under your insurance plan with a doctor’s referral.
Nutrition and Lifestyle Change is a process that takes longer than a few visits to achieve successfully. Here at our practice, our secret sauce is individual coaching, accountability, and education. Advice and getting a plan is just the beginning. Execution and repetition of the client practicing their new lifestyle changes (clean eating, exercise, taking supplements) and becoming more consistent with them, gives the highest likelihood of long term success.