Finding an IBD-Focused Dietitian
Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) are experts in food and diet and help people maintain good health and prevent or treat health conditions. The terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” are commonly used interchangeably but they are different. The word “dietitian” refers to registered dietitian nutritionists. All dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists are dietitians. The main difference between the two is that RDNs have more education and credentials than nutritionists.
What Does a Nutritionist Do?
Nutritionists typically work with individuals or populations to teach them about proper nutrition, food, and health. Their focus is on food behavior and general healthy eating. This includes working with people or families to devise and implement meal plans that improve their nutrition.
Anyone who completes a course in nutrition can refer to themself as a nutritionist. However, nutritionists are limited in what they can do in many states. For example, nutritionists do not necessarily have a certification, license, or clinical experience, so they may not be allowed to perform specific nutrition counseling or diagnose and treat medical conditions.
What Does a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Do?
Registered dietitian nutritionists teach people and populations about nutrition, food, and health. Advanced training allows them to work in a wide variety of settings, including disease management, schools, hospitals, long-term care facilities, government health facilities, research, sports, and more.
RDNs are considered food and nutrition experts because they must earn a bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), complete a supervised dietetic internship of 6 to 12 months, and pass a national certification examination. To maintain their credentials, RDNs also need to complete the minimum requirement of professional continuing education credits.
RDNs will conduct a complete nutritional assessment, including a patient’s diet, lifestyle, medications, supplements, and any recurring medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney or heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, etc. This assessment informs a comprehensive nutritional care plan, which includes diet, supplement recommendations, and resources and support for the patient and their caregivers.
It is likely that you go to a gastroenterologist, and not your primary care physician, to treat your IBD. The same is recommended for dietitians. Work with a registered dietitian nutritionist who focuses on IBD. They will understand the intricacies of the disease and stay updated on the latest research on diet and IBD.
Among many things, an IBD-focused registered dietitian:
- Screens and treats malnutrition
- Screens for eating disorders and works with patients to improve their relationship with food
- Monitors nutrient deficiencies and makes recommendations for repleting nutrients
- Recommends and helps implement specific therapeutic diets
- Helps patients add more foods into their diets
- Helps patients decrease symptoms
- Helps patients navigate diet perioperatively
- Answers all questions patients may have about nutrition for IBD
Find an IBD Registered Dietitian:
To find the right professional for managing IBD with diet, be sure to look for a registered dietitian. One way to find a dietitian near you is to contact your gastroenterologist or your primary care physician. They are your best source to help guide you in the right direction.
You can also find a registered dietitian by asking your local hospital for a recommendation or searching the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for an RDN near you. You may want to contact your health insurance carrier to find out if your policy covers working with a registered dietitian. Some plans may only cover a limited number of visits per year.
Finally, visit the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s Find a Medical Expert page to search for a gastroenterologist or registered dietitian in your area.