Nutritionist, Therapist, Dietitian or Coach?

When somebody starts doing their research before hiring a Nutrition professional, there are a few common questions and misconceptions about the scope of practice of each of the titles being used by service providers. Below you’ll find more information about each of the titles most used in the UK, and some tips that might help you find the best professional to help you achieve your health goals.

Dietitian is a protected title that is only given to those who have completed Dietetics studies. These are professionals who are allowed to work for the NHS, giving dietary advice to individuals that are hospitalised, or those who suffer from acute, life-threatening conditions. They may also work in Public Health, carrying out population studies and making policy recommendations to protect the health of the nation, looking at its population as a group Рremember your 5-a-day? Some also work in private practice, using a Western medicine approach and following the national healthcare guidelines. I am not a Dietitian.

The title Nutritionist is quite broad and not protected by law in the UK. Anybody, including highly educated practitioners, professionals who have been working for many years, wellbeing Instagrammers or those taking 1 day courses, can call themselves a Nutritionist – and charge for a consultation or advice.

In this free-for-all environment, registration is a sign of credibility, more so than professional designation; in the UK there is an ongoing debate between two reputable associations defending their right to call their members Registered Nutritionists: one is AfN, and the other one is the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT). I am a member of BANT, and as such, sometimes I use the term Registered Nutritionist mBANT; this happens when I work outside the clinical environment, writing articles for media or collaborating with supplement companies.

Nutritional Therapists may have either a level 6 equivalent Diploma, a College degree or a Masters degree in Nutritional Therapy or Personalised Nutrition. In order to practice in a 1:1 setting, a Nutritional Therapist must belong to a professional association (BANT, NNA, ANP, NTOI…) and have valid insurance.¬† I am a Nutritional Therapist, and that is the title I use with my 1:1 clients and under which I am registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), an independent register accountable to Parliament.

Health/Nutrition coach is a relatively new term that is becoming very trendy. Again, there is no official protection or regulation for this title; however, the difference goes beyond study time or registration with a professional body: a professional and ethical coach, by definition, will focus their strategies on behavioural change and motivational support, without offering personalised therapeutic strategies or dietary advice beyond standard healthy eating recommendations. In my opinion, their work is important and complements that of a therapist or nutritionist – although most well-trained therapists also have the coaching skills, thanks to the theory and clinical hours required to obtain their titles – 200 hours of clinical experience in my case!

Within the realm of Nutritional Therapy, where the individual is always looked at as a whole being, the approach to clinical practice can range from purely holistic (as seen in Naturopaths) – using tools like essential oils, homeopathy, moon cycles or crystal healing; to one based in research and clinical findings, founded in a Functional Medicine model – using mainly primary references, precision testing, outcome measuring tools and working alongside medical teams when required. From early on in my studies, my natural practice style has been closer to the one used in Functional Medicine.

There is a lengthy and intensive official certification program that allows practitioners to use the term IFM Certified Practitioner and the IFM logo (and that I cannot wait to start this autumn!). Only a few UK-based practitioners have completed this certification program, as it is run mainly in the US.

As I see it, there is hard work to be done by institutions and education providers to define each professional denomination’s scope of practice, for the benefit of the general public. My advice for any person who is ready to engage a professional and work on their health is, firstly, to choose the kind of practitioner that fits better with their own beliefs and health objectives; and secondly, to check that the professional belongs to a reputable association, and is registered with a regulatory body.