What is a Holistic Nutritionist? By Jenna Volpe of Whole-istic Living

What is a Holistic Dietitian Nutritionist?

What does “holistic” mean? What is holistic nutrition? What is a holistic nutritionist?  How can I work with a holistic dietitian nutritionist?  How do I become a holistic nutritionist? 

…If you’ve found yourself asking any (or all) of the above frequently asked questions, and you’re still searching for answers, you’re in the right place!  

As a holistic dietitian-nutritionist who’s been running a private holistic nutrition practice with over one thousand different 1:1 clients since 2014, and as someone who also consulted with a holistic nutritionist first-hand for over a year (during my own healing journey), I’m going to answer all those burning questions and more.

Let’s first talk about the meaning of “holistic,” since I hear that word get thrown around a lot in the nutrition, health and wellness industries.

What does holistic mean?

In our modern-day mainstream culture, when many people hear the word “holistic”, green juice and yoga pants are top-of-mind.  Others may immediately picture a barefoot, vegan hippie eating some granola outside in the grass. (Disclaimer: that sounds kinda lovely, if you ask me!). 😉  

And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those stereotypical narratives (green juice and yoga pants are my jam, ya’ll!), there is SO much more to the meaning of holistic than what most people believe or understand.

In essence, “holistic” is an adjective which means to address an endeavor (whether it be health, entrepreneurship, mindset, or something else) proactively and multi-dimensionally, from a 360-degree lens, from all angles. 

  • The first step of a holistic approach is to get crystal-clear on the goal(s) you’re working on, or the problem you’re solving.
  • The next step of a holistic approach would be to assess and address all the interconnected “moving parts” of a situation or dynamic accordingly, in ways that are realistic and sustainable while also supporting a person’s ultimate goal from a root-cause level.

I also believe “holistic” in general means aligned with nature.

Now, for the purposes of this article, let’s zoom in on holistic as it pertains to nutrition.

What’s holistic nutrition?

While there are lots of different niches within my field of nutrition (aka, the study of how food and nutrients impact our health), and I’m always down to nerd out on clinical nutrition, holistic nutrition is a niche very near and dear to my heart! (Feel free to read more about my healing journey here.)

Holistic nutrition is less about treating or masking unwanted symptoms (which is what clinical dietitians do primarily via medical nutrition therapy), and more about finding ways to optimize a person’s health and wellbeing – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  

  • This is done through making or recommending diet and lifestyle changes which address underlying root-causes or imbalances, via a “food-as-medicine” approach.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts!  We can’t change one thing without also impacting multiple other aspects of health and wellbeing, for better or worse.

What is a nutritionist?

A “nutritionist” is technically anyone who studies and/or practices nutrition.  

  • This could be a friend who just read a few books or articles about nutrition, or someone who went on their own journey (and now feels qualified to give nutrition advice), or someone who has completed months or years of formal training in the field of nutrition.

The term “nutritionist” isn’t regulated in most states/countries; there’s an entire spectrum of nutritionists, with registered dietitians having the most training and supervision within the clinical nutrition scope.  

  • Registered dietitians are the only type of nutritionist required to receive a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences, complete 1200 hours of accredited practicum work, and pass a board exam before seeing clients/patients.  

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that other types of nutritionists are not qualified to help you.  I actually chose to work with a holistic nutritionist while I was already a registered dietitian, because I was struggling with chronic (versus acute) illness.

What is a holistic nutritionist / holistic nutrition consultant?

A holistic nutritionist can be anyone who has received training and education in integrative nutrition and health, regardless of whether or not that training is formal and accredited.  

This type of practitioner helps people to make diet and lifestyle changes based on their health goals using a holistic (whole mind-body-spirit) approach.

There are lots of different types of holistic nutritionists, and no two are going to have the same exact philosophy or approach. But each of us has something special and unique to bring to the table (pun intended). 🙂 

  • I find that working with a holistic nutritionist or functional dietitian can sometimes be more helpful than working with a clinical dietitian, when it comes to addressing long-standing issues like chronic fatigue, bloating, leaky gut syndrome, hormone imbalance, acne, and other issues that aren’t easily resolved via medical nutrition therapy.

Types of holistic nutritionists

  • Functional medicine dietitians
  • Certified LEAP therapists (CLT’s)
  • Holistic registered dietitians 
  • Nurses
  • Naturopathic doctors
  • Functional medicine doctors
  • Acupuncturists
  • Chiropractors
  • Certified holistic nutritionists / holistic nutrition consultants (through a specific school for integrative nutrition certification)
  • Holistic nutrition coaches
  • Registered holistic nutritionists (RHN)
  • Herbalists
  • And more…

What does a holistic nutritionist do?

In this field, since everything is interconnected, it can be difficult to separate things like mindset, stress management, mental health, cooking, gardening, and grocery shopping (since they all have a profound impact on food choices).  That said, we holistic nutritionists often tend to wear a lot of hats!

If you’re planning on working with a holistic nutritionist or a holistic nutrition consultant, you can expect to receive any of the following types of services depending on what you need:

  • Nutritional education
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Dietary / herbal medicine consultation
  • Nutrition and lifestyle coaching
  • Functional nutrition testing
  • Custom supplement recommendations
  • Meal planning / grocery shopping guidance
  • Stress management support
  • Public health interventions
  • Complementary alternative medicine
  • Cooking classes

What do holistic nutritionists NOT do?

While the roles of a holistic nutritionist are pretty darn versatile, holistic nutritionists still make sure to stay in our lane and not veer outside our scope of practice.

This can get tricky, because it’s possible and relatively common for lots of other types of healthcare providers to also learn and practice holistic nutrition. (The lines get blurry, since nutrition impacts virtually every other aspect of health and wellbeing!)  

But unless your holistic nutritionist is also properly trained and credentialed in any of the following scopes of practice, don’t expect to receive any of the following services directly through working with a holistic nutritionist:

  • Medical advice / medical diagnosis (MD, ND, or DO only)
  • Pharmaceutical consultation/administration (doctors, nurses, or PharmD only)
  • Clinical nutrition / “medical nutrition therapy” (RDN only)
  • Psychiatric consultation (PsyD only)
  • Therapy or EMDR (LMHC or PsyD or LICSW only)
  • Personal training 
  • Massage therapy (LMT only)
  • Myofascial release 
  • Physical therapy (PT only)
  • Speech-language therapy (SLP only)
  • Acupuncture 
  • Spinal adjustments

On the flipside, if you’re working with anyone who, by trade, is primarily in one of the above fields, and you’re seeking holistic nutrition consultation, it may be worth asking them what kind of training and qualifications they hold in the scope of holistic nutrition. 

A few things that no type of holistic nutritionist should ever do:

  • Focus on numbers (i.e. weight, BMI, pant size) versus overall health
  • Shame, scold, or judge you for making certain food choices
  • Put you on a diet or a one-size-fits-all program

Benefits of working with a holistic nutritionist 

Working with a holistic nutritionist or holistic nutrition consultant will allow you to improve your wellbeing on all levels, and/or to identify and address underlying health issue(s) from the bottom-up.

We will help you to connect the dots and see the full picture (aka the “forest”) versus just looking at the “trees” individually.

A holistic nutritionist will also meet you where you’re at.  We will help you to reverse-engineer your diet and lifestyle changes based on  your goals as well as your level of readiness and commitment to do the work.

But by far, the biggest benefit of working alongside a holistic nutritionist is that you get the opportunity to start optimizing your health and wellbeing at the root level. 

Think of it this way…

Weeds in a garden will keep growing until they are pulled by the very bottom roots out of the ground.  It is very easy to just pull the tops of the weeds above ground so they are no longer visible.  From a surface-level view, it would look like there are no weeds in the garden bed.  

  • In holistic nutrition we aim to dig deep and assess everything going on beneath the surface, invisible to the naked eye, to make sure those weeds are completely gone!

Anecdotally, here are just some of the many benefits I’ve witnessed my clients experience through working together via a holistic “food-as-medicine” approach:

  • More energy
  • Improved focus
  • Less brain fog
  • Better moods
  • Lower stress levels
  • Healthier digestion (more regularity)
  • Less gas/bloating
  • More regular monthly cycles
  • Higher libido
  • Less PMS
  • Less frequent and/or less severe headaches/migraines
  • Reduced abdominal pain
  • Less joint/muscle pain

How to get started working with a holistic nutritionist

If you search “holistic nutritionist near me” using Google, you’ll likely be directed to a bunch of local or online holistic nutrition practitioners.  You can check out their websites and customer reviews to get a feel for their specialties and experiences, to see who may be the best fit for you.

You could also use a tool like HealthProfs, which allows you to customize your search by putting in your zip code and requesting certain areas of expertise/ specialties if you live in the U.S.

Does insurance cover holistic nutrition services?

While most health insurances don’t cover holistic nutrition (since they usually only cover medically necessary symptom management via medical nutrition therapy with a registered dietitian), it may be worth checking, just in case! 

  • You may be able to find a functional registered dietitian licensed in your state/province who takes your insurance. 
    • You can find this out by calling the Member Services phone number on the back of your health insurance card, and speaking with a representative.  
      • You will also want to verify your benefits to make sure that your insurance plan covers nutritional counseling with a licensed dietitian.

If your insurance doesn’t cover services with a holistic/functional dietitian, or you can’t find someone who is in-network with your local plan, most holistic nutrition providers will still accept FSA/HSA cards for reimbursement.  (When in doubt, just ask.)

Or, if you’re more interested in becoming a holistic nutritionist versus working with one as a client, keep reading!

How to become a holistic nutritionist 

Many of us who have gone on our own healing journey alongside a holistic nutritionist will eventually find ourselves wanting to answer the calling to become a holistic nutritionist, and pave the way for others.  If this is you, you’re probably wondering – where do I even begin?!

The good news is there are now LOTS of different schools and accredited programs worldwide which offer formal training and board certification to become a holistic nutritionist.

  • If you’re looking to learn more about how to become a holistic nutritionist in the United States, and you’re not a registered dietitian (or on the path to becoming a registered dietitian), I highly recommend checking out the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP) list of approved holistic & integrative nutrition education programs which are offered at various accredited universities, colleges and institutes throughout the U.S.
  • If you live in Canada, and you’re interested in becoming a holistic nutritionist, you may want to check out the resources provided by Pacific Rim College regarding accredited training and certification programs for Registered Holistic Nutritionists in Canada. 

It’s also now generally encouraged and recommended (but still not required) that aspiring holistic nutrition professionals complete 500+ hours of practicum work in the field of holistic nutrition and sit for a national board exam to become certified as a holistic nutritionist. 

Call me biased, but I’m glad I chose to first become a registered dietitian before getting continuing education in holistic and functional nutrition, because I love having a strong clinical foundation in my practice.

How to become a holistic registered dietitian

To be clear, there’s no formal training to be a “holistic dietitian.” This is where continuing education comes in!

Whether you’re already a registered dietitian or on the path to becoming a registered dietitian, I highly recommend learning functional nutrition via continuing education as a way to start practicing a a “holistic dietitain” after you have received your RDN credential.

Career paths for a holistic nutritionist

When it comes to figuring out a career as a holistic nutritionist, the world is your oyster! There are lots of options, especially nowadays with this field growing exponentially.

You’ll just want to make sure you choose a path that feels in alignment with your mission, vision, goals, schedule, personality and overall philosophy. 

Here are some of the most popular career paths worth looking into as a holistic nutritionist:

  • Starting a private practice (brick-and-mortar or online)
  • Creating and launching online courses/group programs
  • Diving into corporate wellness
  • Consulting at a local gym or yoga studio
  • Health coaching 
  • Working for an integrative/holistic health clinic
  • Consulting at a local health food store or apothecary
  • Writing books about holistic nutrition
  • Creating low-content books (like this IBS food diary, available on Amazon!)
  • Influencing / affiliate marketing for companies that align with your holistic health philosophy
  • Starting a holistic nutrition blog
  • Helping companies with recipe development / food photography / menu development
  • Working directly with farmers or at farmers’ markets
  • Offering grocery store tours
  • Direct sales / multi-level marketing (i.e. aligning with and selling a product or line of products that you love and use personally)
  • Hosting wellness retreats (possibly in collaboration with other holistic health practitioners)

Questions to consider on your holistic nutrition career path

While there are lots of opportunities for holistic nutritionists, there can also be a lot of obstacles and challenges that come up along the way.

That said, if you’re already a holistic nutritionist, or you are aspiring to become one,here are a some questions worth reflecting on, as you begin thinking about your next steps:

  • Why did you choose to become a holistic nutritionist?
  • What types of people will you serve?
  • What specific problem(s) would you like to help people solve as a holistic nutritionist?
  • Do you have any financial constraints?
  • What are some creative ways to get funding in order to take the leap into your entrepreneurial endeavors?
  • How much $ do you need to be bringing in every month in order to support yourself (and possibly your family)?
  • Do you prefer 1:1 or large groups of people, or not working with people at all?
  • Do you prefer working with people directly, or would you rather stay behind-the-scenes?
  • Are you comfortable being in the spotlight as the face of your brand, or would you rather work behind-the-scenes?
  • What type of work brings you the most energy and fulfillment? (Coaching, teaching, consulting, creative writing, content creation, speaking, cooking, etc.)
  • Do you enjoy customer service? (This is something you’ll need to do lots of, if you’re thinking of starting a private practice.)
  • Do you know how to attract and enroll your ideal clients through ethical marketing?
  • Do you enjoy writing?
  • Do you enjoy speaking?
  • Do you enjoy being on video?
  • Are you okay with trading your time for money, or would you rather have the option to spend more time with your family?
  • Will you have multiple part-time side hustles, many streams of income, or just one full-time gig?
  • Are you willing to work nights/weekends, if need be?
  • Is there a learning curve (i.e. do you need to learn marketing, sales, SEO, public speaking, or copywriting as an entrepreneur)?
  • Should you hire any mentors (i.e. other holistic nutrition entrepreneurs who have gone before you, who are already doing what you aspire to do, and who may be able to help you achieve your goals faster)? If so, who are they?

I realize those are some loaded questions, but it’s all stuff worth taking into consideration! Your future self will thank you.  (Trust me – these are the things I wish I had figured out earlier on in my own career path.)

FYI – If you’re looking for support around the next best step you can take in your career path as a holistic nutritionist, please feel free to book a 1:1 strategy call with me and I’d love to help you get clarity on this. 🙂 

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Conclusions

A holistic nutritionist is someone who can help you to improve and optimize your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing, through changing your diet in ways that support you as a whole person.  

We use a “food as medicine” approach because we understand that food and nutrients have the power to drastically impact how we think and feel day-to-day.

There are many ways to work with and/or practice as a holistic nutritionist, depending on what feels most in alignment for you.  The key is to figure out where you’re at, where you want to be, and then reverse-engineer your path based on your goals (whether in health, career, or both).

Next steps

We’re offering holistic health consultations again – back by popular demand! Learn more & apply for an initial holistic health consultation here. Holistic Consultation with Jenna Volpe - Learn More