I often get asked what the difference is between all the different types of nutrition professionals. We have dietitians, nutritionists, nutritional therapists, diet experts, wellness advocates and more. So it can be confusing to know what everyone does and should be allowed to do. Here’s a very quick guide to the 3 main roles:
Dietitians - are the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law, and are the only healthcare professionals to assess, diagnose and treat dietary issues in both sick and healthy populations.
Nutritionists - create and apply scientific knowledge to promote an understanding of the effects of diet on health and provide information about healthy eating. They’re not qualified to provide information about special diets for medical conditions or disorders.
Nutritional therapists - tend to work mainly with individual clients and their guidance is recognised as a branch of complementary medicine; therefore, different from nutrition and dietetics as advice isn't entirely evidence-based.
Because the title of nutritionist isn’t legally protected this means that not everyone who calls themselves a nutritionist are the same, i.e. they don’t all have the same quality and level of training or experience. The Association for Nutrition (AfN) - my governing body - are the only professional body regulating nutritionists in the UK and hold the voluntary register for UK nutritionists (have a search it's actually kinda fun!).
Checking that your nutrition professional is registered with the AfN is a really good idea to make sure that they have proper training and qualifications. Nutrition science is complex and it’s really important to have a proper grounding in biology and the way our bodies work in order to safely apply recommendations for healthy diets.
I love food. It nourishes both my body and my soul and has been a huge part of my life (not just because I eat every day, several times a day – as I hope you do too!) since I baked my first cake with my mum at the age of 2. I studied nutrition partly because of this love for food but partly because I haven’t always had the easiest relationship with it. So I thought that by knowing more about how food interacts with my body I could help heal my fraught relationship with food too! This is actually pretty common for those who study nutrition and the risk of eating disorders in nutrition students is twice that of other students.
But to my horror I actually got more confused, restrictive and punishing with my food as my continuous search for the perfect diet and body only grew more persistent. I began to question whether I could actually help people to nourish themselves better when my relationship with food was so all over the place. And the idea of helping people to have a more disordered and difficult relationship with food (through diets and the pursuit of weight loss) never sat right with me.
But then I discovered another way, the non-diet approach. Where weight isn’t placed at the forefront of all quests of eating; rather enjoyment, satisfaction, energy and mood are prioritised when seeking out food. I began to see how, although nutrition is important, there are so many other interacting factors that impact on our health. Discovering intuitive eating was revelatory in helping to improve my relationship with food and finally cut myself a break for wanting to eat pizza and chocolate. Intuitive eating clicked with me the way no other framework for applying nutrition has. Intuitive eating was the way of promoting nutrition that I’d been searching for. We survived for millennia without calorie counting, meal plans and scales, just by using our body to guide our eating - so why can't we now?
Much of the therapeutic advice and support on offer here in Scotland (as in the rest of the UK) is weight centric (i.e. if you’re in a bigger body you must lose weight). Here in the North East of Scotland (and specifically in Aberdeen where I’m based) the non-diet community is very much in the minority and only comprises a small number of individuals willing to be counter-cultural and fight against the alarmingly huge and all-consuming diet industry.
I promote non-diet nutrition and practice from a health-at-every-size (a social justice movement helping people of ALL sizes to find compassionate ways to take care of themselves) approach in all the work I do. From one-to-one consultations in intuitive eating to cooking classes where we use REAL sugar (shock horror!) to workshops for companies on how to have a more balanced, rather than a more restrictive diet.
As a food producer (in my other role as co-director of Aberdeen-based fermented food business The Crafty Pickle Co.) I also get to promote a different way of eating veggies. Several times we’ve been at markets with families whose kids “don’t eat veg”, but when they’ve tried our ferments they love them! And this isn’t to say we promote our ferments to be eaten with salads or bone broth. No siree I find myself eating our Katz Kimchi most often in a gooey cheese toastie or mac’n’cheese. And that ain’t no keto or paleo meal. There are so many ways of finding balance with food; and only you know what energises you, what you don't like, what satisfies you and tickles your taste buds. We'll never force our way of eating onto you.
Being a nutritionist can mean you work in so many different areas and with so many different companies and people. Here in Scotland there are a lot of opportunities to help promote a more holistic, compassionate, exciting approach to eating. It's my only hope that through Non-Diet Nutrition and The Crafty Pickle Co. I can help achieve this in some small way!