The Difference between a “Registered Dietitian” and a “Nutritionist”

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What’s the difference?

I never knew what a “Registered Dietitian” was. When I heard it the first time, I thought it was silly because most people are more comfortable and familiar with the title “nutritionist.” But as I am approaching my Registered Dietitian (RD) credential exam this summer, I realize that there are drastic differences between a RD and a nutritionist.

To become a RD, I have to receive at least a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition/Dietetics, finish a mandatory year-long internship (which includes extensive clinical experience), take a credential exam, and maintain yearly continuing education. RDs are regulated by a national organization, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). To contrast, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist as it is not regulated by anyone. You can even get a nutrition certificate for $50 online and you’ll be a nutrition expert! (sarcasm)

So, why didn’t I just pay $50 and save myself 4.5 years of further education? It’s because they are not the same! The breadth of scientific knowledge required to become a RD is ridiculously vast because RDs use evidence-based research to make nutritional recommendations. RDs mainly work in hospitals as an integral part of interdisciplinary teams of pharmacists, doctors, speech therapists, registered nurses, etc to provide the best care for hospital patients. It requires that extensive science background to make solid healing recommendations. All those general chemistry, anatomy, physiology, organic chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry, advanced nutrition, and medical nutrition therapy classes are crammed in my brain because THEY HAVE TO BE! I want to work in wellness and those individualized recommendation for each client is based on scientific and evidence-based research.

Many online-certified nutritionists generally just give a blanket meal plan or push supplements only because that is what they do themselves; there is no individualized counseling for client. I see other personal trainiers nutritionists pushing fat-burning pills or giving their clients a standardized meal plan just to make a quick buck. I feel like it’s cheating the general population and feeding into the social demand for quick results now without properly making positive lifestyle changes. I’m fighting to change that status quo. I’m trying to teach and empower everyone to make positive nutritional/fitness changes in their lives because I believe that nutrition and exercise can improve the quality of daily life and prevent chronic disease, not just make you skinnier or buffer.

When I quit my job to go back to school for Nutrition/Dietetics, I could not wait to be done. Now that I’m a few months away from finishing my Dietetic Internship and taking my RD exam to become a Registered Dietitian, I am even more overjoyed by the endless possibilities to come. I am so excited by how I can contribute to making the world a better place, one person at a time. Watch out, world! Here I come!

Thank you for reading my fitness and nutrition blog and taking an active role in improving your lives.

Thomas Ngo
Dietetic Intern
NASM Certified Personal Trainer


Fun Fact: The AND just announced that they will allow an optional credential title to be a RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) vs the standard RD (Registered Dietitian). I appreciate their efforts to broaden the brand of the RD but RDN is a bit redundant. I think elevating the quality of our brand of RD makes a stronger stamp on who we are and what we do as a profession, which is more important than a name change. Substance > Form.



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