Seeing medical professionals through your phone has gone from being a futuristic fantasy to kind of the norm. If you haven't had a virtual visit to fill up on your birth control or even have a quick mental health check-in, you likely know someone who has. And now, a growing number of websites and apps are offering up the services of nutritionists, too.
Basically, a nutritionist is someone who's meant to help you achieve food-related health goals, according to Allied Health. That could mean anything from wanting to shift to a more plant-based to trying to learn about how to best fuel your body based on your activity level and food intolerances. The only different with virtual providers is that you "see" them via your phone or laptop.
Here's everything you need to know before your first visit.
What exactly does an online nutritionist do?
An online nutritionist does exactly what an in-person nutritionist does: helps clients set and hit food-related health goals, sometimes working with other healthcare professionals to do so.
The only real difference is that an online nutritionist communicates with people via tex or video chat, or email, Manaker says.
Online nutritionist Alissa Rumsey, RDN, for instance, offers three-month and six-month packages through her website. Both packages include one 75-minute assessment and bimonthly 35-minute sessions, all of which happen over the phone. During the longer consult, she'll ask questions about your relationship with food and body image, your diet history, and current eating behaviors. The subsequent calls function as progress check-ins.
How much do online nutritionists cost?
The price will vary depending on how experienced the practitioner is and the amount of time they give you per session, Manaker says. Costs vary widely. But for a frame of reference, Rumsey, who is based in New York City, charges $479 a month; two of the less-experienced nutritionists on her staff charge $399 a month.
Services from a nutritionist may be covered by some health insurance providers, though. If you have a condition such as diabetes or high cholesterol, and a doctor prescribes sessions with a nutritionist, you may be eligible for coverage. Ask your insurance provider about medical nutrition therapy benefits in your plan, and what's required to be covered.
How do I find a reputable nutritionist?
Look for a registered dietitian (they'll have RDN or RD in their title), or someone who's been certified through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
People can only legally use the RD or RDN title when they register with Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), and to do that they usually need to have a Bachelor's degree in nutrition or a related field, to complete six to 12 months in a Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education-accredited program, and to pass a Commission on Dietetic Registration exam, according to Allied Health.
The requirements for becoming a nutritionist, a nutrition coach, or a nutrition counselor are not as rigorous. The coursework for a NCCA-accredited organization may includes video lectures, coaching sessions, quizzes, and a final certification test.
If someone is a RD, RDN, or NCCA-certified nutritionist, they'll probably make that clear on their website. Stay away from anyone who uses terms like "nutrition coach" but doesn't appear to have any real certifications. They may be less expensive, but they're less trained too.