As a Nutritional Therapist I often get asked (even by friends and family) what exactly it is that I do. Some assume that my job is all about helping people lose weight - and that isn't entirely wrong. But it's also about so much more - and dropping a few pounds is sometimes just a welcome 'side effect'.
Now if we’re totally honest most of us know that we should eat more healthily, cut down on the *crisps / chocolate / wine (*delete as appropriate - or not, as the case may be), do more exercise and go to bed earlier. It sounds straightforward doesn’t it?
But in reality ‘stuff’ just gets in the way of our best laid plans. Busy jobs, hectic home lives and the latest Netflix boxset often leave little time or energy to dedicate to the business of ‘being healthy’. It’s easier to grab a lunchtime sandwich, order a takeaway or stay in with a glass of wine in front of the TV. And that’s OK every once in a while. But the longer that we put off eating, moving or living as well as we should we may be silently getter sicker. That may mean having health niggles that we have learned to tolerate, like poor sleep, low energy, joint pain, IBS or other tummy troubles. Or maybe you’ve been trying to ignore a gradual weight gain or some out-of-whack hormones that leave you feeling stressed and anxious.
But have you ever considered that the food you eat today can have a huge impact on the life you lead? In many cases, simply by making changes to your diet, the symptoms of some of these conditions can be improved significantly and that can create a major shift in how you experience life. That's where I come in.
So what is nutritional therapy?
Nutritional therapy used to be referred to dismissively as ‘alternative medicine’ or even 'quakery'! It’s only now that the science of what to eat is getting the recognition it deserves and is actively being promoted by a small number of well-known medical doctors, like Dr Rangan Chatterjee and Dr Michael Mosely.
Registered Nutritional Therapists take the latest hypotheses and research in nutrition and health sciences and apply them to you and your symptoms. We use a wide range of tools to assess and identify potential nutritional imbalances and understand how these may contribute to your symptoms and health concerns. We will then design a food, lifestyle and (if necessary) supplement plan to address any imbalances and help support the body to achieve optimum health. We also include coaching to help you put the ideas into practice or break through whatever barriers have held you back in the past.
It’s a very personal approach
Every one of us is ‘biochemically unique’ and a 'one-size-fits-all' approach just doesn't work. There isn’t a single way of eating that is right for everyone. What is best for someone with a dairy intolerance, a history of antibiotic use or arthritis, might not be right for you and your own health concerns. Your DNA, previous medical history, current symptoms, personal circumstances, as well as what you like and don’t like, are all important factors that I take into account when I create your plan.
It is personalised - just for you. That takes both time and skill. You could download something from the internet – if you knew what you were looking for – but it is not the same. I may recommend supplements targeted to a specific condition or your own health goal. This can be a minefield – potentially dangerous and inevitably costly – if you don’t know what you’re doing.
So why doesn't everyone see a nutritional therapist then?
It’s unfortunate that so many people just don’t appreciate what a huge effect a personalised food and lifestyle programme can have on their symptoms or quality of life.
Newspapers & social media are full of soundbites about the latest foods and fad diets – there is so much information out there that it’s difficult to know what to believe or might work for you. The majority of doctors have had very little training in nutrition. They generally have a 10-minute window in which to assess your health concerns and provide a solution – often in the form of a prescription.
There are some – like Dr Chatterjee – who have entered the world of Functional Medicine. This approach suggests that the symptoms you are experiencing are a result of imbalances in your body and, rather than treat the specific symptoms themselves, nutrition professionals try to understand the root cause of the problem and base their programme around that. If you think about prescription medications, most of them merely suppress symptoms and very few actually cure. The exclusively pharmacological approach does nothing to uncover the root causes. Metformin lowers blood glucose – but why is it high in the first place? Statins lower cholesterol – but why is it elevated? Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) numb pain – but what is causing the pain? These are the questions I will ask as part of my detective work to get to and address the root cause of your symptoms.
What to expect in a nutritional therapy consultation
Your first consultation will last up to 90 minutes. You will already have completed and returned a nutritional therapy questionnaire before your visit.
During the session, we’ll discuss your health goals and concerns, your medical and family history, lifestyle, current diet (including food likes and dislikes) and exercise levels. There’s no judgement and everything shared is in confidence.
From this I will evaluate your individual needs and make nutrition and lifestyle recommendations, which may include supplements or possible clinical testing.
My programmes run over 10-12 weeks. Single sessions are rarely enough to make the required changes - it takes time to change habits that have been formed over a lifetime. You will have a programme of follow up sessions and progress reviews to provide the coaching and support to ensure that recommendations are implemented at a pace that suits you.
But I already know what I should be doing so what’s the point?
Knowing what you should be doing is only part of the equation. Actually doing it and staying motivated is the hardest part of any plan. The best way to stay in the zone is to have a coach who can give you a steer and keep you on track if you start to go off piste. This is the single biggest thing that makes the difference between reaching your goal and maintaining it. That’s where health coaching comes in. It keeps you accountable, motivated and will ensure all that good work doesn’t go to waste.
Nutritional Therapy is recognised as a complementary medicine and is relevant for individuals with chronic conditions, as well as those looking for support to optimise their health and wellbeing.