What is Holistic Nutrition?
Holistic nutritionists take nutrition a step beyond conventional care.
Written and Reported by Stephanie Behring
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is projecting an additional 5,900 dietitian and nutritionist job openings across the country by 2029. That’s a growth of 8%—much faster than the national average for all jobs. According to the BLS, this growth is spurred by a lot of the same factors that are driving the rise in holistic health careers, including an increasing public interest in health and wellness. So perhaps it’s not surprising that holistic nutrition careers are a part of that job growth.
Holistic nutritionists combine the principles of nutrition and holistic health for an all-encompassing approach to diet and lifestyle.
“Holistic nutrition focuses on the whole person, taking into account mental health, diet, and lifestyle factors and not just the symptoms of a disease or diagnosis,” says Piper Gibson, AHND, TND, BCDNM, FDN-P, a holistic nutritionist and the director of advanced holistic nutrition at Aria Wellness in Las Cruces, New Mexico. “We see a connection between all of the body’s systems and recognize the complex interaction between them.”
What Does a Holistic Nutritionist Do?
Holistic nutritionists work with patients to help them identify how their diet might be impacting their physical or mental health. They help patients manage a wide range of conditions including:
Holistic nutritionists can also help people who are looking to boost their energy levels or improve their overall wellness. No matter what the goal is, holistic nutritionists work with each patient to create a plan for long-term success. They do this by helping patients find the right balance of nutrients for their lifestyle and health needs and educating them so they can make positive changes.
“A holistic nutritionist or holistic nutrition practitioner is someone who is educated in alternative and complementary healing techniques,” Gibson explains. “Holistic nutrition focuses on building knowledge of various kinds of therapeutic nutrition and recognizing that there is no ‘one size fits all’ diet. The goal is to evaluate the whole person, create long-term sustainable results, and educate clients on a self-care model so that they can tune into their body at any time.”
What’s the Difference Between a Conventional Nutritionist and a Holistic Nutritionist?
Holistic nutritionists and conventional nutritionists have a lot in common. In fact, nutrition is generally a career that falls under the holistic umbrella, since it always focuses on how diet affects the body. Holistic nutrition goes a step beyond that to address how lifestyle factors and diet work together to influence health. Additionally, holistic nutrition focuses on educating patients so they have a greater hand in their own health.
“A conventional nutritionist or registered dietitian usually practices medical nutrition in a hospital, medical setting, or even a school cafeteria,” says Gibson. “They focus more on calories, macronutrients, and food policy.
“The main goal of holistic nutrition is to educate and advise individuals on ways to support the entire body through proper nutrition, lifestyle, and self-care. We aim to teach how we eat, where we get our food from, and how our environment can impact our entire health and well-being.”
What Is it Like to Work as a Holistic Nutritionist?
As a holistic nutritionist, you’ll meet with patients to discuss their symptoms and any wellness goals they have. From there, you’ll order lab tests, such as bloodwork, and use the results to help create an individualized plan for each patient.
A big part of your job as a holistic nutritionist will involve educating patients—and often their families—on how food can affect their bodies and how to make the best choices for their personal wellness.
“When I work with families, the goal is to connect the dots and look under the hood at what hidden stressors might be causing an imbalance in the body,” says Gibson.
She’ll look at lab results to gather data that will be used to compare and contrast symptoms and take a health history to create individualized recommendations. “Using a holistic approach, we will not treat or diagnose, but (rather) work non-specifically on every cell, organ, and tissue to return the body to balance. We focus on nutrition by using foods that allow their body to function at their full potential.”
You won’t just focus on diet, however. Holistic nutritionists also recommend vitamins and supplements and look at lifestyle factors like activity level and stress. According to Gibson, whose work focuses on pediatric patients, this helps patients and their families take control of their health and wellness.
“When implementing a whole-body approach, we will also focus on sleep, exercise, stress, and supplementation,” Gibson says. “The families I work with are finally able to figure out what risk factors impact their children, and I give them access to the tools, resources, and testing they need to get back on track.”
Where Do Holistic Nutritionists Work?
Many holistic nutritionists work in private practice or open their own nutrition clinics. Others are part of the team at holistic wellness facilities or integrative health centers. As holistic nutrition continues to grow as a career field, career opportunities might open in additional healthcare and wellness settings.
The Education You’ll Need
Since not all states regulate holistic nutritionists, there aren’t set national education requirements in the field. However, if you want to earn board certification, you’ll need at least a Certificate in Holistic Nutrition from a program that is approved by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP). Certificate programs must include at least 24 credits to be approved. That’s a little less than a year’s worth of credits if you attend school full time.
NANP also approves associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and post-master’s certificate programs. All include coursework in holistic principles and modalities, such as:
Keep in mind that some states do require a specific degree level before you can use the title of nutritionist, even if you have board certification. Be sure you know your state’s requirements for this career.
You can apply for certification once you’ve completed an approved education program. You’ll need to pass the NANP exam to earn certification and use the title Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition (BCHN).
The NANP also offers the certification of Certified Nutrition Professional (CNP). For this certification, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, plus 1,200 supervised practice hours with a supervisor who has been approved by the Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board (HNCB).
How Much Can Holistic Nutritionists Earn?
Dietitians and Nutritionists
Avg Annual Salary
Projected job growth: 11.2%
Average salary information is calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and is based on the 2019 payroll records of business establishments. Actual salaries vary greatly depending on your location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and many other factors. Please note that salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Your earnings as a holistic nutritionist, per se, will depend on your education, credentials, workplace, and experience. Since many holistic nutritionists are self-employed as private practitioners, your earnings might also depend on the number of patients you see and the rates you set.
“It really depends on the practitioner and experience,” Gibson says.
With professional insight from:
Piper Gibson, AHND, TND, BCDNM, FDN-P