Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What’s The Difference?
Aug 14 2017

Dietitian vs. Nutritionist: What’s The Difference?

VIDA Nutritionist and Dietitian Addie ClaireBy: VIDA Registered Dietitian Addie Merletti 

Dietitian, Nutritionist, whatever..

It’s like the square/rectangle concept we learned in elementary school. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. That’s enough geometry, but it works for dietitians and nutritionists too. All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. Why does it matter? It may not to you, but here is what’s required to become a Registered Dietitian:



1. Complete the undergraduate & graduate level coursework required by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics

2. Receive a match for a ACEND- accredited Dietetic Internship

3. Complete the ~1200 hour internship with rotations throughout the hospital, food service and in the community (mine was in the athletics department at Notre Dame!)

4. Pass the RD exam and become a Registered Dietitian!


Here is what’s required to become a nutritionist:

  1. Possibly take a course or read a book/article about nutrition
  2. Begin calling himself or herself a nutritionist!


This is not to say that a nutritionist cannot help you reach your goals! Many of them have undergraduate degrees in nutrition. However, the clinical experience gleaned in the dietetic internship is unparalleled and something I use every day in my practice. An example would be a client who is attempting to gain muscle who has a history of an absorption issue. This person cannot simply follow a traditional “bulking” diet, as they will have serious GI distress and also not successfully gain anything but water. Whether or not you have an underlying clinical condition, it is important to know the educational background of the person giving you nutrition advice.

It is also important to note that unlike Virginia, Washington DC has a Licensure with Exclusive Scope of Practice law. This law licenses dietitians and nutritionists. Only a licensed dietitian or a licensed nutritionist can provide nutrition care including: assessment, goal setting, counseling, or advice. DC statutes include an explicitly defined scope of practice, and performance of the profession is illegal without first obtaining a license from the state. This is a way for the DC board of health to ensure those practicing have the proper education and credentials to be dispensing advice, and are doing so according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Code of Ethics. This ensures evidence-based practice instead of bro-science and results that last rather than pass after a few weeks!

Why should you care? The same reason you would be concerned if your trainer had not passed the CPT exam, or if your dermatologist has not passed his boards, or if your pharmacist had read a book about medicine but didn’t want to take all the time and money to go to pharmacy school. Any of those individuals could be very competent at their job, but it is important to consider the source when making the important decision of what you’re going to use to fuel your body!

Want to schedule a nutrition consultation and analysis with Addie? Check out our Nutrition services or email her at to discover how she can help you make healthier choices that fit your lifestyle!