How do I Become a Nutritionist?

Nutritionists–or those who work to consult or research on how diet and nutrition impacts health and wellness–are often generalists who can devise, implement, and track the dietary and nutritional requirements needed to achieve a particular set of wellness goals. Notably, there is an important distinction between a “nutritionist” and a “dietician”. A “dietician” is a more stringent classification for those with an accredited educational background and (usually) a state-sanctioned title (i.e. they are legally recognized by the state in which they practice). This means that the title “nutritionist” is not protected in the same capacity and, therefore, holds less prestige. However, nutritionist positions are a great place to start and can help you evolve into a certified dietician.

Currently, nutritionist opportunities are extensive and can be found in nearly every organization of any size or scale that deals with food and nutrition, whether public, private, or nonprofit. As the desire for carefully and personally-crafted nutrition plans has increased, and as it’s become clear how much food and diet impacts both physical and mental wellness, organizations as far-ranging as your local doctor’s office, hospitals, the food service industry, and even school systems have massive needs in the field of nutrition.

How much does a Nutritionist make?

The average salary for a nutritionist can vary pretty widely, in accordance with location, experience level, and exact job requirements. The lowest salary reported by PayScale was $29,400, while the highest was $70,000, leading to an average salary of $49,700. This variance is largely due to seniority and skillset, with those with a job description of Clinical Nutritionist garnering between $44,000-$100,000. Those with many years of experience also made well over $100,000 a year on average. Specifically, ‘late-career’ nutritionists earn about 40% more than the national salary average. Finally, bonus payments attached to meeting health goals are very common and can significantly increase your earning power, ranging from 10-25% depending on your base salary.

What skills should a Nutritionist have?

Nutritionists often provide counsel regarding the basics of dietary habits,nutritional needs, and nutrition monitoring. Nutritionists should be able to tailor and customize diet plans to the particular client–this means things like meal plans for individuals or balancing the nutritional breakdown of a restaurant’s menu. Nutritionist positions often require amazing interpersonal skills because you need to deal with clients about their diets, which is often a huge disciplinary or emotional struggle. You need to be able to sympathize and avoid sounding arrogant as you recommend potentially drastic changes in eating behavior. Finally, you will need to manage client expectations, keep your client motivated to stay on track, and possibly discipline your client (in a professional way of course) when they fail to follow their diet plan.

For some roles, you might need to be flexible with your time so you can take a client’s phone call at a moment’s notice and reassure them to stick with their plan. Because diet is so central to life, you may even need organizational skills in order to help clients budget their time and make grocery shopping/cooking more efficient and achievable. Obviously, if your role is more consultative, organizational skills are critical in managing several clients at once. Finally, individual clients maywant you to come to their place of residence, so you need to be available and mobile.

Educational Requirements

The minimum educational requirements for work in nutrition include Bachelor’s-level work in Nutrition or Dietetics (or a closely-related field). Obviously, graduate-level work is recommended and will greatly improve your career opportunities. For a place to start, check out some specific and recommended nutrition-based degrees, such as those listed in our ranking of the Best Online Nutrition Master’s Degree Programs. Beyond educational requirements,

Other Requirements

Even if you have an educational background in nutrition, there may still be some hoops to jump through in order to become a legally-practicing nutritionist. Primarily, 46 states have legal requirements that stipulate what titles you can officially use–in some states, for example, “registered dietician” is a legally-protected title. Therefore, you need to understand what documentation is required to practice. Of the 46 states with legal requirements, 30 require state licensure, 15 require only certification, and the final 1 simply requires registration.

How do I become a Certified Nutritionist?

Certification is the first step to adding credibility to your role as a nutritionist. As mentioned previously, 15 states require at least certification (with the others requiring more), so this is the natural place to start. Unfortunately, there is no universal curriculum because each state is different and it varies based on the title you are pursuing, but here are some typical requirements:

  • Relevant, accredited educational degree (depending on the certification, a graduate degree may be required)
  • Supervised internship
  • Passing Exam Grade

How do I become a Licensed Nutritionist?

Licensure is the next step–after certification–toward legitimizing your skills as a nutritionist. Again, 30 states require licensure, which first requires certification. While certification is usually done by the appropriate third-party board and indicates your technical abilities, state licensure is just a formality granted by your state of practice that validates your authenticity and ensures that your services are eligible to be covered/reimbursed under current health care laws. Primarily, licensure relies on a valid certification, but some states may also require a certain number of hours of up-to-date continuing education.