How to Become a Certified Nutritional Therapist

Overview

Nutritional therapy is a holistic and alternative approach based on the idea that our diet is a major contributor to our overall health. Nutritional therapists believe that by achieving a proper balance we can prevent illness and disease while avoiding medical problems. This homeopathic therapy uses food instead of medicine to maintain health. Nutritional therapists keep up with current research and incorporate the latest findings when developing meal plans. In addition to recommending food to keep patients healthy by ending food deficiencies, they often recommend that their patients avoid certain foods that are known to cause adverse medical problems, such as excessively fatty food and food containing refined sugar.

Nutritional therapists can develop meal plans based on their assessment of a patient’s diet and health needs. They explain nutritional issues to their patients to encourage individuals to manage health problems. For example, a nutritional therapist may recommend that a patient with high blood pressure follow a diet with less salt, and create a low fat, low sugar diet to help patients lose weight. The therapist can also instruct patients about food preparation that reflects the dietary requirements. Nutritional therapists often take the cost of meal plans into consideration when making their suggestions. As the nutritional therapist continues to work with patients, he or she will evaluate the effect of the recommended meal plans and make adjustments to achieve the desired result.

Some nutritional therapists work in a clinical setting like a hospital to create individual and group nutritional programs for patients, while others work in food service settings like cafeterias. Nutritional therapists may work with the community in governmental or non-profit agencies.

Work Environment

The majority of nutritionists and dieticians work in hospitals, according to the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2010, of the 64,400 dietitians and nutritionists, nearly a third of them worked in state, local or private hospitals. Others worked in nursing care facilities, outpatient care centers and physician’s offices. The remainder worked in venues like cafeterias and schools. Approximately 15 percent of nutritionists and dietitians were self-employed in 2010.

Clinical dieticians provide medical nutrition therapy and work in hospitals, long-term care facilities and other institutions to create individualized and group programs derived from the specific health requirements of patients. Some may specialize in patients with a particular disease. Community dieticians work in public health clinics, government and non-profit agencies and health maintenance organizations to educate the public on food and nutrition topics. Management dieticians plan meal programs and oversee other dietitians in food service settings including cafeterias, hospitals and food corporations. Most work full time.

Requirements

Education

The requirements to become a certified nutritional therapist vary from state to state. Many states have regulatory laws for nutrition practitioners, and these state requirements are typically met through the educational and training requirements to become a registered dietitian. Programs generally require a bachelor’s degree.

For example, the Dietetic Internship Program at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, is provided through the School of Health Related Professions within the Department of Nutritional Sciences. This full-time, 1,200 hour program of supervised practice leads to core professional competencies required for medical nutrition therapy in clinical and community dietetics. A second track for the dietetic internship at Rutgers also provides a masters degree. Competencies for the concentration in Medical Nutrition Therapy in Clinical and Community Dietetics include medical nutrition therapy in patients with complicated disease states and conditions; individualized counseling and education sessions for patients with specific diseases; and creating an interactive community based nutrition education program for adolescents in a school setting.

Participants work with practitioners for hands-on experience. Upon graduation, dietetic interns are qualified to assess the nutritional needs of individuals and groups and design a nutrition care plan for individuals and community education. They also provide client counseling and follow-up evaluation.

Accreditation

Before signing up for a course of study, it is a good idea to find out if the course you select is accredited for certification in your state. For example, the Rutgers University Dietetic Internship Program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) in Chicago.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

People interested in becoming a certified nutritional therapist should have knowledge of biology as well as the principles, methods and procedures for counseling and guidance. They should also have a background in human behavior. Certified nutritional therapists should have good listening and speaking skills, as well as the ability to think critically in order to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions and approaches to problems. They should have good problem solving skills, and the ability to instruct people effectively.

Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the median annual wage for nutritionists and dietitians in 2010 was $53,250. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,330, while the top 10 percent earned over $75,480.

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for nutritionists is expected to increase 20 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This is due to the increase in interest in the role of diet in promoting health, specifically in the area of preventative healthcare. The aging population will increase the need for nutritionists in nursing homes, and the importance of diet in the prevention and treatment of diseases like heart disease and diabetes also requires the services of nutritionists.

Related Reading

Further Reading

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