When it comes to nutrition education, there are a number of programs that can promise enough breadth and depth to launch you into a career as a nutrition professional. But not all programs are equal—some have distinctive attributes that set them apart. Consider these top qualities as you’re comparing programs and deciding which to choose:
Often, pursuing a nutrition certification is done in the midst of a busy schedule. Maybe you have a full-time job, family responsibilities, travel demands, or even all three of those together. A program that offers ample flexibility—allowing you to study from anywhere at any time with online materials—can be key to completing the requirements for certification.
Learn at Your Own Pace
Going along with flexibility, the ability to set your own schedule means you’ll be far more likely to complete the program without having to overhaul your family and work responsibilities. Whether you want to zip through as quickly as possible or take your time and fit learning into your schedule when you can, a good program allows you to make the certification path your own.
Programs vary in terms of pricing, and while it’s true that you shouldn’t automatically pick the cheapest option, you should consider affordability when making your selection. Choosing a program that fits within your budget means you’ll spend less time getting caught up financially when you begin your professional life.
Obviously, a nutrition certification program should cover numerous aspects of nutrition, including modifying meal plans for different clients and understanding essential vitamins and minerals. But the best programs also teach you skills that make you an effective and successful consultant.
For example, you might learn how to interview clients appropriately, ways to set goals in meaningful ways, group counseling strategies, and how to use forms and checklists. Knowing nutrition information is useful, but you also need the understanding of how to turn that knowledge into a business for yourself.
Opportunities for Specialization
There’s plenty of value in learning basic nutrition information, and good programs will give you bedrock knowledge that you can use to create meaningful and goal-oriented plans for your clients. But a top program should also give you the opportunity to use your unique interest and specialization as a launching point if you choose.
For instance, you may be deeply interested in helping clients with weight loss and weight management, and want to dig into topics like assessing dietary and physical activity, calculating optimum weight, and understanding energy expenditure and metabolic rate. Or you might be gravitating toward helping seniors—a booming population in terms of nutrition consulting—and want to know how aging affects nutritional needs. Being able to learn more about your field in those specific areas is incredibly rewarding, and a good program should give you those options.
In addition to specialization, consider whether a program gives you an opportunity to combine certifications so that you can advance more quickly in the profession. For example, AFPA’s Master Level Nutrition Consultant Certification includes four top certification courses, including topics on nutrition and wellness, holistic nutrition, weight management, and sports nutrition. By completing that program, you’ll not only have an in-depth and evidence-based well of knowledge on the foundation of nutrition, but you’ll also have the ability to specialize in several areas.
In general, a good program should be one that makes you feel like you’re going far beyond the basics. When you earn that certification, you should know exactly what type of clients you’ll be helping, what consultations should include, and how to set meaningful and achievable goals. You should also feel like you have all the knowledge and resources you need to thrive as a nutrition consultant, whether you’re making it your full-time career or adding it as a part-time pursuit.