The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Certified Nutritionist

The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Certified Nutritionist

Understanding how to become a certified nutritionist is a fundamental part of building a career in helping others with nutrition. Of course, it’s easier said than done, and the existence of many different credential options can make the journey feel quite complex.

What kind of nutrition education should you pursue? Which qualifications will prove most useful as you seek employment – or try to set up an independent practice? Here’s what to know.

Choosing Your Nutritionist Credentials

Not all nutrition credentials are the same. Generally, however, nutritionists need at least a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, nutrition, food science, or a related field. Many states also require that their nutritionists have licenses or certifications.

Licensing requirements vary by state. In most cases, however, earning certification as a Registered Dietitian (RD) is the bare minimum.

What if you want to go further? For instance, you might want to specialize in a niche like sports nutrition or dedicate yourself to clinical nutrition research. 

In these cases, the answer usually lies in a different credential: Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). While most jobs don’t require this level of qualification, it’s a sign of advanced skill, so it may help you further your career.

How to Become a Certified Nutritionist

Each nutritionist certification has its own unique requirements. Even though the basics (earning a degree, getting supervised work experience, and passing an exam) are similar, there are important nuances to think about before you commit to a program of study or certification track.

How to Get Your RD Qualification

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s Commission on Dietetic Registration governs the RD certification – alternately known as the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) certification.

To obtain your RD credentials, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. From there, you’ll need to go through a didactic program in dietetics – a special curriculum geared toward prepping you to solve the unique problems you’ll face as a career professional. Once you’ve passed these hurdles, you’ll undergo a dietetic internship – a period of supervised work experience – and take the national registration exam.

How to Get Your CNS Qualification

If you’re looking to pursue a career as a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), you should be aware that the requirements are more involved than for some other nutrition certifications. This doesn’t mean it’s an impossible challenge – only that it’s best to be realistic.

As a prospective CNS candidate, you’ll need either a master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition, clinical healthcare, or another related field. You’ll also need to accumulate a required minimum number of credits in fields like anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and life sciences. On top of that, you can expect to go through about 1,000 hours of supervised practice experience, sit for an exam, and earn 75 continuing education credits every five years.

Is it Worth it to Become a Certified Nutritionist?

Having a certification does more than give you something nice to put on your resume or business cards. It also helps you gain crucial confidence and insights you’ll use to help clients achieve their goals.

One of the challenges that come along with being a nutritionist is that you don’t always know what to expect. For instance, a pregnancy nutrition specialist who helps a new mom-to-be come up with a healthy eating and exercise plan might also end up treating other members of the same family. Or they might need to provide advice tailored to the mother’s diabetes, gluten intolerance, GI health challenges, or other ongoing issues.

Remember: Nutrition is a holistic field that demands a broad awareness of what’s going on in people’s lives. The better you prepare yourself – by getting the right education and going through an appropriate internship – the greater your odds are of actually helping people in a positive way.

What is the Difference Between a Certified Nutritionist and a Registered Dietitian?

The key distinction lies in comparative nutrition education. In the US, a dietitian is someone who’s jumped through the hoops to become a Registered Dietitian. RDs tend to have higher educational qualifications compared to nutritionists.

Do Dieticians and Nutritionists Do the Same Thing?

Do Dieticians and Nutritionists Do the Same Thing?

Dietitians and nutritionists both help people find the best food options. Dietitians, however, are certified in helping patients with medical issues, whereas nutritionists are not necessarily certified.

You may remember there’s another title: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). This may seem confusing, but it’s the same as an RD. The distinction is mainly a marketing detail meant to signify an important fact: All certified dietitians are also qualified nutritionists by default – because they’ve undergone extensive nutrition education. Someone who is just a nutritionist, on the other hand, might be allowed to practice without needing certification depending on the rules of their state.

What does a certified nutritionist do?

A certified nutritionist’s job consists of helping people meet their health goals through food and nutrition. While this basic description may seem fairly straightforward, the reality is that it spans a wide range of activities.

Some certified nutritionists help patients with serious health issues, such as high cholesterol, obesity, or heart disease. Or, they might help their clients create individualized nourishment plans to lose weight or enhance their athletic performance. In many cases, they work closely with other medical professionals, such as surgeons or doctors who refer their clients for nutritional counseling before they take medication or undergo procedures.

Final Thoughts

Going into nutrition is an excellent career option, and becoming certified is the best way to show you’re truly committed to the profession – and your clients. In addition to improving your odds of landing a good job, certification leaves you better informed on how to help people overcome their health challenges in healthy ways. For some examples of standout professionals who’ve successfully followed this career path – and how competitive the field can be – check out the recruiting criteria at Top Nutrition Coaching.

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