Dietician vs Nutritionist: Is there any Difference?
Specialized/Layman terms and Definitions
At the risk of sounding like the utterly bizarre “left & right” Twix commercial campaign, both the words Dietician and Nutritionist seem to mean the same thing. It is easy for any layman to confuse specialized and mundane definitions for similar words. For instance, until my sister went to college, I did not know the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. And I was chewed out for that one until I got it correct.
A psychologist focuses on tackling the environmental factors of a patient’s life in order to heal their shattered mind. A psychiatrist focuses on using medicinal treatment to heal that same person’s mind.
The difference is slight to anyone who is using either term in a conversation, but it means everything to the patient who is getting treatment and the doctors who studied their practice for years. A pill isn’t going to cure an alcoholic father, and all the counseling in the world can’t change someone’s dopamine intake.
That is why it is important to know what you are looking for when you are trying to treat your dietary habits and meet your nutritional needs. Do you know who you need to treat your specific problems? The only way to look it up and find out.
What is a Nutritionist?
To kickstart this dietician vs. nutritionist debate I am going to first look at the definition of the words, then look at the requirements.
According to learn.org, “A nutritionist is an expert in the relationship between food and health. These professionals work with patients to apply principles of nutrition for disease prevention and to promote healthy lifestyles.”
That makes sense. What are the requirements for a person to become a nutritionist?
After a bit of research, I have found that there is a consensus across most states is that the minimum education required for a nutritionist is a Bachelor’s Degree. The level of regulation is determined on a state by state basis, so there are some nutritionists that are allowed to practice without further certification.
What is a Dietician?
A dietician, according to the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute,”is the only qualified health professionals that assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems at an individual and wider public health level.”
Already, we can see a few key differences. Dieticians can diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems on a medical capacity, not unlike a doctor. They also can research and tackle the nutritional needs and issues of populations, not just one person. They can also diagnose eating disorders, and manage food-based illnesses on top of watching over a patient’s dietary and exercise habits.
To become a dietician, a person must receive a bachelor’s degree from a nutritional program at an accredited college or university. That is a given since at least nutritionists do this. But the list of requirements expands beyond that. There is also at least a supervised internship of 6 months to a year at a medical facility, additional study, and the passing of a national exam.
The definition and title of a dietician are much more rigid than that of a nutritionist.
Dietician vs. Nutritionist Conclusion
In the simplest terms, a dietician is a medical expert in nutrition, while nutritionist is more like a personal trainer that can only interfere so far medically. A Dietician can give you a recommended diet and exercise program like a nutritionist, but a nutritionist cannot diagnose an eating disorder or determine a food allergy.
However, there is an added factor that I had no room to mention until now. Nutritionists can work their way towards a certification that can allow them to expand their practice toward a medical field. In fact, it is required in some states, including Alabama, for practicing nutritionist to at least have a Registered Nutritionist (RD) License to perform specific nutritional counseling. So, you are bound to find nutritionists more qualified in Alabama, than you would in the state of West Virginia, where nutritionists can provide counseling without a license, but with some insurance restrictions.
The best way to look at it comes from what sort of needs that need to be met. If you are looking for a way to lose a few extra pounds after winter, go to a nutritionist. If you are suffering from a severe food-related condition like Celiac’s disease, go to a dietician.