I remember the moment when I knew I wanted to study nutrition. I was standing in a supplements store and the woman working there was explaining the difference between two protein powders and, as if a light bulb actually went on, I thought, I want to know this.
I had been suffering for the previous three years with serious digestive issues, and hadn't been given any solutions that worked from the dozens of practitioners I had sought out. I realized that if I was going to get better, I was going to have to start figuring some stuff out for myself. And that is what inspired me to go back to school and study holistic nutrition.
Now, this was in 2006. There wasn't nearly the luxury (or stress!) of choice as there is today. There weren't any reputable online options and most of the programs I was looking at seemed to have very few class hours, which made me question how much I would be learning. I didn't want to do dozens of case studies. My intention for going back to school was not to get a certificate and a set of initials with the least amount of time or effort possible. I was serious about this. I wanted to learn. I wanted to heal myself and more so, learn how I could be most effective in helping others. Mostly I wanted to learn how to cook the most healing food there ever was- but that program didn't exist (yet!).
And so with limited options, despite looking beyond the city of Toronto, I chose a Toronto-based holistic nutrition school. Most of my instructors had been teaching in the field for years, and many were actually practicing nutritionists with clinics, seeing clients regularly. My graduating class had about fourteen full-time students and about the same number graduating part-time. I had the time of my life.
The experience I had in 2006 is likely very different than what you would have now. When I went to school, there was the choice of two schools, at least here in Toronto, and one in New York, along with a small handful of college programs across the US.
We are now spoiled for options and classes continue to overflow as the hunger for this information grows, both for those who want to be practitioners, and those who want to work with practitioners.
And so if you are now facing the decision of where to go, I'd like to help you pick the very best nutrition school.
The only program I can truly attest to and know inside and out is the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program with the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. I can advocate for it because I created it, because I update it every year, and because I am personally involved in getting to know who registers. I host the information sessions, review student feedback each term, make improvements and support our graduates. But this doesn't mean it's the best nutrition school for you.
I mean, it very well might be but there may be other options that are a better fit for your needs today.
Instead of telling you where you should go and why I think it's the best, I will throw it back to you and offer you some questions to consider when deciding on what school and what area of focus is right for you.
Below I address these very common questions that come up when deciding if, and where to study nutrition:
- What Do You Actually Want To Do?
- In Person Or Online?
- What about those raw or plant-based certification programs? Or that other program that makes plates of food look like art? Which is best?
- What do you actually want to learn?
- What about those "Board Certified" designations or Professional Associations that recognize a school or grant a certain title?
- What would you like to be called vs. What do you want to be awesome at?
- Will you be a brilliant practitioner ready to heal the world when you graduate?
- Will you make a living in the nutrition field?
What Do You Actually Want To Do?
This is a simple enough question, but the answer is everything.
If you are interested in going into practice, working one-on-one with clients and providing diet and lifestyle-based protocols along with some basic supplement recommendations, you'll want to look at some of the more in-depth and structured holistic or natural nutrition programs. This will likely serve as your foundation, and if you want to go deeper and really use the power of supplements and neutraceuticals, you'll likely seek out a functional nutrition certification program to fill in the blanks.
If you want your focus to be on food, it's healing benefits, how to cook it, show others how to cook it too, create customized recipes and meal plans, and/or create and teach food-based workshops and classes, you'll want to seek out a culinary nutrition program that focuses on these skills.
There is definitely something for everyone and it all depends on you. And guess what? You also don't have to know exactly what you want to do! Chances are good you'll take a combination of programs over the years as your interests change, your focus becomes more clear, and you respond to your growing client-base and audience.
What matters is that you start. Take the leap and start following your passion!
In Person Or Online?
Once you've decided what you want your focus to be (for now, at least), the next question is whether you want a live, bricks and mortar school, or if you don't live near a school or perhaps prefer more flexibility in your schedule, an online program may be better for you.
In-person schooling can be very straightforward, while online programs get more complicated as options can quickly become limitless, and quality can vary drastically.
What to consider with online programs:
- Is there any accountability for completing the program? Do you have a coach or primary contact you'll be connected with during the program?
- Are you better suited to flexibility in deadlines, or do you feel you'll succeed with having more structure to motivate you to get the work done? What is the policy of the school when it comes to getting work done and completing the program?
- Are you happy going through the program solo, or would you prefer to be in a 'class' and go through it with a group?
- Are you clear with how content will be delivered (slides, audio, video, independent reading, hands on assignments, cooking, case studies etc.) and does this jive with your learning style?
- Are assignments customizable to your key area(s) of interest? Do the assignments relate to what you'll actually be doing in the field (or for your personal use).
- Is the online course information materials presented in an organized, professional way? This could be an indicator of how organized they are through the duration of the program.
- Is course content kept up-to-date? Are there live online or in person components that will help ensure this?
- What is the track record? Are there past graduates available that you can chat with? Or do they have a directory that allows you to seek them out yourself?
What about those raw or plant-based certification programs? Or that other program that makes plates of food look like art? Which is best?
I have no idea! :)
Again, it goes back to what you really, really, really want to do at the end of the program.
If you want to educate, share, inform and inspire based on one dietary choice, than by all means, go for a program that focuses on one philosophy. If you want advanced chef skills, take a chef program. If you want plating skills, take classes in food styling. If you want to work with a variety of clients (or friends or family members) and meet them where they are at, than take programs that teaches a variety of opinions.
If you are looking to get a broad education where you may not agree with everything, but you are open to learning, being exposed to potential conflicting opinions and gaining as much knowledge as possible, then you'll want to find the program that does that.
Yes, some programs are better than others, but there is no one option that is right for everyone.
What do you actually want to learn?
This is might be the most important component. Beyond the school's credentials or titles or anything else, review the course curriculum. Understand what you'll be taking away from the experience. What do the classes that make up the program actually teach? How are you tested on the material? Are there exams? Case studies? Practical assignments?
I am thinking you're not going to take a program for the sole purpose of getting straight A's or the desire to cram for final exams. So consider what you will be learning, how it is being taught, and how you'll be able to apply it in your life and/or your business and evaluate and if all of this is what you are after.
What about those "Board Certified" designations or Professional Associations that recognize a school or grant a certain title?
This is a bit of a delicate subject, so I will do my best to be delicate with it. Though I'm not so good with delicate. I often break things.
If you are studying, or considering studying nutrition through a dietetics program with a university or at a college level, there are likely government regulated certifying exams based on your province or state, internships and other requirements for you to earn your full designation. Though keep in mind, even some of the organizations that govern these regulated nutrition designations are questionable at best (consider the partnerships with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Pepsi Co). You can read more here.
Natural/holistic/culinary/integrative nutrition are largely unregulated. What does this mean?
Most of the associations that govern holistic, natural and integrative nutrition programs are privately run, (some are not-for-profit, and you can always request their annual statements if you're curious how your fees are being allocated) and offer a specific set of benefits to members like access to expert-hosted events, insurance packages, database information access, opportunities to promote services to other members, a directory listing, discounts to select partners products and potentially an additional set of initials.
These organizations are self-governed and typically require members to have graduated from a specific program or school, may require an additional exam (for their own 'board certification' purposes), and usually have an annual fee (commonly starting at around $350 for a basic membership). If the bonuses of membership are of value you to, choose the organization that is the best fit and go for it. In some cases, depending on the type of work you want to do, these organizations may lend credibility.
By and large, these organizations don't impact specific regulations that may be unique by province, state or in some cases, by country. As well, if you dig deep enough, you may find that some of these groups have been set up by the same people who set up the school or program itself to give their school the appearance of greater credibility. Or they may simply be alumni of a school looking to unify a student body.
In most cases you will find that the practice of holistic, natural, integrative and culinary nutrition are completely unregulated. There may be regulations around the title you can use, but that may be the extent of it.
Do I belong to any of these organizations?
I don't. I did join a few when I was consulting one-on-one as a nutritionist and I appreciated the perks associated with paying my annual dues and being part of the organization. However, as my work transitioned, I was no longer getting much benefit from it and was able to secure practitioner insurance directly.
What would you like to be called vs. What do you want to be awesome at?
If you want to be called a nutritionist, you'll want to find a program that offers that designation. If you want to have RNCP after your name, you'll pay to join the organization that gives you those initials. This is a common question we get about the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program. Our answer: you will earn the designation of C.N.E., Culinary Nutrition Expert.
Most of the initials used in the natural/holistic nutrition field specify where you went to school and/or what organization you joined after graduation.
I am a nutritionist and a culinary nutrition expert. I chose to ditch all the initials after my name because they were confusing and didn't transfer across borders. For example, when UnDiet was published in Canada, I could call myself a certified nutritionist on the cover. However, in the US, a nutritionist has completely different training and area of focus. See? It gets confusing.
What matters most is that you are effective, accurate and awesome with your work.
We want to work from an evidence-based model to support recommendations we make, that we do the research, and that we keep up-to-date on current information and trends within the field we are choosing to work in. This matters a lot.
Besides, most people won't have a clue what the initials mean.
Will you be a brilliant practitioner ready to heal the world when you graduate?
I sure hope so! At the very least you will be well set on a solid foundation to work towards becoming a brilliant practitioner that can heal the world.
Most programs will set you up for success and provide you with amazing skills and knowledge to get started. Most nutrition programs will run anywhere from a few weeks to a full year, full time. That's your foundation. Thousands of people are graduating every year from various nutrition, health and wellness programs. The people who are succeeding are the ones that give their all into their studies and continue to learn well past graduation.
What I learned ten years ago in nutrition school was invaluable. And it comprises about 15% of my current knowledge. It was my foundation and the hundreds of books, conferences, courses and other learning I have done since has filled in the rest. The majority of my knowledge has come from the research I did writing hundreds and hundreds of blog posts and articles, writing and so much editing and fact checking on two books, teaching countless courses, classes and answering the zillions of questions posed to me. There is no program on earth that can replace practice.
There is no program on earth that can replace practice.
Consider your first foray into studying nutrition as your foundation. This gives you a stable footing to leap in the direction that best suits your personal interest and passion and the continued desire to learn, grow and evolve is all up to you.
In this field, the initials at the end of your name don't really mean a thing. Being awesome at what you do is what matters.
Will you make a living in the nutrition field?
Of course! Everything is possible.
But you're going to have to work really, really hard. A degree or a designation doesn't guarantee success in any field. Your efforts, persistence, resourcefulness and discipline will work wonders!
Some of my dearest friends are out in the world rocking and rolling their nutrition game. A big part of our collective success is that we didn't quit. It's hard. Running your own business is really hard. If you can persist and continue to innovate, be smart about how you structure your business, you will find success.
Making a living in the nutrition field doesn't have to mean starting your own business and being your own brand. It might mean finding a job with an amazing company where your values align, you're given autonomy to do work you love, and continue to serve and help those that seek your guidance. There is no shame at all in working for a company that offers you stability and security, while still invites you to use your newly acquired skills and knowledge.
Will you make six figures your first year out of school, travelling through Bali, offering online nutrition consults via Skype and selling self-guided online cleanse programs? Not likely. First of all, the internet in Bali is not fast enough to be relied upon for Skype consults. More so, there is still a lot to learn, a lot to practice and perhaps people to learn from. Yes, you can buy "done for you" protocols, swipe files and all those bells and whistles, but if you aren't getting results in the work you are doing, your list of clients will fizzle out pretty fast.
Yes, you can buy "done for you" protocols, swipe files and all those bells and whistles, but if you aren't getting results in the work you are doing, your list of clients will fizzle out pretty fast.
If you're serious about making a living in the field of nutrition, you're going to also need to be serious about doing what you need in order to really help those that seek your guidance.
What's Your Next Move?
I am sorry that I wasn't able to give you a list of five schools and pinpoint for you what to choose. It is a very personal decision and the best information you can gather will take into account who you are and what you really want to do (or think you want to do! It's allowed to change).
I could tell you to take my program. I could tell you to the join the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program tribe, but how do I know if it's the right fit for you? I have never strived to squeeze as many people as possible into any of my programs. I have always strived to offer clear and honest information, answer your questions and let you decide if we're the right fit.
I also can't tell you to go to the school I went to, that it has been the key to my success. I was there nearly a decade ago. The entire field of nutrition has exploded since then and it's been a long time since I was in one of those classrooms. The success I have seen has been a result of my efforts, of seeking guidance and support when I needed it and mostly, showing up to work every single day since I started my business in May of 2008.
Here is what I will tell you to do: Take the leap.
You have read the last 3,200 words because you are seeking answers. You want to learn, gain knowledge and evolve your own life. You are considering studying nutrition because you are seeking a path towards optimal health through education, or perhaps looking for a way to channel your passion for healthy living and be of service to others. Perhaps you want to take time (at last!) and dedicate it to something you are interested in. Maybe you have a foundation or another skill that you want to build upon it. Perhaps you are here because you're not sure what to do, but you value my honest opinion - the only kind I know how to give (for better or worse!).
Whatever your reason, it is valid and important. So take a breath or two to look around and see what your options are. Then just take the leap and don't look back.
Of course, I can't advocate for every program under the sun, but I can speak from my own experience and what I've been told by the graduates that have been through the Academy of Culinary Nutrition - no one ever regrets what they learn in a health-focused program. Taking the time to empower ourselves to live a healthier and happier life is a blessing. To be able to share what we learn with others, to inspire and empower them to do the same, is an ultimate act of service.
To be able to share what we learn with others, to inspire and empower them to do the same, is an ultimate act of service.
I hope that this information will be helpful to you and I want to wish you the very best as you move ahead along this path. Should you have additional questions beyond what has been addressed here, please post your questions on this page, and I will do my best to answer them to my fullest ability.