Why You Shouldn’t Trust A “Nutritionist”


What is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist? The answer is: A LOT! When I started college, I had no idea what the difference was between a dietitian and a nutritionist, or what it took to become a dietitian. Even after 2 years in school, I didn’t realize how many requirements there were! Becoming a dietitian is more than just going to school for 4 years, and for good reason! With so much misinformation out there (think fad diets, never eat these 5 foods to burn fat type things, etc.) it is good to know that you can get reliable information from a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. However, some states have been attacked for their licensing laws, accused of restricting the profession. So what does it take to become a dietitian? Is it all necessary to legally give nutrition advice? I believe so!  

Nutritionist = anyone. Your personal trainer, your mom, your dog. no nutrition education necessary. probably trying to sell you something you don’t need.

Unfortunately, the term Nutritionist is completely unregulated. Anyone can use the title, leading to a lot of confusion in the public. Oftentimes, so called “Nutritionists” (or even health coaches) have little to no formal nutrition education and are spreading misinformation or selling products that aren’t backed by scientific evidence. After realizing how much phony information was out there during a mind-blowing lecture on diet and health in my first year of college, I made it my goal to educate as many people as possible about the myths and realities of nutrition. Becoming a dietitian would make that dream a reality, so I began Iowa State University’s accredited bachelor’s program in dietetics. ACEND, The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (a part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) evaluates education programs for careers in nutrition and makes sure they are dietitian approved! It revises its standards based on the ever changing science of nutrition and keeps up with accredited institutions to implement necessary updates. With constantly improving science, it is important that students learn the most up to date information.  

We wouldn’t want dietitians to get out of school and start giving people advice to use Olestra! 


Olestra is a “fake fat” product that once promised fewer calories, but ended up causing more weight gain compared to eating normal fat, along with other health issues. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics ensures that as soon as something like that is discovered, all of their members (all RD/RDN’s) know. A strong education is the basis of a dietitian’s career, and the next step is an intensive multidisciplinary internship. 

dietitian = min. 4 yr degree + grad work, professional internship, passed a national exam. only practice evidence based medical nutrition therapy. No fads. No jokes. Just results.


The national average for obtaining an internship is around 50%. Luckily, Iowa State has a higher placement average, at around 80%. A Dietetic Internship is typically 6-12 months and 40+ hours per week (not including time to study for exams and work on projects). Internships are usually unpaid, and require tuition. They are based in a hospital, but also include several months of supervised practice in community and food service settings. My internship was based out of a hospital in central Iowa. I spent each week there completing graduate coursework related to specific disease states (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, and many more,) and applying what I learned by treating patients in the hospital. Since their diabetes education program had just begun, I was able to help with teaching some of their first classes! Outside of the hospital, I participated in a small group with other interns delivering nutrition counseling virtually through the mobile app, Rise. Clients tracked their food with pictures, and I provided feedback and coaching based on their goals. It was an amazing experience that grew my passion for nutrition counseling and allowed me to co-author my second publication. I also spent time with Iowa State’s Extension and Outreach program, helping deliver cooking classes and group education in the community, helping with a local food bank and research garden, and creating nutrition articles and economical meal plans for the program.

Time at WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), a dialysis center, and the Iowa State Commissary Kitchen (food service management) were other important experiences that rounded out my internship. They are certainly the most nerve-wracking part of any dietitian’s career, but without internships, dietitians would miss out on important experience applying their skills in the real world.   

After completing the internship, a prospective dietitian must pass a national exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (a part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). I decided to take my test about a month after finishing the internship to have plenty of time to study, but not so much that I would get overly stressed about it. I finally earned those letters after my name! After passing the test, a dietitian can claim the title Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), whichever they prefer. Once becoming registered, the dietitian must be licensed by their state in order to practice. Finally, dietitians must submit continued education credits every 5 years to prove they are staying up to date on the ever changing science of nutrition.  

The academy of nutrition and dietetics is encouraging dietitians to claim back the title “nutritionist” by including it in theirs : Registered dietitian nutritionist- rDN

At last, you can do what you love (if nutrition is your thing)! It is a long and difficult process, but it protects the public from receiving incorrect information as well as the integrity of the dietetics profession. Some agencies believe that it has become too time consuming and expensive to legally give nutrition advice, attacking some states for restricting the practice of nutrition therapy to registered dietitians. With so much misinformation out there already, do we really want people who may be unqualified to be giving nutrition advice? Check out the article from The Des Moines Register here: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/editorials/2015/07/08/dietetics-board-warned-act-now-sued-register-editorial/29895291/ and let me know what you think!