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Everything to know about becoming a PCOS nutritionist
Nutritionists are holistic health professionals that assist clients in creating nutrition plans based upon the client’s goals. Their goal may be to simply feel healthier, lose weight, improve their immunity or even manage a medical condition.
In the same way that medications do not have the same effect on every person, there is no-one-size-fits-all when it comes to building a nutrition plan that works best for an individual. It may be necessary, therefore, for some people to seek out professionals with specialized knowledge about nutrition within the context of certain medical conditions they may have.
For this reason, some nutritionists and dietitians choose to specialize in helping clients with PCOS, a condition that affects approximately one in ten women. PCOS nutritionists utilize their specialized knowledge to help women manage the symptoms of PCOS with the healing power of food.
What does a PCOS nutritionist do?
Since a healthy diet is one of the primary methods to treat and manage PCOS symptoms, PCOS nutritionists work with clients to create a nutrition plan catered specifically to them and their symptoms. By championing the notion of food as medicine, PCOS nutritionists believe that PCOS symptoms can be managed or even reversed with the right combination of food, exercise and other healthy habits.
It’s important to bear in mind that when we say “diet,” we literally mean what people are eating, instead of what they are not. Liz Schonthal, a dietitian/nutritionist who specializes in working with clients with PCOS, said that many people with PCOS are told to just lose weight to manage their symptoms but that this kind of advice is ineffective for several reasons.
“People with PCOS can have different symptoms which can fall under different medical specialties such as gynecology, endocrinology, dermatology, reproductive endocrinology or even conditions usually treated in primary care settings. Because a lot of people with PCOS have unexplained weight gain or live in larger bodies, there is frequent weight shaming that occurs in medical settings,” Schonthal said. “They are made to feel that PCOS is their fault and they caused it to occur. Restrictive diets have an extremely high fail rate in all populations, but I believe it is even higher in the PCOS population.”
Although their job description can vary depending on where they work, PCOS nutritionists typically do the following:
Help clients identify their health goals and current PCOS concerns
Monitor and document client progress and amend the nutrition plan as needed
Design nutrition plans and suggest other lifestyle changes to help clients manage their unique PCOS symptoms
Educate clients and provide resources on PCOS and other ways they can manage their symptoms
Order lab tests and perform other diagnostic evaluations
“With PCOS it is helpful to think about balancing blood sugar at meals and snacks. This means having carbohydrates with protein and/or fat. Adding in plenty of fiber in the form of whole grains, fruit, and vegetables helps to slow blood sugar release into the bloodstream. It can also help with managing cholesterol and keeps bowels moving well,” Schonthal said. “Paying attention to hunger, fullness, and satisfaction is the key to eating in a way that works for each individual.”
Where do PCOS nutritionists work?
Like other nutritionists, those that specialize in treating PCOS can work in a variety of healthcare settings. Many nutritionists and dietitians also choose to open up their own private or group practice and as self-employed workers. They may offer their services in an office, by visiting peoples’ homes or even virtually.
“According to the BLS, the largest employer of nutritionists is state, local or private hospitals.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the largest employer of dietitians and nutritionists is state, local or private hospitals. Nutritionists and dietitians can also find employment at:
Requirements to become a PCOS nutritionist
First, it’s important to understand that the majority of states in the U.S. do not have licenses for nutritionists specifically. However, most states do have licenses for dietitians—which share a lot of similarities to nutritionists—or they offer a dual dietitian/nutritionist license. If you live somewhere that doesn’t have a license for nutritionists, you may wish to consider becoming a dietitian instead.
For these states that do have licenses for nutritionists or dietitian/nutritionists, most require that you hold at least a bachelor’s degree in dietetics or nutrition. In addition to education, most people need at least several hundred supervised practice hours in order to qualify for a license.
Beyond potentially needing a license to practice, nutritionists have the option to get certified as a way to boost their credentials. Certification may be especially necessary for people who live and practice in states that do not offer licenses so that they can distinguish themselves in the field.
There are several kinds of nutritionist certifications offered by different credentialling bodies, including the Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Nutritional Professional (CNP), Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) or the Board Certification in Holistic Nutrition (BCHN), to name a few. Each of these certifications have their own individual education and/or experience requirements. Some require a bachelor’s degree, some a master’s degree and some don’t require a degree at all—it all depends on the credential you’re going for and its particular requirements.
How to get experience as a PCOS nutritionist
Since PCOS nutrition is still such a niche specialty in the field, there is no national certification available to validate someone’s skills as a PCOS nutritionist specifically. Instead, they should still consider earning other nutritionist or dietitian certifications to increase their knowledge and credibility.
However, nutritionists who want to specialize in working with PCOS clients can take various continuing education and training courses on the subject. For example, the PCOS Nutrition Center offers a self-paced online training course designed for nutrition professionals treating patients with PCOS. PCOS nutritionists may also find that courses in functional nutrition, forensic nutrition or clinical nutrition can be relevant to their practice and treating people with PCOS.
Here are a few other resources on the topic that PCOS nutritionists may find useful:
Regardless of the kind of training you receive, perhaps the most important way to gain experience is to simply start taking clients with PCOS. The credentials you have after your name mean only so much if your clients aren’t seeing results. Over time, accruing positive testimonials from PCOS clients can cultivate a steady client base.
“My recommendation in order to best serve our patients and clients is to get the best education you can,” Schonthal said. “When you are educated to become a dietitian, you take science classes and learn the anatomy and physiology of the human body. You are taught how to interpret scientific journal articles and assess the evidence to make recommendations. You also get invaluable clinical experience as an intern, working under other registered dietitians. And the learning doesn’t stop with our continuing education.”
PCOS nutritionist salary
The BLS compiles salary data for nutritionists and dietitians together. According to their 2022 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, the median annual salary for dietitians and nutritionists is $66,450. The highest paid 10% of the field earn $95,130, while the bottom 10% earn $44,140. The states with the highest median annual wages for this group are located on the coasts and include the District of Columbia, Maine, California, New York and New Jersey.
“You can make good money in private practice even when you take insurance, which I do. Dietitians can also make additional money doing speaking engagements, writing, blogging, group programming, and supervising other dietitians,” Schonthal said.
Median Salary: $66,450
Projected job growth: 6.6%
10th Percentile: $44,140
25th Percentile: $56,490
75th Percentile: $80,430
90th Percentile: $95,130
Projected job growth: 6.6%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$85,380||$63,980||$103,010|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
The BLS estimates that the employment of dietitians and nutritionists will grow through 2032, just slightly faster than the average across all occupations. Studies indicate that the prevalence of PCOS has increased over the last decade, which means demand for nutritionists that specialize in treating PCOS could increase even more.
“There is a really pressing need to expand the field of dietetics to include more people of color, diverse gender identities and diverse body sizes,” Schonthal said. “As the field is recognizing this, hopefully there will be some more scholarship opportunities.”
How to get started as a PCOS nutritionist
PCOS affects approximately one in ten women, but there is no cure for this syndrome that has the potential to drastically affect one’s quality of life—and possibly lead to other health complications.
Proper nutrition and other lifestyle changes are the primary methods for treating PCOS. Whether you are thinking about becoming a nutritionist or you are a nutrition professional interested in specializing in a particular niche, a focus on PCOS nutrition could be the fulfilling career you’ve been waiting for. A bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics is considered the minimum education needed to be a nutritionist in most places, but a master’s degree may be necessary to obtain certain credentials that can set you apart in the field.
PCOS nutrition courses offered by private, independent providers are available for nutritionists and other health practitioners to broaden their knowledge and begin developing a trusted client base. Take the first step towards your future and use our search functions to start researching nutrition programs today.
Published: July 12, 2023