One road to becoming a nutritionist
I knew from a young age that I was interested in nutrition.
The road to a career in nutrition is not easy, or simple. This week, we speak to Nutritionist Resource member, Steven Brown, who shares his story.
Having first-hand experience of how nutrition and health are intrinsically linked, it was no real surprise when I decided that I would study Food and Human Nutrition at Newcastle University. During the first year, I had my doubts that I’d chosen the right course, with many hours spent pouring over a microscope in cell biology, endless lectures on immunology, anatomy, physiology and what felt like decades locked in a laboratory trying to get enzymes to do specific things in test tubes with foodstuffs. But I came to realise in my second year that in fact, that “seemingly pointless” time was not wasted – it formed the foundation for the level of knowledge required to become a good nutritionist.
My final year saw all of the pieces of the jigsaw come together, with the principles of nutrition and its relationship to health being demonstrated. It was then that I felt that I’d found my place in the world of nutrition; public health and prevention. Initially, I believed I would go on to study a postgraduate in dietetics and become a dietitian, but to me, I felt that I would be better served as a public health nutritionist. I, therefore, went on to complete my postgraduate in public health. In doing so, it means that I’m able to really engage with people at the point before their health declines too far, being more of an educator in supporting people to take control of their diet and lifestyle. It’s incredibly rewarding.
Upon graduating, I joined the Association for Nutrition (AfN); the governing body for nutritionists in the UK. As there is no legal protection for the title of a nutritionist in the UK, this provides reassurance to those with whom they are working with, that you are qualified and experienced to do so.
There are various organisations which act in a similar way for associated roles, such as nutritional therapists. Being a member of a governing body allows me to be in a position where the clients I’m working with are reassured that I’m qualified to support them and that I’m bound by a strict code of conduct and ethics at all times.
One of my first jobs as a Nutritionist was as a research assistant at the large nutrition research centre in Newcastle, seeing up close how the projects are run and coordinated. Although I felt that research was not for me, the skills I developed over that year were invaluable. It allowed me to think ‘outside of the box’ in situations, as well as honing one of the greatest skills a nutritionist can have; the ability to strike a rapport with people and to bring the information they need down from the academic rafters (with the long scientific and over-complicated words) to a level that they are able to understand and utilise. Since then, I have worked in a number of fields, both freelance and as part of the NHS.
One thing is clear to me; in today’s world, there is an almost constant bombardment of information around nutrition and health. In fact, many of the people I support explain that they are so confused by all of the messages, that they have stopped listening to them. After all, what’s the point? If you were to listen to every message given, you would be left with very little variety in your diet. My role in this is to help people unravel all of the information available and to repackage it in a way that is not only factually correct but one they understand.
I have never stopped learning; in fact, I doubt that I ever will. My main areas of interest are obesity and diabetes. I have gone on to complete the World Obesity Federation Certification in Obesity Management and many other courses in the care and management of diabetes. Generally, as part of any registration, you will be expected to do continuing professional development (CPD), so make sure that you have access to frequent updates on courses available throughout the year.
Advice to anyone wanting to become a nutritionist
Accreditation – complete an accredited degree programme or another form of training that will enable you to complete a portfolio of evidence, demonstrating the skills and knowledge you have acquired which will facilitate entry into one of the governing body organisations.
Persevere – throughout your learning, you may wonder why you are studying something that does not seem relevant, like me spending hours in labs, but stick with it because you will see why it was necessary later on.
Don’t stop learning – completion of a formal piece of training is a great start but it’s only that, a start. Information and insights into nutrition are constantly evolving and to be effective in your role, you have to be up to date with it.
Inspire – this path allows you to be at the forefront of the health and well-being of the people you work with.