If you're concerned about eating right – and living well in the process – then you might be wondering: What is a holistic nutritionist?
While the term "holistic" can be somewhat confusing because it's widely used in other fields, it has a specific meaning in the nutritional context: Holistic nutrition is a well-defined field with its own unique standards. Here's how it all works.
Understanding Holistic Nutrition
Most people have a general idea of what nutrition is: A science that interprets how nutrients and other substances in food affect human growth, reproduction, and health.
Nutrition covers concepts like ingestion, absorption, biosynthesis, catabolism, and excretion. It also places a big focus on our diets – or what we eat – which often depends on factors like the availability, cultural appropriateness, and palatability of foods.
Holistic nutrition is an approach that focuses on the whole person and their lifestyle, rather than just what they eat. It considers all aspects of well-being—including physical, mental, emotional, environmental, and spiritual health —and works to promote overall wellness from the perspective that everything is connected in some way.
Holistic nutritionists believe that our bodies function better with the right balance of natural foods and lifestyle practices. This focus on overall well-being emphasizes preventative care to reduce chronic disease risks while also helping people manage existing conditions by optimizing digestion and absorption of nutrients from food sources.
What Is a Holistic Nutritionist?
Holistic nutritionists are more than just professionals who take a whole-person approach to nutritional counseling. Like most specialized nutritionists, they're governed by standards that determine how they represent themselves and what services they can offer their clients.
What does it mean to be board-certified in holistic nutrition?
A board-certified holistic nutritionist is a professional who has met the standards established by the Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board (HNCB) – which is part of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP).
The NANP is a non-profit business league explicitly dedicated to setting standards and helping holistically trained nutrition professionals thrive. To be board-certified means that a practitioner is an NANP member, that they've demonstrated a minimum level of professional competency, and that they've passed the board exam.
What does the Holistic Nutrition board exam cover?
Nutritionists who want to take the HNCB exam must meet a few different demands. For instance, just like registered dietitians (RDs/RDNs) and certified nutrition specialists (CNS), they have to have earned at least a bachelor's (or master's for CNSes) degree in a relevant field from an accredited institution. They also need 1,200 supervised practice hours – similar requirements to what non-holistic nutrition professionals go through anyway.
What's the difference between a holistic nutritionist and other nutritionists?
When it comes to distinguishing between holistic and other nutritionists, the credentialing requirements aren't quite the same – even though being board certified as an RD/RDN, CNS, or other formally licensed healthcare professional is usually the starting point.
Although a nutritionist who's earned their degree and board certification meets the foundational standards on the path to becoming a holistic nutritionist, they still have to study holistic nutrition specifically. In other words, going into holistic nutrition is an above-and-beyond career path – not just an alternative.
What makes holistic nutrition different?
Most nutrition guidance views education as a core pillar – For instance, weight loss nutrition coaching specialists commonly work to teach patients how different food choices impact their journeys to better health. The same goes for pediatric, diabetic, and other niche nutritionists.
Another vital tenet that appears in most forms of nutrition is the idea of individualized therapies – as opposed to the standardized treatments found in conventional biomedical approaches.
The holistic approach to nutrition stands apart from other methods by looking at the big picture. It doesn't simply reduce foods to their components (like protein, fiber, sugar, etc.) and try to manage their impacts independently. Instead, holistic health specialists consider the overall effect–which makes sense considering that most of the food we eat is made up of numerous substances.
Holistic nutritionists may also consider how different ingredients in foods interact to produce a combined effect. In some cases, they rely on alternate classifications of food products and consider concepts that traditional medical nutrition often overlooks, like:
- Whether food pyramid clusters are quite as effective as we assume,
- How much processing goes into different foods, and
- How to use food as a preventative tool instead of just a curative remedy.
What is a holistic diet?
Holistic eating involves consuming food as naturally as possible. It's important to understand that this doesn't necessarily make one particular style of eating superior to another. Even though the NANP promotes the idea that whole, naturally-grown foods offer optimal nutrition, their core principles state that there's no such thing as "miracle nutrients" that can cure everything – and that everyone has different nutritional requirements. These concepts agree with the broader philosophy espoused by many health professionals who specialize in nutrition: That individualized treatments are the ideal option for helping individual patients.
Many people claim to follow holistic nutrition principles or dietary choices, and there's nothing wrong with that.
When it comes to finding nutrition coaching, however, you need to stick to qualified (board-certified) providers. Your mental, spiritual, and physical health deserve no less, and if you're truly interested in proper nutrition, then talking to a genuine expert is the smart move. Learn more about establishing new healthy habits by chatting with a holistic nutrition professional at Top Nutrition Coaching.