What is a Registered Dietitian, Anyway?

Hi friends!  It has been over a month…a MONTH!  since I’ve posted on here.  Balancing grad school + working full-time + freelance writing + social life/family/boyfriend + hanging out with my dog + me time + doing my laundry/dishes (sometimes) has been NO JOKE over the last couple of months.  Don’t worry, I have big plans for the future of this blog so GET EXCITED, after reading today’s post of course.

Anyway, now I have an important question.  What day is it?!?!  Yeah, it’s Wednesday aka Hump Day aka….NATIONAL REGISTERED DIETITIAN DAY! 

[Side Note: March is also National Nutrition Month! Wahoo!]

In honor of this glorious day, I wanted to pop in to talk (write?) about what a dietitian actually is, and what a dietitian actually does.  Because sadly, the general public is pretty misinformed about what dietitians can do for them and they turn to Dr. Google and Dr. Oz for answers to their nutrition questions.  If you are doing that, just stop it. Stop it please. 

Let’s start with the basics: what is a registered dietitian?  

According to the lovely Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, registered dietitians (RDs) are food & nutrition experts who have met the following criteria to earn the RD credential: 

  •  Completed a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at a US regionally accredited university or college and course work accredited or approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Completed an ACEND-accredited supervised practice program at a health-care facility, community agency, or a foodservice corporation or combined with undergraduate or graduate studies. Typically, a practice program will run six to 12 months in length.
  • Passed a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). For more information regarding the examination, refer to CDR’s website at www.cdrnet.org.
  • Completed continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.

If none of that makes sense, basically, to become a RD, I got my Bachelor’s degree in dietetics, went on to complete a year-long accredited dietetic internship and took an exam.  And in order for me to keep my RD credential, I have to complete 75 credits of continuing education every 5 years, which is similar to what other medical professionals have to do as well. 

What do registered dietitians do?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, because really there are so many different things that RDs can do.  The possibilities are endless, which is why I love my profession so much.  And no, I don’t just “help people diet” or “tell people what to eat and not eat.”  In fact, helping people “diet” and lose weight is my least favorite thing to do as a RD, and the opposite of what I focus on with my clients. 

RDs work in a variety of settings, including health care, business and industry, community/public health, education, research, government agencies and private practice.  Here’s an overview of what some RD jobs look like (sourced from AND): 

  • Hospitals, HMO’s or other health-care facilities, educating patients about nutrition and administering medical nutrition therapy as part of the health-care team. They may also manage the foodservice operations in these settings, as well as in schools, day-care centers and correctional facilities, over-seeing everything from food purchasing and preparation to managing staff.
  • Sports nutrition and corporate wellness programs, educating clients about the connection between food, fitness and health.
  • Food and nutrition-related business and industries, working in communications, consumer affairs, public relations, marketing, product development or consulting with chefs in restaurants and culinary schools.
  • Private practice, working under contract with health-care or food companies, or in their own business. RDNs may provide services to foodservice or restaurant managers, food vendors and distributors or athletes, nursing home residents or company employees.
  • Community and public health settings, teaching, monitoring and advising the public and helping improve their quality of life through healthy eating habits.
  • Universities and medical centers, teaching physician’s assistants, nurses, dietetics students, dentists and others the sophisticated science of foods and nutrition.
  • Research areas in food and pharmaceutical companies, universities and hospitals directing or conducting experiments to answer critical nutrition questions and find alternative foods or nutrition recommendations for the public.

What does my career as a RD look like? 

My job at Open Arms of Minnesota is a combination of community & clinical nutrition, as well as food service, so I get a little bit of everything working there.  I help with menu planning, set menu specifications, analyze recipes for nutrition content, provide nutrition education & counseling to our clients who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, cancer, MS and ALS, supervise dietetic interns, and a variety of other community outreach/health promotion activities.  What I love most about it is that every day is different, so it keeps me on my toes and learning something new every day!  Recently, I wrote an article for our blog about National Nutrition Month, which you can check out here 🙂 

In addition to working at Open Arms, many of you know that I also write nutrition articles for Authority Nutrition.  Writing is my favorite, and the fact that I can combine my passion for nutrition, writing and research by writing for them is fantastic.  Lots of dietitians have begun to make careers out of nutrition writing, whether it be writing books, articles for websites, magazines, etc.  It’s a great way to get creative to reach a large amount of people. 

And then of course I have this little blog and business, which I started to develop almost two years ago.  For a while I was taking my own clients and working with them 1:1, doing grocery store tours, and teaching lunch-and-learns for various companies, but then my goals changed a bit and I had to stop doing those things.  However, I hope to pick them back up in the future!

The best part about being an RD is the fact that I am so passionate about the field, and I’m able to live in that passion day and and day out.  I love seeing the impact that food & nutrition have on peoples’ health and quality of life.  It’s the best.  And I love what I’ve made of my career thus far, as it’s a good balance of the sciency (not a word, I know) stuff along with creative work.  

Bottom Line: This day in age, we’re exposed to SO MUCH nutrition information.  It seems like every 5 seconds there’s a new claim for ‘the best foods to eat’ or ‘the best way to lose weight.’  And often times the 780 articles you read on the internet or what the sales-person at GNC told you are anything but credible.  I hope this blog post helps you recognize RDs as nutrition experts so that you know who to turn to for the best evidence-based nutrition information. 

Don’t forget to take today to wish the RDs in your life a Happy RD Day! 

Xoxo, RD Bri




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