What is nutritional therapy?
Nutritional therapy can be invaluable in supporting you towards a specific goal, managing a chronic health condition - alongside medicinal support - or helping you to make healthy habits that last a lifetime. Nutrition is no longer just about weight loss but incorporates a wide variety of health conditions that may benefit from nutritional input. When it comes to health, one size doesn’t fit all.
A nutrition professional will have the skills, knowledge and experience to support your dietary needs, and will have undertaken specific training to ensure that they offer the best support to you. If you’re not sure about whether to see a nutritionist, nutritional therapist or dietitian, you can find out more about the different professionals on our FAQs hub.
Common reasons to see a nutrition professional
There are many reasons people may choose to see a nutrition professional, so we've pulled together a few examples and detailed how nutritional therapy can help each one.
Making healthy habit changes
You might know what your end goal is, whether that’s weight management, how to eat a healthy, balanced diet or wanting to get your five-a-day, but you might not understand quite how to get there. You can have the best intentions but sometimes it can be hard to maintain a new approach in your lifestyle if you haven’t the research or knowledge to fuel your change in habits. Making changes towards your eating habits is about making changes to lead a balanced lifestyle, that aids your overall well-being.
Healthy eating consists of three primary principles:
- Eating a balanced diet.
- Having a healthy attitude towards food.
- Understanding the environmental impact of your diet.
With so much information and guidance readily available, it's important to remember not everything comes from a trustworthy source, and it might not all be relevant to you. The overwhelm of information can be tricky to navigate and that’s where a professional can step in, work with you to devise a tailored plan, to suit your needs and wants.
Typically a nutritional therapist will assess:
- your current eating habits
- medical history (provided at your discretion)
- goals and timeframes
- your view of ‘healthy’
In doing so, they can tailor a plan that will provide an overall healthy structure to your diet, give you the knowledge of what works best for you, and provide you with the tools to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Enhancing lifestyle and performance
You might consider nutritional therapy for a specific event or exercise change that requires careful consideration or specific additions to your diet. Whether that’s training for a marathon, starting bodybuilding or if you’re an athlete looking to optimise sports performance.
A nutritional therapist can work alongside you and your other supporting trainers to help you make informed decisions about nutrition and hydration, looking at essential aspects of physical training that can increase stamina, prevent injury and encourage a quicker recovery time.
You might consider seeing a nutritionist if you have started exercising, but are unsure about how to support your exercise with healthy nutrition choices. A nutrition plan can aid your performance in the gym, alongside supporting your immune health, gut health and ensuring adequate hydration.
I contacted a nutritionist and we set up a structured diet plan. This helped me to strengthen my muscles and keep my energy levels high.
- Phil’s story on nutrition for weight training
Managing health conditions and allergies
If you’re struggling with a chronic health condition, suspected food allergy or are in remission from a serious health condition such as cancer, a stroke or a heart attack, nutritional therapy can support you in easing discomfort whilst you navigate a suitable diet.
Sufferers with chronic health conditions such as ME or chronic fatigue syndrome can benefit from nutritional therapy as it’s common that people may struggle with weight gain, IBS and gut issues, alongside typical symptoms such as constant fatigue and muscle pain. One example of how a nutritional therapist can support those with ME/CFS, is by creating a suitable diet plan, such as one that contains foods with slow releases of energy to keep steady energy levels throughout the day.
Allergies and intolerances
Allergies and intolerances can be identified through specific testing advised by your GP, and a qualified nutrition professional can help you understand why certain foods cause you discomfort or a certain reaction. They will work with you in making dietary changes to accommodate your new diagnosis.
With the guidance of a nutrition professional, nutritional therapy can play a key part in rehabilitation. It can help rebuild the body's natural defences, by introducing gradual dietary changes to fuel the body with essential vitamins and minerals that boost immune function and aid overall well-being.
Supporting mental health
Through continued research over many years, it’s become apparent that the gut is directly linked to your brain health, mood regulation and mental health. It’s estimated that 90% of your serotonin - the happy hormone - is made in the gut, so if our microbiome (trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi that live in your intestinal tract) is out of balance, our mind feels it too.
As nutritional therapist, Melody Mackeown writes, “Our gut microbiome produces chemicals that interact with our hormone system, such as cortisol, and can help make us more or less resilient to stress, depending on how well we look after our gut microbiome. High cortisol levels also have a knock-on effect on serotonin, by using it up to produce different chemicals in the body (this is one theory about a cause of depression).”
A nutritional professional can help identify if you have a gut that is struggling, and offer practical steps to build up your microbiome, including information on healthy supplementation.
You may also benefit from the support of a nutrition professional if you are struggling with an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or binge-eating disorder, alongside support from a psychologist or counsellor. A nutritional professional will support you primarily in establishing a healthy relationship between yourself and food, and work to re-educate you on the importance of nutrition. They’ll be a supportive source as you face new challenges in your recovery.
I found a lady close to my house that stood out to me and I went to see her at the beginning of this year. She was really professional and helped me understand why my body was feeling sluggish and tired and how food can be directly linked to how you're feeling day to day.
- Hannah's experience with nutritional therapy
Supporting women's health
Nutritional requirements for women are very different to those of men, due to the hormones women produce. At certain stages of a woman’s life, such as pregnancy or the menopausal period, nutritional therapy can be invaluable in helping with fertility or calming the unpleasant symptoms of the latter and enhancing a healthy hormone balance.
Menopause is a stage of life when the ovaries stop producing eggs, and periods come to an end. This time, and the time leading up to the menopause called perimenopause, can be particularly difficult for those who suffer from unpleasant symptoms, due to hormone imbalance.
As nutritional therapist Anita Beardsley writes, “Good food choices and the right nutrition is therefore vital at each of the menopause stages, for reducing symptoms and to create hormonal balance during perimenopause, and to support the whole person post-menopause, so they can continue to live and age well.”
Alongside life stages, there are a number of medical conditions specific to people with ovaries or a womb, that may benefit from nutritional support. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that affects 7-10% of young women and is related to hormonal imbalance. Many women with PCOS struggle with insulin regulation, which leads to many of PCOS’s symptoms. A nutrition professional can assess the symptoms you suffer from, and devise a tailored food plan that can calm these uncomfortable feelings.
Healthy eating for kids
In a world where lots of nutritional information can be accessed online, even through social media, knowing how, when and what to feed your children can be very confusing, especially for a first time mum. As children grow, develop and learn, their nutritional requirements change with them, so it can be helpful to have an understanding of what that means for their food intake. Of course, every child is different, and you know them best.
It might be that you need support when starting to wean your infant, or you’re at a loss as to how to encourage your schoolchildren to eat their five-a-day. A nutrition professional can offer information on how nutritional requirements change with certain milestones, and how you can ensure your children get these nutrients.
They’ll consider the diet you and your children follow (vegan, vegetarian etc.), the foods they like and any intolerances or allergies that may hinder them. If a food plan is needed, you will be provided with one, otherwise, your nutritional therapist can provide tips and recipe plans to take home with you.
In this article, dietitian Sophie Medlin discussed the impact of nutrition on children’s brain development and cognitive performance.
Your next steps
If after reading this you are ready to speak to a nutrition professional, you can use our advanced search tool to find someone offering support online or in your local area.