Everything you need to know about working with a nutritionist


What is a nutritionist?

The term “nutritionist” refers to someone who practices nutrition counseling, which can come in many forms: one-on-one (either in-person or virtual), group counseling, counseling through apps, and more. “Nutritionist” is a catch-all term for practitioners of nutrition, and the legal regulation on whether a nutritionist needs to be “licensed” to practice with clients is dependant on each state’s legislation. In the majority of the US, the term “nutritionist” has almost no regulation, and anyone can call themselves a nutritionist and act as one.

How is it different from an RD/RDN?

Nutritionist is not interchangeable with the term Registered Dietitian (RD). All Registered Dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. (Note: registered dietitian (RD) and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) mean the exact same thing. The “nutritionist” piece of RDN was added to the RD title in 2013.)

RD’s and RDN’s require a specific type of education that varies from the requirements of a Licensed Nutritionist. Becoming a Registered Dietitian requires at least a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition, completion of a clinical internship and passing a Board examination, as well as continuing education to maintain the license. They have the widest scope of practice of all nutrition providers.

What’s the difference between holistic, integrative and functional nutrition?

Holistic Nutrition Integrative Nutrition Functional Nutrition
Looks at All Aspects of a person's life when it comes to their nutrition, including work, relationships, water intake, exercise, etc. X X X
Individualized approach X X X
Aims to optimize energy levels, emotional well-being and immune function X X X
Symptoms X X X
Preventative in nature X X X
Encourage incorporating whole foods X X X
Relies on Functional medicine lab testing (stool tests, genetic tests, in-depth tests on hormones, food allergies, nutrients etc) to identify deficiencies and optimize diet X
Encourages integrating western knowledge on nutrition (the chemistry, biology etc) with eastern views- incorporating nutrition practices sometimes from traditional chinese medicine, ayurveda,etc. X

What’s the scope of practice for nutritionists who aren’t RD’s?

Non-RD nutritionists cannot legally “prescribe” nutrition to “treat” disease. This means they can’t diagnose conditions, and they can’t claim that any diet recommendations they make are a treatment. They also usually can’t prescribe lab testing or read results of medical tests.

However, they can consult with clients and offer guidance about healthier eating and coach them. They can provide specific expertise and knowledge, share resources, and recommend diets and exercise routines in a general sense. A lot of nutritionists work cross-functionally with MDs or other providers, and can refer you to get lab testing done when appropriate.

Does insurance cover nutrition counseling?

Sometimes. Nutrition benefits may or may not be provided in your plan. Sometimes they’re only available for certain diseases that are medically diagnosed, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension and kidney failure. However, some insurances might cover nutrition services for preventative reasons. You need to ask your specific plan to see what services are covered. They're sometimes called nutrition counseling. You can call or check online for specific coverage questions.

Also, according to California law, any nutritionist with a Masters degree or higher in clinical nutrition from an accredited college or university, is eligible for reimbursement through insurance for nutrition counseling, but only when the client has a physician referral.

What can a nutritionist help with?

Nutrition practitioners can help with a huge array of different health conditions, especially when they’re holistic/functional nutritionists, as the gut is connected to the management and treatment of many different diseases, especially chronic and autoimmune ones. RD’s have official board certifications they can obtain in 9 different fields. Outside of that, nutritionists tend to gain deep expertise in certain specialties and disease groups based on the clients they work with most commonly.

Areas of expertise/specialties:

  • Adrenal fatigue

  • Autoimmune disorders

  • Cancer Support

  • Diabetes support/hypoglycemia

  • Digestive health/IBS/Crohns, “microbiome health”

  • Eating disorders

  • Food allergies, intolerances, sensitivities

  • Heart problems (high BP, high cholesterol, triglycerides, etc)

  • Kidney Disease

  • Mindful/ Intuitive Eating

  • Pediatric nutrition

  • Sports performance nutrition

  • Vitamins/Minerals/Herbs

  • Weight management- including weight loss, weight gain, weight management

  • Women's Health-- pregnancy, fertility, infertility, hormones, postpartum, PCOS, HA, PBCS, etc.

How do I find the right nutritionist? 

Our goal here at Rupa Health is to make it seamless for you to find a trusted, credible nutritionist that specifically fits your needs. We thoroughly vet all our nutritionists with a vetting process developed by in conjunction with some of the top industry experts form institutions like Stanford, Johns Hopkins, etc.

We’ve found that it’s important to find someone with expertise in your specific condition, which is why we categorize & organize practitioners by specialty. We also note what insurance companies that our practitioners are in network with.

NutritionRosa Hamalainen