Career Advice from a Nutritionist
Considering a Nutrition Degree? Get Some Nutrition Career Tips
Lynn Keller, holistic nutritionist
For Keller, nutrition was her first choice but her second career. "When I graduated from high school, I was interested in studying holistic health and nutrition. Not many people were doing that at the time, so I followed another path." Between college and her mid-40s, Keller worked in sales management and marketing where she mentored and coached individuals to develop their own potential.
Five years ago, Keller decided to make a career change after finding that whole foods nutrition had emerged as its own branch in the industry. "Every nutritionist has a story," she says. She was inspired by her father, who learned he had a heart condition at age 10. During her life, Keller watched how her father's study of nutrition and supplementation enabled him to maintain his health and prevent further breakdown.
Nutrition program graduates make it their goal to give people the tools to make healthy choices about what they eat and the ability to understand the consequences of unhealthy diets. With more Americans turning to alternative medicine to address their health concerns, the nutrition field promises a future of extensive professional opportunities and personal rewards.
1. Choose an Area of Practice Before Earning a Nutrition Degree
"Decide where you want to practice before you go to school," Keller advises. As a nutritionist you can work as a consultant in private practice or public institutions, typically spending your days analyzing the effects of clients' diets on their health. Others with a nutrition degree dedicate themselves to conducting research for whole foods companies and supplement manufacturers. Those trained as natural chefs might work in private spas or in whole foods restaurants experimenting with such things as healthy organic foods. There is a variety of specialties in the nutrition industry, so you have to decide on an area of focus before you attend nutrition school.
Whether you receive a nutrition degree or certificate in the field depends on your school and the nutrition program you take. If you want to teach or practice in a hospital setting, you may need a master's or other advanced degree.
Keller advises students considering a nutrition degree to "look around your community to find out what areas of holistic health practice are available and explore the channels available to set yourself up in business. Available channels include community and athletic centers, schools and other health care practices."
2. Research State Licensing Credentials Before Choosing a Nutrition Program
Keep in mind that laws that govern the field of nutrition are set at the state level, and the laws vary from state to state. "Some states place narrow boundaries around the training required to practice under the title 'nutritionist.'"
Be sure to research the education and licensing credentials your state mandates before choosing a nutrition program.
3. Build a Professional Identity
As a nutritionist, you can run your own home business and create your own schedule.
In practice since 2003, Keller works out of an office in her home where she meets with clients and fulfills her duties as the Executive Director of NANP. Soon she will offer cooking classes in her kitchen, teaching clients how to apply principles of whole foods cooking in ways that fit busy life styles. While she typically works six days per week, she maintains a 40-hour schedule.
Along with client work, Keller's business entails balancing the books, advertising and lecturing to the public on important nutrition topics. Based on her experience, she urges nutrition students to take some courses in business management and public speaking. "These courses will give you the foundation to enter the field confidently and with the tools needed to run a business."
To those ready to start a practice, Keller emphasizes the importance of setting up a professional-looking identity, including brochures, business cards and letterhead. "People like having something tangible attached to you." Along with word-of-mouth, your professional identity will serve as your best resource for obtaining business.
4. Balance your Work and Life
As a nutritionist, you have a lot of responsibility to the community. You can change lives, enrich and empower people, but you must also take care of yourself. Set aside time for your own life – don’t let your work encroach on your personal space.
"We see so many people falling ill to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression because of how they eat and the stress in their lives," says Keller. "People need to understand that what they eat and the life choices they make have consequences on their health today and in the future."
Nutritionists help people learn to take control of their food and health. "This is an important community service," Keller says. "We help people understand the pace at which their bodies work and how to nourish and support that. They learn to support their own natural rhythm and become more empowered to take care of themselves."
5. Intern and Get as Much Real World Experience as Possible
If you are considering pursuing your nutrition degree or are already doing so, Keller recommends that nutrition students do a practicum or internship during the course of their education. "It will really feed your confidence later on," Keller says. That experience will not only lend to your education but will potentially help set the foundation for building a nutrition program practice after you graduate.
In the middle of her two-year nutrition program, she decided to take a year off to do some educational work in her community. "It was good to get some case studies under my belt in between the first year of my nutrition program, which was more foundational, and the second year, which was more clinical."
Through her passion and perseverance, Keller has succeeded in living up to her early aspirations; helping people like her father enrich their quality of life. Bringing your story to the profession could further contribute to its goals, giving the rest of us many more healthy years.Read an interview with Johanna M. Dong, Nutrition Therapist Dietitian for another professional perspective on nutrition careers and training programs.
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