After Susan gave birth to her first child, she wanted to lose a few pounds to get to her pre-pregnancy weight. And…then life happened. By the time she gave birth to kiddo number-four, about eight years ago, she was 120 pounds above her pre-baby weight of 150.
Susan tried what felt like an endless cycle of diets. She visited doctors and reluctantly talked to surgeons about gastric bypass surgery. At 44 years old, her weight-loss struggle was nothing but frustrating.
Then, in October of 2017, she started seeing a holistic nutritionist. And for the first time, she actually felt optimistic that she might be able to lose weight.
Whereas registered dietitians focus on, well, your diet, holistic nutritionists look at other lifestyle factors, too, like your sleep habits, what’s stressing you out, and your hormone levels for a more (wait for it…) holistic approach, says Erica Larson , an integrative nutritionist and holistic health coach.
Then, after looking at these factors, a holistic nutritionist develops an eating plan that’s individualized for each client.
During Susan’s first appointment with her holistic nutritionist, for example, she underwent genetic testing and blood work. Through these screenings, Susan’s nutritionist discovered that her estrogen levels are high, so she suggested Susan start hormone therapy.
Susan’s nutritionist also recommended she follow a 30-day elimination diet. “No gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no soy, no eggs,” she says. “After 30 days, I added in one food item at a time, with a few days in between.”
Today, Susan takes certain supplements recommended by her holistic nutritionist—like turmeric and vitamin D—to address deficiencies in her diet. And she’s gone off of sugar almost completely. “I feel great,” she says. “I am never hungry, and I never crave anything anymore.”
R.D.s have to attend a four-year program from an accredited institution, complete a dietetic internship, pass a nationally standardized exam, and take continuing education classes. But the process for training to be (and staying) a holistic nutritionist isn’t regulated in the same way, which basically means it’s a whole lot easier to become one.
For instance, Larson studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, an online school where you can become a health coach in six months to a year.
If you ask an R.D., they’ll tell you that holistic nutritionists often aren’t legit. ”Now anyone can walk around and call themselves nutritionists,” says Vanessa Rissetto, R.D., explaining that it doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about the level of training and experience they have. (Worth noting: Many health insurance companies seem to be of this opinion, too, as they’ll cover sessions with R.D.s but not with holistic nutritionists.)
But if you ask a holistic nutritionist, they’ll tell you that many of their clients are frustrated with the one-size-fits-all approach they have been recommended after seeking help from more traditional health professionals.
You can see results under the guidance of a holistic nutritionist—but they may not come in the form you expect. Just look at Susan: So far she has lost very little weight, but she says her new diet makes her feel great. Her nutritionist says that once they treat her hormone issues and start her exercise plan, she should lose more weight. “I finally feel like I am going in the right direction,” she says.
Taking a holistic approach to nutrition is important, admits Rissetto—but she says she and fellow R.D.s can typically provide that approach, even if they don’t have the word “holistic” in their title.