How to Become a Nutritionist

Alternate Career Titles:

Certified Nutrition Specialist, Dietitian Nutritionist, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, RDN

Nutritionist Job Description: A Nutritionist helps clients develop and implement wellness plans based on their nutritional needs.

Nutritionist Salary (Annual): $35,000

Nutritionist Salary Range: $20,000 to $50,000

How Long To Become a Nutritionist: 2 years

Nutritionist Requirements: High School Diploma or Certification

Nutritionist Medical Career

Become a Dietitian

Career Description

A Nutritionist is a healthcare professional who helps clients determine their nutritional needs, and who works with them to develop plans to meet these needs. Often, clients will seek out the assistance of Nutritionists when they are attempting to lose weight, combat certain health conditions or improve overall wellness. This involves relaying nutritional basics to clients, while also offering nutrition supervision. The services provided by Nutritionists can be given one-on-one for specific health concerns, or in group settings for nutritional training or information sessions.

However, Nutritionists are not required by law to have professional training. This means that their ability to diagnose and treat patient illnesses or diseases, such as eating disorders, is very limited. Careers similar to that of a Nutritionist include being a Health Educator, Rehabilitation Counselor, Certified Nursing Assistant and Licensed Practical Nurse.

“I absolutely love being a Nutritionist,” Rachel Paul, PhD, RD, CDNa Nutritionist practicing in New York City, emphasized. “I love showing clients how healthy eating can be easy and doable. This is the case for anyone and everyone. People just need to focus on the small details.”

She continued by explaining that these details include asking oneself, which specific oil should I use? Which supplement should I take? Which berry is best? Although Paul noted that clients see the most effects when they begin to look at the “big picture.” This means understanding that choosing to purchase frozen vegetables, non-perishable foods in bulk and cheap, wholesome protein can make biggest differences in wellness and should be somewhat inexpensive.

Nutritionist vs. Dietitian: A career of a Nutritionist is not the same as a Dietitian, although these who careers titles are often mistakenly used interchangeably. The difference exists with the level of training and certification. A Nutritionist does not require any previous education or experience. Alternatively, a Registered Dietitian has completed a certain about of coursework, a year of training and had to pass a registered exam. Learn about other careers in nutrition dietetics today!

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Education & Training

To become a Nutritionist, learners often choose to complete a certification program or to earn a license. Nutritionist certification boards require applicants to have a high school degree or the equivalent, and may additionally mandate clinical experience prior to taking the certification exam.

“There are many different certifications with many different requirements to become a Nutritionist online,” Paul identified. “My best advice would be to look at the types of Nutritionist positions you want to later obtain and see what types of Nutritionist certifications their employers accept.”

Courses which provide useful information to Nutritionists include chemistry, biology, sociology, physiology and business or economics. Completing extra courses in the study of food and nutrition science is advantageous as well, and can pave the way to working in food production and service facilities. Although not required by all states, certification and a license will only help to ensure that a prospective Nutritionist fully understands the basics of nutrition and dietary health. On-site training is typically requires once a Nutritionist has been hired.

Advancement

To advance in a career as a Nutritionist, these professionals often choose to advance their education. By enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program in nutrition dietetics, Nutritionists can graduate and go on to become Registered Dietitians. A bachelor’s degree can also potentially open doors to careers in nursing, such as that of a Registered Nurse.

“There are also additional certifications offered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration,” Paul explained. “For example, there exist certifications on weight management and sports nutrition.”

Today, many schools additionally offer master’s and doctoral degree programs in nutrition. Those who complete these advanced programs typically advance into the realms of research, academia or public health administration.

Experience & Skills

To succeed in the role of a Nutritionist, professionals must have a passion for learning, as nutritional best practices are constantly evolving. They should also be nutrition enthusiasts themselves, including an interest in the impact of diet on health, allowing them to more easily motivate and inspire their clientele through their passion for the industry. An advanced knowledge of the way nutrition and exercise complement each other while pursuing nutritional goals is integral as well.

“I have found that the ability to read and understand scientific research really helps as a Nutritionist,” Paul shared. “Yet nothing trumps years of actual hands-on experience My hand-on experiences have by-far provided me with the most helpful skills and experiences needed for me to succeed, personally.”

These professionals should also be able to listen to their clients, document their findings and conclusions, complete paperwork and spreadsheets and relay their findings to other healthcare providers who treat their client. Being organized is another extremely important skill to possess as a Nutritionist.

Personality

Nutritionists should be kind, considerate, non-judgmental and empathetic healthcare professionals. As some clients have experienced life-long struggles with health and nutritional wellness, helping them find news ways to successfully alter their dietary lifestyle can be challenging. Thus, Nutritionists must keep in mind a clients emotional and mental well-being in addition to their physical wellness.

“Nutritionists can have many different roles. For example, they can work with individuals, work in the food industry, work for non-profits, in laboratories and in other settings,” Paul said. “Personality traits will absolutely vary based on the positions and place of employment.”

Paul further explained that, in her experience, empathy and problem-solving have been two of the most important characteristics. She noted that having strong analysis and problem-solving skills are also imperative. This is because clients may come in with a wide variety of symptoms, conditions, physical barriers and goals.

Lifestyle

The lifestyle of a Nutritionist is largely dependent on their employer. For example, Nutritionists who work for food processing or production companies tend to work more regular 9 am to 5 pm schedules. Alternatively, those who own their own business or work independently may have more flexibility in creating their own schedules.

Conversely, Nutritionists employed by hospitals, clinics, outpatient facilities or other 24/7 healthcare facilities may work more atypical hours, including evenings, nights and weekends. This is because healthcare workers are needed at all hours of the day in these settings.

Depending on a Nutritionist’s employer, day-to-day responsibilities may range from working with individual clients, in group settings or with volunteers taking part in research or trials. They may also raise nutritional awareness, speak to specific groups or organizations, conduct their own research and keep detailed client records. Again, Nutritionists are not permitted to give dietary advice to clients or work directly with patients without supervision.

“As an entrepreneur, each day at work is different for me, but some tasks do repeat themselves,” Paul explained. “Some of my day-to-day responsibilities typically include blogging, recipe development, food photography, social media strategy, networking with industry professionals and developing programs for my audience.”

Employment

Now is a great time to consider a career as a Nutritionist! Why? Over the next decade, this career is projected to grow an impressive 21 percent! This growth can largely be attributed to a greater awareness surrounding nutritional health and obesity being connected to chronic health issues. Also, with such a large variation in “fad diets,” clients now seek out a Nutritionist for advice and insight into what has been deemed health and safe versus short-term and overall unhealthy alternatives.

“This is probably true for any career in healthcare, but networking is key to finding a position after the educational requirements have been fulfilled,” Paul advised. “So, network, network and network. Being a student is the perfect time to start networking because you can always request ‘informational interviews’ to learn about positions and connect with employment managers.”

Earnings

As a Nutritionist, healthcare professionals can earn upwards of $50,000 per year. However, the average salary usually ranges between $20,000 and $50,000, with the majority of employees earning around $35,000 annually. Ultimately, exact salaries will vary depending on a Nutritionist’s employer, geographic location, experience and education.Credentials and degrees can certainly boost chances of making a fair salary.

“Especially as an entrepreneur, there is no limit to your earning potential,” Paul stressed. “While the average salary for a Nutritionist rests around $40,000, entrepreneurs can choose to work as much or as little as they choose. Therefore they can greatly impact their earnings to reflect a desirable salary.”

Unions, Groups and Associations

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is an organization dedicated to helping the government conserve food and improve the public’s health and nutrition. The Academy is also committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.

The Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) is an organization focused on the unique professional interests of nutrition educators worldwide. The group is dedicated to promoting effective nutrition education and healthy behavior through research, policy and practice and has a vision of healthy communities, food systems and behaviors.

The International Society for Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity (ISBNPA) is an organization designed to stimulate, promote and advocate innovative research and policy in the area of behavioral nutrition. Furthermore, the organization constantly works to promote the betterment of human health worldwide.

The Nutrition Society is an organization dedicated to advancing the scientific study and application of nutrition to maintain human and animal health. Furthermore, the organization seeks to continually enhance the promotion of high quality nutritional science.

Getting Started

  • Graduate high school
  • Shadow a Nutritionist
  • Gain clinical experience
  • Enroll in a Nutritionist certification program
  • Network with industry professionals and build connections
  • Consider pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nutrition dietetics

All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nutritionist Rachel PaulMeet the professional: Rachel Paul, PhD, RD, CDN

Age: 30
Practice: Rachel Paul Nutrition
Location: San Francisco, CA

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

When you’re in school, network, shadow and intern as much as you can. You will learn important information in the classroom, but the best education comes from real-world experience. Once immersed in the career, you’ll be able to determine which experiences offer insight that will add to your expertise.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

What are my career options? Many prospective Nutritionists think the hospital is where nutrition specialists belong. However, Nutritionists are needed to work in so many other locations as well.”

Why did you choose to become a Nutritionist?

“I had a lot of problems of my own with nutrition growing up, mostly regarding emotional eating and stress eating. When I started studying what was actually healthy and nourishing for my body, I thought I could give back to my target audience. There wasn’t much educational and nutritional information for college students available at the time. So I started ‘The College Nutritionist when I first became a Nutritionist.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?

“Having a ‘growth’ mindset, meaning that one believes their talents can be developed, is what makes me successful. This is the opposite of having a ‘fixed mindset’ where people believe their talents are innate gifts. This way of thinking enables me to constantly learn new skills and improve myself and my craft. This also inhibits me from thinking that my current situation can’t improve.”

Credentialing organization: The Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists

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