General Nutrition

Am I ready to work with a nutritionist?

January 26, 2024

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • Registered dietitians are the most qualified nutrition professionals to offer dietary guidance. 
  • Working with an RD requires a willingness to commit to the process – there are certain indications to know if you’re ready to do the work.
  • Your RD is your trusted partner throughout your health journey.

What does a nutritionist do?

These days, it can seem like there are “nutrition experts” everywhere. Social media is full of people talking about wellness, health hacks, and all the latest trends. It can feel impossible to know what’s accurate and to know to whom you should listen.

Registered dietitian nutritionists offer evidence-based dietary guidance for various health conditions. They are healthcare professionals who create clinical nutrition plans for clients based on their goals and health concerns, be it disease management, weight loss, meal plans, and more.

RDs aren’t just well-educated – they are experts in nutrition. They are always up-to-date on the latest nutrition research and can provide proven dietary guidance. They can also teach you how to continue your nutrition education for yourself so you can avoid falling for more clickbait content.

Working with a dietitian isn’t just about a diet; it’s so much more than that. RDs are here to educate you on how to care for yourself. They can help you make better food choices, feel more confident grocery shopping, identify your key health markers, and track your progress in whatever way is meaningful to you.

Safety and education are cornerstones in dietitians’ work. They are there to ensure you eat right for your needs and that you feel confident in your food choices. Misinformed nutrition guidance can cause serious harm to your health, so it’s important to work with a qualified professional, like a dietitian.

Registered dietitian vs. nutritionist

Registered dietitians (sometimes written as dietician) and nutritionists are not the same – they have different qualifications and educational backgrounds. Registered dietitian is a protected title, which means only those with the qualifications can use it.

RDs and RDNs (registered dietitian nutritionists) must meet the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s (CDR) requirements, which include a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, a minimum of 1,200 hours in supervised practice, and passing the CDR’s national exam. RDs must renew their license every year and maintain continuing education requirements too.

RDs are also the only providers who can offer medical nutrition therapy (MNT). This means they are qualified to offer nutritional treatment for particular diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and kidney disease.

Nutritionist is not a protected label, therefore anyone can claim it regardless of their background. This means someone self-taught in nutrition could advertise themself as a nutritionist (requirements vary by state). Many nutritionists act more like health coaches.

The bottom line: registered dietitians are the most qualified nutrition providers.

What can a nutritionist do for me?

Dietitians are qualified to offer a number of clinical nutrition services. Some of them specialize in particular areas while others offer general nutrition coaching. RDs and RDNs can help with:

  • Weight loss and obesity
  • Eating disorders
  • Diabetes management
  • Menopause, including menopause weight gain
  • Healthy eating habits
  • Blood pressure
  • Chronic dieting
  • Chronic illness
  • Food allergies or intolerances
  • Gut health

Some dietitians work in private practices, independently, within a hospital or clinical setting, or in public health. Regardless of the setting, all dietitians work one-on-one with their clients and design a custom plan based on your health, medical conditions, and personal goals.

How to know if you’re ready to work with a dietitian

Maybe you’ve been thinking about working with a dietitian for a long time but you aren’t sure if you’re ready. After all, working with a dietitian usually involves a commitment for at least a few months to see real changes – and an emotional commitment to do the work and achieve your goals.

Here are some ways to answer the question: “Am I ready to work with a nutritionist?”

  • You want to make behavioral changes. If you’ve struggled with overeating or emotional eating, or otherwise find that food impacts your mental health, a dietitian can help. They can help identify the root cause of these habits and teach you how to retrain your compulsions to live a healthier, happier life with a better relationship with food.
  • You want to make better and smarter food choices. You don’t need to have a particular diagnosis to want to improve your overall health. If you’d like to make healthier food choices but aren’t sure where to start, an RD can help. They can provide evidence-based guidance to help you adopt healthier habits – and stick to them.
  • You want to learn about sustainable weight management. If you’re tired of yo-yo dieting and are ready to commit to long-term lifestyle changes, a registered dietitian is a great advisor to whom you can turn. Sustainable weight loss might be difficult, but it’s not impossible, and your RD can share all their tips and tricks for healthy weight management.
  • You want to heal from an eating disorder. Due to the emotional nature of eating disorders, it can be difficult to commit to healing. But when you’re ready, an RD is an expert in the field. As nutrition professionals, they have clinical experience in helping people through ED recovery to find a healthier, happier way of life.
  • You have a new or existing diagnosis that needs medical nutrition therapy. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, or another metabolic condition, or if you’ve been struggling with the diagnosis, an RD can help. Diet plays a significant role in disease management and can make a notable difference in quality of life.

What should I expect for my first appointment with a nutritionist?

When you work with an RD, you will start with an initial intake. During this appointment, you will go through your current dietary habits and overall lifestyle, including your physical activity levels. You will share your medical history and raise whatever health concerns you have that you think might be helped by a certified nutrition specialist.

You will then work with your RD to establish goals for your work together. Your provider will share their perspective on what will be most useful for you and what you should prioritize based on your own objectives and their professional opinion. Your RD may work with the rest of your healthcare team for a holistic approach.

From there, the RD will create your custom nutrition plan and the work will begin. Working with a dietitian looks different for everyone – it’s not just a meal plan. RDNs have a wealth of knowledge about all things food and are there to offer nutrition coaching and education. They can help you change your habits, make healthier choices, and work towards your health goals.

How to find a dietitian near you

Think you’re ready to work with an RD? Get started with Fay Nutrition: Fay pairs you with a board-certified dietitian covered by your insurance. You can filter by specialty, too, so that you can find someone who focuses on your area of concern. This means you can work with a qualified nutrition counselor in your network for as little as $0 per session.

Click here to get started with Fay today.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.

  • Healthline - What Is Medical Nutrition Therapy? All You Need to Know
  • National Association of Nutrition Professionals - Title Protection States
  • Nutrients - The Role of Nutrition in Chronic Disease

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Maeve Ginsberg

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Maeve Ginsberg is a health and wellness writer with a personal passion for fitness. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former powerlifter, she loves combining her interests in health with her writing. Maeve has a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.