What do nutritionist titles mean? How do I choose?

What’s the difference between a nutritionist, nutrition therapist and nutrition counsellor? You may have seen all of the above when searching for a nutrition professional to work with and ended up even more confused than ever, but I’m here to try and help.


The long and short of it is... 

Nutritionist is not a protected term. In the UK it is recommended to look for nutritionists with AFN-certified qualifications - if they have ANutr or RNutr after their name this means they have these qualifications. However, there are many routes to becoming a nutritionist and a lot of other professional development options.

For example, my training was super focused on how to calculate calories, enforce weight loss protocols etc. - a far cry from what I do now. But the term nutritionist can encompass both. That’s where we’ve sort of self-differentiated as an industry. 

Ultimately it’s the style of work that the nutritionist prefers.

Someone marketing themselves as a nutrition counsellor will be more likely to work in a style that involves counselling, motivational interviewing and digging a little deeper into your relationship with food. Rather than giving you prescriptive protocols. 

Someone marketing themselves as a nutritional therapist will work even more in this way. Often these nutritionists work with those with conditions that need medical treatment - sometimes getting referrals from the NHS. Again not a protected term but The British Association of Nutritional Therapists (BANT) has a list of registered nutritional therapists that have come from courses they have accredited. 

Nutritionists are by definition scientists - often traditionally working with food companies or industry to improve food standards. Or they use what knowledge they have been taught to educate clients/larger groups. 

How do I decide which professional to work with?

Acronyms = experience

It is great that nutritionists are registered with awarding bodies such as the AFN, BANT etc. however with thousands signed up and paying a fee there just isn’t scope to check every single nutritionist's work. And each awarding body has different criteria to stay accredited - for example, my course was AFN accredited - but all of my continuing education has to cover nutrition policy and areas I don’t specialise in. So acronyms/qualifications are great but don’t just depend on them.

Discovery calls speed dating

Depending on what you’re discussing with your nutritionist it might get a little vulnerable - utilise the discovery call option that most nutritionists have (mine are on my profile). This allows you to see if they are someone you’d want to work with - personality is a big factor in the nutritionist-to-client relationship. This also allows you to ask any questions you have with no pressure. And remember you don’t have to book with them after, you may decide they aren’t for you after this - that’s fine and often expected.

The reviews are in

Whether it’s reviews on their social media/website or you want to ask for some testimonials, don’t be afraid to ask or search around. Word of mouth is also a great measure of how someone is to work with.

Trust your gut

If you message/meet up with someone and feel like it’s not working or you’re uncomfortable, say so. If there is anything you disagree with, speak up. Our job is to empower you and aid your relationship with food, and if we’re not doing that we need to know.

See their courses/webinars/podcasts/short-form engagement options

Feel like you’ll end up signing up for six months of sessions with someone you’re not sure about? Maybe see if they do a six-week course, group sessions or webinars to see how they work. Or enquire about short-term options. I have a podcast for this reason - you can see how I am chatting away to you about a topic.

I hope you feel a little more ready to navigate the world of nutrition professionals.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, Greater London, SE21
Written by Kacie Shoulders, ANutr
London, Greater London, SE21

Kacie Shoulders is an associate nutritionist and yoga teacher based in South London. She takes a HAES approach to working with clients and focuses on Intuitive Eating and movement.

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