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How to Find a Dietitian You Can Actually Afford
For Patients

How to Find a Dietitian You Can Actually Afford

Find a dietitian who won't break the bank

Finding the right dietitian can be tough. If you don’t know where to look, you could spend hours parsing through random lists you found googling ‘dietitian near me.’ But the objective is not to find just any dietitian. It’s to find a dietitian who works with your specific healthcare needs. 

This post will guide you through the process of finding a suitable dietitian. It will also cover why dietitians are useful, the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist, and what you might expect to pay for a dietitian’s care. We hope it helps you find a dietitian who matches your needs. 

The benefits of a dietitian

Dietitians offer guidance on your general approach to food and nutrition, as well as help navigating eating disorders, body-image issues, allergies and more. Depending on your situation, a dietitian’s care may drastically improve your overall health. If you have weight or gastrointestinal problems, difficult allergies, Diabetes, low energy levels, or any chronic illness that may be connected to the gut, consulting a dietitian could benefit you.

The unique advantage of a dietitian is personalized dietary recommendations. You may be able to google which foods to eat with a particular illness, but everyone’s gut is different. Google will not be able to tell you why those foods are not working for your body. But a registered dietitian can learn how your body responds to certain foods over time. Meaning you can find your body’s optimal diet. 

This may be bigger than you think. Many people believe food only impacts your physical shape, but your diet affects your mind too. A proper diet can raise your energy levels, improve your mood, and even help you think more clearly. 

Dietitian vs nutritionist: what’s the difference?

While dietitians and nutritionists generally aim to do similar things for their clients, there are some key differences between the two types of providers. To put it simply, dietitian is a more official title, meaning it requires certain levels of credentials to obtain. Dietitians also tend to get involved in treatment of medical issues, whereas nutritionists offer a more general approach to dietary wellness and illness prevention. 

All dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. In general, nutritionists have fewer requirements to receive their accreditation, as well as less protection under the law. In many states, nutritionists who do not officially take on the titles of “dietitian” or “registered dietitian” are not regulated by the government. In some states, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, regardless of their education.

This does not necessarily mean a nutritionist is less qualified to treat you. You can still find a nutritionist who suits your needs—you might just want to be cautious when you look. In non-emergency cases, a nutritionist and dietitian may give their clients similar advice. So, often these two terms can be used interchangeably.

Clinical dietitian vs registered dietitian

A couple more terms you may have heard are ‘clinical dietitian’ and ‘registered dietitian.’ A registered dietitian (RD) is just the official medical title for any accredited dietitian. A registered dietitian has to obtain a Bachelor's degree, pass a national examination, and complete a 1-year internship to receive their credentials. 

A clinical dietitian is a registered dietitian who works in a more specialized healthcare setting, like a hospital or outpatient facility. For example, a clinical dietitian might be asked to design a dietary plan to treat a specific illness for which the medical literature lacks a consensus. 

9 tips to help you find a dietitian who fits your needs

1. Use your insurance company's directory. 

If you want to find an in-network provider, your insurer’s website should have a directory of approved providers.

2. Call your insurance company. 

Call to check your in-network and out-of-network benefits to find a dietitian covered by insurance. Read another one of our posts for an in-depth explanation of the difference between in-network and out-of-network

If you’re considering going out-of-network, try SuperBill’s free benefits calculator

3. Look on third-party websites. 

A couple of our favorites are HealthProfs and The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

4. Be as specific as possible about your needs. 

Know that there are a wide variety of dietetic specialists: long term care dietitians, plant based dietitians, ketogenic dietitians, weight loss dietitians, and eating disorder dietitians, just to name a few. 

If you know what kind of care you’re looking for, searching for a particular type of dietitian will speed up the process. 

Once you’ve found a potential provider… 

5. Check their credentials. 

If they have the letters RD (Registered Dietitian) or RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) behind their name, then they are officially credentialed in the field of diet and nutrition. Non-credentialed providers (often nutritionists) might still suit your needs, but they do not come with the same level of vetting and might not have a license.

Note: Despite the word nutritionist in their title, RDNs are still dietitians, just with a more holistic, wellness-based approach.

6. Read through their website. 

See if their values align with yours and try to determine whether or not they offer the care you seek. 

7. Take advantage of discovery calls. 

Use a discovery call as an opportunity to see if you get along with the provider. Talk about your goals and ask them about their experience with similar clients.

8. Ask your therapist or primary care provider for referrals.

Or anyone you trust on the subject. The key is trust: someone who really knows you and your situation probably knows what kind of care you may need.

9. Consider an online dietitian.

Since the pandemic, online healthcare services have become more common. The number of dietitians you can see from the comfort of your home is greater than ever before. The right dietitian for you might be far outside your city. Book an online consultation with a dietitian to get a feel for their style of care.

Note: many states and insurers require you to see an in-state provider. Make sure to double-check your benefits before going out of state. 

How much does a dietitian cost?

Because dietetics and nutrition involve such a personalized form of counseling, prices vary considerably. This is one of the few areas where Google is not much help. If you google the cost of a dietitian, you might find prices ranging from $50 a session to $3000 for a long-term package. 

For that reason, we cannot give reliable estimates for the cost of a dietitian. However, we will go over the main factors that determine price. 

1. The intensity of your program.

Naturally, someone who is battling a chronic illness will tend to pay more for their dietetic counseling than someone who is trying to lose a few pounds. Knowing your situation and comparing a few providers’ rates will help you understand the price range.

2. The frequency and duration of your care.

Some people meet with a dietitian twice a week; some meet once a month. Some meet for a few months; some for a few years. The more often you see your dietitian, the more you will pay. But more frequent appointments often translate into faster progress.

Think about your goals and ask questions during your consultation to determine how frequently you want to see your dietitian. Note: be realistic with your expectations. Dietetic change takes time. You may need longer than you think.

3. Your insurance plan.

Depending on your state and your insurance plan, nutrition services may be covered. If you manage to find a dietitian covered by insurance, you may be able to save a good portion of the cost.

Found a good fit? 

We hope this post has helped you find a dietitian who makes you feel both comfortable and energized. If it feels like the search is moving slowly, have patience. The right dietitian is worth the search. 

Are you also searching for mental health support? We have a similar post on that topic! Read How to Find a Therapist for more information.

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About the Author

Hannah Steffen

Hannah is a registered dietitian and certified eating disorder specialist in Houston, TX. With a BA in Food, Nutrition and Dietetics and a minor in Business from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, Hannah has worked in both inpatient and outpatient settings and understands the frustrations of insurance. If you're a provider, Hannah is ready to support you, your business, and your mission to increase access to care.