Where should I go for nutrition advice?
Updated: Apr 13, 2022
When it comes to nutrition, there is an immense amount of information (and misinformation!) out there. From low carb to gluten free to intermittent fasting, how do you know what’s right for you? Seeking advice from a qualified professional can help you find a healthy solution to achieving your wellness goals, but even knowing which professional to choose can be a challenge. Let’s take a look at the options.
Nutritionist: A nutritionist is an expert in the use of food and nutrition to promote health and manage diseases. These specialists advise people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal. Most nutritionists work in hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or medical offices.
Registered Dietitian: To become a registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN), a bachelor's degree with coursework approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics is required, as well as a minimum of 1,200 hours of supervised experience at an accredited healthcare facility/community agency/or foodservice corporation, then successful completion of the national exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Registered dietitians can provide specific nutritional counseling, meal planning, and medical nutrition therapy.
Licensed Nutritionist: In the U.S., the title of "registered dietitian" (RD) is a nationally-recognized profession, while "nutritionist" is regulated on a state-by-state basis. A licensed nutritionist is a professional who has earned credentials through a nationally recognized licensing body. It is important to understand that a dietitian is a nutritionist, but a nutritionist is not necessarily a dietitian.
Non-Licensed Nutritionist: In certain states, it is legal for anyone to perform nutrition counseling as a nutritionist, regardless of national registration/certification or licensure status. Unlike dietitians, who are qualified to diagnose eating disorders and design diets to treat specific medical conditions, non-licensed nutritionists deal with general nutritional goals.
Health Coach: Coaching is a relatively new field, and there are not currently any regulations for licensure/certification. Therefore, anyone can really claim to be a “coach.” I strongly recommend, though, that you choose a coach certified through a reputable program to ensure that they have a certain level of training and experience. Health Coaches cannot make any diagnosis or prescribe specific meal plans, but they can help you implement lifestyle changes to help you achieve your wellness goals through accountability, encouragement and support.
Personal Trainer: Personal trainers can give very broad, general nutrition advice to their clients depending on their education and experience. Many have taken undergraduate nutrition courses, obtained additional nutrition certifications, or completed nutrition-related continuing education courses. Don’t be afraid to ask about a trainer’s education and experience.
Other healthcare professionals such as physicians, nurses, and chiropractors may also be able to offer general nutrition advice depending on their education and experience.
Depending on your unique needs and goals, it’s important to do your research and find the professional that is right for you. If you have a diagnosis such as Type 1 Diabetes, Celiac Disease, or an eating disorder working with a Registered Dietitian or Licensed Nutritionist with the education needed to provide you with more specific guidelines is recommended. To learn more about how you can fuel your body each day to improve your overall health and wellness, a health coach, personal trainer, or other healthcare professional may be the right choice for you. Use caution, though, and choose a provider that listens to your unique needs and goals and doesn't simply recommend a "one-size-fits-all" approach. Recommendations should not include a specific diet or meal plan, but should be focused on helping you learn to listen to your body's cues and respond in a healthy way. Making dietary changes isn’t always easy, but with the right professional at your side it is possible.
~Nicole Hutchison, PT, CSCS, Health Coach, Integrative Nutrition Coach