A dietitian’s job description is far and beyond helping people lose weight. In the course of a career a dietitian might work with patients who have burns, cancer, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, people who are injured in accidents, those with gastrointestinal disorders, cystic fibrosis, allergies, intolerances, people in aged care, paediatric nutrition, women and men with fertility and pregnancy issues and those with gut health problems.
Weight loss is just one of the many areas a qualified dietitian may work in.
Difference between Dietitian and Nutritionist
In Australia all dietitians are nutritionists, however, nutritionists without a dietetics qualification cannot take on the professional role of a dietitian.
A dietitian has a tertiary qualification and been professionally assessed in medical nutrition therapy, community health and food service.
Dietitians are qualified to work in clinical practices, hospitals and in the nutrition industry, and are eligible to be accredited with the Dietitians Association of Australia.
They are trained to provide nutrition advice 1:1 with people of all ages and prescribe dietary treatments for many conditions such as diabetes, food allergies, cancers, gastrointestinal diseases, and obesity.
What is a nutritionist?
A nutritionist – can be anyone who has completed a nutrition course, for example, a weekend intensive, a six-week course, or a 12-month certificate or diploma.
Nutritionists have studied basic nutrition principles i.e ‘eat more fruits and veggies’.
Nutritionists may work in a range of services including public health nutrition, community health and tertiary education facilities providing general nutrition advice to the community.
There is no industry-specific authority that assesses the qualifications of nutritionists who are not dietitians.
An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD)
Rachel Jeffery is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and Accredited Nutritionist (AN).
Rachel says that generally speaking a healthy diet would include eating a variety of foods, including plenty of plant-based foods – fruit, veggies with some legumes, nuts and seeds.
‘Depending on the diet you choose, you need to ensure good protein and iron sources. The foods you eat should be high in fibre; this is important for good gut bacteria (microbiome) and bowel health.
Rachel says you need to have small amounts and limit the amounts of foods high in fats, particularly saturated fats and foods high in sugar.
‘Also, drinking plenty of fluids, including water, and watching the amounts of alcohol are important, aiming to have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
‘A good diet is also enhanced by regular exercise – 30mins of walking daily is a good target – and 6-8hrs of good sleep.
Losing weight will be different for everyone, and will depend on their diet and lifestyle, Rachel says the primary issues are: how much are you expending, exercising and moving day to day – including regular exercise? How much are you eating and how much energy are you having in foods and snacks each day?
What is the quality of the foods eaten each day?
‘You might think the humble sandwich is a good lunch, but there is a lot of difference in a sandwich containing salad and hummus with a couple of olives on the side, compared to a steak, bacon and cheese sandwich with fries on the side,’ says Rachel.
Fad or popular diets are often are associated with weight loss or the trend that a celebrity or chef may start.
Rachel says the good thing about fad diets is they mostly promote less processed foods – cakes, biscuits, lollies, and chocolate. Therefore cutting down on the amounts of foods high in fats, particularly saturated fats and foods high in sugar.
‘The concern for dietitians with some fad, or restricted diets is ensuring you are not cutting out food and food groups unnecessarily, and that you are getting enough nutrients for normal growth, development and repair.’
Some fad diets include
- Paleo – no dairy, breads and cereals, legumes, limited fruit
- Keto diet – high fat, moderate protein, no carbs
- Lemon detox – water, lemon and cayenne pepper drink for two weeks, with occasional fruit and protein
‘All these diets are limiting nutrients in one or more food groups,’ says Rachel. ’It’s essential you are not missing out on vitamins, minerals, proteins, good fats and healthy carbs in your diet.’
Overall, Rachel recommends a varied diet with something from all of the food groups, plenty of fluids, and limiting ‘sometimes’ foods, those lovely little treats whether they are sweet or savoury, and enjoying those occasionally.
‘Balance is the key’.