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You CAN work in Food & Nutrition without having to do years of study.
In fact most of the jobs that involve helping people to eat better, are a lot less than being a full blown nutritional scientist.
As with any job, the best career path is one that involves small steps. Start with a short course and a lower level job. Build your knowledge and experience and advance to higher positions. If you are inspired and continue to keep learning, there's nothing stopping you eventually working to the pinnacle of your industry. In actual fact, the better nutritional scientists are often the ones who take this more considered, step by step approach.
As people become increasingly interested in improving their health and wellbeing, many are seeking help and advice from a rich variety of sources to support their allopathic, or medical health, journeys. Enter the role of the modern nutritionist.
What we eat has a huge impact on our health, and nutritionists help advise and guide people toward eating in ways that are right for their body and for maintaining good health. If you are interested in food, nutrition and health, and enjoy communicating with people, this may be the career path for you.
Nutritionists fulfil a role that is focussed on the relationship between food, health, and wellbeing. This means that, depending on the personal interests and focus on the practitioner, careers and workplaces can be quite varied. Some nutritionists prefer to focus on women’s health, while others are more interested in working with people with chronic illness, or those recovering from eating disorders. The specific interest will affect the end place of work. Places nutritionists may choose to work include:
Nutritional counselling and advice may help others identify their problems with food, and the physical consequences of not eating well. Education about the nutritional values of food can be of particular benefit to a person with health problems or a difficult relationship with food, and can complement the medical treatment that person is receiving from a medical practitioner. Indeed, many nutritionists work in conjunction with other professionals.
Generally, while many nutritionists do help clients with weight loss, it’s important to recognise that weight loss is not the sole focus of this profession. A skilled nutritionist looks at nutrition and the human body as a whole, helping clients find ways to optimise health for their body, as opposed to sticking to a regimen dictated by a societal idea of “healthy” or “good enough”. Many nutritionists work across the intersection of:
as well as providing guidance and advice regarding food.
Working with a client, a nutritionist will start out by identifying the client’s goals and their needs. It’s very important to draw this distinction between the client’s goals and needs – sometimes the client’s goals (e.g. lose 10 kilos) and their needs (e.g., gain muscle) are actually quite different. It is not the nutritionist’s job to tell the client they’re wrong at any point in their journey, but it is important for the nutritionist to recognise where the client is in terms of their health journey. If the client’s goals and need are not in alignment, it is often not advisable for the nutritionist to state this difference in the initial consult. Instead, it’s advisable to work on building trust with the client by giving them the knowledge and tools over the course of their work with you, and helping them discover what they really need. You can then monitor their progress.
Some nutritionists may prefer to work with less clients and more in the provision of healthy food alternatives or food preparation. This can also include consulting for kitchens, restaurants and other forms of food development. The type of employment available will depend on your range of skills and qualifications and nutrition studies are often an ideal adjunct to other professional qualifications. In the case of food preparation and consultation, kitchen experience or culinary qualifications are a definite benefit.
A nutritionist’s role may include:
Nutrition is an unregulated industry in many countries, including Australia. This means that there is no formal system of recognition for nutritionists in many countries. As such, anyone can open up a storefront and call themselves a nutritionist. It’s important to recognise, however, that being a nutritionist is more than just a name – working as a successful nutritionist requires a particular set of skills that must be developed through study, practice, and consultation over time. Without this effort, it’s highly unlikely anyone calling themselves a nutritionist will develop long-term relationships and grow a successful practice.
On the other hand, there are strict criteria and restrictions on the use of the title dietitians. Dietician studies are generally much more focused on the allopathic medicine field, with a strong focus on the biological sciences and western techniques and theories. To call yourself a dietitians, in most countries, you will require university qualifications. Some countries also require dietitians to join an industry body, and, in some cases, obtain a license.
There is sometimes a rivalry between nutritionists and dieticians. However, nutritionists and dietitians occupy very different roles in the health and wellness space. As dietitians work more in the health care space with doctors and nurses, they are more focussed on providing a plan and letting the person work independently. A nutritionist, on the other hand, more often works closely with clients, more in line with the supportive, coaching and counselling elements of wellness. This work can help the client identify issues with food and wellness, or how their relationship with different foods affects their overall health and wellbeing from a variety of perspectives, e.g., a person with chronic migraine keeping a food journal to help identify triggers and work with the nutritionist to find ways to minimise triggers in their everyday while still eating for optimum health and increasing nutrients that are often deficient in migraineurs.
Of course, this does not mean that nutritionists should have only the most basic instruction in the science and body elements of human health. Indeed, high quality education providers maintain the importance of comprehensive training for nutrition students with courses that include comprehensive digestive anatomy and physiology with cellular biology as standard (link). Nutrition modules cover macro and micro-nutrients, RDIs, food sources of nutrients as well as cooking and preparation, biochemistry, and food allergies and sensitivities and other nutrient related pathologies.
When training as a nutritionist, or just starting out, it is best if you can gain work experience, or work alongside a practicing nutritionist or similar while you are studying, so you can develop a sound understanding and gain valuable clinical experience. This is helpful in terms of not only learning about the field, but learning how to:
Seeing another nutritionist in practice is an excellent way to learn how to apply the learning from your studies in a safe environment. Alternatively, working alongside or taking work experience with a natural health practitioner such as a naturopath can also help you gain experience, as many of the client and business practices are transferable.
If you intend to work independently, or semi-independently (e.g., through a relationship with a health food store) it is advisable to invest in learning some business skills. You will also need to develop strong marketing and networking skills in order to build your business.
Employment in the field of nutrition is varied. You may work for yourself and counsel clients how to eat more healthily to have more personal wellbeing. You can work with clients or you can work as a nutritional journalist. These are just a couple of the many avenues that you can explore. Employment in this field can be part time, full time, casual or permanent.
Depending on where you are living, career opportunities can be quite different – of course, a larger city provides more opportunities in general. A background in nutrition can be utilized in many different industries at a variety of levels. Other qualifications and certificates may be beneficial to secure positions at management or higher levels.
Remuneration and advancement opportunities depend on where and how you are practicing in this field. If you are counselling in nutrition, the price for one half hour session may vary from not much more than the minimum wage to over four times that rate. This may depend greatly on whether you are working in your own practice and location, and your specialities.
Extra study in a specialised area will make your skills more competitive. After some time in the business, many nutritionists decide to specialise in fields such as weight loss, fertility, sports such as performance and weightlifting. Or you can simply become a specialist vegan nutrition counsellor, making sure that those people not eating meat, fish, or other animal products get the right amount of nourishment and vitamins. If you are working on your own, advancement will depend on you and what you want to add to your skills. If working for others, it will depend on what industry they are in and what they find beneficial.
When you have started practicing, it is important that you keep up to date with changes in the field, and latest research. It is good to be a part of seminars on nutrition and health. Most nutritional supplement companies have seminars a few times a year to give the latest research on many different subjects.
Everyone is different. If we know and understand what your strengths & weaknesses are, not to mention your likes and dislikes, we can suggest a good pathway forward that better fits you. Use our free advisory service. Consider what you need to study and what else you need to do to get onto a career path in the world of nutrition. Click here.
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