Get to Know Your Nutritionist or Dietitian

Get to Know Your Nutritionist or Dietitian

The Pros Who Can Help You Achieve Health Harmony Through the Power of Thoughtful Nutrition

Whether as part of your presurgery or recovery plan—or perhaps just on your own as you work to form healthy habits—chances are you may end up working with a nutritionist or dietician at some point in your lifetime. To help you on your quest for health harmony, then, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about these two important professionals and the game-changing role they can play in your wellness journey. 

What does a nutritionist do?

A nutritionist is an expert in—you guessed it!—nutrition and food, especially as it relates to managing health issues. He or she can help with a number of nutrition-based tasks, including:

  • Helping you choose the right things to eat for your distinct needs
  • Helping you manage disease using food and nutrition
  • Developing a custom diet based on your health history, risk factors, and distinct recovery needs
  • Helping you plan meals
  • Helping you understand the benefits and drawbacks of certain foods
  • Working with a doctor to diagnose any allergies or intolerances you may have
  • Working with your doctor or other healthcare professionals to understand your health history and nutritional needs

Is there a difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?

While these titles are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two in the United States, and it has to do with education and government regulation. As long as a nutritionist isn’t using the title “registered dietitian” or “dietitian”, she can legally practice without government regulation. A dietitian on the other hand, needs to be registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) in order to use the title “Dietitian” or “Registered Dietitian”.

Another way to look at it is this: Every Registered Dietitian (RD) is a nutritionist—but not every nutritionist is a Registered Dietitian. 

  • If you’re simply working with someone on your own to develop clean eating habits, you might be working with a nutritionist. 
  • If you’re working with a professional as part of your healthcare team, you’re likely working with a Registered Dietitian or Clinical Dietitian (who, by nature of the job and their educational background, is also a nutritionist).

What can I expect from my dietitian?

A dietitian will help you understand which foods to eat and which foods to avoid to help you achieve a specific health-related goal. Her advice will vary from patient to patient, as it will take into account your specific goals, risk factors, and health history.

When might seeing a Registered Dietitian be a necessary part of my surgery, recovery, or overall health plan?

  • You’ve been told to lose weight before surgery
  • You’re managing heart disease
  • You’re struggling with allergies or intolerance
  • You’re managing heartburn or acid reflux
  • You’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol
  • You’re prone to stress fractures and/or bone-density problems
  • You’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant

What should I share with—and ask— my dietician or nutritionist?

  • Share:
    • Clearly explain your health history, including family health history
    • Share any medications and/or supplements you’re taking
    • Share any digestion issues you’re experiencing (stomach cramping after eating, irregularity, etc.)
    • Share any budget concerns—eating healthy can often be expensive, so if sticking to a tight grocery budget is important for you, let your nutritionist know this
    • Share your health goals! (What are expecting to get out of your nutrition plan?)
  • Ask:
    • What next steps you can expect
    • What you can do to make his or her work the most effective
    • If you have accessibility concerns (i.e. you live in a rural area where sourcing organic almond milk isn’t exactly easy), ask how you can best stick to their recommendations in a way that makes sense for you and your lifestyle
    • Ask about what items are important to buy organic
    • Ask about timing—should you eat certain things earlier in the day and others later? Will their recommendations change based on the season?
    • Ask about eating out—if you’re someone who loves to dine out, find out which options in your area offer the best items for your specific diet plan. Ask about which menu items to look for and which to avoid.
    • Any nutrition-related questions you have! Whether you’re concerned dairy is giving you a stomach ache or are curious about the idea of eating for your blood type, a dietitian or nutritionist will be more than happy to address any food-related questions.

Want even more insightful wellness tips? Browse the rest of the MendWell blog for empowering patient information, helpful nutrition advice, and pro pre-surgery tips.