One of my most frequently asked questions is how and why I got my holistic nutrition certifications. I chose to study something that is not widely accepted in our society yet, but I am so glad I pursued this career.
What is a Nutritionist?
In the United States, the term “Nutritionist” is completely unregulated. Literally anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, whether or not they have any formal education in nutrition. Crazy, huh?! A Registered Dietitian, on the other hand, is a licensed professional who has at least a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, has completed a 6-12 month internship, and passed a licensing exam. I, however, am not a Registered Dietitian. For several years, I was en route to become an RD. Instead, I chose to become a Certified Holistic Nutritionist. Some may say I took the easy way out, I say I took the path that was most in line with my beliefs and values.
My nutrition background
In college, I studied Psychology and Nutrition, so I have a pretty heavy background in the sciences. However, I did not take a RD exam or complete an internship and am therefore not a Registered Dietitian. I wanted to take that path for a while, but ultimately decided it was not the best route for me. I am very grateful for my nutrition education in college, I learned A LOT. However, we spoke mostly about the macro and micronutrient constituents of food and the more tangible aspects of health. We seldom (if ever) talked about parasites interfering with nutrient absorption, gut health and healing leaky gut/intestinal permeability, the influence of stress on absorption and assimilation of nutrients, detoxing, herbal medicine and more. All of these things are absolutely paramount in the understanding of health and the human body and should influence how we approach nutrition changes in clients.
In addition to my nutrition education in college, I completed three additional certifications in Holistic Nutrition. I studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, AFPA, and the complete the T. Colin Campbell Certification in Plant Based Nutrition. This is in no way me bragging by the way, I just want to clarify! I have studied anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, body metabolism, nutritional biochemistry etc. But in addition to studying the core sciences, I have also completed courses in Herbal Medicine, Ayurveda, Sports Nutrition, the Psychology of Disease and more.
My education is not better or worse than that of a Registered Dietitian, it’s just different. The work I do is not meant to replace the work of an RD or other health professional. It is meant to compliment it. I have personally worked with RD’s in the past, and what they do is vastly different than what I do with my clients and how I approach health concerns. I have nothing but respect for the RD’s doing amazing work, it was just not the path for me!
What is a holistic nutritionist?
Holistic nutrition focuses on a natural approach to a healthy diet and lifestyle and looks at the whole person, rather than focusing on individual parts. This holistic approach incorporates emotional, spiritual and physical health to create a state of well-being for optimal health. Health is not merely the absence of disease. I do not like to focus on what is “normal” but instead focus on how we can create total body health to not just survive, but thrive. As a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, I look at how all parts of your life affect your health. From your job, relationships, diet, environment, toxin exposure, medication history and more. I do not like to only focus on diet, since this is just one part of the health puzzle.
Why I took the unconventional path and became a holistic nutritionist
When I developed my own health issues, I realized my education up to that point fell short in certain ways. I didn’t know where to begin with my healing journey, and realized food alone couldn’t do it. If I didn’t know how to heal my body, how could I help others heal theirs? I didn’t understand how to heal my (very damaged) gut, balance my hormones naturally, get my period back, reverse hair loss, support my body’s natural ability to detoxify, deal with parasites, heal my severe acne, or solve many of the issues I was dealing with.
In short, I chose to study Holistic Nutrition because I wanted to learn how to heal my body. While I certainly learned a lot about health and the human body in college, there was a lot that was missing. I had professors who were dismissive of herbal medicine and acupuncture and did not believe we need to help our bodies detoxify (we do-especially those of use with specific conditions or chronic illness). These are two therapies that have completely changed my health and life and have been used and studied for thousands of years. I cannot speak more highly about them!
There are a lot of excellent doctors, RD’s and other medical professionals out there who understand the unique intricacies in the holistic body. I by no means want to point fingers at any one group of people. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of medical professionals who discount the complexity of the human body and the fact that there is so much we don’t know.
Allopathic (conventional) medicine treats the human body like a machine. Following those principles, we discount the inherent synergism between all parts of the body. When an individual experiences symptoms of the skin we look at the skin, when they experience digestive distress we look at the digestive system, when they experience brain fog, we look at the brain. We discount the fact that ALL of these systems work together. You can’t look at one without looking at the other.
Our health is so much more than our genes and the food on our plates.
Have you ever heard the saying “you are what you eat?” Well, it’s true! But it doesn’t paint the whole picture. Health is more than what we eat. It’s how well our bodies can detoxify, our exposure to heavy metals and environmental toxins, and how well our bodies actually absorb the nutrients in our food. But it’s also what we think, how we feel, who we surround ourselves with, our jobs, relationships, and so much more. I wanted an education that acknowledged this basic tenet. This is why I pursued a holistic nutrition certification.
Remember: No credential has a monopoly on knowledge.
There seems to be a lot of criticism toward holistic nutritionists and health coaches these days. Considering the term “nutritionist” is so unregulated, a lot of the criticism is warranted. There are definitely a lot of people out there who probably shouldn’t be giving nutrition advice! However, it’s important to remember that just because someone has a certain credential does not mean they are qualified to help you. In the age of the internet, we all have access to the same information, studies, and research. At the end of the day, it is in your best interest to be empowered, informed, and educated. YOU are in charge of your own body!
I knew taking a less conventional path and becoming a holistic health coach would come with doubt and skepticism from those around me. But I guess I like to march to the beat of my own drum! A lot of people don’t accept the work I do, and that’s ok. I try to remind myself that the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.
I believe in order to truly improve the health of our society, conventional and alternative practitioners MUST join forces. We can’t continue to work against one another, we need to work WITH one another. We need modern medicine, surgeons, doctors, and other modern ways of treating illness in emergency situations. But when it comes to treating chronic illness, we need herbal medicine, detoxification therapies, chiropractors, colon hydrotherapists, holistic nutritionists, acupuncturists, and other holistic practitioners to get to the root of the problem. Treating a health condition does not need to be black and white, this or that. We are multifaceted beings, so we must take a multifaceted approach to treating illness. The “pill for every ill” mentality is dangerous and not working.
I knew becoming a holistic nutritionist would pose its challenges. I would be faced with criticism and skepticism from people who did not believe in the work I was doing. Who did not believe in the healing power of herbs, the mind, and more. However, I’ve had the pleasure of working with clients from all over the world, helping them heal their skin and bodies naturally and take their health into their own hands. It’s been challenging, but incredibly rewarding work.
How to become a certified health coach
If you are interested in studying at Institute for Integrative Nutrition, follow this link to fill out an application. I had a wonderful experience studying at this school. It led me to question some of my pre-existing beliefs, but reinforced others. The curriculum was fresh and unbiased and I was able to learn about hundreds of dietary theories and practices. I would recommend it without hesitation. When you study here, you join a community of individuals who DO believe in the work you are doing and support your pursuits 100%. Additionally, since I am an ambassador for the program, you can mention my name (Claire Cary) you can save a fair bit on tuition! The exact amount fluctuates so I can’t give an exact number, but it’s anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand dollars. Yes please.
So, IIN vs. AFPA: which is better?
I get this question a lot, and it honestly depends on what you are looking for! Because of my background in nutrition, I wasn’t really looking to learn more regarding the science of nutrition, but more so wanted to understand how to set up my caching practice, different dietary theories, and more of the emotional and psychological aspects of health.
I personally preferred IIN because of both the teaching style and content. AFPA was entirely self-taught (which is fine) but the content was not in line with what I was looking for to further my education. IIN was more interactive and well structured and I preferred the content overall. AFPA is a bit bias in their approach of dietary theories (they only preach one) and IIN really understands that food is not the only determinant of health and there is not one diet that works for everyone.
I would recommend IIN over AFPA, but that’s just me. It prepares you more for coaching, gives you an amazing overview of dietary theories, presents BOTH sides to different dietary debates, etc. IIN is more expensive, but you get a lot more for what it’s worth. It’s more well recognized in the wellness community, and you can use my name to get a discount! You can’t really go wrong with either program, it just depends on what you’re looking to gain. Feel free to send me an email if you have any specific questions, I’m happy to answer!