Is your nutritionist a dietitian? (Or, When You’re Looking for Eating Advice, Read the Fine Print)
Welcome back to me and you! Apologies for the looong silence. If you’ve noticed my absence (and I’ll pretend you did), you’re probably wondering where I’ve been.
Well, I’ve been living in the hills of San Miniato, Tuscany with Isla where we’ve been spending our days hunting for white Alba truffles (worth $2000 per pound, BTW). During the evenings, Isla’s been brushing up on her potty training while I’ve been brushing up on my Italiano and sipping the most delicious Chianti.
San Miniato, Tuscany sounds insanely lovely
Doesn’t it?! Unfortunately, I haven’t been there at all. I’ve actually been spending my days in the South Bronx, volunteering as a nutrition educator at a health clinic, and spending my nights studying my gluten-free buns off by the din of my laptop. (Isla’s been spending her days avoiding lessons in potty training, while being taken care of by sweet ol’ daddy, a few very wonderful friends, super-lovin’ family members, and an occasional sitter to whom I’m all very, very grateful.)
So what’s all the studying about? I’m en route to becoming a registered dietitian (RD)—and it’s seriously tough stuff! (Well, it’s probably not tough for people capable of solving the double helix or whipping up a test to detect pancreatic cancer, like this 15-year-old; but, for a very average, only slightly-science-minded gal like moi it’s been tough, tough!)
First, I needed to turn my BA into a BS by taking a long list of science-based classes—classes like organic chemistry, anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, biostatistics, food science, microbiology, advanced nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, and more. Plus, I couldn’t just take them anywhere—I had to take them as part of a school program accredited by the Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. In addition, I’ve had to maintain a nearly perfect GPA.
A nearly perfect GPA!
Why a nearly perfect GPA? Well, step number two of becoming an RD is being accepted into a dietetic internship program, which (as I learned subsequent to starting this process) is a highly competitive process. In fact, the word around town is that only half of all applicants get accepted into DI programs each year. In case I haven’t made it abundantly clear,
I’m no overachiever
And a nearly perfect GPA is intense, in my book. However, landing a dietetic internship (DI) is a mandatory part of becoming an RD so getting good grades has been a must-do, too.
Plus, having a good GPA will help me get into the right DI, which is important because I’ll be paying a university, hospital, or private nutrition services company big $$ to give me access to a network of professionals to do 1200 hours of supervised practice under—and I want to make sure they’re an uber smart bunch with lots to teach, right? (And, yes, in case you’re reading between the lines, you’re understanding it right: during the DI, I’ll essentially be paying a pretty penny to work for the better part of a year for free.)
On a positive note, these hours are precious learning time and they’re done in a variety of different nutrition facilities—including clinical (think hospitals and medical clinics), community (schools and government programs), and food service (restaurants and cafeterias)—that I probably wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
After all this, I’ll be eligible to sit for the certification exam that earns the RD credential.
So, in the past few months I’ve managed to put lots and lots of learning under my academic belt (which is getting very tight, by the way!)—and there’s at least 1200 more hours to come.
Why am I subjecting you to this humble brag?
Why? Because, if you’re interested in foods and nutrition and healthy eating (and, I hope you ARE since a poor diet is the leading factor behind six of the top ten causes of death in this country), then you might one day decide to get the advice of professional—and I want to make sure you go to the RIGHT professional, which (surprise!) may not necessarily be a nutritionist.
Did you know that anyone…ANYONE can call him or herself a nutritionist? Yes, ’tis true…
Anyone can call themselves a ‘nutritionist’
Anyone—even Isla—can set-up shop, charge for the services, and give you all kinds of nutrition advice, with no problem whatsoever. That’s because, in most states (as well as countries), there’s no legal definition of the title ‘nutritionist.’ (And, even the few states where there is a legal definition, it’s not usually strictly enforced.)
Your well-meaning nutritionist could very well have never ever taken even one class in nutrition—never mind spent years in a formal, accredited program sanctioned by a national nutrition and dietetics organization, fought for a spot in a program that gave him/her the opportunity to do hundreds of hours of supervised practice, or had to prove his/her stuff by passing an hours-long exam. Nor, have they been earning continuing credits on-the-regular in order to make sure their knowledge is up-to-date with the latest nutritional science (another requirement for all RDs).
Of course, many registered dietitians DO call themselves nutritionists. Though the title with has no official meaning, the public is more familiar with it and, accordingly, it’s commonly used—which means things can get confusing.
To clarify, ALL dietitians can be considered nutritionists and may call themselves such; however, all nutritionists are NOT dietitians. For the reasons I mention above, if you want to make sure you’re getting the most accurate, up-to-date and evidence based nutrition and eating advice, you want to make sure you’re getting it from a dietitian. (A registered dietitian, RD, and registered dietitian nutritionist, RDN, are the same thing, by the way.) If you sign up for a class, pay for counseling, or get your info from a blog, just be sure to read the fine print to confirm that your nutritionist is an RD or RDN.
To find an RD or RDN in your area, you can visit the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and do a search. Since nutrition is vast and complicated, most RDs choose to specialize in certain areas, whether it be weight loss, sports nutrition, heart disease, diabetes, pediatric nutrition, food allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, and many, many others. So, if you have a particular concern, you can search by speciality, too.
Have YOU ever seen a nutritionist or RD? Did your insurance pick up the tab (some do!)? Would you do it again? Want to recommend someone–or need a recommendation yourself? Talk to me, girl!
You can read my article on this topic, How to Eat Well: What you’d learn if you had your own nutrition pro, in ShopSmart magazine’s January 2013 issue.