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Dietitian vs Nutritionist: What’s the Difference & Why Does it Matter?

Author: Stephanie Santoro

If you’ve ever searched beyond all the fad diets and gimmicks for high-level dietary guidance, you might have considered consulting a dietitian or a nutritionist – or at least a service that is informed by expert guidance. But naturally, you might be wondering: What is a dietitian? And what’s a nutritionist? And what’s the difference?

Dietitians and nutritionists both provide nutrition counseling, meal planning, customized meal services, corporate wellness, weight management, and personal wellness consulting. But when it comes to seeking the best professional help in this field, the first thing you should know is that dietitians and nutritionists are not identical.

So what is the difference?

While anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, the term “dietitian” is tightly regulated. Dietitians are officially credentialed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association). You can’t call yourself a dietitian without formal training, supervised work hours in the field, and continued education to maintain your license and credentials, among other requirements. That’s why dietitians can refer to themselves as nutritionists but nutritionists cannot call themselves dietitians.

Although no formal training is necessary to call yourself a nutritionist, there are less rigorous and unregulated programs and certifications that provide nutritionist training. It is certainly possible that a well versed nutritionist with specific training could assist you with your concerns. Just make sure you check their background and level of experience before fully committing. When you’re trying to lose weight and keep it off, making sure you have solid resources and practitioners on your side is critical.  

Dietitian Credentials

The title of dietitian, or more specifically registered dietitian, is identified by RD after the dietitian’s name. RDN for registered dietitian nutritionist is also used. RD and RDN are basically interchangeable in their own right and the designations share a specific meaning.

The RD / RDN title requires the following:

  1. A minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four year university program that includes specific courses in human physiology, nutrition science, and other sciences.  
  2. 1,200 hours of supervised work in an internship.
  3. Passing of a rigorous exam to become registered.
  4. Continued education every five years.
  5. Compliance to a professional code of ethics.
  6. The approving board also offers credential extensions that certify the RD/RDN in specialties like obesity, oncology nutrition, etc.  

Nutritionist Credentials

Though sometimes seen as less advanced than RDs/RDNs, nutritionists can obtain credentials through other types of licensing that are typically less rigorous but do require some training and testing. Like RDs/RDNs, their backgrounds and specialties can also vary widely but are not identical when it comes to qualifications.

The granting entities vary, as do their corresponding designations, intensities, and concentrations. They’re also not regulated designations and none are recognized under the same umbrella that designates RDs/RDNs.

The most common nutritionist certifications are listed below in order of prominence:

  • Certified Dietitian/Nutritionist (CD/CDN) – State-specific licensure (RDs/RDNs usually also meet this criteria).
  • Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist (LD/LDN) – State-specific licensure (RDs/RDNs usually also meet this criteria).
  • Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) – Credential for nutritionists with a masters or doctoral degree in a related field, completion of 1,000 hours of supervised practice, passed an exam, and continued education.
  • Certified Nutritionist (CN) – Two-year college degree or six-class online program plus the passing of an exam.
  • Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC) – Passing of an open book exam.

Dietitians have well-rounded education

With an RD/RDN you’re getting certified expertise, whether they’re practicing in their specialized field or more generally. When it comes to weight loss planning, mixed with everything else life throws at us (like illness, pregnancy, surgeries, allergies, physical restrictions, etc.), RDs and RDNs are likely to have the most interdisciplinary experience to help you with your unique combination of concerns.  

Noom applies the expertise of RDNs so individualized client needs and goals can be met without extreme fitness routines and painful deprivation dieting. Behavior modification is taught and put into practice, which results in lasting change. Noom provides an element of balance not easily achieved when working alone. That means you can manage your own wellness responsibly, long term.

The insight of RDs and RDNs is built-in to Noom

Having the built-in insight of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists when joining Noom is a huge advantage for your wellness and weight loss agenda. Their highly-respected expertise – paired with the knowledge of psychologists and cutting-edge software – delivers a better weight loss experience with measurable results. You’ll get support in areas that help you confront emotional eating, stress, boredom, and anything else that complicates weight loss. From meal planning to meal tracking; fitness routines and activity tracking; goal setting to celebrating new habits; personal health coaches to community support, Noom is there for you. Come see what we have to offer!