What is a Registered Dietitian?

I get asked this question a lot. What is a registered dietitian? What’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

A registered dietitian (RD) is a food and nutrition expert. You may also see registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). This is the same thing and these terms can be used interchangeably. To be an RD, you must have a bachelor’s degree in nutrition. Then you must complete an accredited dietetic internship. The internship is 1200 of supervised practice in Clinical Nutrition, Community Nutrition, and Food Service Management. Each program may have a different focus or specialization, but all programs must provide a minimum number of hours in each category. Once you have completed the internship, you are eligible to sit for the RD exam. It is a hard test. It contains everything you have learned over the course of 5 or 6 years. If you pass this exam, you may now use the credential RD. Many states have license laws. This means you must also carry a license to practice. You must be an RD and maintain continuing education credits to have a license. Soon, dietitians will also be required to have a Master’s degree in Nutrition. (You can read more about how to become an RD at eatright.org)

A nutritionist means nothing. There is no standard for what that means. Someone who claims to be a nutritionist may have taken a certification course or had no education in nutrition at all. Literally anyone can call themselves nutritionist.

If it takes all that work to become a registered dietitian and little to no effort to be a nutritionist, why become a dietitian? Glad you asked.

  1. To ensure you are qualified to give nutrition advice. Would you hire a lawyer who didn’t go to law school? Even if he had a certification? Keep in mind personal experiences do not count as qualifications. I have had abdominal surgery. But I have no business performing surgery on anyone.
  2. You have little or no job opportunity. Most states will require that RD to have a job in anything nutrition related. Check with your state to ensure. Here in Alabama, you can work at WIC and that is it. Practicing nutrition without a license is considered illegal and charges can be brought against you.
  3. If you are passionate about nutrition, please go live up to your potential. Dietitians are all passionate about different aspects of nutrition, and we need more people with more passion in this world. Don’t sell yourself short by cutting corners.

Becoming an RD is a lot of hard work and struggle. It was 100% worth it. If you are an aspiring #rd2be, study hard. It’s a great profession.


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