As humans, we are driven by our greatest passions and interests. If you find yourself voraciously reading medical journals, devouring kale and quinoa salads, and inspiring all of your friends to take up a meditation practice, it may be time to think about turning your passion into a professional career. Before you make the jump to enroll in a training program or head back to school for a nutrition degree, it’s important to have a clear focus on how a course or program can help you embark on a career path that fulfills you.
The health and wellness industry has grown exponentially due to a growing wealth of knowledge and emphasis on living your best and healthiest life. This interest has expanded into career paths that cover everything from private practice work and educational services to business and product opportunities. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2012 there were 67,400 dietitians and nutritionists employed throughout the country. By 2022, this number is expected to rise to 81,600, meaning a 21% increase in just a decade!
As you explore which career speaks to your interests and talents, it’s important to have a plan on how to make a dream into a long-term reality.
Brainstorm your health and wellness career options.
There are plenty of exciting ways to put your new skills as a coach, mentor, or nutrition expert to good use, many of which don’t have to be limited to sitting in an office and taking individual meetings with clients each day. The nutrition and wellness space covers a broad sector, including educational, interpersonal, creative, and enterprising areas.
If you’re more of a nurturer and inclined towards direct connections with clients, you can explore a career as a Health Coach or nutritionist. For more creative or business-oriented people, you may find fulfillment in blogging, marketing or creating your own product. The more data-driven may be interested in conducting medical research, working in a hospital, or diagnosing and treating patients, and could be best suited to work toward a degree in dietetics, with the goal of becoming a registered dietitian.
These are important questions to ask yourself before signing up for a nutrition course or any wellness training program. It can help you choose your next course of action and give you clarity on the necessary steps to reach your career goals.
Here is our deep dive into the different careers in nutrition and wellness one can pursue, including avenues of learning that can help you find a fulfilling career:
1. Health Coach
A Health Coach focuses on a holistic approach to health, exploring all areas of a client’s life and helping them develop strategies to live more healthfully. If you’re interested in becoming a Health Coach, it's recommended you seek out a credible program that meets your needs, including budget, available time to study, and if the program curriculum covers what you wish to learn.
To become a Health Coach, you should:
Enroll in a Health Coach Training Program.
- Choose a niche audience for your health coaching work post-graduation, whether it be helping new moms manage stress, working with athletes to optimize their performance, or helping clients eat better to combat chronic conditions.
Find the setting where you will thrive, whether you decide to conduct virtual coaching, or in-person at a school, corporate office, hospital, gym, wellness center, or doctor’s office.
2. Registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN)
This role is the most advanced in the nutritionist space. An RDN is a food and nutrition expert who provides expertise and is able to recommend diets and meal plans for clients based on their unique nutritional needs and according to the latest nutritional research. RDNs will typically create a Nutrition Care Plan for patients, giving guidance to patients within a traditional medical setting, public health clinic, nursing home, or school.
To become an RDN, you should:
- Complete a bachelor’s degree in dietetics from an accredited institution
- Complete a supervised 6- to 12-month dietetic internship that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
- Get a state license and certification by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
3. Holistic nutritionist
This type of nutritionist practices with a broader view of health that goes beyond the scope of dietary needs, focusing on whole-person - mind, body and soul - health. It’s important to note that “holistic” is not a regulated term state by state, nor country by country.
To become a holistic nutritionist, you should:
- Complete an educational program in holistic nutrition that is approved by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP)
- Complete at least 500 hours of work experience in holistic nutrition
- Pass examination by the Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board to become board certified in holistic nutrition
4. Sports nutritionist
You don’t need to be a personal trainer to work in fitness! Whether you’re interested in working at a big gym or a smaller boutique-style studio, nutrition plays a vital role in helping clients achieve results from their workouts. A sports nutritionist often works with professional and competitive athletes, guiding them to make better food and lifestyle choices, and empowering them to think about their health outside of the gym.
To become a sports nutritionist, you should:
- Complete a bachelor’s degree in sports nutrition or dietetics
- Complete a 1,200-hour internship, supervised by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
- Get a state license as well as a Registered Dietician certification
- Get a Board Certification as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD)
5. Certified nutrition specialist (CNS)
Certified nutrition specialists are food experts who help clients reach health-related goals by customizing meal plans. They often work with people diagnosed with chronic conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol, using the latest nutrition research to counsel and provide personalized health care. A CNS will typically work in a private practice or wellness center, rather than in a public health setting.
To become a CNS, you should:
- Earn at least a Master’s degree in nutrition or a related field from a regionally accredited school
- Complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised practice
- Get a CNS license in your state of practice
6. Nutrition Educator
Nutrition educators typically have a degree in nutrition or dietetics, and will often go on to receive a masters or PhD to extend their study. This is a great path for a person who enjoys teaching and providing nutrition knowledge in an educational setting.
What does a nutrition educator do?
- Schools, after-school programs, summer camps, and governmental agencies employ nutrition educators to provide knowledge to help kids learn about health at a young age
- Nutrition educators often conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books on updates in the science of nutrition.
- They can serve as advocates on school boards to educate communities about healthy options and resources for kids.
7. Recipe Developer
If you have a knack for creating tasty dishes or experimenting in the kitchen with healthy foods, you have probably already compiled a collection of original recipes. Recipe development is a great path for the creative or analytical personality type, allowing you to share your own creative, yet specific, concoctions and inspire others to eat healthfully as well:
What does a recipe developer do?
- You can write and publish your own original recipe book or cookbook.
- Ever wonder who created that gluten-free cookie recipe on the back of your favorite almond butter? Even food brands need a little help with recipes, and will often hire recipe developers for this type of content.
- Food bloggers or publishers may employ a recipe developer to diversify their recipe library by adding vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, or low-sugar dishes to their website.
8. Wellness Entrepreneur
Many nutrition school graduates end up starting their own companies, usually based around healthy eating and living. From developing food products to opening wellness centers to starting juice bars, this is a great space for the entrepreneurial-minded person.
IIN graduates have the resources, community, and education to give them a head start on this journey, with some starting well-known brands among Pressed Juicery, Sakara Life, and Your Super .
How can you become a wellness entrepreneur?
- Choose a niche that aligns with your passions, whether it be based around a fitness venture or a specific superfood product.
- Evaluate how you can create a product or business that fills a gap in the market. Then put together a plan for how your brand or vision will stand out from the competition.
- Network and get involved with like-minded individuals within the health field.
9. Food or Wellness Blogger
Just a few years ago, blogging was considered a hobby. But now it’s possible to legitimately make a six-figure salary with an online persona and blog. This is a great career path to infuse your creativity with a love for health and wellness, and is best for anyone interested in writing, advertising, marketing, or design. Several IIN graduates have made wellness blogging their full-time careers, including Sari Diskin of Eat Well with Sari, Cameron Rogers of Freckled Foodie, and Alysia Pope of Purely Pope.
How can you become a wellness blogger?
The most successful health and wellness bloggers have a niche—whether it be a focus on plant-based foods, a Paleo lifestyle, or making healthy meals for their family. Once you find your niche, you can start to build a brand around it.
- Use social media marketing and outreach to grow an audience that’s interested in living healthier, more balanced lives.
- Be authentic. Find a topic that speaks to you and create your content with that message in mind.
10. Wellness Writer
When the New York Times has an entire section dedicated to wellness, you know it’s become a legitimate, and even mainstream, field! Wellness writers are needed at print publications as well as online magazines, creating content for a variety of topics, such as articles for a running magazine, posts for a green beauty blog, and everything in between.
Whether you have a degree in nutrition, English, or broadcast journalism, the health and wellness field values experience, creativity, and innovation. Contributing writers generally start with part-time gigs, giving you the opportunity to stay flexible in other areas of your life.
How can you become a wellness writer?
- Build up your portfolio with a collection of pieces on a certain niche in the industry—whether it be fitness, skincare, or nutrition-related content.
- Pitch a blog or publication with a relevant or unique idea that you can contribute to their site.
- Try reaching out to others in the industry for inspiration in your own content.
11. Nutrition and Dietetic Technician, registered (NDTR)
Nutrition and dietetic technicians work closely with registered dietician nutritionists to provide patients and clients with medical nutrition therapy, which uses diet to address existing medical concerns and helps lower the risk of new issues. NDTRs are nationally accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), having completed a least 450 hours of supervised practice.
Students wanting to become NDTRs should study a variety of classes in food and nutrition sciences, foodservice systems management as well as general science courses. NDTRs are often involved in managing employees and budgets, so coursework in business would also be helpful.
Where do NDTRs work?
Schools, daycare centers, restaurants, health care facilities, corporations or hospitals
Within community health programs, like Women, Infant and Child (WIC) or Meals on Wheels, and other public health agencies
Health clubs, fitness centers and weight management clinics
12. Life Coach
Do friends and family often come to you for counseling and advice? Life coaching may be up your alley. Life coaches can assist clients in all aspects of life, including health and wellness counseling, career and relationship advice, financial advice or spirituality coaching.
Unlike traditional therapists, whose sessions can involve psychotherapy or medication, life coaches predominantly assist clients in every day solutions for much smaller issues in their lives. Life coaches cannot treat mental health conditions. Life coaches can, however, bridge the gap between the life their clients currently lead and the lives they’d like to lead.
What can life coaches do?
Identify “stuck” areas in a client’s life, and how to “unstick” them
Set objectives to help their clients achieve their personal goals
Foster clients’ accountability to increase their productivity
Differences in Education and Training
Both nutritionists and dietitians receive comprehensive education and training in their respective paths, although the two do have distinct differences.
Dietitian’s education involves receiving a four-year degree from an accredited school, like a college or university. Students will typically study topics that cover the basics of nutrition and wellness, including human biology and anatomy, food science and dietetics. They’ll then complete one or more internships and pass a board-certified exam to become a registered dietitian. To become a nutritionist, you would typically also complete a four-year degree, though in many states in the U.S., it’s not required. To further their education, nutritionists usually take various independent trainings to educate themselves on current popular topics and issues within the wellness community. As the field of nutrition and health coaching expands, so do opportunities for continuing education. Finding the right program is entirely up to you and your goals, budget, and desired field of work.
Getting started on a new career path
There are so many different ways to combine health and wellness with your career interests and talents. The field is constantly growing and evolving, allowing opportunities for anyone to share what they know about nutrition and wellness in a professional setting. Not to mention, the field of health and wellness can bring a rewarding aspect to your teamwork-life, leading you to educate others and impact them in a positive way.
Whichever path you take, you’ll need a solid foundation in every area of nutrition and well-being to help you carve out your path. Download the IIN Curriculum Guide today to see how a Health Coach education can equip you with the tools to follow through with your own career goals.