Naturopaths, Nutritionists and Dietitians—Who to Trust and How to Choose
Have you struggled to find the right health professional to help relieve your symptoms of IBS?
If your answer is yes, you are not alone! Navigating the healthcare system is hard. We have received countless emails from our amazing community about this, and hey, I’ve been through it too. Before I was diagnosed with IBS 7 years ago, I sought help from a fair share of healthcare practitioners… lots of money and tears later, my symptoms only got worse.
The frustrating reality is that gut health is ‘hot’ right now. There are countless people who claim to be experts. And so often, people suffering from IBS seek support in the wrong places, only to be left with wasted time, less money and absolutely no digestive relief!
Well friend, the team and I want to help. In today’s blog post, I’ll be talking all about naturopaths, nutritionists and dietitians. I’ll uncover the differences between these titles and give you some practical guidance so you can finally select a healthcare practitioner with the credibility and experience you need! Let’s start things off with an overview of each of these professions.
According to the Ontario College of Naturopaths, Naturopaths (also known as Naturopathic Doctors or NDs), “provide healthcare to people of all ages, focusing on the use of natural therapies to support and stimulate healing processes.” The Council on Naturopathic Medical Education states that the profession, “emphasizes the use of natural modalities—such as nutrition, lifestyle counseling and botanical medicine—to promote wellness and treat illness.”
So, what on earth does that mean?! Plain and simple: naturopathy is alternative medicine. No judgment from me if that’s your thing! It’s simply important to clarify that naturopaths are distinct and different from traditional medical doctors.
Let’s talk about their training. Naturopaths must complete an undergraduate degree followed by a 4-year Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from a private college. Remember, despite ‘doctor’ being included in that title, this program is not the same as traditional medical school and it is held at different institutions. The program curriculum includes courses in traditional sciences as well as Asian medicine, acupuncture, botanical medicine, biomedical sciences, and physical medicine. Students must write an accreditation exam following this training.
What’s interesting about the naturopathic profession is that it’s not regulated everywhere. In Canada, naturopaths are regulated in 6 provinces and in the US they are regulated in 22 states. This is significant because outside of these regulated jurisdictions, naturopaths can practice without being held accountable to a certain standard of care or scope of practice. So just be careful.
What’s the takeaway?
> Naturopathy is an alternative medicine
> Naturopaths are not regulated in every state/province
> Naturopathic doctors are often generalists
Dietitians of Canada states that “Dietitians translate the science of nutrition into terms you can understand. [They] look beyond fads and gimmicks to deliver reliable, life-changing advice tailored to your objectives as well as personal needs and challenges.”
Dietitians are considered to be a trusted health practitioner for nutrition education and care. In order to become a dietitian, students must complete a 4-year honors degree from an accredited university program. Courses include basic chemistry, organic chemistry, physiology, clinical nutrition, community nutrition, dietary assessment, and food science. After graduating, students complete 40+ weeks of supervised practice and many pursue additional graduate degrees. Finally, dietitians must pass a national registration exam! Phew!! It’s a long process. And fun fact, Clairity founder Stephanie Clairmont is a dietitian!
Title is where things can get a bit confusing. Depending on the state and province where a dietitian is registered, they may be referred to as a Dietitian, Registered Dietitian (RD or PDt), or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). This is their professional title, similar to Registered Nurse or Physician. However, dietitians can be employed with different titles. For example, many dietitians work as Public Health Nutritionists or Community Nutritionists. Dietitians can be nutritionists, but nutritionists cannot be dietitians (which we’ll touch on in a moment). If you’re unsure, the best thing to do is ask!
What’s the takeaway?
> Dietitians are a regulated health professional with several protected titles
> Dietitians are experts in nutrition education and care
> Dietitians can be nutritionists, but nutritionists cannot be dietitians
As a general rule of thumb, ‘Nutritionist’ is not a protected title. You might be thinking, “who cares!”. But this is important because it means that in many jurisdictions, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Whether someone completes a degree in nutrition, a 1-year online certification or no training at all, they can self-appoint themselves as a nutritionist. Crazy, right?!
Now, that’s not to say that every nutritionist is uneducated. Absolutely not! Remember, dietitians can technically be nutritionists! And some nutritionists may have undergraduate or graduate training in nutrition without pursuing that ‘RD’ designation. The important thing to do if you’re unsure about someone’s qualifications is to ask them!
You may have heard of the titles, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Nutritional Practitioner, RONP, RNCP, ROHP, RHN and CNP. Please note: these do not represent a provincially or state-regulated health professional. Remember, lack of regulation means a lack of accountability. The training programs for these titles and designations are held through private educational institutions and they vary in length in rigor. If you encounter a professional with these titles, simply do your research on the full scope of their training.
What’s the takeaway?
> Nutritionist is not a protected title in most provinces/states and anyone can use it
> Certifications related to nutrition vary in length and rigor
> Nutritionists are not the same as dietitians
How to Find Someone You Can Trust
Did I overwhelm you with information? Stay with me! I know this is a lot and I know it may have you feeling even more confused than before. Here are the top 4 things I want you to take away from this article:
1. Start with your doctor. If you are experiencing changes in your bowel movements or other persistent digestive symptoms, seek help from your physician first. They will run diagnostic tests to rule out other serious conditions, make a proper diagnosis of IBS if needed, and they also have access to a network of trusted referrals should you need additional care.
2. Do your research. Regardless of what type of professional you’re seeking, please do your research on their qualifications! Ask where they went to school and have a peek at their program curriculum online. This is in your rights. Make sure you’re comfortable with their training before moving forward with any payment.
3. IBS experience is key. Work with someone with experience in IBS. Regardless of whether you choose a naturopath, dietitian or nutritionist, know that IBS symptom management is incredibly complicated! You can find generalists in all 3 of these professions. But the best use of your time and money will be to work with someone with specialized experience and training in gut health, IBS and the low FODMAP diet.
4. You are allowed to make the choice that is right for you. This article is not meant to pass judgment on different health professionals or alternative practitioners. We simply want to equip you with knowledge so you can make an informed decision that is right for you!
My Message to You
Please take your time when researching and selecting a professional. Your time and money are valuable! And there are a lot of unqualified people promoting inaccurate ‘cures’ to IBS that are simply not supported by the research. We have had many Clairity clients come to us after their symptoms worsened from working with the wrong professional, and we don’t want the same to happen to you.
If you have any questions about this article or if you’d like to discuss if the Clairity Digestive Program is right for you, please reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be happy to help!
Wishing you well,
Nutrition Communications Manager