Holistic nutrition combines the principles of nutrition and holistic health for an all-encompassing approach to diet and lifestyle. Professionals who are trained in holistic nutrition approach health and wellness from a whole-person perspective, meaning that everything about the body is connected ‒ from physical to mental and emotional health. Using education as a tool, holistic nutritionists emphasize living a healthy lifestyle by creating an individualized approach for each person they work with.
Nutritionists and holistic nutritionists have similar occupations; holistic nutritionists incorporate nutritionist training and ideals with a broader view of health, as it encompasses much more than just dietary needs. It’s important to note that education and training specifically for a holistic nutritionist are difficult to find, since holistic is not a regulated term in every state (or country).
What Is a Holistic Nutritionist?
Nutrition is a critical aspect of health; the World Health Organization says that “better nutrition [results in] improved infant, child, and maternal health; stronger immune systems; safer pregnancy and childbirth; lower risk of noncommunicable diseases (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease); and longevity.” Holistic nutritionists work to help clients and/or patients identify how the food they eat impacts their health. Whether nutritionists serve clients or patients depends on their level of certification: Only registered dietitians and registered dietitian nutritionists can refer to the people they work with as patients, since they’re the only ones permitted to provide medical nutrition advice.
Certified nutritionists may consider themselves holistic nutritionists, but holistic nutritionists may refer to themselves as certified nutritionists only if they pass the certification examination for nutrition specialists (CENS) administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS). BCNS certification also requires applicants to complete 1,000 hours of supervised work experience.
What does a holistic nutritionist do?
Holistic nutritionists focus on a comprehensive approach to nutrition, working with clients to help them develop strategies to live more healthfully. They provide guidance and accountability and can assist in many aspects of their clients’ lives, as nutrition touches on not just physical health but mental and emotional health as well.
Holistic nutritionists can work with medical professionals like doctors and dietitians to improve lives, and their strategies for doing so come in many forms. The following list is a picture of the possible approaches that holistic nutritionists can take to create an integrated balance of health, nutrition, and general well-being.
Conduct an Intake Evaluation
Intake evaluations don’t always refer to inpatient services. In the context of holistic nutrition, they simply serve as an introductory meeting of practitioners and their clients in order to gauge needs. These meetings can include clients’ previous experiences with nutrition, their lifestyles, their dietary requirements, and much more. Holistic nutritionists may also ask questions about non-food-related aspects of their clients’ lives, such as questions regarding career, spirituality, and relationships. All these questions help to determine the direction of the relationship and how the nutritionist can best help.
Introduce Meal Plans
At its core, nutrition is about the food we put into our bodies. Holistic nutritionists work with clients to make specific, evidence-based meal plans that address their specific health and wellness concerns. They take into account dietary restrictions, lifestyle, food preferences, budget, skill level in the kitchen, and more. Some holistic nutritionists will go with their clients to the grocery store and show them how to choose the best options while budget conscious.
Teach Healthy Habits
Holistic nutritionists also explore and explain how the things beyond what’s on your plate feed you. One of IIN’s core concepts is nourishing yourself with primary food, which is the areas of your life that impact your short-term and long-term health. These areas ‒ such as your relationships, career, spirituality, physical activity, and environment ‒ are just as important as the food you eat. Holistic nutritionists work with clients to improve their lives in all these areas.
Create Exercise Plans
When they have the correct background, holistic nutritionists may provide their clients with exercise plans. Often, these services will be provided by a certified personal trainer, but there is some overlap between the two professions. Both help their clients with exercise and diet recommendations and provide support and encouragement while clients pursue fitness goals. However, instead of instructing clients on what exercises do perform, like personal trainers do, holistic nutritionists may explain how clients can best fuel their workouts and reach their athletic goals.
What don’t holistic nutritionists do?
Even though holistic nutritionists don’t necessarily fall under the purview of any governing body, they should still hold themselves to a set of standards and put their clients’ health above all else. Holistic nutritionists do not:
Provide Medical Advice
Holistic nutritionists may proffer advice to improve your health, but they should never recommend changing your diet in a way that will interfere with any medication you’re taking or go against medical advice. For example, they may recommend including more servings of vegetables in your diet, but they should not suggest that you remove whole food groups without consulting your medical-care team.
They should not sell you products, especially products that they have stake in. This includes supplements, shakes, teas, medical devices, exercise classes, and anything that reads “pyramid scheme.”
How to Find a Holistic Nutritionist
Finding a holistic nutritionist that suits your needs can make all the difference when seeking nutritional advice. There are many ways to find holistic nutritionists:
On social media
Finding a holistic nutritionist through social media is becoming increasingly common as we move more of our lives online. For instance, maybe you saw a friend of a friend’s post about their sessions with their nutritionist and were inspired to begin your own journey. No matter how you find your way into the world of holistic nutrition, you’ll be able to connect with someone quickly and easily.
By way of personal recommendations
Nutrition is often the focus of our health routines. Just as seeing doctors for checkups is routine, many people have begun working with nutritionists on a routine basis. You probably know a few people who see nutritionists, and their recommendations can help you find nutritionists near you.
At gyms and wellness centers
Nutrition goes hand in hand with exercise and other forms of self-care, so it’s no surprise that facilities such as gyms and spas often have nutritionists on staff to help clients take care of their whole-body health. The next time you’re at the gym, talk to a personal trainer to see if they also focus on nutrition or can recommend a holistic nutritionist.
How to Become a Holistic Nutritionist
Holistic nutritionists often begin by obtaining a degree in nutrition or food science. A college degree isn’t required – unless you want to become a certified nutritionist – but it can provide a foundation of knowledge to build upon as you go further in your career.
Truly, all it takes to become a holistic nutritionist is an interest in nutrition and a desire to help others live their healthiest lives. If you’re interested in becoming a holistic nutritionist, a credible nutrition, health, or wellness coaching program that meets your needs ‒ including budget, time commitment, and curriculum ‒ is a great place to further your education.
Once you’ve completed your program, focusing on a nutrition niche (in addition to the holistic aspect of holistic nutrition) can allow you to differentiate your skills and attract clients. Niches can include educating parents on how to best fuel their children's growing bodies, helping clients use food to combat chronic conditions, and working with athletes to optimize their performance.
The Bottom Line
Holistic nutritionists empower clients to implement changes in their lives in the best way possible, including how to take recommendations from health professionals and integrate them in functional ways. Holistic nutritionists support the larger healthcare system and fill the voids that traditional healthcare services leave behind.