What Does an Online Dietitian Do?

C. Mitchell

An online dietitian provides advice, nutritional counseling, and diet recommendations to clients over the Internet. The specific services provided necessarily vary depending on the practitioner, but most include both personal and generalized advice. Online dietitians usually maintain websites where they post videos, offer tips, and upload photos of balanced meals. Many often maintain presences on a host of social networking sites as well, including blogs and instant-update platforms.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Dietitians are members of the medical community who help clients optimize food intake or meal creation to meet certain goals. Most of the time, these goals have to do with managing certain diseases or conditions. Online dietitian jobs can be patient-facing as well as more institutional, often in larger organizations like hospitals, schools, and corporate wellness divisions. Those who do the majority of their work remotely are often referred to as online dietitians.

Most of the time, an online dietitian only spends part of his or her time online. Office-based professionals often find the Internet a convenient way to expand their reach and their practice, but only a few exist exclusively in that space. More often, a dietitian uses the Internet to keep in touch with established patients and clients, or to make recommendations for people or groups who have already established a face-to-face connection.

Some dietitians also use the Internet as a way of building their professional reputation, often by providing information. This sort of online dietitian may present him or herself as a resource on the proper nutrition for certain conditions, for instance, or as an expert on using food to heal. These sorts of professionals often focus more on building an online resource for general information than contacting patients directly.

Still others offer so-called “e-courses” on nutrition, or sell counseling or other services. Many of these professionals operate subscription-based websites that provide tailored recipes, eating plans, and nutritional scales for subscribers based on self-reported conditions or symptoms. This often comes in the form of tailored diets, food logs, and other online feedback tools.

Online dietitian requirements vary from place to place, which makes the online dietitian job description somewhat malleable. Some local laws require anyone offering medical advice — which usually includes dietitians — to have an in-person relationship with a patient before making medical recommendations. The phrase “dietitian” is also restricted in many places, and can apply only to someone who has achieved certain certifications or passed certain licensing exams.

Very little about the Internet is jurisdiction-specific. This means that online dietitians can engage in a range of behaviors and actions that may not be approved everywhere that they can be accessed. Patients and potential patients are usually wise to research a dietitian’s credentials before trusting information posted online or paying for personalized counseling.

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