What Does a Nutritional Therapist Really Do?
M ost people are aware that they could be doing more to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, and that they could take a little more time out for themselves in order to live a longer, healthier and happier life. But for many people, 'life' often seems to get in the way of doing what is best for them. A lot of people struggle to manage a busy work life with family and socialising, leaving little or no time to focus on their own health and wellbeing. Our obsession with time-saving and convenience can mean that slower, more mindful activities become sacrificed, often at the expense of our health.
There is nothing wrong with convenience or time-saving, per se. However all the time we are not eating, exercising or living as we instinctively know we should be, we are potentially putting our health at risk. As we age, unhealthy diets and lifestyle start to affect us, often silently to begin with, until eventually we become sick. For some, getting sick can be as serious as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or one of the many neurological illnesses now on the increase. For others, this can be ‘health niggles,’ that bother us greatly but that we have learned to cope with, such as I.B.S, arthritis, anxiety, unbalanced hormones or weight gain that has increased over the years but which has become harder and harder to shift.
This is where nutritional therapy comes in. It is impossible to overstate the importance that the food you eat and the lifestyle you lead, have on your health. In many cases, making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can have a huge impact on your overall well-being, improving, or even eradicating, the symptoms and conditions that are having such a detrimental effect on your life, allowing you to be happier, healthier and more energised.
A nutritional therapist's job is to apply the latest research in nutrition and health sciences to you and your symptoms and then come up with a diet, lifestyle and (sometimes) supplement plan to support your individual needs.
What is nutritional therapy?
In the past, nutritional therapy has been dismissed by some as 'new age' or 'alternative', however in recent years, more and more serious scientific study has gone into understanding how the food we eat directly affects our health, both positively and negatively. We now know with increasingly intricate detail how food can not only make us ill, but also make us well. It has been estimated that as many as 80% of health issues that doctors face are nutrition and lifestyle-related, yet nutrition is still not part of the required syllabus for GPs in training. This means that if you go to your doctor with a nutrition-linked health condition, their ability to treat you effectively will depend largely on what research they have undertaken in their own time.
A nutritional therapist's job is to apply the latest research in nutrition and health sciences to you and your symptoms and then come up with a diet, lifestyle and (sometimes) supplement plan to support your individual needs. They might employ some coaching techniques to help you put the ideas into practice in a meaningful and sustainable way or to help you break through whatever barriers have prevented you from succeeding in the past.
The personalised approach
Nutritional therapists and nutritionists often refer to people as being 'biochemically unique,' meaning that each person has their own set of nutritional needs, based on their genetics, physiology, age and current life circumstances. For this reason there isn't a single way of eating that is right for everyone, and a one-size-fits-all approach is innapropriate. For example, one client may have PMS, a history of antibiotic use and an intolerance to dairy, while another client may have weight issues, have had an appendectomy and be allergic to stawberries. These and many thousands of other permutations are all part of the jigsaw puzzle that a nutritional therapist puts together in order to create an individualised plan, taking into account your DNA, your previous medical history, your current symptoms (considered in conjunction with results of tests your nutritional therapist may have recommended) as well as your likes and dislikes and your personal circumstances.
A nutrition plan is personalised specifically for you, the client. It takes time, skill and experience, as well as years of training, for a nutritional therapist to be able to draw together all the many elements that make you who you are and create a tailored roadmap aimed at helping you achieve your health potential. Much generic material is available online and some of this is indeed helpful but it is not a substitute for a nutritional therapist with years of experience in assessing and addressing clients' individual needs. If required, your nutritional therapist may recommend one or more tests such as blood, urine, saliva, stool and even genetics in order to more accurately address the root causes of your symptoms. The results of tests are considered in conjunction with your symptoms. Supplements that are recommended are targeted at addressing specific health issues or goals. The area of supplements is something of a minefield, costly and potentially even dangerous if approached without sufficient knowledge.
Why doesn't everyone see a nutritional therapist?
While nutrition is becoming a hot area of research among the scientific community, public awareness is still not what it ought to be, although this too is starting to see some dramatic improvements thanks to a small number of well-known and recently enlightened medical doctors, like Dr Rangan Chatterjee and Dr Michael Mosely. Because of this lack of awareness, when ill, many people still believe that what they need is a pill or a bottle of medicine from the doctor to relieve their symptoms. This can feel like a safer and easier option than making significant diet and lifestyle changes. But while it may be quicker, it is also often not very effective and medication often only suppresses the symptoms of a deeper problem that could be entirely erradicated with targeted diet and lifestyle adaptations. For example, your doctor may prescribe metformin to lower blood glucose, or a statin to lower cholesterol. This is due to the fact that most doctors follow a model where the solution presented during a 10-minute consultation lies in a prescription. Unfortunately, the majority of doctors have little or no current knowledge or practical experience of what their patients should be eating. Nutritional therapy, on the other hand, asks why these cholesterol and blood glucose levels are high in the first place and seeks to address the problem at its root, often with a specific protocol.
Many newspapers and chat shows run features on health and nutrition issues and while this is encouraging, most people still do not fully appreciate the huge effect a personalised food and lifestyle programme can have on their debilitating symptoms and their quality of life as a whole.
What happens in a nutritional therapy consultation?
A typical nutritional therapy consultation will last for around ninety minutes. In preparation for your consultation, your nutritional therapist should ask you to complete and return a health questionnaire. During the session, you'll go into your medical history, your health goals, any challenges you may be facing, what you generally eat, what you like to eat, what you don't like to eat and how you eat (on the bus, in a rush at your desk, and so on). There’s no judgement and anything you share with your therapist is kept in strict confidence.
Nutritional therapy sessions are often in the form of programmes that run over a number of weeks. This is because it is often necessary to help clients implement the programme, making changes at a pace that suits them, and to help them deal with any challenges or questions that come up along the way. The number of sessions also depends on individual budgets, which is an important factor that your therapist will be happy to discuss with you.
Your nutritional therapist will use the information gleaned from your completed questionnaire, your consultation and your test results (where appropriate) to provide you with a detailed plan, which may include recipes, lifestyle changes, meal plans and supplement protocols that can be tweaked and adapted as your situation and health progresses. Staying motivated is often the hardest part of any plan. Health coaching forms an integral part of nutritional therapy which appreciates and understands the challenges involved in making changes to lifelong diets and lifestyle habits.
If you would like to take control of your own healthcare by understanding your individual nutritional needs, why not get in touch to arrange a free 30-minute discovery call, where we can decide whether nutritional therapy is the best option for you at this stage of your life?