The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The number of registered dietitians has grown five fold since 1969, and there are now about 100,000 registered dietitian nutritionists. About half of those hold advanced degrees, and many specialize.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are the food and nutrition experts who can translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living.

Yet doctors, and other health professionals, feel pressured to “start learning more about nutrition”.

Why? When there is a whole profession devoted to this whom are already educated and credentialed?

I know a lot of doctor’s personally. Isn’t there enough to learn in medical school?

Instead, Doctors need to make use of the pre-existing profession dedicated to food, nutrition, and behavior and how it relates to health and disease. That’s right: The Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).

If you work in Internal Medicine or Family Practice, I guarantee you there is at least one RDN in your town. Ideally, your medical center employs one or more in an outpatient nutrition center. They should be getting so many referrals that there is a waiting list. Which means, they should hire more dietitians.

Confusion in the Nutrition Space

As an RDN it can be frustrating to hear non-nutrition professionals spout nonsense about diet, food and and nutrition. Unlike popular pseudoscience-pushing personalities such as the Food Babe or Dr. Mercola (and more recently, doctors who pronounce “Keto for All”), RDNs have to adhere to ethics standards. We can’t just “say anything” or make empty promises. 

RDNs complete a standardized education and training, that include formal education in the science of food, nutrition, and human physiology (RDNs minimally have a Bachelor’s Degree, undertake a supervised practice internship, and have to pass a rigorous nutrition certification exam). These experiences makes them a dependable resource for nutrition information. 

What Does a Dietitians Do?

Often the public views all dietitians as someone who wants to “put you on a diet” (i.e., weight loss).

That’s not (solely) what we do.

RDNs also work within a variety of specialties, although some may be generalists. Most dietitians are aware of many complex diet therapies that can be applied to thousands of situations, across the entire lifespan. This can even include dietitians that specialize in Keto, Pediatrics, Diabetes, Vegan and Vegetarian Diets, Renal disease, Cancer nutrition, Food Allergy/Intolerance, Heart disease, GI disease, Eating Disorders, or Sports and Performance Nutrition.

A registered dietitian may work in an inpatient area of a hospital, as an outpatient nutrition counselor, in a college health center, as a higher education professor, as a food and nutrition expert in a grocery or retail store, as a freelance writer or speaker, as a culinary health expert, or in a food science or nutrition research lab. They may also own their own business or nutrition practice, or work as a consultant in the development of food and nutrition products.

Let’s Get Real

RDN’s come at it with a “big picture” philosophy. Our advice works for the long haul, it’s not a quick fix. We help people personalize their diet and make positive lifestyle changes. We are honest, because frankly, it’s going to be difficult to maintain healthy habits for a lifetime. We don’t offer empty promises such as, “this is easy, lose 10 pounds this week, have great abs by Sunday”. And we generally don’t get rich (because – ethics).

So I beg you, stop sharing random diet or nutrition posts on Facebook by uneducated personalities. You are just funding their vacations.

Those seeking lifestyles that do focus on weight loss, looks, or a sexy body (not health) often bash dietitians as being clueless or claiming their advice doesn’t work. People who only seek advice from someone on the Internet, or their gym, or their pal, telling them what they want to hear (or that it’s going to be easy), most likely will relapse with weight loss. Worse, they are missing out on science-based information about medical conditions that can benefit from a particular diet therapy.

Dietitians are for real. And real takes effort; long-term effort. But it works, can improve health, doesn’t backfire, and it’s safe.

Conversation Starters

I’ve loved my career, but there are times when I get annoyed with both the lack of understanding for what a dietitian is trained to do, and also how easily consumers believe everything they hear about food from non-credentialed nutritionists, or really, just about anyone.

I have a message for physician practices and medical centers: Talk to your dietitian staff. Invest in them. Allow them to make your patients healthier, get well more quickly, and also provide improved post-op or post-procedural patient satisfaction surveys. It’s a win-win-win.

I also have a message for dietitians: Start speaking up. Don’t assume that busy physicians and nurse practitioners have any idea what you do all day. Hospital administrators also don’t know. So go tell them. Tell them until they are sick of seeing your face. Tell them how you can improve patient care, provide cost savings, and improve patient surveys. You got this.