Nutritionist, Nutrition Coach, Dietitian: What’s the Difference?

Nutrition coach

Let’s break down the differences between a nutritionist, dietitian, and a nutrition coach. Many people use these terms interchangeably as they  are undoubtedly related, however they each maintain distinctive qualities. As we continue, we will be simply pointing out the differences and not choosing sides as whom is “better”. This is not about who is the perfect candidate, but rather who is simply the perfect fit for you.


A dietitian is commonly referred to as a Registered Dietitian. An RD abides by his or her state laws regarding a dietetic setting of advanced, individualized nutrition care. Individualized nutrition care includes a nutrition assessment; diagnosis, development, and implementation of an individualized care plan; and follow-up monitoring and evaluation. One of the biggest differences lies in the legal restrictions each nutritionist, dietitian, nutrition coach carries. Only nutritionists that become registered with Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) may legally declare themselves as dietitians or more precisely, registered dietitians (RDs). 

To become an RD, dietitians must: complete a baccalaureate degree from an ACEND-approved program; complete an ACEND-approved supervised clinical program; successfully pass the CDR registration examination; complete continuing professional education credits needed to maintain registration. You’ll find many registered dietitians running their own practice or in a clinical setting such as a hospital where they are accessible via various health insurance plans. 

Pros: Highly trained in medical nutrition therapy to provide clinical care for conditions such as diabetes, pre-diabetes, metabolic diseases, or outpatient care which require the highest level of training and care plan.

Cons: Not all highly trained dietitians practice a well-rounded holistic approach to struggles surrounding weight and not all are highly trained in coaching. Secondly, patients are usually limited to only a few sessions with their practitioner due to their health insurance coverage, which includes no in-between communication, support, coaching, or accountability which are just as critical to helping patients achieve their goals. 


A “nutritionist” is probably the loosest term of them all. A “nutritionist” is a person who advises on matters of food and nutrition impacts on health. Unlike dietitians, the nutritionist profession is much less protected under the law. In fact, nutritionists that do not intend to use the titles of “dietitian” or “registered dietitian” are often free from government regulation. Some states however may require nutritionists to obtain an occupational license from a Board of Nutrition, while other states allow individuals to practice as nutritionists without any education requirements, training or work experience. 

Dietitians can call themselves nutritionists (they usually stick with “dietitian” or “RD” title), but nutritionists, unless properly licensed, cannot call themselves dietitians. 

You can find “nutritionists” within a clinical environment all the way to gyms and various health and wellness organizations.

Pros: Has passion and experience in one or multiple fields of nutrition. 

Cons: May have passion and experience in the field of nutrition, but may or may not have professional educational background in nutrition. 

Nutrition Coach

A nutrition coach, sometimes called a “health coach”, is typically a nutritionist, counselor, consultant, mentor and motivator all in one. The National Consortium for Credentialing Health & Wellness Coaches defines health coaches as: “professionals from diverse backgrounds and education who work with individuals and groups in a client-centered process to facilitate and empower the client to achieve self-determined goals related to health and wellness. Successful coaching takes place when coaches apply clearly defined knowledge and skills so the clients mobilize internal strengths and external resources for sustainable change”.

Nutrition coaches or health coaches help clients develop and progress towards their personal wellness goals by empowering them to take responsibility for their own health. They also recognize that being healthy involves more than just proper diet. As such, a nutrition coach also focuses on non-dietary aspects of a person’s life, in order to improve clients’ overall, holistic wellbeing.

Nutrition coaches, in addition to providing general nutrition information and recommendations to their clients, can help their clients learn how to nurture good relationships with food and body, proactively create a balanced, healthy lifestyle as one tries to juggle new eating habits, among many other things. Nutrition coaches ultimately teach clients how to make healthy lifestyle choices and become self-sufficient. There are no state or national laws preventing nutrition coaching unless individuals trickle into more dietetic care and medical nutrition therapy to which they would be held to state laws and licensing requirements. Since a nutrition coach includes professionals from diverse backgrounds, not all nutrition and/or health coaches are licensed RD’s, yet in the same token, not all RD’s are health coaches that provide such well-rounded solutions for individuals.

Pros: Typically uses both dietary and non-dietary approaches to weight and health challenges, along with coaching, support, and education to help with daily application.

Cons: May not be licensed to clinically provide medical nutrition therapy or acute nutritional care. 


In a nutshell, RD’s require the most education and training, and abide by state laws to provide advanced individualized care. You will find dietitians in clinical settings such as doctor’s offices, private practices and hospitals that provide high level clinical care or medical nutrition therapy. 

A nutrition coach or health coach may or  may not be a state licensed dietitian. A nutrition coach typically provides nutrition guidance but also goes beyond the scope nutrition and uses non-dietary approaches to motivate clients to make positive lifestyle changes.

It’s important you know what you need to reach your goals, whether it is a more well-rounded approach, in depth individualize care for your health and medical needs, or both, so you can find the perfect fit for you! Do your due diligence, ask questions, request to speak to your practitioner of interest prior to committing to any program or services if possible. Do their approaches to helping you reach your goals align with your beliefs? Do you connect with this individual? Do they provide enough support for what you need? It’s your health, make sure your gut says “YES! 


Nutritionist-World: A Nutrition and Dietitian Resource:

Emory and Associates. Nov 2014. Health Coaching: Your Right to Practice Guide