What's in a Name? Plenty, When it Comes to Nutrition
Although National Nutrition Month is winding down, our focus on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles will continue all year long. As more and more focus shines on reducing childhood obesity by improving family health habits, the importance of finding reliable nutrition information increases.
As I outlined a few weeks ago in an article celebrating SparkPeople Registered Dietitian, Becky Hand, there is a specific process and set of requirements for people to use the letters R.D. after their name. However, how do you know about the knowledge of someone that has other letters after their name or uses a fancy title such as food coach or weight-loss specialist?
I am one of those people. I have a degree in dietetics and nutrition, successfully completed an accredited supervised practice program, passed the national exam, completed continuing professional education, and had therapeutic diet and nutrition education experience. When I transitioned to a stay-at-home mother for a number of years, it became too difficult and expensive to maintain my continuing education requirements and I decided to allow my registration to expire. Since the "RD" credentials are a legally protected title, I am no longer allowed to call myself a Registered Dietitian unless a complete the registration exam again. Although in some parts of the country, I could call myself a 'nutritionist' or 'dietitian', they violate state licensure laws where I live so SparkPeople has given me the title of "healthy eating expert" which is more of a job description than a legal title.
I hope that my educational background and experience make my qualifications to share healthy eating ideas and options with others obvious. However, that is not always the case so it is very important to know what to look for when seeking out and especially paying for the services of nutrition professionals. Here are some basic things to keep in mind as you are seeking eating advice.
Letters do matter - If someone has the letters R.D. after their name, they are an accredited Registered Dietitian and considered THE nutrition expert. If you need any specialized diet instruction for a medical condition (except diabetes education), these letters should come after the name of the person you meet with. They may also have the letters L.D. (licensed dietitian) or C.D.N. (certified dietitian/nutritionist) depending on the state laws where they practice. In some states, these professionals will call themselves a 'nutritionist' but that is in addition to their letters and not instead of them. The American College of Nutrition has a certification process for professionals that have an advanced degree (master's degree or doctoral) and who have successfully pass an exam and maintain continuing education. The ACN recognizes a C.N.S. (certified nutrition specialist) certification. You may also see them described as a board-certified or professional nutritionist. When making a decision about who will help you with healthy eating or weight loss, know whom you are working with and what their letters mean.
Do not discount job descriptions as unqualified - Just knowing my job title of healthy eating expert doesn't tell you anything about my education or experience. The same can be true for someone that calls himself or herself a food coach or weight-loss specialist. Anyone can call themselves a coach or specialist because they don't have any more certification requirements than the term nutritionist. Job or position titles are not legal titles so don't be fooled by them but don't dismiss them either. If you only thought of me as my job title, you might miss the experience and education I can offer. The same might be true for someone referred to as a food or diet coach or weight-loss specialist. You will have to look a little deeper or ask a few more questions to find out if the job description reflects an individual with an education and experience to perform the job description they represent or if they are trying to pass themselves off as more than they can deliver.
Beware of the personal trainer that poses as a nutrition expert - A personal trainer can be a wonderful help in reaching personal health and fitness goals. Hopefully, through educated selection, the trainer you work with will have the necessary credentials, experience and training philosophy to best help you. Unless the trainer is also a Registered Dietitian, they should not be providing you with any diet or specialized meal plans other than general information about basic healthy eating from the Food Guide Pyramid. If part of your training also includes a focus on supplement powders, pills or special foods sold by them or the gym to help you reach your goals, consider this a red flag and a potential conflict of interest. If bodybuilding is your focus and protein powders or energy drinks and other supplements are recommended, please meet with your medical provider or a Registered Dietitian to talk about the safest nutrition prescription to reach your goals while also maintaining your kidney and liver health.
There are many people sharing nutrition information, some with the education and experience, and some without. When you seek nutrition information to help you reach your goals, do your homework to make sure the information you are receiving is scientifically based and not about selling a product, book or additional service.
What are some titles or terms you have seen people use to pass themselves off as a nutrition expert?
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