Many people ask me what the difference is between a nutritionist and Registered Dietitian (RD). The answer: a big difference! Yet, “nutritionist” and “dietitian” are often used interchangeably. And, even more troublesome is the fact that many people see and pay a nutritionist for services that they should be receiving from a Registered Dietitian! The short answer to the above question is that almost anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. There is no regulation on the term and no education required. For example, a financial consultant could advertise himself as a nutritionist and offer his clients what he thinks is nutritional guidance. But, in reality, he has received no training to do so. Conversely, a Registered Dietitian has attended an accredited university and received an accredited degree from that university in nutrition and dietetics, has completed an accredited dietetic internship (a shorter, less intense type of medical residency) that is usually one year long, and has passed the Registered Dietitian exam after completion of the internship. In addition, a Registered Dietitian must complete 75 approved continuing education credits every five years to retain his/her license. There is no such requirement for a nutritionist.
So, while I may call myself a nutritionist, due to the fact that the term is more well-understood than “dietitian”, I always make sure my clients understand the difference between the two. I do this because I want my clients to see someone who can provide accurate, valid nutritional guidance.
And with that in mind, to ring in 2013, I’ve developed a list of the top 10 reasons someone should see a RD. Keep in mind, these are just 10 reasons. Ideally, everyone should have a RD that they trust and can see regularly as a part of their health maintenance routine–like seeing your PCP. Seeing a RD before a more serious situation develops is much easier and cheaper to maintain than the alternative!
1. You have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or high blood pressure. Food impacts our blood sugar levels, heart, arteries, and veins. Seeing a RD may help lower your numbers, strengthen your heart, and prevent heart attack and stroke.
2. You have digestive problems and/or food allergies. Our digestive tract responds to everything we put in our mouth. And often, this response is inflammatory, meaning our tract does not accept whatever we ate. The reason for this varies from person to person, and a RD can help you determine the foods you’re reacting to and develop a menu plan to ensure your’re receiving adequate nutrients while avoiding the foods you react to.
3. You need to lose or gain weight. We all know that there are hundreds of fad diets promising fast, drastic weight loss in as little as a few weeks. And we all know these diets often fall short of their lofty promises. A RD has been trained in healthy, safe, effective, lasting weight loss strategies to ensure that you can reach your healthy weight goal for good!
4. You want to maintain or improve your sports/fitness performance. Nutrition is what fuels performance–sports and otherwise. A RD can determine how many calories you burn during workouts and rest, and then develop menu plans that address your active nutrient needs to ensure optimal performance and recovery.
5. You are thinking about gastric bypass or other bariatric surgery. There are many physical and psychological repercussions of bariatric surgery: much less food mass, frequent feedings, fluid and food timing, etc. A RD is trained in developing meal plans for bariatric surgery patients, pre- and post-procedure.
6. You are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant. A developing person in the womb should be reason enough to incentivize pregnant or pre-pregnant women to start eating healthier. RDs know what nutrients women need during different life cycles and can help develop a plan to ensure you and your baby receive the nutrients you need for maternal health and strong fetal development.
7. You are simply getting older, and your nutrient needs are changing. As we age, nutrient absorption in our digestive tract decreases, and our need for certain nutrients goes up. This can create severe deficiencies if left unattended. Seeing a RD can help you address your changing needs and replenish your nutrient stores for better energy and health as you age.
8. You are diagnosed with a chronic disease. Many people don’t give nutrition enough credit for its power in supporting the body during chronic illnesses. These illnesses can include heart disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, respiratory diseases, etc. There are a plethora of drugs available for the management of disease, but what is often overlooked is nutrition’s role in helping to make these diseases more manageable, and perhaps slow down their progression.
9. You simply want to eat better. Maybe you haven’t developed a disease, but your eating habits could use some improvement. A RD can help you develop an eating plan that works for you to break bad eating habits, overcome cravings, and even improve the taste of “healthy foods” (aka fruits and veggies).
10. This is my favorite reason (I mentioned it above): You want to maintain your good health and eating habits. I really believe in this. It’s common for most of us to avoid the doctor until we have developed some illness that requires swift action. What if we approached medical treatment more as prevention, and saw a RD regularly as a part of our health maintenance routine? The most successful patients are the patients who take their health and eating habits seriously before something life-altering develops. This may mean seeing a RD once per month, or even every other month. Simply discussing any unhealthy habits that have crept up or any minor adjustments that are needed can prevent something more serious from developing later on (i.e. chronic high fat intake that leads to cardiovascular disease). How’s that for saving thousands of dollars and hours of headaches for more intensive medical treatment later? Now, I will offer a disclaimer here and say that some people who monitor their eating habits religiously still develop problems down the road. However, these health-conscious people often detect problems earlier on in their development, which increases the chances of successful treatment. I would encourage you to find a RD in your area and/or in your insurance network (make sure you look for the RD credential–often under the medical specialist category on insurance sites) and begin scheduling regular appointments for maintenance of health. It may even make the difference between living until 75 and living healthfully until 85.
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic (or acute) disease, or you simply want to improve/maintain your health, a RD has the training, knowledge, and expertise to safely guide you to meet your goals. If you stick to one resolution in 2013, commit to making regular appointments with a dietitian. You and your doctor will be happy with the results.