I’ve tried to write this post about what I call the Nutrition Expert Epidemic so many times. In fact, there are a few drafts sitting on the backend of my website. Some are blank, some have a few lines, but all are incomplete. I’ve been nervous to write such a thing in fear that I will hurt someone’s feelings. Well, if you’ve been following along, then you know I’m working on that and while I’m not here to hurt anyone’s feelings I am here to educate, empower, and entertain.
This is one of those posts where I want to educate and empower you as the expert/clinician and you as the client/patient. The door swings both ways in the health and nutrition field, so no matter which side you are on (or maybe you’re on both), I want you to feel like you have all the tools to make the right decision as it pertains to your health and the health of others.
Let me start by saying this is not a post to bash non-dietitians. Here’s the thing, there are bad dietitians as there are bad hairdressers, dentists, mechanics, masseuses, etc. And bad is a relative term, maybe it’s not that they are bad but that they don’t serve you in the manner that you need or want. So while I am a dietitian and I love the profession, I am admitting that not all dietitians are created equally.
That being said, what makes someone a “nutrition expert” anyway? It would be easy to say that you have to be a Registered Dietitian, drop the mic, hit publish and walk away. The thing is, it’s not so cut and dry and not so black and white. There are MANY nutrition experts out there that have different titles, certifications, credentials, etc. On the flip side, there are also many so-called “nutrition experts” that are anything but, so buyer beware.
We live in a day and age where anyone and I mean ANYONE can call themselves a nutritionist or a health coach. You don’t need much but a google search and maybe a credit card to get yourself some YouTube videos, online forums, and the guts to call yourself a nutritionist. It’s that easy. That means that the waters are muddied and it can be hard to tell what is good information vs. not-so-good-or-credible information. So let’s dig deeper.
I’m not hating on you for calling yourself a nutritionist. What I’m hating on is the lack of knowing what you don’t know. Take for instance me and my practice, I do not accept treating a person with an active eating disorder. Am I qualified to see that patient? Absolutely. Will I? Absolutely not.
Why? Because as far as I’m concerned it’s out of my scope of practice. It is not my specialty, I am not comfortable handling the patient AND that patient needs more than just an RD, they need an entire treatment team. Some of the best practitioners I know are those that know what they don’t know and know what they are not good at. It takes time, experience, education, and humility to conquer this, not to mention you must continually work on it.
So if you are claiming you are a nutritionist, which is fine, please consider the following:
- Know what you don’t know and be okay referring out. There is no weakness in gaining help from others, in fact, it gains you the trust of your client and the trust/respect from other practitioners.
- Know your scope of practice. Know what your credentials allow you to do and not to do, and stay within those lines. Even if a state doesn’t limit you from practicing, know what your credentials are meant for, end of story.
- Recognize that what works for you may not work for others. It’s not your place to project your diet onto others unless it is appropriate (read: it’s almost never appropriate). When working with a client, it takes time to build rapport and the quickest way to lose it is to make the conversation all about you.
- Continue to educate and gain experience. NEVER STOP LEARNING. The second we become complacent is the second we start losing credibility. Always be willing to learn more, read more, and research more, it comes with the territory. Also, if you have an online certificate I HIGHLY encourage you to get real-life in-person experience, it will help you grow as a practitioner.
You do not need to be an RD to be an effective and credible nutritionist. However, there are a few programs that I would recommend considering if you want to be a nutritionist/RD/health coach. Also, know that some states require certain licensure for you to be a nutritionist. Make sure you are aware of what you can and can not do in each state!!
Here are a few suggestions (in no particular order):
- Bachelor of Science in Nutrition with a concentration in Nutrition Sciences, Human Nutrition, Clinical Nutrition and/or Dietetics (i.e. accredited Didactic Program in Dietetics)
- Post Baccalaureate program for Dietetics
- Dietetic Internship following Bachelor or Post-Baccalaureate Program
- Master of Science in Nutrition/Public Health/Human Nutrition/Clinical Nutrition
- Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)
- MD/DO/ND/PA/NP/RN with a certification/concentration in nutrition/clinical nutrition/functional medicine nutrition, etc. (not all doctors have nutrition education, so beware!)
Note: there are other certification programs, however, know that while they may provide awesome information, education, reading material, etc. they should also be providing ACTUAL in-person experience. After all, helping someone with their nutrition is a very, VERY personal thing and should not be left to online courses only.
It can be really easy to see someone that looks the picture of health (hello 6-pack abs) and hear them call themselves a nutritionist, health coach, macro coach, etc. and want to work with them. It’s not a problem to work with them IF they understand their scope of practice, do not project their issues or beliefs onto you when not warranted AND they know what they don’t know.
Not all nutritionists are created equally, SO I would highly recommend doing your research before deciding to rely solely on their words of advice.
How to Find a Credible Nutrition Expert
Okay, so it’s not always easy BUT here are a few things to look for when looking for a nutrition expert to trust and rely upon:
- Education. Look into their degree(see above) and what it entailed. Is it a credible program? Did it relate at all to nutrition?
- Credentials. Speaking of credible programs. Besides their education, what are their credentials?! Are they continually learning and adding to their credentials? Do their credentials have a scope of practice that encompasses what YOU need (don’t be afraid to ask)? Do these credentials require any practical in-person experience?
- Experience. Do they have real-world experience working with clients? This can make all the difference.
- Testimonials/Stories. Find out what others are saying about them. Don’t just look at Instagram, dig deeper into what people are saying. If it seems too good to be true, I promise you, it probably is.
- Demeanor. This is important, try and catch the vibe of the practitioner. Are they judgey? Do they listen? Are they willing to meet you half way? Do they care?! You should feel comforted by your practitioner and should never feel like you are letting them down.
Once you do your research (note: these shouldn’t be HARD to find out) then you can comfortably work with that nutrition expert knowing that they have your best interests in mind and the education/experience/credentials to back it up.
Nutrition Expert Epidemic
I got backlash once before because I did a short and sweet podcast on nutritionist vs. dietitian. I mean no harm by putting this out there and if you feel that your credentials have been slighted because of this, please reach out! I want to give my clients/followers the best information so that they can make an educated decision for their health, so don’t ever hesitate to let me know if I missed something.
On the flip side, if you are feeling the need to go on the attack after this, do some research on your credentials, figure out what you want to do with the said expert title, and go get yourself further education and experience to back up your passion! I am doing the same, always. If we become complacent, we start losing credibility. So keep learning and keep asking questions!
Who are some of your favorite nutrition experts?! What makes them credible in your opinion?