Is there a difference between a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Nutrition Specialist?

Uncategorized Jun 10, 2020

Ok friends.  I wanted to clear up some common misconceptions regarding the world of nutrition professionals. There is a lot of confusion, frustration, and a tid bit of anger so I want to shed some light on the situation that you may not have known was even happening. 

When it comes to the world of nutrition, most people are familiar with a Registered Dietitian (RD). You are made to believe that this is the be all end all of nutrition credentials, right? Nope. This degree is admirable. Don't get me wrong. RD's work extremely hard to earn their title and they should be respected. There is, however, another option in the nutrition space that many people haven't heard of. The CNS. This stands for Certified Nutrition Specialist (which in my honest opinion kind of dumbs down the amount of work it takes to achieve it...but that's just me). The name bugging me aside, this credential is nothing to downplay. Let's break down the similarities and differences of the RD and the CNS, shall we? Side note: there is a handy dandy chart that breaks it all down HERE but I'll walk you through it.

The road to the RD credential: 

As of the writing of this post, an RD needs to have a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in a didactic program in dietetics approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). The program must meet the curriculum approved by the council. 

They also need 1200 hours of a supervised internship post degree as well as passing a rigorous CDE exam to earn the credential Registered Dietitian.  They are required to complete 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years in order to maintain their title. 

The road to the CNS credential:

A Certified Nutrition Specialist needs a minimum of a Master's of Science degree (many candidates hold doctorates) in the field of nutrition or other clinical doctorate degree (DC, ND, PharmD, MD, etc).

They need 1000 hours of supervised internship and also need to sit for a rigorous exam before they can earn the CNS credential. They need to complete 75 hours of continuing education credits every 5 years to maintain their credential. sum up: Both credentials are a beast to earn. Seriously, ask me sometime what happened after I took my board exam for 4 hours and then went to the airport to go home.

Some other differences is that RD's are nationally recognized in all states and can accept insurance. CNS's can accept insurance but only in certain states (and actually many choose to not accept insurance).

Most CNS's follow a holistic approach (meaning they look at the entire body system and how things are connected). Many RD's are also switching to a more holistic approach but the role of the RD has long been to serve in a hospital or clinic setting with special training in tube feedings. Most CNS's are found in private practice or in a holistic wellness practice along side Chiropractors, Acupuncturists, and NDs. 

Many of you know that I chose the path of CNS over RD but here's why. I found the curriculum aligned more with my philosophy of a "no band-aid" approach. I loved every moment of learning how to find the "root cause" of someone's health ailment. It's like solving a mystery. Just because you have, say for example, leaky gut (or intestinal hyper-permeability) , doesn't mean we simply treat it and send you on your way. It means that's a symptom and we need to figure out what's causing it so we can correct it and make you feel better long term.

The approach I take with clients can sometimes look like a huge and weird flow chart (which I can happily draw out for you if you'd like) and that's because EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED!! You better believe if you have one system malfunctioning (I'm looking at you hormones) then you have another system either joining it, or soon to follow but something CAUSED the disturbance in the first place. If that doesn't get resolved then you end up battling the same issues over and over for years. 

Now, again, I'm a CNS so I can't completely speak on the training received from RD's aside from what a few RD friends have shared with me. I want to stress that BOTH credentials take years and years to earn (mine was a solid 3 years of school plus 1 year to earn the supervised hours) and both titles deserve to be respected. There is a lot of squabbling between RD's and CNS's and it's just absurd. We all help people achieve better health. High five RD friends. I see you and I support you.

One thing to note: I have seen a TON of people calling themselves "nutritionists" lately. It makes me cringe to be honest. Mainly because people who take a 6 week course on nutrition are not at all capable to handle the complexity of human nutrition. I'm not trying to rip on anyone I just want you to be knowledgeable in choosing who you receive advice from. MLM sales people are NOT nutritionists. Personal Trainers are NOT nutritionists (it's actually out of their scope to give any personalized nutrition advice). Health coaches are NOT nutritionists. Now, before I get hate mail saying that you personally are a health coach and a nutritionist, I get it. There may be a select few trainers, coaches, or sales people who have one of the above credentials as well. That's my point. Check credentials. If they aren't an RD or a CNS they can't give personalized nutrition advice. Know who you're working with, friends and choose what's best for you and your situation.  Oh and as someone who started as a personal trainer, realized I couldn't talk about nutrition, went on to be a health coach, realized I STILL couldn't talk about nutrition, then went all in and spent the next 4 years (school plus internship) working on learning nutrition, I get a little touchy when I see under qualified people giving terrible advice.

If you feel you have a health concern that you've been dealing with for awhile and you'd like to chat, email me or sign up for a free 20 minute consultation to see if I can help. If your concern is not in my wheelhouse, I will gladly refer you to another practitioner. I work primarily with women (and a few men) regarding healing their guts, balancing their blood sugar, and improving their behaviors and relationship with food (aka stress eating, binge eating patterns, history of dieting, healthy meal planning, etc). Drop a comment below if you have questions!


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