Dietitian vs. Nutritionist- What’s the Difference?

14 Mar

Since I am a registered dietitian (RD) and am lucky enough to have befriended many fellow dietitians along the road, my social media channels were blowing up with “Registered Dietitian Day” posts yesterday. That’s right, yesterday was National RD Day, conveniently located smack in the middle of National Nutrition Month.

I meet many people that have no idea what a registered dietitian is or does. In short, a dietitian is a food and nutrition expert, the food and nutrition expert. It’s a long and challenging road to becoming an RD. First, you get a bachelor’s degree in nutrition. Then you apply to an (unpaid) internship program, an application process that is extremely competitive (~50% match rate nationwide) and matches you with only one program. Internship programs vary depending on their strengths and emphases, but they all have minimum requirements that must be met. It is similar to clinical rotations for medical students- interns spend their days working under the supervision of dietitians in various settings. My internship program at Saint Louis University was 10 months of working in a new site every 2 weeks by day and taking graduate classes by night. I was in a program that emphasized physical performance/sports nutrition, so many of my rotations focused on athletes, gyms, and wellness. However. I also paid my dues working in hospitals and foodservice. The best way I can describe my internship experience is that it was the “best worst year of my life.” The learning curve was very steep, but rewarding. Every single day was a new experience full of new information to learn!


After graduating from an internship, you are eligible to sit for the national registration exam. If you pass, you can finally call yourself a registered dietitian. I studied and studied for my exam. It was the type of exam that when I clicked “submit” after the last question, I was 50/50 on whether I passed. When the woman handed me my results (after the computer stopped working, the power went out, and the printer took 10 minutes to reboot…) and I saw “Congratulations, you passed”, the most incredible feelings of relief/achievement/happiness flooded over me. I can honestly say I put my blood, sweat, and (a lot of) tears into earning those two letters- RD. Our trip to Colorado was a great way to celebrate 🙂 To maintain RD status, dietitians are required to accumulate continuing education hours throughout their career to stay fresh on the ever-changing area of nutrition. 


I tell you all of this so you can understand what separates a registered dietitian from a nutritionist. Anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist”. This label tells you absolutely nothing about the person’s expertise. If someone calls themselves a registered dietitian, you can rest assured they successfully completed the rigorous credentialing process I described above. They really are the nutrition experts!

If you are looking for credible nutrition advice, it’s best to get it from a registered dietitian. If someone calls themselves a nutritionist, be sure to investigate their education and credentials before taking the advice. Like I said, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Traditionally registered dietitians use the “RD” credential, but recently a new credential option was introduced for dietitians to use “RDN” which means “registered dietitian nutritionist”. So look for the RD or the RDN- they mean the same thing! And remember that every dietitian is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is a dietitian!

I celebrated National RD Day with a fun stability ball workout, play in the kitchen, and an insightful chat with my favorite RD.


Buffalo Cauliflower Wings recipe will be up on the blog soon!

Thanks for reading 🙂

6 Responses to “Dietitian vs. Nutritionist- What’s the Difference?”

  1. emily March 14, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    the power also went out during my RD exam, and i thought i might have a heart attack! 🙂

  2. lonnie griffiths March 14, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    i love reading your posts- your proud granpa lonnie

  3. Mom March 16, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    I couldn’t be prouder!!
    Love you!

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