The nutritional therapist
Of all three disciplines, registered dieticians, nutritionists (including clinical and holistic) and nutritional therapy practitioners; nutritional therapy is the most contentious. It is also, arguably, the most popular of late. Although still in its infancy, more people are training in the field than ever before, possibly because GPs frequently fail to link disease with diet and possibly lifestyle so people find they have to seek help elsewhere. Nutritional therapists work largely in private practice, advising people on health and diet on a one-to-one basis. The discipline is based on the premise that everyone has an individual level of optimum nutrition, with diverse nutritional requirements. Much like health coaches do but with the added ability to offer diagnostic testing and labs.
Nutritional therapy is regarded as a complementary therapy, unlike dietetics. This is mainly because, although dietitian's do occasionally prescribe food supplements, they are likely to do so only in case of obvious deficiency, whereas a nutritional therapist will make judicious use of supplements for therapeutic purposes. By supplement I also refer to herbal, tonics, teas and tinctures.
Patients typically present with chronic health problems including digestive disorders, fatigue, skin problems, hormonal imbalances, stress, anxiety, adrenal dysfunction, chronic illness and depression. Often, they have been through the whole process of seeing their GP, possibly even a specialist, and have eventually been signed off, because no diagnosis could be made. They may be told they are fit and healthy, but they feel unwell, often in an indefinable way. Nutritional therapist is for “the walking wounded”. These are people who hold down jobs, relationships, families – but it’s a struggle. Their GP often finds nothing wrong with them, even though they feel terrible. The most common complaint I encounter is fatigue. Sometimes they’ve lived with irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome and mood swings for so long they think it’s normal. They’ve long forgotten what it’s like to feel good.” They don’t remember optimal health, my goal is to bring them back to that state.
Nutritional therapists focus on the link between health, whole body wellness, lifestyle and diet, with an emphasis on identifying the root cause of a health problem. Fatigue, for example, could be caused by a food sensitivity, or blood sugar imbalance. Then again, it could also be caused by an underactive thyroid, or adrenal imbalance. Digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, often regarded as an umbrella term for something unidentifiably wrong but definitely not right, can be triggered by any number of causes, from food sensitivities to stress, from poor gut bacteria to parasites. Once the cause has been identified, the therapist can work out a programme to address the situation. Most people cannot believe how their health can be transformed, just by changing their diets and possibly taking a few (and I do mean only a few) supplements. But it’s different for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and that’s what makes nutritional therapy unique. It’s like health coaching on steroids. I am able to add functional diagnostic testing to the mix to give a full on approach which is missing from other modalities.
Because of its unorthodox approach, the profession sometimes gets negative press, and it has become a popular media sport to savage the activities of high profile practitioners. No wonder: since the 1980s, the number of private schools offering training for nutritional therapists has mushroomed, spawning what is still an unregulated industry at the early stage of its evolution. It doesn’t help either that many still call themselves “nutritionists” or “clinical nutritionists” which, whilst not in any way illegal, is certainly confusing and not helpful to the general public.
But those seriously involved in the profession have been working for years to establish standards of training and practice. The Nutritional Therapy Council was set up in the late 90s and is the emerging regulatory body for the profession. It has been moving towards regulation of nutritional therapists since its inception and has drawn up national occupational standards.