Whether it is to continue leading a healthy lifestyle, manage recurring symptoms or aid in the treatment of chronic illnesses, you have decided to seek out a professional to help you achieve your goals. But should it be a certified nutritionist, a registered dietitian, a naturopath or a health coach? 

Each one is different in their training, modality and approach, so today we would like to help you gain knowledge about each of these specialties in order to make a health decision that is right for you. Let’s start with nutritionists.

Who is a nutritionist?

One of the most important factors to consider when looking for a nutritionist is credentialing. In Washington there are two nutrition credentials: a Certified Nutritionist (CN) and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, formerly known as RD).  

  • A Certified Nutritionist (CN) is a state qualification in Washington, but not all states have CNs. In order to become a CN, a master’s degree in nutrition is required to certify and practice. A good qualified certified nutritionist is an expert in medical nutrition therapy, preventive health and healthy eating, with a strong background in biochemistry and science. Most insurance plans that cover nutrition in Washington, cover CNs.
  • A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is an international credential. Beyond a required master’s degree in nutrition (some RDNs have been grandfathered in with only a bachelor’s degree, but the rules have changed), RDNs must complete specific coursework in community nutrition or public health, food service management as well as clinical nutrition in order to become registered. On top of that, RDNs are required to undergo an additional year-long dietetic internship where they have rotations in many different areas of practice ranging from hospitals’ intensive care units to school kitchen programs to diabetes clinics and more. RDNs are also required to take a board exam, and they must maintain their credentials with approved continuing education annually. Most insurance plans that cover nutrition in Washington, cover RDNs.

As you can see, both CNs and RDNs are thoroughly educated and practiced professionals, holding an advanced degree in nutrition with a pre-med undergraduate degree, focusing on applied biochemistry. 

Whether it is a CN or an RDN, a nutritionist can help you get down to the root causes of many health issues. One of the most common assumptions of a nutritionist is that they facilitate weight loss. While that is one area that nutritionists certainly address, there are many other areas of health and medicine that they tackle in order to better your overall health. In fact, most of our clients are working with us because they either have an on-going health or medical condition they would like to improve, or they would like to prevent future problems. Some of our clients are interested in optimizing their diet for their next big goal, and others are quite ill, using food and supplements as medicine in order to heal.

Who is a naturopath?

Now that we’ve talked about nutritionists, let’s touch on what a naturopath or naturopathic doctor (ND) is. NDs are required to attend an accredited, four-year graduate school where they are educated on the same basic curriculum as conventional medicine doctors. On top of those courses, they also train in nutrition, herbal medicine, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, etc. NDs are trained in primary care and can be your primary care provider in Washington, should you choose a physician who goes beyond conventional medicine to include a holistic approach. Many NDs choose to specialize even further, studying endocrinology, pediatrics, gastroenterology, etc. In contrast, nutritionists (RDNs and CNs) are not primary care providers like NDs, but rather specialists in nutrition and lifestyle management of health.

Who is a health coach? 

Lastly, there are health coaches. Health coaches are mentors that can help you on your health journey through an individualized approach and frequent interaction. Many focus on a number of areas such as healthy eating habits, emotional well-being and exercise in order to help you set achievable goals and have someone guide you toward them. 

What kind of education and/or training a health coach received is largely dependent on the health coach in question. Some may have a degree or a certification, while others will rely on their life experiences to help them become a mentor for others. None will be covered by insurance in the state of Washington as they are not credentialed.

Why is credentialing important when searching for a nutritionists? 

Recently, a number of programs have been introduced through the internet, offering a certification after a brief course period, be it a week or a few months. While we don’t doubt that what is offered in these courses is useful information, it simply lacks the depth of study that CNs and RDNs undergo in order to become professionals in the field. As such, as we advise you to carefully consider a nutritionist’s credentials to make sure you are choosing a provider that can fully address your concerns and get to the root cause of your symptoms. 

Who should you choose to work with?

As you can see there is quite a bit of difference between each specialty and what they can do to help you achieve optimal health. In an ideal situation, a combination of multiple health care practitioners is an optimal way to receive care. Working with both a nutritionist and naturopath or MD is a great tandem to strive for. However, if you have food sensitivities or allergies, chronic or autoimmune diseases, or are struggling with your relationship with food – we highly recommend seeing a nutritionist. 

Our clinic has a number of providers, including mental health practitioners, who cover a wide range of specialties. Take a look at our About Us page to see who may be the best fit for you and schedule an appointment today to start your journey to better health. 



Written by Yuliya Rae