Do you need a Nutrition Coach, Nutritionist or Dietitian?

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Not sure of the difference between a Nutrition Coach, Nutritionist or Dietitian?

Here's how to find the right practitioner for you...

There are several different professionals who help people with food and diet, but the terms Nutrition Coach, Nutritionist or Dietitian are not interchangeable. To help you determine which kind of nutrition expert you need, let’s break down the differences.

Nutritionist or Dietitian?

nutritionist or dietitian

These two terms or are often confused as being the same, but this is not the case.

Registered Dietitians (RDs) have completed a four-year degree program along with hundreds of hours on placement and typically practice in a clinical setting. This qualifies RDs to offer Medical Nutritional Therapy (MNT), treating medical conditions via dietary intervention. Dietitians are regulated health professionals, much like Medical Doctors (MDs), and as such fall under the umbrella of conventional health care (i.e., once you are diagnosed with a disease like diabetes, you will then be referred to a RD for treatment).

The term Nutritionist on the other hand is more of a blanket term and is not protected under the law nor is it regulated by the government in many places (including Ontario). In most places, anyone can call themselves a Nutritionist, from a thoroughly-educated Dietitian to an internet-informed teenager. Should you decide to put your health in the hands of a Nutritionist, please be sure to first check their educational background.

Please note: Only RDs can prescribe diets or supplements to treat the symptoms and/or causes of medical conditions. Registered Dietitians are the only nutrition professionals who can diagnose medical conditions.

Verdict: If you have an illness that can be treated and/or improved via dietary intervention (i.e., diabetes), a Registered Dietitian is the practitioner for you.

Nutrition Coach or Nutritionist?

This is where things get confusing and exemplifies the great deal of ambiguity in the field of health & fitness: While the difference between Nutritionist or Dietitian is a matter of government regulation, absolutely anyone can label themselves as a Nutritionist or Nutrition Coach. Much like a gym can hire someone off the street and label them a Personal Trainer, you can hire Joe Blow tomorrow as your Nutritionist. This isn’t to cut down anyone who calls themselves a Nutritionist or Nutrition Coach, but it demonstrates the importance of checking the background and credentials of any such professionals.

Nutritionists and Nutrition Coaches are actually very important practitioners in today’s health landscape as they, along with personal trainers, are leaders in preventative medicine. Without learning to eat properly and move well, most people will inevitably be diagnosed with a disease or disorder and be referred to an MD or RD for treatment. With the help of a nutrition expert however, situations like this can be avoided by prioritizing health before it’s too late.

Verdict: A Dietitian can be a Nutritionist, but Nutritionists and Nutrition Coaches cannot be Dietitians. Nutritionists and Nutrition Coaches are on the front lines of preventative medicine.

Who is qualified to be a Nutritionist or Nutrition Coach?

If you need help with your diet, seeking out a nutrition expert is the right decision. With that being said, you want to make sure you work with a qualified and competent professional. Here are some of the top Nutrition Certifications to look for:

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Pn1 & Pn2 (Precision Nutrition) – The industry leaders in Nutrition Coaching based on human psychology and behavior-change, PN offers both Level 1 and Level 2 certifications. At this point in time, the Pn1 certification should be held by any health professional who truly wants to help their clients stay compliant with their health and fitness process (i.e. personal trainers). The Pn2 certification on the other hand is far more in-depth and should absolutely be on the resume of any Nutrition Coach.

CNS (Certified Nutrition Specialist) – In order to gain your CNS, you must first have a Master’s degree or doctorate in nutrition or a related field (ND, nursing, etc.) If you choose a Nutritionist with this certification, you can be confident that they have had extensive education in the field.

CCN (Certified Clinical Nutritionist) – Individuals with this accreditation have either completed a 900-hour placement, a post-graduate study in clinical nutrition, or hold a Master’s degree in human nutrition. Much like those with a CNS, these are highly-educated individuals and should have a wealth of knowledge from the field of nutrition.

Outside of these 3 certifications, there countless other acronyms that you may find next to someone’s name, but at the end of the day you have to look well beyond education and certifications to find the right person to help you with your nutrition and health.

Any reputable Nutrition Coach will have:

  • Both formal nutrition education and experience in the field

  • Readily-available testimonials and success stories

  • An unbiased approach to health and fitness (quality coaches don't just put you on "Diet X")

  • A clear roadmap on how they can help you as an individual for your unique circumstances

Working with a Nutrition Coach is about trusting someone to lead you down the path to better health, so when you find a coach who checks all the boxes and makes you feel confident, you're know in the right place.

In summary:

Dietitians work in a clinical setting and generally help people who have already been diagnosed with a medical condition or chronic disease.

Nutritionists and Nutrition Coaches help people improve their health and fitness in order to prevent obesity and chronic disease.

If you’re still searching for answers, read more about what a Nutrition Coach can do for you.

Follow Dain Wallis:

Nutrition Coach

Dain Wallis is a Nutrition Coach from Toronto, Canada and a published writer for several media outlets including Bodybuilding.com and The Huffington Post. An expert in nutrition and change management, Dain's mandate is to educate his clients while empowering them to make sustainable changes reflective of their individual goals and aspirations. An avid strength athlete, Dain is also currently the 5th strongest lightweight man in the world.