Dietitian or nutritionist?

If you know the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist, then you are a rare species akin to the woolly mammoth.  Working in the fitness industry has highlighted to me again and again that we have no idea what a dietitian does, or how a dietitian differs from a nutritionist.  So I thought I’d start out by shinning a bit of light on dark the situation we as Accredited Practicing Dietitian’s appear to be in.

Difference between a dietitian and nutritionist

I recently watched a funny You Tube video of Dara O’Briain (highly recommend watching for a giggle where he states “If anyone ever described themselves to you as a nutritionist, just be slightly wary. What they’re saying might be slightly true, but nutritionist isn’t a protected term. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Dietitian is the protected term; dietitian is like dentist and nutritionist is like toothiologist.”

In Australia, the term “dietitian” or “nutritionist” isn’t a protected term, therefore anyone can claim they are a dietitian or nutritionist with no formal education or legal cover.  What does this mean for you?  The advice they may be providing may be unknowingly incorrect and/or dangerous.  Now just to be clear, I’m not saying that there aren’t nutritionist out there who know their stuff and can achieve amazing results.  In fact, I’ve met a few nutritionists in the fitness industry who have a better understanding of nutrition and can get better results than some Accredited Practicing Dietitians.  I’m trying to articulate that there is a scope of practice in which nutrition professionals should be working under. Understanding where scope of practice lies and who can work within that scope helps ensure safe, ethical and insurable practice, which covers both you as a client and the nutrition professional.

Each health professional has a scope of practice in which they are qualified to work within because a governing body has deemed they have undergone the appropriate level of qualification and have achieved sufficient clinical experience in said field.  To demonstrate what working outside of scope of practice looks like, I’m going to describe a scenario that highlights the difference between unconscious incompetence and unconscious competence.  Scenario: A physiotherapist is interested in orthopaedic surgery so he spends some of his spare time reading blogs, articles, journal publications, and textbooks on it.  One of his clients who has been suffering from a sore knee after a skiing accident asks him if there is anything more he can help with, so he thinks “hey, I reckon I have a pretty good understanding of human physiology and I know what’s wrong with my client, they have a torn ACL.  I’ve been reading lots of papers on orthopaedic surgery, I reckon I can fix his knee by reattaching the torn ACL”.  This is a dramatic example of unconscious incompetence, where the individual (physio) doesn’t recognise his lack of knowledge.  Reading a few journals, text books and blogs DOES NOT qualify someone to provide dietary advice.  Human nutrition is so much more complex than just energy in vs. energy out, so ensuring you are working with nutrition or dietetics professional with accredited credentials is essential for both your safety and theirs.

Many companies offer “nutrition accreditation” but only three governing bodies ensure that nutrition and dietetic practitioners are working within a safe, ethical and insurable scope of practice. These include:

  • Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) – Accredited Practicing Dietitian credentialed
  • Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) – Accredited Sports Dietitian credentialed
  • Metabolic Health Systems (MHS) – Sports Nutrition Specialist and Metabolic Health Practitioner credentialed

If this is still as clear as mud, please feel free to get in touch with me or visit:

The role of an Accredited Practicing Dietitian & Sports Dietitian

Foremost, I’d like to point out that our role as an Accredited Practicing Dietitian is to work WITH nutritionist and personal trainers to get the BEST results for their clients.  We can be the best tool in a PT’s/nutritionist’s arsenal to achieve the best body composition and performance goals that will compliment and amplify the results they are trying to achieve.  We are not here to steal other professional’s clients, but to work together in a multidisciplinary team to get the best results.  To get the best results for your clients, let us do what we do best while you can focus on what you do best!

Now onto the serious stuff; Accredited Practicing Dietitians provide a range of evidence based nutrition services in addition to individual dietary counselling, medical nutrition therapy, group dietary therapy for individuals in varying states of health and disease.  Accredited Practicing Dietitians have undertaken a course of study that has been accredited with the DAA and includes substantial theory in the areas of anatomy, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, counselling, human nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, food sciences, public health, health promotion, physical activity and exercise physiology; and supervised and assessed professional practice in clinical nutrition, medical nutrition therapy and food service management.  In simple terms, an Accredited Practicing Dietitians role is to provide both coaching and support, as well as the food-health technical information on how to return you to a state of health, minimize the impacts of any particular disease state, and prevent or poor health.

The role of an Accredited Sports Dietitian is to maximise performance and body composition through nutrition strategies, by providing advice and guidelines on the strategic timing of nutrition.  Sports Dietitians work with each athlete to optimize their intake to best suit their individual requirements, preferences, goals and constraints during any training phase. This allows you to effectively fuel performance, maximise training adaptations and achieve the body composition that is right for you and your sport.

If you’d like to find out how an Accredited Practicing Dietitian or Sports Dietitian can help you achieve your performance, body composition and/or health goals, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


Metabolic Health

Hayley Christensen

Accredited Practicing Dietitian / Sports Nutrition Specialist 


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