Oct 2, 2023 • 9 min read

Do I Need a Referral to See a Dietitian or Nutritionist?

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Dietitians and nutritionists are healthcare professionals who specialize in nutrition to help people with a variety of health needs. By working with a nutrition professional, you may lose weight, boost your energy, improve your gut health, prevent illness and disease, and much more.

If you know you can benefit from seeing a dietitian or nutritionist, you may be asking, “Do I need a referral from my doctor to see a dietitian or nutritionist?”

In most cases, you do not need a referral to see a dietitian or nutritionist. However, if you plan to use insurance to pay for your visit, you may need a doctor referral depending on your insurance provider and the state you live in.

Here at Zaya Care, we can help you determine if your insurance covers visits with a dietitian and whether or not you need a referral. Simply request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians and we’ll let you know if your insurance covers visits and how much, if any, they will cost you.

This guide goes over everything you need to know about referrals for dietitians and nutritionists. 

Do I need a referral to see a dietitian or nutritionist?

Before discussing referrals, it is important to understand the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist. While their roles are very similar, there are big differences in the requirements to become a dietitian, compared to a nutritionist. 

Completing a 4-year bachelor’s degree is the first step to becoming a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). As of 2024, dietitians are also required to have their master’s degree. Once they have earned their degrees, future dietitians must complete 1,200 hours of supervised practice through an accredited internship and pass the national exam. 

In order to keep their RD credentials, dietitians need to complete a certain amount of continuing education hours every five years. On top of that, they must adhere to the state licensure laws of the state they practice in. 

Nutritionists or nutrition coaches, on the other hand, do not have to complete any of these requirements. Although they may have received some education and training, they do not have the same experience, credentials, or practicing laws as registered dietitians. 

This is important to understand when seeking a nutrition professional. If you have a certain health condition or complicated nutrition needs, you should only work with an RD or RDN, as they are the only healthcare professionals that can legally practice medical nutrition therapy

Regardless of who you want to see, here’s some information about whether you need a referral to see them:

Do I need a referral to see a dietitian?

Simply put, you do not need a referral to see a dietitian. If you plan to pay out-of-pocket for a dietitian visit, you can contact a clinic that offers nutrition counseling to schedule a dietitian appointment. If you are going to work with a private practice dietitian, you can typically contact the dietitian directly.

However, most major insurance companies offer coverage for nutrition counseling. If you plan to use insurance, do you need a referral? Some insurance providers require a doctor referral to provide coverage. Depending on your insurance, there may be other requirements in addition to a doctor referral such as having diabetes or kidney disease.

If you plan to use insurance to pay for your visit, it is important to check with your provider about the details of your coverage. If you are seeing a dietitian from a private practice, you should make sure that the dietitian is an in-network provider. Your dietitian may also have a specific referral form your doctor must fill out before you make an appointment. 

If you want us to do the legwork for you, simply request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians and we’ll let you know if your insurance covers visits and how much, if any, they will cost you. For reference, 90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for one-on-one nutritional counseling with a board-certified registered dietitian.

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Do I need a referral to see a nutritionist?

You do not need a referral to see a nutritionist if they are not an RD or RDN. Insurance typically does not cover nutritionist visits since they do not have RD credentials, and their services are not considered medically necessary. If your doctor refers you to see a nutrition professional, it will most likely be a registered dietitian since they will be able to provide you with the services you need. 

>> Read more: How much do nutritionist & dietitian visits cost?

How to get a referral for a dietitian if you need one

If you need a referral to see a dietitian, you will need to get one from your primary care physician. You might be able to get a referral from a nurse practitioner or other clinician, depending on your situation. If you are seeing a dietitian at a private practice, you should follow the instructions on their referral form. 

Visit types: how you can see a dietitian or nutritionist

Many dietitians today offer different types of visits including virtual, in-person, and group visits. Depending on the dietitian, you may have the option to choose which is best for you. Some dietitians even offer programs that include a combination of different types of visits. 

A more traditional dietitian appointment takes place in person, typically in a dietitian’s office. This can be helpful for people who prefer face-to-face interactions and who learn better by having visuals and resources in front of them. 

More dietitians today are offering counseling services online and over the phone. This is helpful for those who have busy schedules or who are not near the dietitian they are seeing. You can do online one-on-one counseling sessions and, in some cases, online group sessions with your dietitian. 

Group counseling sessions typically involve individuals who are all trying to manage the same health condition such as diabetes or body weight. People often benefit from group counseling because it can provide more accountability, motivation, and a sense of community. However, there is less discussion about your individual needs and personal preferences in a group setting. 

The right type of visit can maximize your experience with your dietitian or nutritionist. If you have the option to choose between virtual, in-person, group, and individual nutrition counseling, make sure you consider your schedule, personal needs, and what you are most comfortable with. 

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What to expect in your appointments with a dietitian or nutritionist

If you have never met with a dietitian before, you might be wondering what a dietitian actually does. How do they help patients? It is helpful to know what to expect before your first appointment and the overall benefits a dietitian can provide.

Some people think they will be judged on what they eat or told that they can never have their favorite foods again. However, you can expect your dietitian to listen, educate, support, and motivate you to adopt healthy nutrition habits and achieve your goals.  

Initial appointment

During your first appointment, your dietitian will ask several questions to get a clear understanding of your health history, food habits, and current nutrition needs. This appointment typically lasts 45 minutes to one hour. The goal is to gather enough information to provide you with the best food recommendations for you. 

You can also ask any questions you have for your dietitian that may help them tailor your care and make sure your concerns are addressed.

You and your dietitian will also discuss your long-term and short-term goals. By the end of your first appointment, you should have a clear plan of action for how you are going to achieve each goal. This may even include a meal plan to follow, depending on the dietitian you work with.

Because developing life-long nutrition habits can take time, your dietitian will most likely schedule a follow-up appointment. The number of times you need to see your dietitian will depend on your situation, which your dietitian will discuss with you. 

Follow-up appointment 

During your first follow-up appointment, you and your dietitian will discuss how well you were able to implement your nutrition plan. Your dietitian will assess your progress with your goals and any other progress you made such as weight loss, weight gain, improvements in blood sugar, or improvements in gastrointestinal symptoms. 

If you face specific challenges that prevent you from achieving your goals, your dietitian may provide you with additional resources to help you through those challenges. Your dietitian may also make changes to your plan if necessary or add more goals to keep you progressing toward your long-term goal. 

What questions should I ask my dietitian?

To prepare for your appointment with a dietitian, it is a good idea to bring questions to ask. This helps you make the most out of your time with your dietitian. Below are some example questions that you may want to ask your dietitian. 

  • How much should I be eating if I want to lose/gain weight?
  • How can I keep the weight off after I have lost weight?
  • How do I know if I am intolerant to certain foods?
  • How do I dine out and still achieve my goals?
  • I’m thinking about trying a certain diet. What do I need to know?
  • Should I be taking any supplements?
  • Do I need to be tracking my calories?
  • What are some healthy snacks/foods that I should always keep in my kitchen?
  • If I don’t cook, can I still eat healthy/reach my goals?
  • What foods do I need to avoid if I am taking certain medications?
  • If I avoid (dairy, meat, etc.), how can I make sure I still get all the nutrients I need?
  • I know what I should do with my nutrition, but I have trouble sticking to it. Do you have any tips?
  • How can I tell if a food is a good choice from a grocery store/restaurant/party?
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FAQs about seeing dietitians or nutritionists

Can I self-refer to a dietitian?
Typically you can self-refer to see a dietitian if you are not planning to use insurance to cover your appointment. If you are planning to use insurance, it will depend on your provider and where you live.

When do you need to be referred to a dietitian?
If you have been diagnosed with a certain health condition like diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal disease, or kidney disease, you should definitely be referred to a dietitian. You should also be referred if you want to work with a dietitian to lose weight for health reasons or struggle with nutrition deficiencies. 

When should I see a dietitian?
Other than having a doctor referral, there are a variety of situations where you should see a dietitian. These include having gastrointestinal issues, low energy, wanting to lose weight, wanting to improve athletic performance, becoming pregnant, wanting to improve your relationship with food, and more. Almost anyone can benefit from seeing a dietitian even if it means just feeling better and being healthier. You can learn more about if it’s worth it to see a dietitian/nutritionist here.

How do I start seeing a nutritionist or dietitian?
If your doctor suggests that you see a nutritionist or dietitian, first ask if they have a recommendation. Make sure you have a doctor referral if needed. Once you know which dietitian you will be working with, you can contact the clinic they are located in to make an appointment. If you are seeing a private practice dietitian, you may contact them directly via phone, email, or through their website to get started. 

How many appointments do I need to make with a dietitian?
The number of visits you need with your dietitian depends on your situation. Some people only need one or two appointments, while others may need regular visits on a weekly or monthly basis. More visits are necessary for long-term weight loss and managing health conditions. Note that some insurance policies put a limit on how many dietitian visits they will cover. 

How Zaya Care helps you book registered dietitians covered by your insurance

Here at Zaya Care, we’re dedicated to helping people find the care they need based on their preferences, needs, and insurance. When you request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians, we’ll check your insurance so you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay, if anything at all.

It’s worth noting that 90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for nutrition care with a registered dietitian as we are in-network with many major carriers.

If you don’t plan on using insurance or just want to see available dietitians, you can use our free dietitian search tool here or see specialty dietitians below:

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Kamryn is a Registered Dietitian who specializes in performance nutrition and weight management. She has experience in a variety of settings as a dietitian, including sports, clinical, and private practice. She currently provides individualized nutrition and fitness coaching to adult men and women. Kamryn is passionate about using evidence-based nutrition strategies to help people achieve long-term success with their fitness goals and to maintain a healthier lifestyle.