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What Is a Nutritionist?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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A nutritionist is someone who specializes in the study of nutrition, including nutritional deficiencies, sources of nutrition, and nutritional challenges that may face individuals or communities. The word is thrown about a bit loosely in many parts of the world, which can make it difficult to define. Someone who uses this title may have only taken a few classes in nutrition or may have a PhD or MD in nutritional science.

There are several different aspects of the study of nutrition that interest top nutritionists. Some work directly on the study of nutrients and food, in labs and through field work. They may also make nutritional recommendations for society as a whole, and they focus on learning as much as possible about nutritional requirements and sources of nutrition. Public health nutritionists may work to identify nutritional problems in various communities, and they also provide education and outreach to encourage people to improve their nutritional habits.

A dietitian provides nutrition-related services directly to patients or clients. The role of a dietitian varies, depending on where he or she practices. Some work in environments like hospitals and school, supervising large-scale food production and ensuring that everyone gets the foods that they need to do well. In other cases, a dietitian may work one-on-one with clients, providing personal advice to help people lose weight, train for sports competitions, or fight diseases like cancer. In this case, the person may be a medical doctor or work with a medical doctor to ensure that all of a client's needs are met.

While certified dietitians traditionally meet with clients in face-to-face sessions, many choose to speak with clients over the internet or phone as well. People who are looking for nutritionist advice but prefer not to attend appointments in person can choose to meet with certified nutritionists online. Online nutritionists typically have the same experience and education as in-person certified nutritionists, so whether someone opts for in-person or online nutritionist advice is merely a matter of preference.

The tasks of a nutritionist can get extremely complex, especially when working with sick patients in an environment like a hospital. He or she may be consulted about the insertion of a feeding tube into a patient who does not appear to be gaining the nutrition that he or she needs, for example, or may evaluate a patient's diet to determine whether or not it needs to be changed for better health. This type of nutritional evaluation usually requires a medical degree, since it requires extensive knowledge of physiology and biology.

For consumers seeking advice, the poorly defined boundaries of what a nutritionist is can be very frustrating. It is a good idea for individuals to ask about qualifications such as education and field study when consulting a nutrition professional, to determine how much that person actually knows. Ideally, people should seek a recommendation from a doctor or another medical professional.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon190620 — On Jun 27, 2011

i am 158cm tall,19 year old boy. what weight will be right for me?

By oasis11 — On Feb 15, 2011

Bhutan - I agree that a nutritionist can present a lot of healthy food choices that you probably never thought of before.

I always thought that a nutritionist career would be interesting but you do have to take on a lot of science classes and that is a real deal breaker for me.

Also the nutritionist salary is not too high either. The average salary for a nutritionist is about $41,000 a year but some make as much as $58,000 a year.

I think that it would be more lucrative to specialize as a sports nutritionist and add a personal training certification because I think that in that field exercise and nutrition go hand in hand.

Having an understanding about which exercises and foods promote a healthy metabolism will go a long way in developing a marketable career. It also adds more credibility.

By Bhutan — On Feb 14, 2011

Sunny27- I saw a registered nutritionist once and she put together a healthy eating plan that actually made me feel better.

It was hard at first because the plan contained no sugar at all. The trick was to have an afternoon snack with some volume that would keep me fuller longer and to avoid any carbohydrates at night.

So for an afternoon snack, I would have a trail mix that she designed which was about two ounces of Chex Mix and some nuts with a large glass of water.

For dinner I had to have some form of lean meat with some vegetables. She also limited the amount of caffeine I drank because she said that it would increase my appetite. I was able to lose weight and developed a lot more energy as a result.

I definitely recommend seeing a nutritionist if you are looking to lose weight. They can also give you a lot of tasty recipes that are low in fat and calories that taste great.

By Sunny27 — On Feb 12, 2011

I just wanted to say that I always thought that a nutritionist career would be rewarding. I think that helping people modify their eating habits in order to develop a healthier lifestyle helps to improve the patient’s quality of life.

When you eat healthier you tend to have more energy and are usually happier. I think that the challenge for a dietician is to convince patients that the healthier food will make a dramatic change for the better in their lives.

This is especially true for patients seeking a nutritional program in order to lose weight. People with weight problems developed the condition because of poor eating habits over time and sometimes these habits are difficult to break.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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