Welcome and congratulations on your interest in becoming a Nutritionist!
With nutrition, exercise, and overall health playing a greater role each year in the busy lives of millions of people, there is excellent opportunity for future nutritionists. This field is in high demand and prospects of landing a job and becoming a nutritionist are outstanding.
What is a Nutritionist
A nutritionist (not to be confused with dietician), is someone who helps others understand how diet affects their health and well-being. They advise on all matters of food and nutrition to address health needs. There are various types of nutritionists depending on their credentials and they may specialize in adults, children, and even animals.
Who Needs a Nutritionist?
Since eating food is not optional, practically anyone can benefit from the services of a nutritionist. This is what makes this occupation such as great choice. There will always be individuals seeking nutrition advice, whether it’s for a specific reason or simply to stay healthy, fit, and confident in themselves. Some examples:
- With all the information available online about healthy eating, many messages contradict each other. A nutritionist is able to sort out what only applies to that person, which in turn gives them the confidence knowing they are eating right.
- Individuals training for events such as a marathon or triathlon. The guidance a nutrition expert can provide allows the individual to meet their goals.
- Those needing to lose weight can enlist the help of a nutritionist to create a custom meal plan and change eating habits.
- People suffering from diet-related issues such as diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can completely manage their illness through good decisions made about their nutrition.
- Those dealing with a long-term illness may turn to a nutritionist as part of rehabilitation.
- Individuals with busy lifestyles with no time to plan meals
- Food allergy sufferers
Nutritionist Training and Certification
Your first step should be to take a look at the specific requirements of the state you reside in, which can be confusing. Currently, 46 states require certain standards for becoming a nutritionist. 30 of them require a license, which is the most restrictive type of regulation. In these states, it is technically illegal to practice as a nutritionist without a license. 15 states require certification which limits the use of titles but shows that a person has the professional skills to practice as a nutritionist. One state only requires a simple registration after graduating from an accredited nutritionist program. Both standards and the enforcement of those standards there is minimal. If you live in New Jersey, Michigan, Colorado, or Arizona, you will find there are currently no specific licensure requirements.
Most often, a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition or a similar field is required for states requiring a license or certification. If the state you’re in requires experience along with a license, make sure you pick an accredited program that offers internships.
Certain jobs, like a certified clinical nutritionist, require completing CNCB coursework requirements, submitting college transcripts and a credential review application, obtaining credential review approval from the board, completing the clinical nutrition program, and passing the CCN exam.
What Does a Nutritionist Do?
As an expert in food and nutrition, a nutritionist works with clients in a one-on-one or group setting. While registered dieticians mainly work with individuals who are sick, a nutritionist primarily consults with relatively healthy individuals. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when discussing a person’s nutritional needs. Here are some of the things you will do as a nutritionist:
- Research how food intake affects how a body functions
- Consult with clients to understand their specific health and needs
- Determine the effects of diet on metabolism
- Assist clients in setting and achieving their goals
- Track client progress
- Look at the association of diet, health, and disease
- Motivate clients to commit to excellent health
- Promote healthy eating through proven health advice
- Educate clients about nutrition
- Keep up-to-date on the latest research and trends
Nutrition Schools and Degrees
A wide variety of schools across the country now offer nutrition degree programs, both on-line and on-campus. Associates, bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees are available. Due to the nature of this job and the amount of lab work required in these programs, it is highly recommended to opt for a traditional brick and mortar school at the undergraduate level. While online schooling is becoming increasingly popular, it should typically be saved for graduate students who have already finished those lab requirements and are ready for more advanced learning including theory and research.
Nutritionist Jobs and Career Outlook
For those considering a career in nutrition, job applicants are currently in demand and a 20% increase in employment is expected through 2020. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field will experience much faster than average job growth. With a medium salary of $53,250, a nutritionist gets paid very well for what is considered by most in the field to be a low stress job. Expect to work no more than 40 hours a week, but as with other consultant-type positions, you have the luxury of working only as much or little as you wish in many cases. You will find nutritionists very often working as self-employed consultants, in hospitals, nursing homes, sports teams, schools, and government entities.
As a nutritionist, you will have the opportunity to work in both private and public sectors in a wide range of specialties. Some of the most common specialties include:
Nutrition Consultant – Works mainly on a one-on-one basis with clients at small to mid-sized facilities or their own individual client base. They analyze a particular client after a meeting and develop a plan of action based on the specific needs. Ongoing education and research is vital.
Clinical Nutritionist – Works in the health care field educating patients at clinics and hospitals how a healthy diet is essential to their specific medical condition and nutritional requirements. They consult with doctors, patients, and caregivers.
Public Health Nutritionist – Works with a variety of governmental agencies and community organizations with the goal of educating others (both individually and in a group setting) about the benefits of proper nutrition. They often lead classes, workshops, and counseling sessions.
Sports Nutritionist – Works with mainly with athletes and active people who are looking to improve their performance. They can work with clients at a local gym, college, or even a professional sports team.
Management Nutritionist – Works with large facilities such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons. Meal planning and managing the overall dietary needs of those within the facility is their main priority. This person is also responsible for many administrative tasks.
Animal Nutritionist – Works with zoos, veterinarians, ranchers, farmers, and pet owners to recommend dietary needs of a broad range of animals and birds. They are often involved with marketing projects and research for various manufacturers of pet food.
Best Skills to Have for a Career in Nutrition
Becoming a nutritionist is a great way to a fulfilling, well-paying, and low stress job. While the education and certification requirements may not be as difficult as other positions, there are a few skills and qualities that are quite helpful in this profession.
People Skills – Most importantly, you must love working with people, even those that are a bit difficult to work with. Listening and asking good questions will allow you to best understand the client’s needs and help build trust. A gentle yet tough approach is necessary as well as the ability to motivate.
Analytical and Problem Solving – Like mentioned earlier, there is no one-size-fits-all nutrition plan. You will come across unique problems which require a different plan of action than another client. The ability to understand scientific studies and know what works is critical. Sometimes you must be able to think outside the box to solve a particular nutritional problem.
Communication – Because a nutritionist works with a wide variety of people with many different cultures, they must be able to clearly communicate in both speaking and writing. Because teaching clients about nutrition plays such a large role, you will need to ask the right questions to determine what teaching style works best for that person and put it into action.
Research and Organization – Because health and medical issues are constantly changing, a nutritionist will need to do regular research to stay up with the latest studies and trends. Organization is important as client records, nutrition plans, exercise plans, and medical history will need to be tracked and analyzed and appointments set.