Nutrition is one of those topics that many people find fascinating. Because of this, it’s a popular career choice. In this article, guest author Future Fit Training will look at the different types of nutrition professionals, how their job specifications differ, and the nutrition qualifications and experience you need for each role.
The different types of nutrition professional and their qualifications
The nutrition profession covers many levels of expertise and a wide variety of career possibilities.
Nutritionist and dietitian are the two professional titles that you are probably most familiar with. These have very similar roles and there is considerable overlap in what they do, however, dietitians tend to be more clinical and involved in working with people with diet-related medical conditions. Nutritionists are more likely to work in research, the food industry, community projects and preventative health. Both can also work with clients in private practice.
Unlike ‘dietitian’, the term ‘nutritionist’ is not a protected title which means that currently, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, irrespective of their qualifications. For this reason, most employers seeking a nutritionist will specify that they need to be registered with the Association for Nutrition.
In order to become a registered nutritionist or dietitian, you will need to complete a university degree program, usually lasting 3-4 years.
A third commonly used title is ‘nutritional therapist’. These practice nutritional therapy, which involves the use of foods, diets, fasting, supplements, functional foods and dietary counselling as a form of therapy to optimise health and resolve certain conditions. They usually work in private practice on a one-to-one basis with clients and will normally hold a diploma or degree in nutritional therapy. Although nutritional therapy is not currently regulated by law, it is recommended that practitioners register with an organisation such as the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), which is a voluntary regulator for complementary healthcare practitioners.
In addition to nutritionists, dietitians and nutritional therapists there are also nutrition advisers/coaches, health trainers, personal trainers, wellness coaches, slimming group leaders and weight loss coaches who all practice nutrition to varying degrees and can have a number of possible nutrition qualifications. These qualifications may take anything from a few hours up to a year to complete and are normally at levels 2 to 5. The higher the level, the more complex the content of the qualification. The scope of practice of these professionals is more limited than degree-qualified professionals, but for most people who need healthy eating advice and weight loss support, these are a good option, especially as they often have skills in supporting behaviour change.
One thing worth noting is that there are a lot of nutrition courses available that don’t lead to a recognised qualification. While this is fine if you are just studying for personal interest, this is not ideal if you want a career in nutrition. If in doubt, ask the training provider if the course leads to an Ofqual recognised qualification or check the OFQUAL register directly to see if the course you are intending to study is listed there.
What’s next once qualified?
First things first, get your certificates framed so that you can gaze upon them proudly – you’ve worked hard for them, so don’t let them gather dust somewhere.
Next up, you will need to start building up your experience. If you are seeking employment, you may be lucky and land your dream role straight away, but chances are, you will need to build up your experience in roles that are not perfect but are a useful means to an end.
A good idea is to do a skills audit. Search online for the jobs that you would ultimately like to do. Most of these will feature a person specification where the employer lists the skills and experience they would like the applicant to have. Once you have identified gaps in your experience or skills, create an action plan for addressing them. Sometimes a lack of experience can feel like a vicious circle – you can’t get a job because you lack experience, but you can’t get experience without getting a job. It is important to be flexible and think imaginatively about how you can build your experience. Working with family and friends as clients or volunteering your services are both good options. Could you volunteer for a couple of hours each week at a care home? Is there a sports club in your area that would welcome a free talk on how the principles of nutrition apply to that specific sport? Also bear in mind that you probably have a lot of transferrable skills from other jobs – your experience doesn’t have to be from a nutrition setting.
If you want to set up your own nutrition business, you will have more control over your career direction, but it will still take time to build up a client base and learn how best to promote yourself. With this way of working there isn’t the security of a guaranteed paycheque at the end of the month but there is the freedom of creating your own business exactly how you envision it and being accountable only to yourself and your clients. You may want to begin by working part-time until you have established yourself. A crucial starting point will be getting some testimonials from satisfied clients. This may involve initially offering your services at a reduced rate or even for free. You will also need to think about the practicalities of running your own business including getting insurance.
Nutrition is one of those areas that is constantly evolving, so it’s important that you keep your knowledge up to date and set aside regular time for continuing professional development (CPD). This could be anything from simply reading a journal article to attending an online webinar or attending a conference or convention.
If nutrition is something that you are passionate about, it has the potential to be an incredibly rewarding career. It is a topic that can be applied in a wide range of settings from hospitals to schools to the food industry, so lends itself to a diverse range of career routes. Think about what sort of area you would ideally like to work in then create a plan for acquiring the qualifications, experience, and skills you need for that role. If you are unsure, then a sensible approach is to start with a basic qualification at levels 3 or 4 that will give you the skills to start working as a nutrition coach. Once you are certain that this is the right career for you, you can then decide whether a higher-level qualification is needed to achieve your specific career goals.
This blog post was authored by Future Fit Training – a leading training provider, offering courses in personal training, nutrition and much more.