Differences between nutritionists, dietitians and naturopaths

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Have you ever had a chronic health issue that your doctor couldn’t solve? Or do certain foods ever make you feel bloated, nauseous or lethargic? Are you having trouble losing weight or constantly experiencing pain in your stomach? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s likely a friend or doctor might suggest you visit a nutritionist, dietitian or naturopath.

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The question is, which one should you see and what’s the difference between the three professions? Well, we spoke to Accredited Practicing Nutritionist Stephanie Malouf, BOOST Juice Consultant Dietitian Lisa Middleton, and qualified Naturopath and herbal medicine expert, Reece Carter, to find out what their practices involve and how they differ from each other.

Nutritionist

Principles

While the three key principles involved in this profession tend to differ from practitioner to practitioner, these are Stephanie’s top three:

1) Use food as medicine – “Specific foods have the power to accelerate or put the brakes on your body’s natural healing power. Keeping your foot on the break for long periods of time i.e. a poor diet and high levels of stress, puts your body out of balance and triggers inflammation, [which is] the key driver of disease,” she explains.

2) Wholefoods are greater than the sum of their parts – Stephanie believes to fully benefit from a food’s nutritional content, it should be eaten in its “whole and natural state“.

3) Everyone is unique – What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, as everyone has a unique interaction with food and their environment. As a nutritionist, Stephanie’s goal is to teach each individual how to listen to their body and understand what works for them to achieve optimum health.

Sessions

A typical session with Stephanie will involve an extensive Q&A about medical and family history, lifestyle and dietary habits, digestive and immune function and current health and wellbeing. She might also do a body composition assessment to measure body fat percentage, muscle mass and bone density (if this is applicable). Stephanie then uses this information to figure out which areas are out of balance and puts together a customised dietary plan that outlines the necessary nutrients needed to restore balance.

Issues

Stephanie’s clients come to her for a variety of reasons, however the most common relate to weight loss and digestive upset. She says more often than not, her clients are experiencing some form of “digestive upset such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, reflux or abdominal pain.” As a nutritionist, she believes a healthy digestive system is the foundation of overall health and rather than the saying, ‘you are what you eat’, a more accurate phrase is, ‘you are what you digest’. For this reason, most of Stephanie’s treatments will start with or involve some form of “gut healing”.

Dietitian

Dietitian Lisa Middleton tells me the difference between herself and a nutritionist is dietitians undertake “specific university training and are able to be registered to clinically advise individuals and groups on diet for medical or clinical purposes.” She continues, “Dietitians can call themselves either a nutritionist or a dietitian, but anyone who has an interest in nutrition, qualified or not, can call themselves a nutritionist.”

When it comes to the principles of her trade, they are (not surprisingly) similar to those that Stephanie described – finding and tailoring nutrition solutions to assist individuals in “attaining long-term health, wellness and performance goals.” Encouraging clients to eat fresh wholefoods is another main focus for Lisa as a dietitian, along with educating clients on the foods and ingredients with the most nutritional value. A session with Lisa is similar to one with Stephanie, aiming to “understand a person’s background and lifestyle to tailor health and nutrition plans suitable for them.”

Naturopath

A naturopath has an additional set of skills when compared to a nutritionist and a dietitian. In his practice as a naturopath, Reece has the added benefit of being trained in herbal medicine, meaning he can “custom mix herbs to assist in the management of a client’s health.”

Principles

Reece outlines his top three principles as a naturopath:

1) Treat the root cause of whatever complaint the client is addressing, and not just the symptoms.

2) Treat the individual, taking into account all aspects of his or her health.

3) Do not harm in the process and minimise side effects. Always choose the smallest intervention that will get the desired result.

Sessions

Similar to a nutritionist and a dietitian, Reece chats to his clients to understand their needs. He asks a variety of questions about how each system in the body is functioning so he can identify areas in which these systems may be impacting each other. “[I might then] order blood, urine, saliva or hair mineral testing; other times I only need to take a little look at physical signs like nail health.” With this information, Reece then gives his client a combination of “dietary advice, lifestyle suggestions and supplementation where necessary” – just like a nutritionist and dietitian!

Verdict

So, essentially all three professions aim to treat an individual’s health issues by changing his or her lifestyle and dietary habits. Dietitians have a specific university degree allowing them to prescribe programs for clinical and medical purposes, while a naturopath has a background in herbal medicine and can prescribe natural remedies for particular ailments. One common (and key) principle between the three trades is that abnormal and unhealthy body issues can be treated through natural remedies – especially nutrition and lifestyle changes.

Have you ever gone to a nutritionist, dietitian or naturopath? What was the session like?

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