Many people are interested in the field of nutrition. It is in fact quite a varied field and can encompass both allopathic and alternative health, as well as counselling and life coaching, fitness, personal training and gym instruction and research. Careers might be sought in gyms, doctors clinics, complementary medicine clinics, sporting clubs and institutions, health food shops, food and beverage/hospitality or as a nutritional counsellor or consultant. You might like to work as a facilitator, counselling and motivating people to improve their diet, or as a source of information and guidance, giving people the knowledge and tools and then monitoring their progress. You may prefer to work in the provision of healthy food alternatives or food preparation. What employment you can obtain will depend on your range of skills and qualifications and nutrition studies are often an ideal adjunct to other professional qualifications.
However, most people are unaware that there is no formal system of recognition for nutritionists in many countries, Australia included. This means that anyone can open up shop and work as a nutritionist. Of course the chances that they will be a good and successful nutritionist are practically nil. On the other hand, there are strict criteria and restrictions on the use of the title Dietician. Dietician studies are generally much more focused on the allopathic medicine field, with strong focus on the biological sciences and western techniques and theories. To call yourself a Dietician, in most countries, you will require a Bachelors Degree as a minimum, or a specialised post graduate qualification. You will also need to join an industry body in many instances and obtain a license in some.
Nutritionists are often criticised by dieticians for their lack of knowledge and training. Unfortunately, without regulation this accusation can sometimes be true as course are available of very limited duration and often the anatomy and physiology components are limited. In many cases industry bodies for nutritionists are developing and setting minimum membership criteria. In this way, genuine nutritionists who have completed an approved course of study can be readily recognised from those who have not. Institutions like ACS Distance Education maintain the importance of comprehensive training for nutrition students. Courses include comprehensive digestive anatomy and physiology with cellular biology as standard. Nutrition modules cover macro and micro-nutrients, RDIs, food sources of nutrients as well as cooking and preperation, biochemistry and food allergies and senstivities and other nutrient related pathologies.
Working as a Nutritional Counsellor
What we eat has a huge impact on our health, and nutritional counsellors help advise and guide people to eat a balanced diet to maintain good health. If you are interested in food, nutrition and health, and enjoy communicating with people, this may be the career path for you.
Nutritional counsellors or nutritionists may educate others on health and the establishment of a well-balanced diet.
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 physical problems, and can complement the medical treatment that person is receiving from a medical practitioner.
Nutritional counsellors or nutritionists may work in conjunction with other professionals.
A nutritional counsellor’s role may include:
- understanding nutritional science – the role and benefits of particular vitamins and minerals
- interpreting nutrition science – explain what a client needs to take to address a nutritional issue
- assessing people's nutritional needs
- advising on nutrition and diet for general good health and well being or for special needs such as sport
- implementing nutrition services and programs
- teaching others about better health and well being.
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, childhood – especially ADD and Autism, sports such as performance and weight lifting. 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.
Risks and challenges
The stress rating for a nutritional counsellor will again depend on the way one is practicing. Working for yourself can be much calmer than working for others, but having to pay the bills and finding clients on your own may be stressful. Some jobs put heavier demands on people than others. Some are very stressful; others very laid back. Working for others may be less stressful as there is less responsibility, but you may also feel the stress of having to work times that you cannot control. Mostly, the field of Nutrition is very rewarding and gives you much pleasure as you help others to better health.
Another risk worth considering is the possibility of providing advice which is either incorrect, has an adverse response for the client, or is perceived by the client to be incorrect. It is important to ensure you have appropriate insurance to cover you for situations like this.
How to become a Nutritional Counsellor
The nutrition industry is not government regulated in many countries, however high level jobs in big organisations (eg. Hospital Dietician) are usually filled by university trained nutritional scientists. . However, for your client’s (and your own) best interests, it is advisable that you undergo appropriate training. There are many excellent vocational training courses that deliver information from people working in the industry. There are also Bachelor degree and above courses that you can complete through University. Depending on your background, your personal attributes, and your passion for the industry, completing a two or three years of full time study may or may not be necessary.
It will be in your best interests 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.
Once you have finished your studies you will need to decide whether to go into practice by yourself, gain employment, or work under the umbrella of an existing health clinic, gym, or similar. Many people find that it is beneficial at first to try to gain employment or work with an existing team if possible, then move into self-employment. This, however, may or may not be possible. Many nutrition counsellors will work for themselves.
When planning on being self-employed, it is advised to gain at least basic business skills. You will also need to develop strong marketing and networking skills in order to build your business.
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. Also, universities and other schools sometimes hire specialists in the field for sharing the latest research and approaches to nutrition. You will also find academic Journals covering research innovations and latest studies in nutrition and dietetics.
Other related jobs might include
§Weight Loss Consultant