What’s The Difference Between A Registered Dietitian, a Nutritionist and a functional nutritionist?

What is a functional Nutritionist?

It breaks my heart when I hear people say this about registered dietitians:

I’ve seen a registered dietitian before, it didn’t work.”
“I did what they said and I gained weight!”
“I hated the diet, so I just stopped going.”
“I actually ate more and was miserable.”

Can you imagine being diagnosed with diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, or any one of hundreds of different problems and the professional that was supposed to help you… didn’t? That seems to be a common theme these days.

Many people come into my clinic and have stories about others that didn’t help.

I am a registered dietitian! I love my profession, but after working in the traditional hospital-based setting and for larger corporate nutrition companies, I realized what I was telling people was not helping. In fact, oftentimes it was hurting them.

I became a Functional Nutritionist and that changed everything.

Education Makes A Big Difference

I’m not saying dietitians are wrong or bad, it’s just a difference in education. My dietitian bachelor’s degree covered a lot of science but it didn’t translate that into how the body responds. My training in Integrative and Functional Nutrition helped me understand how to look at the root cause of illness.  It always came back to the foundation for me.  Why do people need my help? How can I fix the problem so the “diet” is not needed long term? These are the questions I would ask.

The most significant difference I found was the focus on the body’s ability to heal. As a dietitian, I was taught a lot about different types of diets – low-calorie, low-fat, DASH, etc and I was taught how to calculate a person’s macronutrients and calorie needs which was very helpful but it still didn’t address the complexity of the human body.  It’s not just about the calories.

When I started to learn more about gut health, individualized nutrition, and how the immune system interacts with food… I began to see how I could truly help.

It was only when I took the next step and had a truly holistic-based nutritional education that I understood how people gained and lost weight, why eating certain foods made some people sick but others healthy, and why lowering calories was an ineffective strategy for weight loss.

My whole world opened up and my success rate went through the roof once I started applying customized nutrition and treated the foundation, the gut.

Why The Right Training Matters

More people are getting a nutritional education over a dietetics education, and that’s great. Unfortunately, hospitals and government agencies are not keeping up. The only people legally allowed to dispense nutritional diets are dietitians. Fortunately, I did start there, but many did not.

All dietitians have a bachelor’s degree or better in nutritional science. Functional Nutritionists typically have that and a certification in functional nutrition, so we are trained on both ends. 

Now, don’t mistake nutritionists for Functional Nutritionists. Very different. Certain fly-by-night schools offer a certificate in “nutritional therapy,” which really doesn’t mean much. Do your research.

Why This Matters To You

The go-to diet for dietitians is a restricted-calorie diet. This idea is based on the theory that if you put out more calories than you take in, you lose weight.

But, that’s not how the body works. You can lose a little bit of weight in the short term as you starve yourself of calories, nutrients, and energy.

However, your body has an adaptation mechanism that changes how your body produces energy based on your calorie consumption. So, if you drop down to 1200 calories a day, your body will automatically adjust to run on 1,200 calories per day. Then, you don’t lose any more weight. (I have more about that on my Gut Health Blog. Check it out). 

And a low-calorie diet doesn’t fix the foundational issues nor does it allow the body to access difficult fat stores. Again, you must know how the body works.

Is it any wonder that the number of people with diabetes has skyrocketed since the big push for low-calorie, low-fat food?

My education in Functional Nutrition showed me a different way. 

I learned that losing weight is multifactorial and we have to rebuild natural and healthy functions within the body. This included gut health, lean body mass, metabolic energy, and especially our relationship with food. 

We need to see food in a positive light. It’s not the enemy to be cut out or strictly controlled. It should be enjoyable, functional, and adaptable to your way of life.

Why A Functional Nutritionists Matters

The first thing I look at is your digestive system (or gut). 

  • What’s going on from your mouth to the other end? 
  • Do you have the right mix of probiotics helping you digest food, produce nutrients, and support your immune system? 
  • Do you have imbalances, if so, what is the cause? Infections? Overgrowth? Low stomach acid?
  • Is there inflammation, ulcers, or damage that’s preventing you from eating healthy food and truly enjoying it?

When your gut is healthy, your desire for sugary foods goes down, you get more nutrition out of your food, and you just don’t need as much to be happy and healthy.

Research shows that a healthy gut means a healthy immune system, lower weight, less depression, and more energy.

A proper healthy diet focuses on retaining and building healthy muscle while losing inflammatory fat.. In a deprivation diet, like low-calorie, the body will burn muscle tissue for energy. That’s why you get weaker and have low energy. But if you eat the right types of food, you’ll be getting enough protein and fat to keep good muscle tone and even build it.

NOW, don’t get me wrong, there is a place for quick, strategic, and effective weight loss.  I develop all my programs and people lose weight fast and in a healthy way.  In order to accomplish this, you must know how the body works and what types of fat the body has. Nobody talks about this.  It’s time we start.

Being on both sides as a dietitian and Functional Nutritionist, I believe being a Functional Nutritionist gave me options that actually work. I can help people as they are, not just assign a standard diet. I’ve learned so much about how the human body works and where to apply the right foods to achieve the right results.

For me, it comes down to our gut because the gut, aka the second brain,  plays a role in almost every system in the body. It’s Just like the roots of a tree.  Fix the foundation for optimal long-term results.

Click here to learn more about WeighlessMD!