This almost sounds like the beginning of a bad joke…"So a RD, a nutritionist and a C.H.N. all walk into a smoothie bar”….haha!
But seriously, this is a great question, and it can be confusing. (In writing this article, I happened upon another good post written by a dietitian explaining this differentiation well, which I will also share after I put this all into my own words).
To begin, “Registered Dietitian” (RD) is a protected title, which is regulated by provincial bodies within Canada (i.e the College of Dietitians of Alberta). Dietitians must complete a minimum 4-year BSc degree as well as satisfy interning requirements, and also need to stay up to date with ongoing professional development.
“Nutritionist”: Prior to 2016 (in Alberta), almost anyone could use the title of nutritionist, because it wasn’t regulated. People could literally take a two-week online course on the basics of nutrition and call themselves a “nutritionist”. This was a problem because the general public didn’t always know or understand the distinction between RD, nutritionist and other designations, so dietitians, who had spent years getting educated weren’t happy – and rightly so. I get it. I have a Bachelors Degree also (Arts; not Science) and I would be pretty upset if people assumed that my own 4-year degree was somehow the same as anything less.
So right now, in Alberta (and a few other provinces), only dietitians can call themselves a “nutritionist”. So far so good?
Ok, moving on to the C.H.N. designation: “Certified in Holistic Nutrition” is a designation offered through a private college: the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. CSNN is the largest leading school for Holistic Nutrition, has been in existence for 25 years, and is nationally recognized for it’s standards of excellence. The diploma program offered by the school is comprehensive, rooted in science, and offers instruction from highly qualified instructors (many of them naturopathic doctors) – but is certainly not the same level of education as a 4-yr Bachelor of Science degree and/or an RD designation.
However, just as there are distinctions between counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychotherapists, there are important distinctions between those of us who use food as a tool in helping others achieve their health and nutrition goals. It is my opinion that there is more than enough space within the health and wellness world for both RD’s and C.H.N.’s to serve people well – as long as roles, responsibilities and scopes of practice are observed and respected.
When making a decision whether to work with a RD or a C.H.N., you will want to consider a number of factors such as the issues themselves that you are looking for help with. For example, someone with a C.H.N. designation cannot assist with medical nutrition therapy. They are however, quite capable and qualified to work with people simply wanting to improve their general health and nutrition by using a food first approach!
As always, use common sense when choosing your potential provider (RD or C.H.N. alike) and don’t be afraid to ask questions. What tools, strategies and resources does your provider have to offer? Does your provider demonstrate critical thinking skills? Are you a good match? Do you feel judged about your current diet? How often do they provide follow up? What are the costs?
Within my own graduating class of 30 with CSNN, one of the students was actually a practicing dietitian. That’s right - even with her RD designation, she saw value in the program. In fact, the school consisted of students with varying nutrition backgrounds, other scientists with masters, and PhD’s, and everyone from massage therapists to social workers. Quite simply, the program is more accessible and provides people with a great nutrition education without having to obtain another degree (and one year unpaid internship).
At the end of the day, we all hold valuable space in the food education arena and can serve people well, as long as we operate within our own scope of practice and know the limits of our knowledge!
The post that I mentioned at the beginning can be found here: https://www.laurenrenlund.com/2017/02/09/whats-the-difference-between-a-dietitian-and-a-nutritionist-in-canada/
Note: At this time, C.H.N.’s are self-regulated (RD’s are regulated), but this may change. In the future, C.H.N.'s may also have a governing body. Regardless, we must operate within a strict Code of Ethics and must carry practitioners insurance. Also, extended health benefits may not cover the costs of services rendered by a C.H.N. - it really depends upon your insurance provider and what types of coverage you have.
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