There is so much differing information out there when it comes to nutrition. As a result, it can be hard figuring out the healthiest way to eat. So it makes sense that many people put their dietary futures in the hands of a nutritionist or dietitian. After all, these are food and wellness experts, typically equipped with up-to-date wellness knowledge. Professional guidance can be helpful, particularly in an area like nutrition that feels ever-changing sometimes. But you might find yourself wondering what to expect, or if it’s really a good idea to have someone else tell you what to eat. So, you’ll want to be aware of your specific needs and limitations before scheduling an appointment.
To begin, it’s important to note that there is a difference between a registered dietitian and a nutritionist. “The distinction lies in the many years of schooling and hundreds of clinical hours behind the credentialing that the registered dietitian is obligated to complete in order to be eligible to sit for their board exam,” says Registered Dietitian Lauren Cornell, MS, RD. “This results in a great deal of medical and scientific knowledge of food and nutrition and lots of practical experience, even as a new dietitian.”
On the flip side, depending on the state, any individual can call themselves a nutritionist with no verified experience or knowledge base at any time. There are some nutritionist certification boards that some nutritionists pass. They would refer to themselves as “Certified Nutrition Specialists, or C.N.S.” Nutritionists, of course, can still be incredibly helpful in terms of breaking down the basics of a healthy diet. Be sure to do your research before choosing either type of specialist to figure out which type of expert best aligns with your unique needs.
If you are thinking about hiring a nutritionist or dietitian, you’ll want to be aware of the major pros and cons before going in.
You’ll go beyond fad, or popular, diets.
Just because keto is all the rage on the internet doesn’t mean that your nutritionist or dietitian is going to suggest it to you. Instead, they can help separate fact from fiction. “They are professionals and help people to make sustainable changes,” says Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Mascha Davis MPH, RDN. “Dietitians want you to succeed long-term. They will help you find a diet that works. Because their work is evidence-based, they won’t sell you fad diets and trends.”
They can design personal plans.
Seeing advice online and reading about the experiences of others can be interesting, but what worked for someone else may not work for you body. A dietitian will first consider everything about you and then design a plan that fits all your needs. “Medical nutrition therapy, or nutrition counseling administered by a dietitian, should be based on the individual’s unique biophysical makeup and lifestyle needs,” says Cornell. “This way, you receive personalized care as opposed to blanket-approach nutrition advice obtained from the internet, diet books, and/or nutrition trends that may or may not work for you.”
They can spot nutrient deficiencies.
It’s hard to tell on your own if you are eating a balanced diet. Hiring a nutritionist or dietitian can help you uncover what you may be lacking. “You could be missing some minor nutrients in your daily diet that make a major impact on the way you feel,” says Cornell. “A dietitian is trained to spot these nutrient deficiencies (or toxicities) and help you to correct them with the goal of leaving you feeling your best.”
They can help you develop a healthy relationship with food.
A good dietitian will not only help you figure out what to eat, but they will also help change your relationship with food. “Dietitians—more than any other healthcare professional or nutritionist— understand how to administer nutrition advice in a manner that relaxes the individual’s relationship with food to encourage healthy eating behaviors,” says Cornell. “This takes into account body image, self-confidence, confidence in your own food knowledge, and understanding how food intake supports your daily lifestyle.”
Your diet can feel restrictive.
Hiring a dietary expert might lead you to feel like you’re being restricted at first. This can be detrimental to your health, especially if you’re someone who has struggled with mental health issues in the past. “Sometimes, if the nutrition counseling is not administered in a relaxed fashion or too much emphasis is placed on strict guidelines (which are rarely appropriate), it can cause the patient or individual being counseled to become hyper-focused on their food intake,” says Cornell. “And this may lead to disordered eating behaviors or unnecessary restrictions of certain food groups from their diet.”
Insurance doesn’t always cover it.
Unfortunately, hiring a nutritionist or dietitian can cost you a pretty penny. “Not all insurances cover seeing a dietitian, or they may only cover certain conditions,” says Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Megan Casper, M.S., RDN. “Many insurances are beginning to cover more, so double check before ruling seeing a dietitian out.”
They don’t always tackle underlying issues.
Hiring a nutritionist or dietitian can be helpful when it comes to managing your health issues. However, nutrition doesn’t always take into account the whole picture. “We all know we should probably be eating more chicken and veggies than cheeseburgers and French fries,” says Psychotherapist Dr. Eliza Kingsford. “Just working with a nutritionist often doesn’t address the underlying emotional context for weight issues. Without working on those pieces, more nutrition information is not going to be that useful.”
Finding the right person can be a challenge.
Hiring a nutritionist or dietitian that doesn’t align with your beliefs can feel frustrating. It might even make you feel worse. “Finding a dietitian is almost as hard as finding a therapist,” says Davis. “You might not like the first person you see. But, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep trying.”
It can take some trial and error. Once you find a good fit, hiring a nutritionist or dietitian can ultimately be very beneficial for your health. Take time to map out exactly what you’re hoping to get out your relationship with a wellness professional. From there, prioritize research and consult your network to find someone who aligns with your needs and wants.