Updated: Feb 26
Written by: Natalie Faella, MS, RDN, LDN | January 11, 2022
There is a TON of nutrition information out there. You know this because you’ve probably found yourself on social media, not looking for diet advice, but seeing an Instagram post or TikTok video of something nutrition related. Whether it’s about weight loss, foods for clear skin, supplements for luscious hair, or some warning about how a certain food or food group is harming your health — you can’t escape it. It's everywhere! And it is definitely easy to fall down a rabbit hole from one post to the next, to a Google search, and then confirming your shipment of the aforementioned luscious hair supplement.
We’ve all been there, so please do not feel badly! Especially this time of year with the "New Year, New You" messages and pressure.
It’s so easy and seemingly harmless to want to try out some of these trends. Especially when we are seeking help and the article or Instagram post we just read seemed to provide a quick, nutrition-related solution. But how do you know which solutions or trends are worth trying? How do you keep all of this nutrition information straight?!
Here is where Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs, or Registered Dietitians RDs — same thing, just two different ways of writing it) come in.
Anyone can post nutrition information or provide nutrition advice but that does not necessarily mean it is relevant, science-based, safe, or effective.
Titles like nutritionist, or diet/nutrition counselors, without the RD or RDN credential, are not licensed (or regulated in most states) and may not be adequately qualified to give accurate information or sound advice. Additionally, these titles, along with: health coach, personal trainer, fitness instructor, etc., may have very little training and/or education in the field of nutritional sciences. Even physicians receive very little education in nutrition (because they receive so much about everything else going on in the body).
Non-dietitians may also lack the training in areas like eating disorders, body image issues, and Health at Every Size. This can impact not only the type of information they provide, but the way it is delivered to the client, which can end up being even more detrimental to someone's health than the information itself.
The credential RD or RDN signifies that the person has met specific academic and professional requirements established by the Commission on Dietetic Registration — the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. RDNs must complete their education through accredited schools and facilities. This includes at least a bachelors degree in nutritional sciences/dietetics, completion of a dietetic internship (at least 1000 hours), and passing their RDN examination. And their education doesn’t stop there. In order to maintain the RDN and LDN (state licensure) credentials, continuing education must be completed annually. In other words, being qualified as a nutrition expert does not end with completion of a degree or examination — it is a lifelong commitment to learning and being able to address current nutrition research.
This is why RDNs are considered food and nutrition "experts." We can translate the science of nutrition into practical, sustainable, and individualized solutions for healthy living. Just as accredited licensure of physicians protects us from those unqualified to practice medicine, registration and licensure of nutrition professionals protects us from working with those unqualified to work in the field and from potentially receiving adverse nutrition advice.
That said, the real expert of how certain foods and ways of eating and moving will make you feel, and what lifestyle practices are enjoyable and sustainable, is YOU. An RDN with counseling experience, a Health at Every Size stance, and genuine empathy knows this, and can help you find what works for you and will support what works best for you, always.
It is a red flag if an RDN (or anyone) is handing you a calorie-based meal plan or providing generic "wellness" advice, and not taking who you are or your goals and individual circumstances, preferences, etc., into consideration. If you've experienced this with a dietitian or anyone in the past, I'm very sorry. And if you're experiencing it right now — look for a different professional. That is not what is going to be most helpful and is not what you deserve.
So please, always take into account the source of nutrition advice you are reading or receiving (and of course, always take it with a grain of salt). If you are seeking nutrition counseling, be sure it is with a professional whom you trust and takes all of who you are into account.