What Exactly IS a Dietitian, Anyway?

Have you worked hard to get to where you are in your career? School, internship, practical experience, continuing education? Do people understand what your job entails on a day-to-day basis? Or do you sometimes feel like Rodney Dangerfield when he said “I don’t get no respect!”?

When people find out I’m a dietitian I tend to get the “usual” questions or comments about what I eat or feed my family, and what I think about the most recent hot topic in the news. And every once in a while someone asks what the difference is between a dietitian and a nutritionist, giving me the opportunity to clear up some confusion around those titles. But this morning, at my triathlon training session, when one of the participants found out I was a dietitian, she asked me what kind of diet I promoted. Seeking clarification to the question, I asked “do you mean what is my area of expertise?” No, she wanted to know if I believed in the “standard American diet” because she does not and she thought about getting her nutrition certification but ultimately chose not to because, in Illinois, the licensure laws would limit what she could do with that certificate.

Well thank goodness for that. Not just anyone can dole out nutrition advice. Just because everyone eats does not mean everyone is an expert in food. I expect my doctor to have a certain amount of education, experience and expertise from accredited schools and programs. I expect my dentist to as well.  I expect my lawyer and my accountant to also have met certain standards that are appropriate for those industries.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Dietitians R NOT the Food Police. We are more like coaches than referees! ” user=”MelissaJoyRD” hashtags=”NationalNutritionMonth”]I told her that she could go through the proper educational and experiential routes and become a dietitian. I also told her that licensure laws are not meant to limit people from practicing nutrition, they’re meant to limit people who are not qualified from practicing nutrition.

I’ll get more into the “standard American diet” (or S.A.D.) on a future post, but suffice it to say that no, I don’t promote that diet, and yes, what many people eat day to day is “sad” and that’s why I’m a “Dietitian Enthusiast” and support all my amazing colleagues who are out there working hard every day helping the public live healthier lives through better nutrition.

For an excellent explanation about the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist, check out this post by Elana Natker, MS, RD.

To learn more about the great work some of my dietitian colleagues are doing, check out the Directory of Interviews here.

To learn more about what type of “diet” I DO promote, check out My Guilt-Free RD Philosophy (Hakuna Matata)!



  1. Barbara BAron, MS,RDN on September 9, 2014 at 1:18 am

    Melissa, Well said!

  2. admin on September 9, 2014 at 2:15 am

    Thanks, Barbara! I had seen what Elana wrote before and then I finally had the inspiration to post 🙂

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