What is the difference between a Nutrition Coach, a Nutritionist and a Dietitian?

A nutrition expert is most often someone who has studied in the field of nutrition, health science or dietetics. A Dietitian or a Nutritionist is a member of a professional organisation such as the Dietetics Association of Australia or the Nutrition Society of Australia.

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Dietitians have studied for 4-5 years at university which includes a 6-month practical component either in a hospital, clinical or community nutrition setting. They can work with clients with a range of medical conditions, including diabetes, cancer and hypertension. Dietitians work in many settings, typically in hospitals, food industries, pharmaceutical companies, long-term care institutions, public health departments, and private clinics. 

In Australia, there is currently no control or regulation over who can use the title “Nutritionist”.

This is changing as the Nutrition Society of Australia establishes guidelines around a professional registration program that promotes and encourages high standards of training. To be a registered nutritionist, the requirements are a minimum of an undergraduate degree in nutrition or health science (of at least 3 years duration) and at least three years of advanced postgraduate study or professional experience in nutrition. 

Registered nutritionists consult with clients on their eating behaviours, assess their current diets and establish health goals. They work with them to structure diet plans specific to their needs, which can include weight loss, improving fertility or addressing allergies. They can prescribe supplements to assist clients reach their health goals. Nutritionists may work in research settings, private clinics or in health promotion.

Studies in Nutrition at private colleges, such as Endeavour College of Natural Health allow graduates to use the title “Nutritionist” and register with associations such as the Australian Traditional Medicine Society or the Australian Natural Therapists Association.

General practitioners receive limited (sometimes only 25 hours) nutrition training. Therefore, they usually refer clients to other health professionals such as dietitians. A multidisciplinary approach is essential to achieve optimal client outcomes.

Personal Trainers are often the first health professional a person will contact with nutrition related questions, regardless of whether the PT is trained in nutrition or not.
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Although nutrition units form part of the Certificate III and IV in Fitness courses, content is limited and not sufficient to allow PTs to offer detailed nutrition advice to clients. Therefore, any fitness professional who is providing nutrition advice must have further qualifications such as a Nutrition Coach course or a degree and apply for appropriate insurance to offer this additional service.

Nutrition Coaches can offer fundamental nutrition advice, consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines and other nationally endorsed recommendations. They assist clients to develop healthy eating patterns and behaviours to help them reach weight loss and health goals.

It is vital Nutrition Coaches have a list of at least 5 other health professionals they can work with, such as a dietitian, nutritionist, GP, chiropractor, exercise physiologist to best service clients. A referral does not mean the primary professional will lose a client, simply that the client is receiving the best care from the most appropriate person. Working alongside other health professionals not only ensures the best outcomes for clients, but also encourages cross referrals - so important in this industry where word of mouth marketing is key. 

The following table outlines the different scope of practice parameters for various nutrition experts. 

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