Why Being a Holistic Nutritionist Isn’t for Me

I first started getting into nutrition about a decade ago, when I was 14. I had been a competitive athlete since the age of 6, and decided that learning about nutrition might give me an edge. However, because I was a disinterested teenager, the thought stayed at the back of my mind until I was 16.

After a summer of a little bit too much World of Warcraft and Chinese food, I found myself floating from my in-season weight of about 120lbs up to 143lbs. I know that’s not that big of a deal for most people, especially when you’re my height (I’m now a little over 5’7″ tall), but it was for me. It was devastating. I was a size 10 who was used to wearing a size 4. Even my dad had told me I had begun to get a bit tubby.

So what did I do? I began to read pretty much every diet book ever. I started with the Atkins diet book, the GI Diet, the Abs Diet, etc (the latter 2 I still find to be acceptable books to this day, so it’s not all bad). I remember trying to eat cabbage soup for a week. The soy-flour muffins on Atkins tasted awful so I tried to doctor them up with cocoa powder and pecans, not knowing that was adding carbs or calories, because I didn’t know how to count those at the time.

But once I did figure out how to count calories, I went overboard. I started at 700, then moved up to 900. I spent a few weeks only eating back the calories I burned — so unless I went to the gym for 2 hours in the morning, I didn’t eat. Once skating started again, I realized I couldn’t function on 900 calories a day, so I upped it to 1350. However, because I was no longer ‘counting’ exercise, I didn’t know I was burning at least 700 calories a day in-season. As a result, I was only consuming 700 net calories a day for 8 months.

Soon my weight slipped .. 137lbs, 125, 119, 112. I stopped getting periods. My bones stuck out. Even got some pressure wounds from being in the bathtub because my spine would grind against the porcelain while I was bathing.

My saddest memory was writing a Christmas list in which I asked for a heated blanket, heated slippers, sweaters, and warm pyjamas. I didn’t even realize it until I got better, but I think that may have been my body crying for help. In fact, I cried all Christmas. Late November I was given a very dire prognosis. Nobody knew what to do until I could be hospitalized; but there were no openings for another month. They weren’t sure I’d live past another couple weeks. I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong. I just wanted to live.

112 was when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. All in all I sunk to about 100lbs.

The wake-up call happened when knee slipped out of place during practice because I didn’t really have muscle to hold it in anymore. I spent a month and a half in a straight-legged brace, and had to quit figure skating.

Once my knee was healed, I was hospitalized for EDNOS (eating disorder non-otherwise specified … I had classic symptoms of anorexia, but was more obsessed with the counting calories than anything — even my weight). The hospital staff was very worried about me at first, but I managed to become healthy in a mere 2 months. I gained 20lbs in that time by eating a second dinner most nights. Whenever a patient left the hospital and their food tray was sent in, I decided to have it. I had completely given up my restricting, voluntarily. I had given up the will to fight against myself. I just wanted to heal.

Because I healed quickly and still knew a lot about food, people began to recommend I get a degree in nutrition. It took until I was 21 to decide I should (I had gotten over my eating disorder by the age of 17).

I was excited at first. After being an athlete for 10 years and surviving an eating disorder, I thought I could save the world.

Unfortunately, I believe that Nutritionism is the wrong route for that.

Don’t get me wrong, it is the right route for many people. And it can help many other people. However, in other ways, the industry that has been created by Nutritionism can be harmful.

I believe it is an honest mistake. They want to help people, they truly do. But I believe that by using unscientific methods such as iridology, recommending unneeded enemas, ‘food typing’, and using products for cleanses and detoxes that aren’t necessarily FDA approved — they may sometimes be doing more harm than good. Some of them, that is. Not everybody uses those methods or recommends such things. In fact, in the degree they strongly recommend you look up studies and learn how to read them properly. Ironically, though, they still provide many texts with the course that are anti-vaccine, anti-modern medicine, and even anti-FDA and anti-hospitals.

I’ve seen people (colleagues, I guess you could call them? People in the same course as me, either way) advertising on Facebook that cancer patients should use their juice cleanses instead of going through with chemotherapy. Things like that make me very, very sad. In fact, I often wish I would’ve opted for the route of a Dietitian instead, when I see things like that.

Some of you may be wondering what the difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian is.

Dietitians hold a bachelor’s degree, Nutritionists do not. It takes approximately 2 years to become a Dietitian, 1-2 to become a Nutritionist. That doesn’t mean Nutritionists may not hold other bachelor’s degrees if they decide to pursue other fields — it just means they don’t get one with the Nutritionist course.

Nutritionists take their courses at private, privately funded colleges made for Nutritionism only; Dietitians study at a University.

Nutritionists also study the spiritual and holistic side of things; from your sleep schedule, down to your chakras. Dietitians do not. However, Dietitians often formally study Agriculture during their course. They also go way more in-depth when it comes to medical stuff.

They both require a little bit of biochemistry, as well as anatomy. My anatomy textbook in my Nutritionist course was my favourite, as was my chemistry one. They were the only ‘serious’ textbooks I got, in my opinion. They had the facts and nothing but the facts, as well as a number of proper studies.

They are both board certified (at least in Canada); however, Nutritionists are more privately certified, while Dietitians are government certified, as far as I’m aware.

Becoming a Dietitian often has strict prerequisites, such as partaking an undergraduate program. Nutritionists can go into their course with nothing but a high-school diploma or GED.

The term ‘Nutritionist’ is so unregulated in places, you can’t even legally use the prefix ‘Registered’ in Alberta, because they reserve that right for Dietitians.

Dietitians can work alongside doctors and in hospitals. Nutritionists are not legally allowed to treat or diagnosed anyone (although that doesn’t mean they don’t bend their words to try — like how I mentioned above, trying to cure cancer with juice fasts or ‘Gerson therapy’ — which is $65k a year to down chopped raw liver and receive coffee enemas).

I believe a lot of people go into Nutrition with pure intentions, like I did.

However, after being provided with textbooks that said such horrifying things (there was even a holistic magazine provided with the course, used for study, that said you shouldn’t bring your kid to the hospital if they have a high fever, even at 104*F — the temperature doctors unanimously agree starts to become a danger to mortality). In fact, that book further recommends you should put your kid in a hot bath or wrap them in blankets to aggravate their fever. I told myself I would burn that book after I finished my course, I was so appalled.

Another was anti-vaccine. So vehemently so that it tried to say you were poisoning your child if you gave them one. And yet another said the same about GMOs (of which I will discuss the pros and cons of another day — but I believe that in general, they can be helpful … indeed, they did save the lives of 1 billion people in drought-ridden countries shortly after they were created, but more on that later. It is still a very controversial subject).

The more and more I ‘learned’ from the Nutritionist course, the more and more I studied and taught myself the opposite, because something just seemed ‘fishy’.

It has gotten to the point where I failed my final and I’m scared to re-try it because I just don’t know what to say anymore. Half of the time I fill out answers I feel like I’m making stuff up; like the section of the course where I was supposed to predict which chakra someone had damaged by what crisis they were having in their life. I had never re-read a book so much to get an answer. I honestly felt like I was pulling things out of my ass. I have nothing against that sort of thing. Indeed, I found the book generally enjoyable to read, and consider myself quite open-minded. (For those of you who don’t know, chakras are basically invisible spiritual channels in your body that can effect different body parts, often based on ‘chi’ or ‘qi’ — invisible ‘life force’ energy from traditional Asian medicine. There is no evidence they exist. They’re kind of a spiritual/religious thing. No hard feelings to those who do believe them — I just believe it’s difficult to do a test on something I can’t really quantify.).

But basing a test on it? Exhausting. I felt like I was getting my degree in being a psychic, not helping people eat better. It may be some people’s cup of tea, but it was not mine, at least not at the time.

Indeed, some Nutritionists go on to get higher educations. Some may study on their own time for hundreds of hours, like I do. Some may be very educated, even more-so than Dieticians in some cases. A degree doesn’t define you as a human, nor does it define the limits of what you can learn — it merely provides you a platform with which to study. There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ folk of all degrees — doctors, lawyers, teachers, policemen. Some are more learned than others. Some got better marks. Some are more passionate. Some are more indifferent.

The point is, I believe I got started on the wrong foot. That doesn’t mean you did. That doesn’t mean I’m discrediting all of Nutritionism. I simply believe it needs vastly more updated texts and regulations before people should begin to take it more seriously. That doesn’t mean you or I are bad at our jobs. It just means that, evidence provided, I feel the Nutritionist degree is lacking. And if you have a passion for it, I believe you should further your education in other ways — rather than trapping yourself in the holistic dogma often associated with it.

Thanks for listening, and I hope this post didn’t anger anyone. I just wanted to be honest for a moment, as well as tell my story. Again, what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. If you want to go gluten-free, go for it. If you want to believe in food combining, go for it. If you want to have a consultation by a Nutritionist, go for it. I’ve had one before (back before I knew what a Nutritionist was, let alone attempted to become one). Heck, I’m the one here downing the protein shakes, so why should you be listening to me? 😛

I believe it is absolutely wonderful that people have such a wide range in freedom of choices. It’s just when that wide range has corners that may or may not be trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes, that I feel I need to speak out about it. And that’s exactly why Nutritionism isn’t for me.

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3 thoughts on “Why Being a Holistic Nutritionist Isn’t for Me

  1. I am a RDN, the updated title for Registered Dietian Nutritionist, registered through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). I am also licensed by my state to provide Medical Nutrition Therapy. Because we are credentialed, most insurance plans cover our services for diabetes, reflux disease and other nutrition related diseases. I have worked with eating disorder patients, but only in conjunction with an eating disorder therapist. agree in that sometimes patients will choose an alternative course of treatment versus a traditional medicine one with poor consequences. I do agree with some alternative treatments (herbs, etc) I am also a Certified Diabetes Educator and utilize Pure Encapsulations producs. I do not however, recommend patients discontinue RX medications to jump on the latest “diet bandwagon” to cure diabetes, etc. If a treatment will do not harm, I often suggest a patient try it for 4-6 weeks and discontinue it if no improvement. I too read a lot of research and have 2 Master’s degrees. The Academy of Nutrition requires 75 hours of continuing education 5 years.So, bottom line I don’t discredit alternative therapies, but I do want to review the research before recommending them. I believe traditional and alternative medicine can create synergistic care for patients and consumers.

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    • That is absolutely fantastic. I’m not sure if it’s just my school or if it’s different here in Canada, but the only continued education I have been offered is a second year to focus on senior health; and seminars and tutoring that cost at least $100 per session.

      I’m not discrediting anyone who studies dietics in any way whatsoever. This post was just to point out that some schools can have very questionable moral standards and expectations, and that people should be careful about it.

      Glad to hear you approached the industry with success though, and I hope to one day come out the other side similarly (once I’m done this entire fiasco)

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