Wherever you may be on your health journey, focusing on nutrition is an important part of getting—or staying—healthy. Conflicting advice and online diet trends can make it hard to know where to start. Staying motivated can be just as hard. The world’s best athletes have coaches to help them reach their goals. Why shouldn’t you have an expert on your team too? Working with a dietitian can be a great way to help you cut through the noise and eat for your needs.
Should I choose to work with a dietitian or a nutritionist?
What is a dietitian?
Many people might think that nutritionists and dietitians are the same. But this isn’t the case. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there are major differences between these titles. A registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) has completed education and training set by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. Registered dietitians are food and nutrition experts who provide nutrition therapy in different settings.
All RDs or RDNs must:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree, which includes a specially designed, accredited nutrition curriculum
- Complete a supervised program of practice at a healthcare facility, food-service organization or community agency
- Pass a rigorous registration exam
- Maintain continuing education credits throughout their career
Finally, many registered dietitians choose to focus on a specialty area of practice, which requires more certification. These specialties are broad and might include sports, pediatrics, oncology and more.
What is a nutritionist?
There are no educational or accreditation requirements to use the nutritionist title. In fact, people who have only taken one nutrition class can call themselves nutritionists. One easy way to think of it is, “All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.” Choosing a dietitian is a good option to ensure you get help from a qualified expert.
What can dietitians help with?
If weight loss is your goal, a dietitian can definitely help. But working with a dietitian isn’t just about weight loss. In fact, dietitians are trained to help you understand how nutrition impacts your overall wellness. Here are just a few ways a dietitian can help beyond losing weight:
1. Learn the right foods for a chronic condition or other health concern
A dietitian can help guide you to the right foods and meal plans if you have a chronic condition or health concern. They can also help you toward lifestyle changes and self-management skills. Here is a shortlist of conditions a dietitian can help with:
- High blood pressure
- Autoimmune diseases
2. Plan for the future
Are you thinking about starting a family? A dietitian can help you get the right nutrients for fertility, pregnancy, postpartum and beyond. Women who are pregnant, hope to become pregnant or are breastfeeding have unique needs for their diets. And it’s not only women who can benefit. Some lifestyle factors, like weight and diet, are thought to affect male fertility as well.
3. Care for an aging parent or loved one
A dietitian can be helpful for anyone who is caring for an aging parent or loved one. They can help you understand food and drug interactions and proper hydration. They can also help meal plan and prep for low-sodium diets, heart-healthy diets and more.
4. Manage food allergies, sensitivities or nutritional deficiencies
A dietitian can help you get the right nutrients and manage any food allergies or sensitivities that you may have. This may be helpful if you live with celiac disease or lactose intolerance.
5. Get help with disordered eating
If your relationship with food is hard to manage alone, a dietitian can help. They have the right balance of compassion and expertise to help improve your relationship with food. Your dietitian can work together with mental health professionals to help provide support.
What do all those acronyms mean?
In your search for a dietitian, you may find a list of acronyms that follow the name of available experts. Here is a quick list to help you understand what some of these certifications mean:
- RD/RDN—Registered dietitian/registered dietitian nutritionist. This person has gone through the education and training requirements established by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.
- LD/LDN/CD—Licensed dietitian/licensed dietitian nutritionist/certified dietitian. This person is currently licensed in one or more states to practice as a state-regulated nutritional professional. Only RD/RDNs can become LD/LDN/CDs.
- MS—Master of Science degree. This person has received a master’s degree in science related to nutrition and dietetics. Starting in 2024, all registered dietitians will be required to have a master’s degree.
- CDCES—Certified diabetes care and education specialist. This person has completed further training and accreditation specific to diabetes counseling.
Working with a dietitian means getting expert advice about the food you eat. While weight loss may be part of your goals, it doesn’t have to be the only goal. That is because dietitians are highly educated, qualified experts who understand how food interacts with the body in many ways. If you’re interested in working with a dietitian, register or log in to your Teladoc account now to get started.