You see it all the time of Facebook. Someone asks for nutrition advice and gets all of kinds of comments: “try this type of protein shake” “do Whole30” “cut out carbs”…the list goes on and on and on. Or “I’m a health coach. PM me to lose weight.” Worse still, I see fitness instructors on a Facebook group ask what they should tell their customers about nutrition and diet. The only answer should be nothing. Unfortunately the comments look similar to above: “increase protein” “cut out all sugar”. I actually saw someone recommend Pinterest as a source of nutrition information.
Ugh it drives me crazy! I’m spending tens of thousands of dollars to get the credentials to give reliable, scientific dietary advice and meanwhile, every other person on Facebook thinks they’re a nutrition expert. Instead of going on a rant, let’s discuss the difference and reliability of those providing nutrition advice; then next time you read advice from some random person on the internet you can check to see if they have any business giving advice.
Registered Dietitian-Considered the gold standard of nutrition experts. RD is a regulated credential meaning the person has completed a standardized list of coursework including science, advanced nutrition, and food service courses, completed an internship, and passed a national exam. Registered dietitians are also required to complete continuing education credits. Of course, not all RD’s are equal but if you see those two letters after someone’s name, generally speaking, you can trust they know what they’re talking about.
Nutritionist-Nutritionist is a mixed bag term. It’s not regulated, meaning anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Sometimes RD’s use the title nutritionist and sometimes nutritionists have advanced degrees in nutrition. These would be reliable sources of information. Unfortunately in other instances, someone took an hour-long webinar on nutrition, fancies themselves a nutrition expert, and starts a website with their “advice from a nutritionist”. Always, always check credentials.
Health/Wellness Coach-I’ll be honest, I don’t know very much about health and/or wellness coaches. I spent some time doing some research and came across multiple health/wellness coaching blogs and services and a few places to get certified but very little information about what training and education coaches actually receive. It seems most certifications are attainable within a year, nowhere near the education RD’s receive, and some certifications focus more on marketing than nutrition. Similar to nutritionists, some health/wellness coaches seem more reputable than others (ACE certification versus a BeachBody coach). My overall impression is that a health/wellness coach certification could be a valuable certification for an RD or personal trainer to help clients make behavior changes but without any other credentials, health/wellness coaches should only provide behavior advice, not specific nutrition or exercise advice. Unfortunately, this is not what happens with most coaches I’ve seen on social media.
Personal Trainer/Fitness Instructor-This can quickly turn into a grey area. The scope of practice for a personal trainer or fitness instructor is very limited when it comes to nutrition. We are taught basic nutrition information in our certification but cannot recommend specific diets nor give specific nutrition advice to clients beyond the National Guidelines. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for fitness professionals to act outside their scope of practice. Some trainers do have additional nutrition certifications, such as a fitness nutrition specialist certification through their certifying agency or Precision Nutrition. I’m not entirely sure what having these certifications entitles the trainer or instructor to do but it does expand their scope of practice. If your personal trainer or fitness instructor tries to give you nutrition advice, ask what certifications they hold and what their course of study involved.
Health living blogs, people you know, etc.-By all means, be inspired by others! Read tips on creating healthier habits, share recipes, support each other. Just remember that every body is different and what worked for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. Also remember that not everything you read online is true; take everything with a grain of salt and if something doesn’t seem right, it’s probably not.
Be smart when taking nutrition advice. Make sure you’re getting it from a reliable source. Again, I cannot stress the importance enough of checking credentials and then doing a little research of your own to see if those credentials actually mean anything.