Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: Which One Should You Choose for Weight Loss?

by | Jul 5, 2019 | Last updated Sep 14, 2022

Author: Cecilia Snyder, MS, RD

If you’ve ever embarked on your own weight loss journey, or a journey of any kind for that matter, you’ve probably found yourself wondering… who should I talk to about my plans? How do I know which information I can trust, and which information is a bunch of rubbish? Basically, in the beginning, you’ll probably be thinking… am I doing this right?

When it comes to weight loss journeys specifically, you might find yourself turning to experts on the matter to help answer these questions for you. Maybe it’s your physician, a personal trainer, psychologist, nutritionist, or a dietitian. As you decide which types of professionals you want to work with, you might find yourself wondering–what’s the difference between and dietitian and a nutritionist anyway? And which one is better to work with on a weight loss journey? 

Let’s find out…   

What is a nutritionist?

A nutritionist is an expert on the practice of using food and nutrition to maintain health and prevent disease. Nutritionists work in a variety of different settings, everywhere from medical clinics to schools to community health centers, and you might see a variety of different credentials behind their names. These include (but aren’t limited to): 

  • Certified Nutritionist (CN)
  • Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)
  • Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)
  • Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC)
  • Registered Dietitian (RD) 
  • Osteopathic Doctor (OD)
  • Chiropractic Doctor (CD)
  • Naturopathic Doctor (ND)
  • Medical Doctor (MD)
  • Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP)
  • Traditional Naturopathic Practitioner (TNP)
  • Certified Traditional Naturopath (CTN)

Depending on which credential your nutritionist has, they could be more knowledgeable on certain topics and types of nutrition therapy than on others.

In addition, nutrition might not be their only area of expertise, and they could even combine their nutrition practice with another type of health practice as well. 

What is a registered dietitian?

You probably noticed that registered dietitians are listed as one type of nutritionist. This is because, since their areas of expertise is in human nutrition, all dietitians are nutritionists. But on the other hand, that doesn’t mean that all nutritionists are dietitians. Let me explain… 

In order to be credentialed as a registered dietitian, you’ve got to meet a certain set of criteria that includes:

  • Earning a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university and completing a specific set of courses approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 
  • Participating in a supervised practice program that has also been approved by ACEND
  • Passing a national registration examination

However, each type of nutritionist credential, whether it’s a certified nutrition, a naturopathic doctor, or any of the other types of credentialed nutritionists, also likely requires that practitioners meet a similar set of criteria before they can become credentialed. 

So what truly sets dietitians apart from other nutritionists is that, in some states, only dietitians are legally allowed to prescribe certain types of diets or make personalized nutrition recommendations. Plus, the “registered dietitian” credential is legally protected by law. So while only those individuals who have met the set criteria listed above can legally refer to themselves as a dietitian, anyone can refer to themselves as a nutritionist, whether they’ve completed some type of nutrition-related education or not. 

What are the differences between a nutritionist and dietitian?

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.

Should I see a dietitian or nutritionist to lose weight?

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!