Maybe a few months back you made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier, or you’ve just gone Paleo, or you’re wondering if cutting carbs can help you manage a health condition. Whatever the catalyst, sometimes we want a little extra help meeting our health and diet goals. Once you make the decision to meet with a pro, though, all the options can be a bit daunting. Do you need to see a dietitian? A nutritionist? A naturopathic doctor? Here’s on the lowdown on who can help with what:
Sometimes called a registered dietitian nutritionist or RDN, RDs have strict educational requirements to meet before they can practice — usually a bachelor’s degree, with coursework that covers everything from nutrition sciences to microbiology. Then, they complete a supervised practice program before they’re officially accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. So, by the time you’re sitting across from them, they’ve had plenty of classroom and on-the-job training. RDs and RDNs have reached the highest level of nutrition counseling.
They’re great for: Tailored-to-you plans and advice. You won’t just get general tips that you can find in a magazine at the nail salon from RDs and RDNs. They’re trained to take everything you tell them about your health history, eating and exercise habits, and goals, and work with you to make a customized plan. They can also help you manage a chronic disease (like diabetes or high blood pressure) through nutrition and address food allergies and sensitivities.
Here’s something you might find surprising — anyone can call themself a nutritionist. The term “nutritionist” isn’t regulated, so you’ll see a wide range in education and experience among those who call themselves a nutritionist. Some certification programs can get you a Certified Nutritionist title in as little as six months! But that’s not to say you can’t get great guidance from a nutritionist — you’ll just want to look carefully at their background.
They’re great for: Similar diet counseling and guidance to what a RD and RDN provides — sometimes. Read reviews and do your research. Look for nutritionists who’ve gotten a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, and ask about their specific education and training.
The big question: is a naturopathic doctor a real doctor? The long answer, from the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians: naturopathic physicians emphasize “prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process. The practice of naturopathic medicine includes modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods.” Shorter answer: no, all NDs are not MDs (though some are!). NDs aren’t required to go to medical school, and keep in mind that only 20 states require that they graduate from accredited four-year residential naturopathic medical programs and pass an examination in order to receive a license or registration.
They’re great for: A holistic approach to your diet goals (though if you’re dealing with a specific illness, you might prefer an ND who’s also an MD). A naturopath will likely take a long-term approach to your diet goals and look at underlying issues that may be in your way, like food allergies, liver function, digestion, heavy metal toxicity, and intestinal imbalances. They might also recommend herbal supplements. If that all jives with you, you can start you search on the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians directory. And, of course, ask plenty of questions about training, education, and approach before committing.