Nutrition plays a significant role in our lives, so it’s no surprise that many of us find a passion in this space. While some of us find a love in cooking, others look to study food in more detail either for personal reasons and/or to help others in finding better health, energy and overall wellness. There are a lot of options available if you want to study nutrition in Ireland or abroad. This blog post aims to offer some guidance on the topic. Note that the industry has a lot of career options both public and non-public facing (corporate, lab setting, R&D). For the purpose of this blog, we will be looking at the public-facing side.
Whatever your journey and/or interest, if you’re passionate about eating healthy and helping others, then maybe it’s time to take the leap to study and perhaps even jump career into the nutrition space full time.
Study nutrition in Ireland or UK – What is a nutrition course?
There is a growing awareness of good nutrition and its relationship with health and wellness for both the positive and the negative. The study of nutritional science provides context for understanding all of the conversations we have around food, nutrients, lifestyle, and scientific evidence. Understanding and studying core topics like what is food, metabolism/biochemistry, the human body, government policy and scientific research is key to providing accurate guidance for the future.
If you’re interested in studying nutrition, it’s important to understand the options available to you.
How long does it take to become a certified nutrition specialist?
The short answer, it depends. There are a lot of courses available online and in-person now that range in time, quality and accreditation. While some nutrition job titles are highly regulated, other fields are more general in their requirements. This is great in terms of giving you options, but it also means the industry is saturated with courses. Some of these provide knowledge and/or accreditation but not enough to allow you to work with the general public. Consequently, there is also an increasing number of self- proclaimed ‘nutrition practitioners’ emerging from informal courses that go outside their scope of practice. When choosing a course, keep this in mind.
When you look at a course, observe the number of study hours, lecture hours, practical work and assessment. While more doesn’t necessarily mean better, certain accrediting bodies like Pearson and Crossfields Institute will have minimum requirements of both what is taught and over what period of time.
The key differences between Dietitians, Nutritional Therapists and Nutrition & Health Coaches, all of which work with individual and group clients, are outlined below.
Nutrition & Health Coach, Nutritional Therapist, Dietitian – what’s the difference?
As already mentioned, the range of careers in nutrition is incredibly varied. Jobs will branch into working with the public and/or working behind the scenes, in a lab or in a corporate setting for example. When it comes to working with people, a nutrition expert can provide incredible value to not only lay ing out a plan of action but also supporting the individual through that journey. There are many routes to a career in nutrition. They are not all created equal, nor is there one single ‘best’ way.
Nutrition & Health Coach
A Nutrition & Health Coach is a knowledgeable advisor that educates, motivates and supports clients to embrace healthier choices and habits around food, exercise and managing stress. The Coach assists clients to achieve their goals around health, food, eating and lifestyle – and make them stick. The Coach empowers the client to adopt habits that place them on the path to a healthier future. Typically, clients are looking for: better weight control; more energy; improved immunity, sleep, digestion, skin, joints, etc.; a healthy pregnancy; help to manage food intolerance; advice for choosing and using wholesome foods and ingredients; meal plans and recipes; guidance for fussy eaters – along with many other goals.
Becoming a nutrition & health coach requires taking a recognised course. There are a lot of courses available and it can be hard to distinguish what good looks like. If you’re looking to work with clients/develop a career in this space, look out for study hours, lecture hours, practical work and assessment. Enquire whether the course is accredited by external bodies like BTEC/Pearson etc, whether it offers a practical coaching element and ideally whether it takes continued assessment and/or an exam to pass. In general, accrediting bodies will have their list of requirements that cover these aspects too. Finally, you need to know if the course will allow you to practice and in what capacity. As an add-on, certain programmes will qualify you to register with a professional body like the UK & International Health Coaches Association.
Click here for more information on the IINH Nutrition & Health Coaching Course – next group starts September 2023!
The Nutritional Therapist applies in-depth knowledge of nutrition and physiology in a client-centred approach. They assist clients to resolve chronic, often complex, conditions and guides them to improved health. While you don’t need a degree to become and practice as a nutritional therapist, you must belong to a professional association (NTOI in Ireland) and have valid insurance. There are different levels of qualification available at diploma, degree and master’s levels and many areas a nutritional therapist can specialise into. As a broad general guideline, a nutritional therapy course will take 2-4 years to complete.
Nutritional Therapy, the core component of Functional Medicine, is a holistic, person-centred approach that uses whole foods, phytonutrients, therapeutic food supplements and lifestyle changes to assist clients to restore and safeguard sound health (source). Nutritional Therapists will use a wide range of tools to assess and identify potential nutritional imbalances. They will look to understand how these may contribute to an individual’s symptoms and health concerns. complementary medicine and is relevant for individuals with chronic conditions, as well as those looking for support to enhance their health and wellbeing.
IINH offers a three-year Nutritional Therapy Programme – More info here.
A Dietitian is a health professional who has a Bachelor’s degree specialising in foods and nutrition, as well as a period of practical training in a hospital and a community setting. It usually takes at least four years of full-time study at a university to qualify as a Dietitian. The job title is protected and there are certain licenses and certifications a dietitian has to earn to be able to work.
Dietitian’s work primarily in clinical settings such as out-patients clinics in hospitals and they treat a range of medical conditions with dietary therapy, specially tailored to each individual. They advise on healthy eating for all ages, races, cultures and social groups. They may also teach and/or conduct research.
How does a nutrition & health coach make a living?
**Note, we’re focusing on just nutrition and health coaching in this post.
Once you graduate, there are a wide variety of career options available to you.
The obvious choice for a nutrition & health coach is to set up their own or work in a clinic. This includes meeting with clients individually or in groups day-to-day, assessing their needs and developing a plan to help them reach their goals. Generally speaking, an initial appointment may last 60-90 minutes with 30-minute follow-ups spaced over 4-6 weeks, although this can vary a lot.
A nutrition & health coach may work in a health food store offering advice to consumers or be employed by a supplement company training health food store staff.
Some nutrition and health coaches partner with other specialists like personal trainers and yoga instructors to create getaway holiday retreats. During these retreats, the coach will work with the group to educate them on the basics of nutrition and good habits.
Many companies now incorporate corporate wellness offerings for their employees. A coach may be invited to deliver a workshop on healthy habits, stress management and/or basics of good nutrition as an example.
A variety of IINH graduates come from jobs that incorporate working with individuals in some shape or form. Examples include teachers, nurses, personal trainers, chefs, human resource managers, yoga instructors, coffee shop owners etc. These alumni are able to add to their skillset in their employment, create new services and enhance current services within their job.
Choosing the right course for you
Before jumping in, it’s important to take some time to think about what you really want to get out of studying nutrition. Here are just two areas to think about:
What type of work do you want to do?
There are a lot of questions to consider here. Once you make a decision to study nutrition, it’s time to think about the commitment required and your ability to meet certain criteria for this. Do you want to study full-time or part-time? Do you need an online programme or do you have a college near you that meets your needs? How long do you want to study and how much time can you commit to it?
Do you want to work in the public health space? Will you work one-to-one with people and in what kind of setting? Do you prefer to work with groups? Do you want to be based in a hospital or maybe work as a personal trainer and add to the services you already offer? Or maybe you want to focus on performance/sports nutrition and work with elite athletes?
There are a lot of questions to answer before starting to research programmes. Take the time to dig into these and establish some sort of baseline requirements. If you want to study nutrition in Ireland, don’t forget to consider what country you might practice in. Different countries have different requirements.
Consider the qualifications you already have as a starting point. Once you figure out the type of work you want to do, you can then also start to think about what you might need to get there. Some options have very specific requirements around the education you need, while others are broader. Even if you’re just passionate about learning nutrition for your own use, completing an accredited course will give you a structured way of learning and a better understanding of information shared in other seminars, short courses, podcasts and books.
Ready to Study Nutrition in Ireland and/or from abroad?
At IINH, we offer courses in Nutrition & Health Coaching and Nutritional Therapy for those wanting to study nutrition in Ireland and/or anywhere in the world. With our flexible learning options and the ability to study online, our alumni come not only from all over Ireland but also the world. We are always hosting free open events to help prospective students to understand the courses and answer any questions. Check out our events page here to register for the next event?
And if you’d like to get a taste of what kind of work a nutritional therapist does, why not attend one of our student clinics.