What is an RD anyway?

Director of Nutrition Services Mary Dye, MPH, RD, CDN, LD/N shares an informational post about the real difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian and clears up some of the confusion about these two differing titles along the way!

I get asked all the time why I call myself a “Dietitian” if I claim to have a non-diet approach. Why not just say “Nutritionist”? What’s the difference anyway? First off, diet doesn’t have to be a dirty word. All the word actually means is “habitual nourishment.”  

I consider myself an expert in nourishment – studying both how we respond to food and food messages in our culture, and how food works in our bodies. I can also write a pretty stellar medically indicated meal plan. I just refuse to use the word diet in the restricting, shame-cycling, and crave-inducing manner to which people often associate it.

So what’s the difference in the titles various “nutrition experts” use? Pretty significant, actually. About a year ago, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND, which is formerly the American Dietetics Association (ADA)…confused yet!?) felt there was so much public confusion over what is a registered dietitian (RD) and what is a nutritionist that they decided we RD’s could just add an “N” to the end of our credentials and be called registered dietitian nutritionists. In my opinion, it has made things even more confusing but that is why I am trying to clear it all up. It is also why I’ve just been sticking with RD in my own title. The “N” is totally optional at this point.

RD and RDN are interchangeable and both are legally protected titles that can only be used by practitioners authorized by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the AND. Put simply, they are the food and nutrition experts, translating the science of nutrition into practical evidence based solutions for healthy living. The expertise, training, and credentials that back a registered dietitian nutritionist are their defining feature. All RD/RDN’s have taken years of science and nutrition courses. This equips us with the knowledge of the human body, digestion, absorption, and nutrients to prepare us to tackle any food and nourishment issue that comes our way. We then spend a full year in a dietetic internship learning among practicing RD/RDN’s and putting our knowledge to supervised use to prepare us to sit for our national certification exam through the CDR. Once we pass that, we’re ready for a life in the field putting evidence based interventions to use. We are required to keep current with the latest nutrition science and are re-credentialed every five years based on our ongoing learning plans and continuing education, all verified and approved by the CDR.

So, as Dietitians like to say, every RD/RDN is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is a RD/RDN. The title “Nutritionist” in itself is not legally protected or nationally credentialed. Often, a Nutritionist is someone who completes an undergraduate or graduate degree in nutrition and practices in a non-clinical setting. They typically may work as skilled research scientists, life coaches, wellness educators, professors, or food service consultants. Just be aware that some individuals who market themselves as “Nutritionists” have very little or no training in nutrition. You can often spot these individuals promoting or selling things like nutritional supplements and diet books. Before you take any nutrition advice be sure to check out the educational and professional background and training of the individual supplying that advice. In this day and age with so much sensationalized nutrition information and misinformation on the internet it is more important than ever to research the sources.

All of the clinical nutrition services staff at Oliver-Pyatt Centers are highly experienced Registered Dietitian Nutritionists.

For more information about Oliver-Pyatt Centers and newly introduced Embrace, a binge eating recovery program and Clementine, a residential program exclusively for adolescents girls please call 866.511.HEAL (4325), visit our websitesubscribe to our blog, and connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.