As many of us know, the buddy system shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s that actually doing it that proves to be difficult — and this is especially true when it comes to what we eat. After all, food is tied up with so many emotions, habits, and social norms. What’s more, though many of us think we know what’s “healthy,” nutrition can be a lot more complex than you might think. That’s where the help of a nutrition expert can be invaluable: they not only help you determine just what to eat, but also support you in doing so. But with all the terminology out there — nutrition coach vs nutritionist vs health coach vs dietitian and more — how are you supposed to know which expert to choose? We broke it down for you.
Understanding the Terminology: Nutrition Coach vs Nutritionist vs Health Coach vs Dietitian
All of these seemingly interchangeable names can make the already difficult task of eating better even more confusing. It becomes even more muddled when you realize that some common terms don’t even have firm definitions. Luckily, there are some clear-cut distinctions that can help you understand the different nutrition experts available and who is best for you.
Nutritionist or Nutrition Coach
Neither of these terms have a defined meaning. They’re both used loosely and generally to refer to all sorts of different nutrition professionals, from health coaches to RDNs to self-trained “experts.” No formal training or certification is associated with either term.
However, that doesn’t mean that someone who calls themselves a nutritionist can’t help you. If you choose to work with a nutritionist, be sure to ask the following questions to assess their qualifications and whether they’re right for you:
Where is your degree from?
What is your degree in?
How long was your program?
How specialized is your training?
Unlike nutritionists, health coaches must complete a certification in order to earn the title. There are a couple different options for certification. For instance, healthcare professionals can become certified health coaches (CHCs) through the National Society of Health Coaches, while healthcare and fitness professionals can study with the American Council on Exercise (ACE) to become ACE Health Coaches. Health coaches go through training (the length varies) that usually covers holistic lifestyle approaches and different diets.
In 2017, a new national standard for health coaches was established, National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC). The credentials exam is regulated by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and the International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching (ICHWC). ICHWC’s list of approved programs includes:
Unlike RDN’s, health coaches don’t diagnose, but rather assess overall well-being. Health coaches can be found through working with functional or integrative doctors or through program directories. A session usually lasts between 45 and 60 minutes and costs anywhere from $50 to $200 (health coaches generally aren’t covered by insurance).
This type of nutrition expert meets the most consistent and strict standards. A registered dietitian nurse (RDN) is a food and nutrition expert who has met specific academic and professional requirements. These include:
Earning a bachelor’s degree approved by accrediting agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND)
Completing an accredited, supervised internship
Passing a national exam by the credentialing agency for AND
Gaining state licensure, if applicable
Completing continuing professional ed requirements
An hourlong session with an RDN (which, by the way, is exactly the same as an RD) will usually cost between $100 and $200, and is sometimes covered by insurance, usually depending on whether or not you have a diagnosis.
A Bit of Controversy in the RDN World