We have all probably heard of the word Nutritionist and have an understanding that they are someone we would talk to about food, but often people don’t really know what a nutritionist does and if they need a Nutritionist to help them in their lives. If you are asking – how can a nutritionist help me? This blog post is for you.
There are different nutritional professionals out there who can help in different ways, so let’s start by understanding the differences between these.
What is a Dietitian?
A Registered Dietitian (RD) is the only nutrition professional who is qualified to assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems e.g., prescribe diet during cancer.
If your Nutritionist is diagnosing conditions or prescribing treatments, then let this be a red flag that they are not practicing in an ethical way or within their scope of practice!
What is a Nutritionist?
Registered Nutritionists (RNutrs) provide evidence-based information and guidance on how to improve your diet and lifestyle.
So RNutrs will work with you to improve the health of your diet to support your general health.
There may be certain health issues we can support you with such as
- Cardiovascular health; cholesterol or blood pressure
- Emotional Eating and body image concerns (if had extra training)
- Weight management
…to name a few.
Not all Nutritionists are created equally!
Unlike the term Dietitian, Nutritionist has not got a protected title status and so this means anyone can call themselves a Nutritionist, even with little to no training and they often do!
The Association for Nutrition (AfN) is the only Nutrition regulatory body recognised by the NHS. They hold the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists (UKVRN). To qualify to be on that register you need to meet the rigorous training and ethical standards and maintain these in your practice.
The Association for Nutrition are trying to change the law, so that only those that have been through the correct training and meet the criteria to register with the AfN can use the title Nutritionist, but this is an ongoing process. In the meantime, you can look for those who have the letters RNutr, which stands for Registered Nutritionist to mark them as an AfN Nutritionist, or check the AfN register.
There are other nutrition regulatory bodies that use the term Registered Nutritionist, such as the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT), but this does not have the same training and ethical code of conduct as the AfN as this is under the bracket of complimentary therapy, so you would need to do your due diligence on individual practitioners to understand the quality of their advice.
There are other professionals that are also giving nutrition advice, such as personal trainers, who often are not qualified in this area. Although there are good personal trainers out there, make sure they are going to be able to meet your needs before signing up with them e.g., someone offering ‘flexible dieting’ through macro tracking is not the best match for someone with emotional eating and body image concerns and they don’t tend to screen for these issues, and this can put you at risk.
There is A LOT of Nutrition Misinformation out there and this can add to the problems you are struggling with, so finding a well-qualified reputable Nutritionist is the first step to getting help.
What does a Nutritionist do?
Nutritionists can undertake lots of different roles. These can include areas such as working in public health, research, sports, writing content, food industry and recipe analysis and so their skills can be put to use in different areas depending on their interests, training and experience.
When it comes to working with individuals Nutritionists may work on a 1:1 level or in groups to provide information, advice and strategies to inform you to improve the health of your diet and often improve other health behaviours too. Nutritionists may have different areas of specialty and so look out for the one who is trained and experienced in the area you need help with.
Nutritionists may have a clinic that you can visit, but many, including myself, work in an online clinic where we use video calls and apps to work together. My 1:1 work is a mix of supporting people in online video calls and through an app where they can ask questions, share success or struggles, and log their food diary so that I can then give advice and support in between their appointments.
In my clinic I use a behaviour change approach and we also use values-based goals to ensure that we are working on goals that are meaningful to that individual so that they are more likely to create long term sustainable change, rather than a quick fix diet. When a Nutritionist works in this way, they must look at that person as a whole, and so this means not just focusing on what they eat, but why they eat that way.
In order to get that understanding this means we may be working on changing or improving other areas of that person’s life to be able to then be successful in making changes to the diet. This can often surprise clients as they think they are just going to talk about food with a Nutritionist, but often we are exploring lots of areas as everything is connected.
For example, if someone is struggling with certain unhelpful thinking styles or self-criticism, then this may be what is stopping them from making changes to the way that they eat. They may try to eat healthier one day, it doesn’t go to plan and then they think ‘screw it, this is too hard, and you can’t do this’ and give up. By addressing this response and finding more helpful ways to respond to that situation, then we can start to make positive change to the way that they eat.
There can be many areas of someone’s life that impacts the way that they eat including, stress, sleep, alcohol, social connection, movement, time…the list can go on and so a Nutritionists job is to get a good understanding of this and work out a plan that encompasses all of these areas to ensure that we are not just putting a sticking plaster over the problem with a meal plan and on your way!
Of course, looking at the foods someone is eating (or not eating), ensuring balance in the diet, looking at regular meals, portion sizes and all the practical elements of eating is a big part of the role too. It may be that I recommend a particular dietary approach for different people e.g., those approaching menopause, those with PCOS or those wanting to reduce their cholesterol and blood sugars may need to focus on certain aspects of their diet to support themselves with these areas and so this is something we will work on together.
A Nutritionists can help with more than just what you eat
Often as a Nutritionist, I work with people to improve their relationship with food and perhaps themselves if they have body image concerns, for example. It is worth noting that I have completed extra training for this and if you struggle with these areas, ensure your Nutritionist is adequately skilled to help you in a safe way and knows their scope of practice and when to refer on when appropriate.
When helping people with their relationship with food, a Nutritionist is offering tools and strategies to help that person to understand how to manage and respond to emotions without solely turning to food to achieve this. We may be looking at food rules and restrictions that are causing guilt when eating or overeating of certain foods as that person has lost trust in themselves around that food.
We are looking to help that person increase their compassion to be able to learn from their past food experiences and make choices that are more helpful to their short- and long-term goals, but in a supportive non-judgmental way. We can be helping that person move away from diet culture and calorie counting to a health-based approach where they don’t measure success by the number on the scales and recognise their value does not lie in how they look.
This area of a Nutritionists work is more complex and can look different for different people as it depends on the client’s own experiences and needs, it often means building a deeper therapeutic relationship and in my opinion is some of the most rewarding work I do as a Nutritionist.
How can a Nutritionist help me?
A nutritionist can help you in many ways, depending on their individual experience and training, some of the ways I help people include:
- Reducing the confusion around what is, and how to achieve a healthy balanced diet
- Helping to support your health in areas such as menopause, PCOS, cholesterol, blood sugars, bone health, blood pressure, weight management
- Helping to improve your relationship with food to be able to enjoy all foods, feel in charge of your food choices and stop the guilt and worry about what you eat
- Helping you to overcome emotional barriers that may be impacting on the way that you eat such as self-critical thoughts or unhelpful thinking styles
- Helping you to stop YoYo dieting and feeling you are on a binge restrict cycle to move towards sustainable lifestyle change
- Working on your body image concerns to reduce unhelpful behaviours related to your eating that are linked to trying to manage your body shape.
- Helping you to understand how to set goals using a behaviour change approach to give you long term success through gradual meaningful change
- If these are concerns of yours that you would like to tackle, my Compassionate Mind Training might be the right course of action for you
How do I know when I need to see a Nutritionist?
If any areas of this blog interest or resonate with you, then you may benefit from reaching out to a Nutritionist for help.
Common signs that someone needs a Nutritionists support are:
- You are lacking in energy
- Over and/or undereating
- Not able to recognise when you are hungry and/or full
- Not eating the right balance of foods in your diet
- Relying on foods to manage your emotions and get through challenging situations and stressful days
- Feeling you can’t trust yourself around certain foods and so you don’t keep them in the house (this may lead to overeating that food when you are near it!)
- Confused about all the conflicting nutrition messages that you hear and read and now don’t know what to do for the best
- Sick of every food choice taking up lots of brain space and worry and wanting to remove guilt for making the ‘wrong choices’
- Don’t want another generic calorie-controlled weight focused diet, but something bespoke and health based
- You have body image concerns that are impacting how you eat
- You are removing certain foods or food groups through fear of eating them
- You no longer want to feel controlled by foods and want to get back to the joy of eating and food freedom
If you need help with your nutrition, then I would love to help. Get in touch and let’s get a free, no obligation chat in the diary.