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Nutrition Therapist Master vs. Registered Dietitian: What’s the Difference?

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Navigating the terminology in the fields of nutrition and dietetics can make anyone’s head spin. If you’ve decided to go back to school to pursue an education in nutrition, you may feel overwhelmed by terms like ‘certified’, ‘board certified’, ‘registered’ and ‘licensed’, and even more so about which path is right for you. If you’re finding the decision between holistic nutrition and dietetics a difficult one to make, you’re not alone.

Formal education in any subject is a huge investment of time, money, and energy. The decision to become a registered dietitian, holistic nutrition professional, or pursue any path in between is entirely personal. As one student of Nutrition Therapy Institute puts it, “I interviewed registered dietitians, public health professionals, worked with a nutritionist from Bastyr University, and went through a 2-year application process for a graduate program in dietetics (including taking all pre-requisites). Ultimately, I listened to my intuition and decided to come to NTI. But, if I would have decided to pursue dietetics, that decision would have been great, too. Honestly, I feel like this is just the beginning of a life-long learning experience in holistic health.”

This blog post will hopefully shed some light on the varying ways of working in this exciting, life changing field. Of course we all have our biases, conventional vs. holistic, but by asking the right questions, having an open mind, and understanding the distinctions between the different career paths, you can find the educational institute that best suits your unique goals and desires.

When deciding if you should attend a university program or the Certification Program at NTI, start by asking yourself some questions. Consider these as you investigate various academic programs:

  • What are your professional goals?
  • Who is your ideal client?
  • In what professional setting do you see yourself working?
  • In what state do you plan to practice?
  • How much freedom do you want in your career?
  • In what type of environment do you learn best?
  • What are your personal beliefs and priorities around food and health?

Search for Clarity

The experience recounted by NTI grad, Anneliese Pyatt, helps elucidate how tricky the discussion can get when comparing holistic and conventional nutrition practices. “During the first week of my yoga teacher training program, a fellow trainee was talking in the locker room about her ongoing job search in the Boulder, CO area. She was a registered dietitian (RD) from Atlanta, and she wasn’t having the luck she expected. Regarding one job prospect she said, ‘They told me they already have an onsite nutritionist who works for them. A nutritionist? What does that even mean? That’s not a thing.'”

Anneliese further reports “I tried to respond as delicately as I could, despite the fact that my body temperature had suddenly spiked. I shared my experience at NTI, and how I had been taught to take a truly holistic approach to health and nutrition, starting from voting with my food dollars and being a conscious consumer, to viewing overall health as a harmony of body-mind-spirit.”

This exchange exemplifies the challenge in understanding the difference between a holistic nutrition professional and an RD, and how blurry the information is for the average consumer.

Though there are many levels of nutrition training, and each has its own merit, this article focuses on just two: Dietetics versus NTI’s Nutrition Therapist Master program.

Let’s begin with definitions and explanations.

Registered Dietitian:

A person who has studied nutrition science and has fulfilled all of the educational and examination requirements of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for recognition as a qualified nutrition specialist. RDs are regulated healthcare professionals who are licensed to assess, diagnose, and treat nutritional problems. RDs are qualified to apply nutrition consultation in all states.

To become an RD, most states require licensure or certification to practice. The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) offers national certification and testing which earns dietitians the title Registered Dietitian (RD). They must complete the following: a bachelor’s or master’s degree at a school accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE), six to 12 months of work in a CADE-accredited practice program, pass the CDR test, and maintain their certification through continuing education.

Holistic Nutrition Therapy Professional:

A person who has studied nutrition science and uses a holistic, whole-body approach to address client wellness goals with food, supplementation and lifestyle recommendations. The primary role is to educate and provide resources. Nutrition therapy professionals are able to practice within certain state regulations that vary by state. They cannot use their education or expertise to prescribe, diagnose, prevent, heal, or cure any malady or disease, nor can they use that terminology when working with clients.

Graduates of NTI have completed a 500 hour, 18 month certification program and have the designation Nutrition Therapist Master (NTM). NTM signifies that the graduate has gained mastery in the knowledge, skills and competency necessary to be a holistic nutrition professional. NTM graduates are able to sit for the National Association of Nutrition Practitioners (NANP) board exam if they seek to become Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition. The emphasis of NTI’s curriculum is teaching in depth nutritional concepts, from a biochemical, science perspective, while providing students with a working familiarity of a wide range of reference and resource material. Throughout the program, serious importance is placed on the development of each student’s personal journey. Our philosophy highlights the idea that NTMs cannot effectively counsel clients to make dietary and lifestyle changes unless they themselves have experienced a similar process.


When it comes to career paths, RDs are more likely to work in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, universities, and clinics. They are qualified to diagnose and treat people with eating disorders and plan meals for specific health problems within a clinical or private practice. With their licenses, they are also qualified to work in any state.

The career field for holistic nutrition professionals, especially NTM graduates from NTI, is much more open and flexible.  The vast majority of NTI grads choose to be entrepreneurs and own private practices. The scope of practice includes advising individuals, families and groups on how to improve diet, lifestyle and attitude to promote optimal health. Beyond entrepreneurship, NTMs are well suited to work with other practitioners in holistic or alternative health or wellness clinics, focusing their efforts on educating clients about healthy eating and supporting them with resources like dietary recommendations, meal planning, and supplementation suggestions. NTMs may also work as consultants in health food stores and alternative pharmacies, restaurants and meal delivery services, schools, gyms and exercise facilities. NTMs are limited by state laws but can legally practice with a certification in many states. Visit the National Association of Nutrition Practitioners for more information.


Historically, the perspectives of reductionism and holism have been the delineating factors between dietitians and nutritionist professionals. Reductionism in healthcare is the practice of looking at symptoms as isolated occurrences and to provide treatment for the purpose of eliminating the symptoms, yet it often neglects searching for the underlying causative factor. Nutrition professionals tend to provide support in a more holistic manner, looking at body-wide patterns that may reflect root cause nutritional deficiencies or lifestyle influences that are affecting health outcomes. This perspective tends not to provide a quick-fix symptom resolution, but more of an overall approach with balance of mind, body, and spirit as the ultimate goal. While the traditional roles of dietitians and nutritionists differ, there can be overlap because both have the same objective – supporting the nutritional needs of their clients.

Passion to Help

As nutrition science is continuously evolving, it is our job to continue learning, researching, and expanding our understanding of the human body so we can provide the best nutritional support possible for our clients.

Even though RDs and NTMs may differ in approach and method of support, we are each lucky enough to be engaged in a field that is on the cutting edge of new information. We each follow our passion of wanting to help others understand the importance and value of eating well, and by doing so, helping to change the world, one client at a time.

To learn more about receiving comprehensive training in holistic nutrition, visit Nutrition Therapy Institute

To learn more about Anneliese Pyatt, whose practice focuses on inflammation and digestive health, visit Wildflower Family Wellness

Image:  Image by JerzyGorecki is free for use by Pixabay


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