Before addressing this common question ” What do integrative dietitian nutritionists do?”, let’s first clarify that while all dietitians are nutritionists, not all nutritionists are dietitians!
The three steps required to become a nationally credentialed registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) are:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree with a curriculum accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND);
- Complete an accredited dietetic internship (approximately 6-12 months long);
- Pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration
Perhaps you have also seen the licensed dietitian nutritionist (LDN) credential.
A LDN credential depends on the state’s licensure laws but it is set up to protect the public from those that are not qualified to practice through these accreditation standards. It is not a requirement at this time for an RDN to hold a master’s degree, but approximately 50% of dietitians do have an advanced degree; in 2024 it will become a requirement to have a master’s degree. This is not to say nutritionists or health/wellness coaches are not knowledgeable about nutrition, because they very well could be, depending on the programs they completed. However, the distinct difference between a RDN and a non-RDN nutritionist is the years of practice, breadth of experience, and specifically the ability to practice medical nutrition therapy (MNT). MNT delves into the clinical, metabolic, and systemic manifestations found in acute and chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, celiac disease, food allergies, and hypertension.
The academic curriculum, internship, and experiences of a registered dietitian-nutritionist are tailored to train the dietitian well above and beyond macronutrients, micronutrients, and calories.
Now that we have clarified the difference between registered dietitians and nutritionists, let’s delve into explaining what is considered integrative and functional medicine.
Communication and collaboration helps achieve optimal health
The integrative component really focuses on the collaboration and communication between professional and patient, but also incorporates other professionals and modalities in order to achieve optimal health, healing and wellness. It is a holistic approach, individualized for every unique person’s needs.
Functional medicine doesn’t just look to manage a disease, but takes a deeper look at the root causes, environmental impact, genetic predisposition, physiological, psychological and interdependent factors that contribute to the disease.
Internal (mind, body, spirit) and external factors (physical and social environment) are taken into consideration in order to assess the intervention and treatment. These may include Western, or traditional medicine, along with more alternative and complementary care such as supplementing with herbs, probiotics or specific vitamins and minerals, eliminating specific foods, employing certain cooking methods, or using Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, homeopathy and naturopathy, to name just a few.
Finally, we are ready to answer the question of who integrative registered dietitian nutritionist are and what they do!
An Integrative RDN puts all the components together.
From the knowledge attained as a registered dietitian nutritionist to the many components of integrative and functional medicine — an Integrative RDN combines it — and takes it a step further and digs a little deeper.
Often working as a team, the integrative RDN collaborates with a physician in order to investigate clinical markers such as specific laboratory diagnostics that may be indicative of a vitamin, mineral, or nutrient deficiency.
A specific whole-foods based plan can be developed and specific supplementation may be necessary. Stress-management is also a focus and can be recommended with physical movement and release such as yoga, massage, Qi gong, energy healing, meditation, or simply identifying triggers and creating a plan to address them. An integrative RDN may recognize that a detoxification program may be beneficial for the individual as well. However, this is not to be confused with the pop-culture definition of a “detox.”
An integrative RDN will explain the phases of cellular metabolism, how the body physically breaks down food, and how a build-up of toxins inhibits optimal function. Ridding the body of excess toxins, cleaning up the diet and re-setting the mechanisms during a brief period are only some of the benefits of nutrition related interventions an integrative RDN may recommend. These are only some of the examples of what an integrative RDN may include in their practice.
Take a look at the Integrative and Functional Medicine in Medical Nutrition Therapy Radial featured above for an easy to understand visual representation. Check out the Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietetic Practice Group, a great resource to find out more information or find an integrative RDN in your area.