By now, everyone knows about the obesity epidemic that has super-sized our nation. We're fat, confused, and misinformed -- and often spend hours in the gym trying to shed the pounds packed on due to a sedentary lifestyle and a lack of healthy foods. We've made eating one of the lowest priorities of the day, and with so much information being pushed at us from every direction, we're on constant overdrive as we're told what to do, what not to do, and what not to eat. But are we trusting the wrong people when it comes to food and nutrition guidance? Is all this information actually misinformation?
Our doctors say "eat healthfully" to stay well, but what exactly does that mean? Most of them don't have time to sit down and explain it to us. In order to make the right choices, we need to seek out the best source for practical, reliable, and affordable information about nutrition: a registered dietitian.
These food experts have proven their dedication by earning a bachelor's degree in nutrition or a related field, by completing an intensive supervised practice averaging one year, and by passing a registration exam required by the American Dietetic Association (the world's largest organization dedicated to food and nutrition). Many R.D.s hold graduate degrees, and some are even certified nutrition specialists in areas such as renal nutrition, diabetes education, or even sports nutrition. Numerous states also require additional licensure to practice Dietetics, adding another layer of protection for people seeking sound nutrition advice.
One of the questions I'm asked the most is, "So what's the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?" The answer is that, due to inconsistency in state laws, there are no generally recognized guidelines that define the role and requirements for a nutritionist, and while traditionally this title was reserved for individuals who'd earned a master's degree in nutrition, these days it can describe anyone who works in nutrition.
On the other hand, the dietetics profession is highly regulated and bound by a code of ethics. As I mentioned, all dietitians hold at minimum a bachelor's degree. They must renew their registration annually, and are required to become recertified after five years of practice. In addition, as our knowledge of nutrition expands, R.D.s are expected to follow pace; they are required to maintain current knowledge of dietetics by completing continuing education credits each year.
This nutrition expertise can be applied in many different places. Though many registered dietitians work in settings such as hospitals and other inpatient care facilities, quite a few have private practices. Others work in research, in community and public health centers, as teachers of nutrition, or as consultants to the corporate world for wellness programs, consumer affairs, product development, and such.
Though helping people to shed pounds is often one of the goals of the R.D., his or her expertise is not limited to weight management. Dietitians help people do so much more. They create highly customized lifestyle programs based on goals and behavior modification that help their clients maximize their quality of life.
Whether the goal is to take control of a health issue such as diabetes or heart disease, to battle an eating disorder, to train for a marathon, to recover from a major illness like cancer, or simply to learn more about food and nutrition, registered dietitians are there to assist by using experience, science-based knowledge, and proven techniques.
So celebrate National Registered Dietitian Day by visiting your local dietitian to say thank you, ask a question, or get started on your journey to healthy living. It's as simple as asking your doctor for a referral or To find a registered dietitian in your area, visit American Dietetic Association and click on "Find a Registered Dietitian." Why wait? Today's the day!
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice in San Francisco, California. He is a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and the founder of Eating Free.