Please Help Nutritionists – and Clients – in Virginia

I’d like to start by apologizing for the appearance of this site – it’s under construction with a brand spanking new version expected in the next few weeks. Thanks for your patience! And now, on to bigger and better things:

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is currently pushing a bill that would grant a monopoly on nutrition counseling to Registered Dietitians (RDs).  This would be devastating for freedom of choice in healthcare, as well as whole-food-based nutrition and health in Virginia.  For more background on this nutrition licensing bill click here.

The bill (HB345) will be heard THIS TUESDAY, Jan. 31 at approx. 10am. It is in subcommittee 2 (

Why is this important?

  • It limits the ability of people in Virginia to choose a nutrition care provider who meets their needs. While RDs are a great fit for some, others choose to work with nutritionists. The choice should lie in the hands of the consumer and not be made for the consumer by the government. Additionally, a bit of competition is healthy for any profession; monopolies fester, breed discontent, and generally don’t serve the greater good.
  • It will prevent highly qualified practitioners from practicing their craft – nutritionists like myself – ones who are licensed in other states and who have extensive clinical experience and education – will not be legally allowed to practice here.  Will other types of nutritionists – ones with few qualifications – be allowed to keep practicing? Yes, they will. And that is another topic for another day. Let’s not prevent all nutritionists from practicing because some are “not qualified.”

What can you do?

  • If you live in Virginia, please do one or all of the following:
    • Phone – Call your representatives, as well as the key delegates associated with HB345 (see list below)
    • Show up – Attend the sub-committee hearing on Jan. 31st at 10 am (General Assembly Building, Room 521 (room subject to change) Capitol Square, Richmond, VA 23219, 804-698-1073; Give yourself extra time, as you’ll have to park away from the General Assembly Building itself. Parking may cost about $10.)
    • Email – Here is a form you can use, provided by the Alliance for Natural Health; fill it out and the service will automatically send emails to your lawmakers
    • If you do not live in Virginia, please contact any friends, colleagues, patients/clients etc who do and ask them to pitch in. This is important!

What is the Difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

  • Education –  A registered dietitian must complete a bachelor’s degree with coursework approved by the AND, an internship of 6-12 months, and pass an exam in order to receive the RD credential.  Nutritionists have varying degrees or types of education; some states license nutritionists, some do not.  In order to receive the CNS certification that I have, I completed a master’s degree, 1000+ hours of supervised clinical work and an exam. In Maryland, this certification allows me to apply for licensure as a nutritionist. The same is true in many other states. Other nutritionists are trained by unaccredited programs – some of them quite good and some regrettable – or learn by practice, mentorship, etc.  Programs that train nutritionists typically do not have a curriculum set by an organization with sponsors like Coca-Cola.
  • Philosophy – While of course individual RDs and nutritionists will buck tradition, there are generally philosophical differences between the two groups.  As mentioned before, RDs follow a very specific curriculum as specified by the AND (formerly the ADA), and may also follow a more rigid assessment/diagnostic/treatment plan as well.  RDs may rely heavily on things like the USDA’s food pyramid or healthy plate programs, or the “calories in/calories out” philosophy of weight loss. Nutritionists tend to have a philosophy based on consumption of whole-foods, a deep respect for individual needs and differences, and may be able to “think outside the box” a bit more when it comes to assessment & plan.
  • Sponsorship – By definition, RDs are associated with the AND (formerly the ADA). The AND sets the curriculum for RD education, dictates best care practices for RDs, and provides or approves continuing education; unfortunately, these are potentially influenced by ulterior motives. A quick look at the major sponsors of the AND (!) will reveal how deep the conflicts of interest run: Hersheys? Coca-Cola? The American Dairy Council? Kelloggs? Yep, all of these and more are big-time sponsors. Do you think any of this is related to the AND position on diet soda? It’s no wonder that the AND/ADA needs to change more than its name. Nutritionists have generally been trained without ties to such corporate sponsors.


This discussion stimulates many complicated issues. “Nutritionist” can mean many things. Can consumers tell the difference between a well-trained nutritionist and a poorly-trained one? Between an RD and a nutritionist? Should they be asked to? Do we trust consumers to make educated decisions when provided with information about the philosophy and training of a care provider? The answers are unclear. For the purposes of this argument, let’s say that “nutritionist” means “someone who works with clients around nutrition who is NOT a dietitian.” Some of these people are well-trained, some are not.  The question is – do we want ONLY registered dietitians to practice in Virginia, or do we want others to be able to practice as well?  If we choose to keep the practice of nutrition open to nutritionists as well as dietitians, then we can discuss whether and how nutritionists should be licensed. For now, this is what I believe:

  • Nutritionists and dietitians are significantly different healthcare providers.
  • Each group plays an important role in providing nutrition education & support to consumers.
  • Virginians are better off having a choice when it comes to nutrition care.
  • Virginia consumers can and should evaluate the credentials and philosophy of all of their healthcare providers.
  • Let’s stop HB 345 now and then concern ourselves with whether nutritionists should be a licensed or regulated profession.


Contact Info for 10 Key VA Delegates:

John O’Bannon, M.D., Patron



Kaye Kory, Co-Patron



Robert Orrock, Chairman HWI Committee 



Delegate Robert B. Bell   (R) – House District 58

General Assembly Building, Room 720

Capitol Square

Richmond, Virginia 23219

(804) 698-1058



Delegate Anne B. Crockett-Stark   (R) – House District 6

General Assembly Building, Room 819

Capitol Square

Richmond, Virginia 23219

(804) 698-1006



Delegate Roxann L. Robinson   (R) – House District 27

General Assembly Building, Room 806

Capitol Square

Richmond, Virginia 23219

(804) 698-1027



Delegate Gordon C. Helsel, Jr.   (R) – House District 91

General Assembly Building, Room 812

Capitol Square

Richmond, Virginia 23219

(804) 698-1091



Delegate Joseph R. Yost   (R) – House District 12

General Assembly Building, Room 518

Capitol Square

Richmond, Virginia 23219

(804) 698-1012



Delegate David L. Englin   (D) – House District 45

General Assembly Building, Room 707

Capitol Square

Richmond, Virginia 23219

(804) 698-1045



Delegate Patrick A. Hope   (D) – House District 47

General Assembly Building, Room 712

Capitol Square

Richmond, Virginia 23219

(804) 698-1047



Thoughts? Add your comments here. 

  • I have been a Registered Dietitian for the past 12 years and have had a license in several states. My master’s degree is in nutritional sciences and my experience is mostly clinical.

    I used to believe licensing was essential to prevent “quacks” from offering nutritional advice. However, I now agree with almsot everything you say.

    There are plenty of individuals who have valuable knowledge and skills to offer that are not “Registered”, and I have come to detest the narrow-mindedness (and self-interests) of the Dietetic Association (“Acadmeny”).

    I do believe the education I received was a good foundation for working with clinical patients (ICU, hospital setting), but my education is severely lacking in other areas. While I don’t agree that anyone should be allowed to dispense nutrition advice (I am thinking of all the bad advice I have heard personal trainers give), I do believe the public should have a choice.

    And yes, we RD often don’t know how to think “outside the box” and I once believed doing things “by the book” was best. These days I am on a quest to re-educate myself and bring a more wholistic approach to my patients/clients.

    thank you,
    Michelle Van Doren, MS, RD

    • Michelle, thank you for your comment. Apparently it has been caught up in my spam filters for more than a year (!). I was pleasantly surprised to find it while doing a site clean-up this morning. I deeply appreciate the work RDs are doing, especially those like you with a great deal of experience and an open mind. And I also agree that not just anyone should hold themselves up as a qualified dispenser of nutrition-based advice. In addition to many “fitness professionals” I have also seen a fair amount of poor advice coming from those involved in various multi-level marketing programs.

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