We quiz a top nutritional therapist on what we should be looking out for when booking in with a nutritionist…

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Every Tom, Dick and Harriet seems to be claiming to be a health guru on Instagram these days, but how do you sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of nutrition specialists to trust and blaggers/ bloggers/ ‘clean eaters’ on a bandwagon? We rafted in a professional to do just that. Nutritional therapist Zoe Stirling (Bsc Hons, DIP ION, MBANT, CHNC Reg.) gives us the lowdown on what to look out for if you’re considering consulting a nutritionist, because #eatclean ain’t a qualification...

How can I find a nutrition expert to suit my needs? There seem to be a lot of 'experts' out there these days…

Referrals tend to be how most people connect with a nutritional therapist but you can also search for registered nutritional therapists on the BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy) website . Nutritional therapists who are registered with BANT follow their code of conduct to ensure best practice.

There’s a big difference in levels of qualifications between nutritional therapists, dietitians and any other nutrition or health professionals. Always make sure that the person you are seeing is registered with a professional body, as you can then rest assured that they will be meeting certain standards in both their training and practice.

What's the difference between a dietitian, a health coach and a nutritional therapist?

Dietitian's usually work in the NHS and are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council, whilst their professional body is the British Dietetic Association. Dieticians devise eating plans for patients to treat medical conditions and also help to promote positive changes in food choices based on government guidelines. They have very clear and set nutritional protocols with respect to medical conditions.

Nutritional therapy is considered to be a complementary medicine, which aims to support individuals with chronic conditions or those that may be suffering unpleasant symptoms that affect their day-to-day lives. They use scientific and evidence based research along with diet, lifestyle and supplement interventions to improve health outcomes and bring the body back into balance. Their approach is very personalised and two programmes will never look the same.

Health coaches or nutrition advisors offer very general nutrition advice to support a healthy lifestyle or weight management. There are many short courses that cover this basic style of training but it does not meet National Occupational Standards for nutrition.

What training and qualifications should a nutritional therapist have? What's especially valuable to look out for, and are there any red flags to be aware of? Are nutritional therapists regulated in any way?

Nutritional therapists will have undergone three years of part-time training. Like dieticians, they are also trained in clinical practice, i.e. to give one-to-one nutritional advice. Nutritional therapists who are registered with BANT (as above) have met certain standards in training as well as ongoing in practice and in continued professional development. Many nutritional therapists who are registered with BANT are also registered with the CNHC (Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council), a regulator of complementary health professionals in the UK. Always ensure that your nutritional therapist is BANT registered to have peace of mind that they are meeting best practice standards and are part of a community of professionals.

Are nutritional therapists required to attend regular training and complete additional modules?

Yes, absolutely. Nutritional therapists have to complete 30 CPD (Continued Professional Development) hours each year to allow us to continue to practice and see clients. These CPD hours are to help us stay on top of the latest research in the nutrition field and are logged with BANT.

What should I expect from a nutritional therapy consultation? What might set alarm bells ringing?!

Nutritional therapy consultations are a way for therapists to gather information by talking through a client’s questionnaire, which they will have filled in prior to a consultation. It’s a way of piecing together information with respect to a client’s medical history, family history, past diet and anything else that may have occurred that has contributed to their body’s being out of balance. We use that information, along with current eating and lifestyle habits, to determine what may be happening in the body, exploring how they can use certain foods, supplements, tests and lifestyle interventions to help to bring it back into balance. A nutritional therapist will never claim to be able to cure medical conditions or illnesses, so be wary if a practitioner says anything along those lines.

Roughly how much should a consultation with a nutritional therapist cost? In general how often should you be seeing your nutritional therapist? If I'm on a budget, what are my options?

Prices can vary greatly but tend to start from £80 and can go up to £200 depending on experience and where a practitioner consults from (i.e. London is naturally going to be more expensive due to high clinic room rents). If you’re on a budget you could always book into student clinics run at The Institute for Optimum Nutrition  and The College of Naturopathic Medicine , both in London. You will have a consultation with a student that will be overseen by a tutor, and although students are not fully qualified, they still have to research and prepare for each case as if they were in full time clinic.

Should my nutritional therapist be carrying out any tests? If so what tests can I expect?

This can totally vary from case to case – if a nutritional therapist feels that testing is a fundamental part of the programme, then they will recommend specific tests that you may be able to have done through your doctor, or we may work with a testing company that sends out specific test kits. In my opinion, testing is key as it really helps to individualise programmes - we’re all so different after all!

How much can I expect my diet/ lifestyle to change after seeing a nutritional therapist? Can a nutritional therapist help me with particular health issues?

That completely depends on how much you’re able to stick to a programme. Nutritional therapists hand over the tools to improve health but you have to use them. Although nutritional therapists cover a number of health issues, we would never claim to heal or cure medical conditions. Nutritional therapists try to support the body through food and lifestyle changes aiming to address any imbalances and fine tune the body.

Book an appointment with Zoe  here

Follow Zoe on Instagram  @zoestirling_ , and Anna on Instagram  @annyhunter