This week marks the 10 year anniversary of the Association for Nutrition (AFN), a charity which exists to protect and benefit the public by regulating qualified and competent nutritionist, and quality assuring training in nutrition science. I am incredibly proud to be a part of the AFN family of nutrition professionals, and have my skills and experiences endorsed alongside some amazing colleagues and friends.
I joined the AFN’s voluntary register of nutritionists when it first launched, as an Associate Registered Nutritionist, having completed an accredited degree at Sheffield Hallam University. It’s taken me 10 years, but this year I transferred to a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) - a qualified nutrition professional with demonstrable experience of degree-level, evidence-based practice in a specialist area of nutrition competency.
Celebrating 10 years of AFN, and inspired by a post from the wonderful Jenny Rosborough, these are the top 10 things I’ve learnt about working in nutrition:
1- Authenticity matters
No one wants nutrition advice from a robot, and people can tell if you don’t agree with what the advice you’re giving. Nutrition and our relationship with food is a really personal thing, so it's good to be human in your interactions with people.
2- Marketing works
You will see people will less training and experience share advice to millions because they can sell themselves and an idea. It’s frustrating. Figuring out how to sell yourself and what you do with credibility is a real skill.
3- Know your limits
It’s not possible to be an expert of everything in nutrition, and pretending you know the answer will backfire in the end. Plus nutritionists are a friendly bunch, and there is always someone you can refer onto or ask for advice.
4- Find an area you love
You don’t have to stick to it forever, but given point 3, it helps if you have an in-depth knowledge of an area you’re truly interested in. It's hard to do a job well and stay on top of the research if you don't care about the subject matter.
5- Everyone's an expert
Most people broadly know what constitutes a healthy diet for them. Your job is rarely giving new information and mostly supporting people to feel confident in what they already know. Just be prepared for the many many stories about someone's aunt's neighbour who swears blind about this new food that will burn all the calories.
6- Make friends outside of nutrition
Nutrition isn’t actually always about nutrition! If you don't eat the food, then it doesn't matter how 'healthy' it is. Behavioural psychologists, epidemiologists, specialist dietitians, chefs, lactation consultants, midwives - the list goes on. If you work on your own, you will miss out on so much, and so will the people you are trying to help.
7- Be prepared to change your opinion
Nutrition is an evolving and emerging science. We don’t have all the answers, and what you learn at uni will be out of date at some point. You have to adapt and be willing to acknowledge that advice has changed. Staying up to date by attending conferences, reading journals, and talking with other nutritionists is a huge part of the job.
8- Don't judge other nutritionists
Not everyone working in healthcare is ‘good’ and not everyone working in the food industry is ‘bad’. You can’t be single-minded about where you work - sometimes you can have the biggest impact in the most unlikely of places.
9- Communication is KEY
Talking to patients, presenting at conferences, giving interviews, nutrition labelling, writing blog posts - it’s all communication, and if you can’t make the science easy to digest and engaging, then it just isn’t effective. There's a reason why celebrity diet books sell so well - they are easy to read, and make huge promises, so it's irrelevant if the advice is terrible and they won't work. Know your adversary!
10- Nutritionists (and dietitians) are some of THE BEST people to drink wine and right the world’s wrongs with!
I have met some truly incredible people through the nutrition world, without whom I wouldn’t have the knowledge and skills I do today. Some of these repeople I've worked alongside, others I've met through social media, nutrition conferences and the AFN. It is a very supportive and non-competitive arena to work in, and I am very lucky to have so many experts on hand!
If you are looking for a qualified nutritionist, check for RNutr or ANutr after their name - this means that they hold UKVRN registration with the Association For Nutrition. This is different to a Registered Dietitian, who are regulated by HCPC, or a Registered Nutritional Therapist, who are regulated by either CNCH, FHT or GRCCT. You can read more about the difference between these nutrition professionals here.