Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In


General Health

Nutritionist vs. Dietitian: What’s the Difference?

All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. Still confused? Read on!

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

Often, the words “nutritionist” and “dietitian” are used interchangeably. You may have noticed that two Clean Eating advisors, Erin Macdonald and Tiffani Bachus of U Rock Girl, go by the credentials “RDN”, meaning Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Meanwhile, numerous food and health professionals may go by either “dietitian” or “nutritionist.” But the two are not the same.

Dietitian: RD or RDN

To call yourself a dietitian, you must be a board certified healthcare professional.

The terms RD – registered dietitian – and RDN – registered dietitian nutritionist – can be used interchangeably. The optional addition of the ‘N’ for ‘nutritionist’ is a recent change, used to communicate the broader scope of the field today. Our general understanding of healthcare is now expanding to include overall wellness. Correspondingly, RDs are expanding their titles to “RDN,” letting you know that their services extend beyond medical application.

To become an RDN, there are 5 major steps, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the world’s largest organization of nutrition professionals):

  1. A bachelor’s degree + verification from an accredited program
  2. At least 1,200 supervised practice hours
  3. An exhaustive CDR (RD certifying board) examination
  4. Further licensing if the state you’re in requires it
  5. Continuous education to keep your certification

Plus, as of January 2024, anyone trying to take the RD exam must have a master’s degree. Thanks to the above credentials and experience, all registered dietitians can also call themselves nutritionists and provide individual nutrition counselling.


The big difference between dietitians and nutritionists is a legal one. In many places in the US, you don’t necessarily need board certification or a formal education to legally call yourself a nutritionist.

To complicate things further, the laws differ from state to state (so it’s not your fault if you’re confused)! In a handful of states, practicing nutritionists need to be board certified. In others, anyone can use the nutritionist title, from practitioners with years of experience to online influencers. You can browse your state’s details in this interactive map from the American Nutrition Association.

If you’re looking for a dependable nutritionist, we strongly recommend keeping an eye out for the title “CNS,” meaning Certified Nutrition Specialist. CE’s own Dr. Jonny Bowden is a PhD-holding board certified CNS, so you know for sure that you can trust his advice. This is the most widely recognized nutrition certification in the US and requires rigorous training to obtain. The requirements to acquire and hold onto the CNS title are similar to those of an RDN:

  1. A graduate or doctorate degree from an accredited school
  2. At least 1,000 hours of supervised practice
  3. An exhaustive BCNS (CNS certifying board) examination
  4. Continuous education to keep your certification

At CE, we recognize that those who go by either title usually possess a wealth of knowledge as well as a passion for the field. At the same time, we always err on the side of caution, carefully selecting top dietitians and board certified nutritionists for our esteemed Advisory Board.

Related reads: