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3 ways to find a trustworthy Crohn's or colitis nutrition expert

Written by
Joe Rogers, PhD, Stacey Collins, MA RD
June 13, 2022

If you’ve lived with IBD for any period of time, you know that everyone has an opinion about what you should and should not eat. It can be overwhelming and exhausting to wade through all of the conflicting information and to find experts you can trust. In this post, we share some tools and resources you can use to find a qualified IBD expert to learn from, work with, and ultimately ensure that you’re receiving the high quality care you deserve. 

This post will cover:

  1. Dietitians vs nutritionists: are they both qualified sources of nutrition information? 
  2. 3 ways to find a nutrition expert with expertise treating IBD (+ a free screener tool you can use to vet them)
  3. How to find credible IBD nutrition experts on the web & social media

Dietitians vs Nutritionists: Are They Both Qualified Sources of Nutrition Information?

If you’re confused about the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist, you’re not alone. Depending on the state you live in, they may mean the same thing or they may be completely different.

The truth is that every state has different rules about who can and cannot provide nutrition counseling (often referred to as medical nutrition therapy) (1,2). It can be very confusing to patients who expect their providers to have the ​​knowledge, skill and competency necessary to provide safe and ethical nutrition therapy. 

Thankfully there is a national organization called the Commission on Dietetic Registration that provides credentialing of nutrition professionals (referred to as registered dietitians) across the United States. Registered dietitians must meet rigorous requirements to obtain their credentials including completion of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited nutrition program and 1200 hours of supervised practice time delivering evidence-based nutrition care (3).

While nutrition professionals in different states may use different titles to describe themselves depending on their state’s requirements, you should always seek out someone with the title of registered dietitian so that you can ensure they are qualified to provide the nutrition information and services you need. If you’re ever in doubt, you can always ask for their credential number or look them up using the Academy’s provider search tool.

So are All Registered Dietitians Experts in IBD?

While all registered dietitians are trained to perform medical nutrition therapy, delivering care to patients with IBD can be uniquely challenging given the complex relationship between food, symptoms, and disease activity.

The European Society for Enteral and Parenteral Nutrition advises that Registered Dietitians providing care to patients with IBD need to have additional training and specialized interest in treating Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (4). However, no credential or standardized education and training currently exists for dietitians who work in IBD nutrition.

Given the medical complexity and unique needs of every patient with IBD, we recommend looking for information and support from a registered dietitian that routinely cares for patients with IBD and is well-versed in the most recent research literature. 

3 Ways to Find a Nutrition Expert with Expertise Treating IBD

If you‘re unsure where or how to find an IBD registered dietitian, below are a few helpful resources to get you started. We’ve also included a list of screener questions you should ask every registered dietitian you speak to in order to ensure that they are experienced, credentialed, and able to provide the high quality care you’re looking for and deserve. 

  1. Start by asking your trusted GI physician for a referral to an IBD dietitian at your next appointment. If they are unable to provide one, a dietitian on their staff may be able to help you identify someone nearby. 
  2. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation has a tool to search for members of the foundation which includes a number of IBD dietitians. It’s important to note that this feature doesn’t cross-check credentials, so be sure to screen for qualified registered dietitians using the questions linked above. Likewise, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Gastroenterological Association also have provider directories including registered dietitians that should serve as a good starting point for your search, just be sure to screen these experts for their experience working with patients with IBD. 
  3. Try searching specifically for IBD dietitians online. We know it can be challenging to wade through the noise when searching Google for health-related information. Some questions you can ask yourself to quickly evaluate your search results include:
         - Is the provider a registered dietitian?
         - Does their website refer explicitly to IBD, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, lymphocytic or microscopic Colitis?
         - Do they only offer the majority of their services to people with IBD? 

If so, it might be worth reaching out for more information, but be sure to use your screener questions to further evaluate the provider to ensure that they can provide the care you need. 

How to Find Credible IBD Nutrition Experts on Social Media

Social media has become a mainstream way of consuming all types of information including health-related content. While there is a tremendous amount of great information from credible sources available on these platforms, it can be difficult to separate what’s credible and what’s not. While follower-count or a content creator’s persona may imply credibility, it’s important not to rely on these factors as they may bias your judgment (5-7). Instead, apply the same rules and checks we’ve referenced throughout this post including:

  • Check their credentials. Do they refer to themselves as a dietitian and use the credentials RD or RDN? If the person does not have these credentials, you cannot be sure they have the educational and clinical qualifications to provide nutrition counseling for medical conditions such as IBD. 
  • Understand their incentives and business. There are many well-intentioned providers leveraging social media to reach and help more patients than they otherwise would be able to. Unfortunately, there are just as many people and businesses that try to take advantage of patients’ medical conditions by selling supplements, food sensitivity testing, or by using paid affiliate links for food services or dietary supplements. It’s important you understand the incentives of the person or company you’re receiving information from and their credentials so that you can make an informed decision about how to interpret their content. 
  • Always apply your screener questions before working with anyone claiming to offer nutrition counseling or support to ensure you receive high quality, evidence-based care. 

Key Takeaways:

  1. If you don’t know who to trust for nutrition information, a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with a special interest and experience in IBD nutrition is a safe bet.
  2. If you want to work with a dietitian one-on-one, you can start by asking your GI doctor for a referral to a dietitian who is knowledgeable about IBD
  3. When searching for an IBD dietitian or considering information from a source online, use the screener questions included in this post to ensure that you’re receiving credible information from a provider with the proper credentials.

Next Steps

We hope this post provided some useful tips and tricks for identifying IBD nutrition experts in-person, online, and on social media. If you ever have any questions about a resource you’ve found online, or are struggling to find an IBD dietitian to talk to, drop us an email and we’d be happy to help!

If you're curious about what working with an IBD dietitian would look like, check out our testimonials page.

References

  1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "State licensure map". Retrieved June 2022. link.
  2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "MNT vs Nutrition Education". Retrieved June 2022. link.
  3. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "5 steps to become a registered dietitian nutritionist". Retrieved June 2022. link.
  4. Simon, Patrick. “The Role of the Dietitian in the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Multidisciplinary Team.” ECCO, link.
  5. Lim MSC, Molenaar A, Brennan L, Reid M, McCaffrey T Young Adults’ Use of Different Social Media Platforms for Health Information: Insights From Web-Based Conversations. J Med Internet Res 2022;24(1):e23656 doi: 10.2196/23656 PMID: 35040796
  6. Ma T, Atkin D. User generated content and credibility evaluation of online health information: a meta analytic study. Telematics Informatics 2017 Aug;34(5):472-486.
  7. Jenkins EL, Ilicic J, Molenaar A, Chin S, McCaffrey TA. Strategies to improve health communication: can health professionals be heroes? Nutrients 2020 Jun 22;12(6):1861
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