Whether you’re trying to lose weight, improve your skin, or have more energy, working one-on-one with a dietitian is a wonderful way to support your health goals. But as not everyone has had the chance to visit one, it appears that the general population has many looming questions about dietitians and their credentials.
To explain all about who dietitians are and what they do, here is HUM’s Director of Education, registered dietitian Sarah Greenfield, RD, CSSD to answer the most commonly googled questions about dietitians. (Looking for questions to ask a dietitian? We’ve got you covered here.)
Dietitian Q&A with Sarah Greenfield, RDN
What does a registered dietitian do?
A dietitian, in my opinion, is primarily a health educator. They help people connect to a healthier lifestyle, giving them the tips they need to make a transformation.
What’s the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?
This is one of my favorite questions about dietitians. I answer it a lot.
Basically, it’s an education difference. A nutritionist can really be anybody. There’s not a specific certification that needs to be in place to call yourself a nutritionist. A dietitian, on the other hand, has to go through an accredited program and then take a nationwide exam through a company called the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Once you pass that exam, then you can call yourself a dietitian.
Something that can be kind of confusing is that registered dietitians are now also called RDNs or registered dietitian nutritionists. So, you want to make sure that you understand the difference between the two. Don’t get me wrong, nutritionists are great. I don’t want to discredit someone who is a nutritionist, but a dietitian goes through a much more rigorous training than a nutritionist.
How do you become a dietitian and how long does it take?
All in all, becoming a dietitian is about a five-year process. I did a four-year Bachelor of Science program in Nutrition. Then, after I got my degree, I was able to apply for a dietetic internship at a hospital which took another year to complete.
What skills do you need to be a dietitian?
In my opinion, the skills that you need to be a dietitian are:
- a passion for nutrition
- being able to communicate effectively
- a general love for people
Ultimately, my job is to help people feel empowered in their health instead of defeated by it.
Can dietitians prescribe supplements?
Yes, dietitians can absolutely create a supplement plan for you. Prescriptions are really more for medications and while a dietitian cannot prescribe medications to you, they can one hundred percent put together a supplement protocol for you.
How can a dietitian help me?
Depending on what you need, a dietitian can help you in many different ways. In my practice, I help people with digestive issues, figure out what food sensitivities they might have, identify where they can make changes to their lifestyle, give them tips to improve digestion or sleep better, and more. It’s really about understanding you as a person, what you need, and then creating a plan and a way for you to hit those goals.
Should I see a dietitian to lose weight?
Yes! A dietitian is the most qualified person to help you with a weight loss journey. Weight loss is a big, big concept. It’s not just about decreasing your calories and exercising more. There’s a lot of emotional things that come up and belief systems that we have in place. A dietitian can help you navigate the food piece, and the movement piece––but also the emotional side. They can connect you with tools that can help you navigate weight loss in a completely different way.
What do dietitians wear?
It depends! In a hospital, dietitians have to wear close-toed shoes and a lab coat. If you’re in your own practice or a corporate setting, you can pretty much wear whatever you want as long as you look put together. You probably don’t want to wear a bathing suit, or a onesie, or pajamas… But barring that, dietitians wear anything that we feel good in.
What are some questions you can ask a dietitian?
You can (and should) ask a dietitian any and everything! Seriously. In my personal practice, I talk a lot about poop. So people ask me, “Why does my poop smell?” or “What should my poop look like?” Those are all welcome questions that I appreciate.
At HUM Nutrition, we pair our customers with dietitians to help advise on your journey to better health. People ask them any number of questions, for example:
- “Is my breakfast balanced and healthy?”
- “What are some good snack options?”
- “What type of nut milk should I use in my morning latte?”
- “Am I sleeping enough throughout the night?”
They can answer all of these questions and are a really great resource on your journey to better health. The most important thing is feeling comfortable with the person you’re working with and really, any question is a good question. It’s only going to give more clarity to your situation and goals.
What do dietitians eat?
I always say that dietitians are people, too! As a dietitian, people sometimes look at me and they’re like, “Oh my god, you’re eating that piece of cake!” But I’m a human, I have a sweet tooth. So for me, I try and get more vegetables and balance in my meals as much as possible, but I also don’t limit myself. If you’re curious for specifics, you can check out my food diary of everything I ate in a day.
Are dietitians worth it?
Hell yeah! If you can find a really great dietitian that you connect with, it’s the best investment that you can make in yourself. It’s going to give you so much clarity. Trying to navigate the nutrition world on your own is completely overwhelming. You will get different information depending on where you look. And sometimes, you need a personalized approach and a qualified sounding board. Working with a dietitian is the best.
Have more questions about dietitians? Connect with a HUM dietitian of your own to ask all your questions to when you take this three-minute quiz.