What You Should Know Before Pursuing a Career in Nutrition Counseling

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Although discussing topics like macronutrients and meal prep is an important part of nutrition counseling, there is much more to the profession than the nitty-gritty details of what’s on someone’s plate.

Nutrition counseling takes a client’s whole lifestyle into account—activity, stress levels, food allergies and preferences, health conditions, and goals—which means that a counselor will be a guide for physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. Guiding clients and helping them navigate toward better health can be a hugely satisfying career choice—and a stable one since the health and wellness industry is on a major growth track.

Download the Master Level Nutrition Consultant Program Guide

Here are some common questions people ask when considering a career in the field, along with what you should know before taking the first step:

1. What do nutrition consultants do and where do they work?

Nutrition consultants help clients meet nutrition and lifestyle goals, and are sometimes called a Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, Holistic Nutrition Coach or Weight Management Specialist.

As a Certified professional you may give nutritional guidance that may include developing healthy eating lifestyle plans for individual clients, creating workshops that can be presented at schools or companies, and providing support to groups with specific goals like weight loss or lifestyle management. Using current scientific research, you will build a solid knowledge base around wellness nutrition in order to help people meet their goals.

You might work as an independent consultant or coach, or be employed by a company with wellness programs or by  a weight loss program, spa, gym franchise, or other firm that needs full-time nutrition expertise.

2. What type of education is required?

There are two main tracks you can follow when it comes to nutrition education. Choosing one or the other is usually the first step toward becoming a nutrition professional, although it's entirely possible to blend them as well:

College degree: Some universities offer a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and/or dietetics. Much like any other degree, this usually involves at least four years of higher education, and it can be done online, at a school, or with a blend of those two approaches. After some time in the field, some nutrition professionals decide to increase their education by completing a master's or doctorate degree. Those advanced degrees are usually undertaken to pursue a teaching or research position.
Pros: Potentially more opportunities in the field, including working at hospitals and healthcare organizations.
Cons: Takes four years and requires standard college tuition fees.

Certification: Geared toward a career of helping clients achieve nutrition goals, a certification program focuses on both nutrition basics and the complexities that can come up in the field. Some programs offer a specialized approach, such as education that focuses on weight management or sports nutrition. There are some in-person programs, but many people choose to complete their education through distance learning and/or online.
Pros: Usually takes about six months and is much more affordable than college tuition.
Cons: May not be suitable for positions that require a degree.

Those who want to provide nutritional counseling more quickly (and more affordably) may want to become a Certified Nutrition Consultant.

3. Can you specialize if you have a specific interest?

Absolutely. When you earn a certification, you can use that education to pursue a range of jobs. Taking on additional areas of specialty can expand your opportunities, as well as capitalize on your personal areas of interest.

For example, you might opt to become a sports nutritionist so you can work with individual athletes or teams, or you might specialize in youth nutrition and consult with schools, daycares, and after-school programs.

Other areas of specialty might include plant-based eating, weight loss or nutrition for seniors. Understanding the specific needs of a subset of clients can be professionally beneficial.

4. What salary range can you expect?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median salary for nutrition professionals is about $58,000, with top pay coming in over $80,000. But earning potential can vary greatly, especially if you use your skills and insight for both salaried and non-salaried opportunities.

Salary can depend on factors like your location, level of education, area of specialty, and willingness to market your services. For example, the annual take-home pay for a new nutrition consultant in Topeka, Kansas, who just started marketing herself yesterday will be very different from a seasoned consultant in New York City who’s already set up a robust referral program, professional website, and relationships with gyms and spas.

Like any business, it takes time to build a professional reputation, and salary will reflect that. But with the tremendous growth in the health and wellness industry, even modest efforts can bring big results.

To learn more about AFPA’s certification programs, visit our programs site. Also, download the Master Level Nutritionist Program Guide for more insights.

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