Registered Dietitian Vs. Nutritionist: Understanding the Difference

Featuring Dr. Kelsey Reeder, DCN, RD, CDN

GL: What is a common misconception people have about the nutrition industry? 
CR: The biggest misconception of the health and nutrition industry is that there is a “magic bullet” solution; when in reality, there is no one specific answer as nutrition requires an individualized approach. Other misconceptions exist amongst claims of certain foods. Somehow, we have gotten to a point where there is a belief that fruit is too high in sugar, coconut oil is superior, and would rather swallow a pill to get nutrients than eat food. The reality is, fruit is a healthy option that provides essential nutrients and sugar that our brain needs to function. Coconut oil is not the best choice of oil – it is actually high in saturated fat (the “bad fat”) and is comparable to lard. Most are shocked I am not a fan of general and frequent consumption of nutrition supplements. For some individuals, supplements are necessary and I would endorse the recommendation for a specific supplement. However, I prefer to take a “Food First” approach. Unless there is a physiological issue in absorption or a particular metabolic process, we should first try to increase a particular micronutrient by adding foods in that vitamin or mineral to our diet. For some nutrients, such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K, there are associated health consequences with taking excess amounts. This amount is difficult to reach from food alone, but without carefully considering supplement doses, along with an analysis of foods that are typically consumed, the excessive amount could be approached. For vitamins like B and C, we actually just excrete any excess through our urine – which is why sometimes people note that their urine is a different color when they take certain supplements! It is a sign that your body has enough to function. A great example of utilizing the “Food First” approach would be if someone came to me for help to improve his or her iron status, instead of starting by suggesting an iron supplement, I would provide interventions to see if increasing iron rich foods and foods with vitamin C (which assist with the absorption of iron), or maybe consuming these iron and vitamin C foods at a different time than foods rich in calcium (since calcium actually interferes with the absorption of iron). After a period of time adapting these changes, I’d look for indications of improvement in iron status and would make further adjustments accordingly.

GL: What is the difference between RD and nutritionist, what does a dietitian do?
CR: Registered dietitians (RD) are the food and nutrition experts. A RD utilizes evidenced based practices to provide individualized, medical nutrition therapy. All RDs are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. The biggest differentiating factor is education. To become a dietitian, courses such as organic chemistry, pathophysiology, food science, medical nutrition therapy, and counseling must be taken; this is followed by a minimum of 1,000 supervised practice hours to permit eligibility to sit for the national board exam. Starting in 2024, a minimum of a Master’s degree will be required for exam eligibility.

GL: What is your area of interest in this field?
CR: My focus is in sports and performance nutrition. I grew up as a dancer and currently work as a group fitness instructor which helped develop my passion for this area of nutrition. I have an affinity to the philosophies of intuitive and mindful eating, as well as helping individuals improve their relationships with food, which actually ties to sports and performance nutrition. Many people might be unaware of this term “performance nutrition”, but it is similar to sports nutrition in that it looks to help individuals improve their performance. This would be appropriate for adults who participate in endurance events and are looking to help improve their times, individuals that frequently attend group fitness classes, or even those who are just starting out on a fitness routine. The populations that benefit from sports and performance nutrition guidance are, unfortunately, oftentimes the population that is being provided false nutrition information; which is all the more reason why I love working in this area.

GL: Many health professionals, such as yourself have recently discussed the “anti-diet” mentality, what does that mean? 

CR: I certainly have adapted an “anti-diet” mentality given that research continues to prove that diets are not effective in achieving weight loss and even indicate that dieting is associated with weight gain. My advice can simply be broken down to the fact that all foods fit! It’s interesting, we love to personify foods as being “good” or “bad,” but at the end of the day, it is just food. Food has no emotion, no personality, it’s just an item. Sure, some foods might have more added sugar, but if that food is a slice of cake to celebrate a birthday, it isn’t necessarily the healthiest decision for us to opt out on that piece of cake! That one small piece of
cake is not as unhealthy as depriving yourself from it. Not only are you diminishing the joy and the community aspect that is associated with this, but you are also not satisfying the craving and desire for that piece of cake – ultimately leading you to seek it out later.

GL: What are some popular healthy alternatives for common foods?
CR: Fortunately, there are some great products on the market! Rather than rattling a list of products, here are my three tips when looking to make a healthy choice:
1. Look to build a complete meal or snack – that means adding a carbohydrate, protein, with fruits and/or vegetables.
2. Look at the nutrition label rather than relying on the marketing to be your guide.
3. Ensure that you actually like the food! A food with great ingredients is only good if you enjoy it.

GL: Oftentimes, what advice do you have for people when trying to figure out the health industry and finding what works best for them?
CR: Marketing in the food industry can be misleading, with added misinformation from untrained individuals speaking on products and diets through various platforms – it is a recipe for failure. Instead of helping people create the body they want to see, I try to help people feel comfortable in their own skin and help them create a body that feels best for them! My advice would be to:

Find joyful movement –exercise should be something that you look forward to doing! Now, this certainly may take time if it has been a while since starting with a fitness routine, or if you are seeking something new; however, this is a way for you to take time for yourself and celebrate what your body can do!
 Seek out advice from a registered dietitian! We are trained to be the food and nutrition experts and work to provide an individualized approach to help you achieve your goals.
 Don’t worry about the number on the scale. It is just a number and does not take into consideration your ratio of lean muscle mass to fat. That common adage, muscle weighs more than fat, has truth to it. Muscle is denser than fat so one pound of muscle is going to be more condensed than one pound of fat. Because of this, if you are starting a new fitness routine and are building muscle, you are actually going to start to see an increase in your weight first because you are building muscle. This number can also fluctuate day to day just based on water retention, so it isn’t always reliable.
 Reduce stress – stressing about the number on the scale or stressing about not losing weight as fast as you had hoped is just going to impede you on this journey. Give yourself time and remind yourself that going about this journey the correct way (i.e. without fad diets, medically unnecessary medications, etc.) will help provide the most long-term success. Think about it this way, the faster you lose the weight, the faster you are likely to gain it back. However, with making proper changes, the weight loss is likely to be a slower process, and you will see more sustainability.

As we enter "comfort food season," this can be a challenging time for many people; it is a high stress time with many seasonal treats that are readily available. The most general pieces of advice would be to find ways to manage stress and focus on nutrition by

1. Stress Management: During stressful periods, it is common that our relationships with food start to change. This might mean we start to seek food for comfort or our appetite is suppressed and we start to skip meals. Both of these changes disrupt our ability to listen to our hunger cues, eat intuitively, and make the choices that would support our bodies the best. To prevent disrupting our eating patterns, I recommend finding an activity that aids in stress reduction. This could incorporate joyful movement, breathing exercises, or listening to meditation clips on apps such as Calm.
2. Nutrition by Addition: Instead of feeling the need to restrict and not
allow yourself to enjoy the foods that are available during the holidays, ask yourself – what can I add to make this a more filling option? For instance, if you are craving that slice of pumpkin bread, allow yourself to have it, but consider pairing it with protein. This
addition will allow you to feel fuller for longer, help you satisfy your craving, and can potentially prevent you from “overdoing it” with the pumpkin bread!

Dr. Kelsey Reeder, DCN, RD, CDN holds a doctorate in clinical nutrition from Fairfield University and is a certified registered dietitian here in Connecticut.

Kelsey, known to many as Cece, works closely with clients to help achieve individual related goals pertaining to performance nutrition, improving relationships with food, and more!

Cece is currently the in-house dietitian at Club Sweat Westport. Scan the QR code to book your in-person or virtual appointment with her.

Registered dietitians (RD) are the food and nutrition experts. A RD utilizesevidenced based practices to provide individualized, medical nutritiontherapy. All RDs are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registereddietitians.

Businesses Featured in this Article

Related Businesses

Nothing Bundt Cakes (Atlanta)


Nothing Bundt Cakes (Atlanta)

Alpharetta, GA

Our Bundt Cakes are handcrafted in every bakery in a variety of delicious flavors and sizes. To top it all off, our bakeries...

Chandlers Prime Steaks and Fine Seafood


Chandlers Prime Steaks and Fine Seafood

Boise, ID

Chandler's is a locally-owned, upscale dinner house specializing in prime steaks and jet-fresh seafood. Enjoy a craft...

Trezo Mare Restaurant & Lounge


Trezo Mare Restaurant & Lounge

Kansas City, MO

Trezo Mare serves all styles of food with an emphasis on Italian cuisine, fresh seafood, and hard wood-fired steaks. Chefs'...

See More

Related Articles

See More